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Great Railroad Stations - Crawford Notch

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Crawford Notch, New Hampshire 

Photo by the author

Northern New England once abounded in railroads.  The iron trail led everywhere.  Into the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the Green Mountains of Vermont, the rail lines were built in the era that closed out the 19th Century.  The rise of a prosperous middle class and increasing numbers of wealthy, provided the impetus for resorts to be established in the White Mountains.  City dwellers could escape the hot summers in Boston and New York and refresh themselves in the clean mountain air.  Mount Washington became the center piece of a network of summer hotels and railroads became the transportation of choice. From modest beginnings, some as stage coach inns, these establishments evolved into grand hotels in some instances, and provided patrons every amenity.

Crawford Notch station (known as Crawfords in the railroad timetable) is located on the Maine Centralís line from Portland, Maine to St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  Just a few miles away from Crawford Notch is Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast U.S. at elevation 6,288 feet.  The mountain itself is famous for high wind speeds, frigid temperatures and, not the least, for the Mount Washington Railway Co. A 19th Century unbeliever exclaimed, upon hearing that a railroad was to be built to the summit, that Ďthey may as well be building a railroad to the moon!í  The Mount Washington Cog Railroad became a reality in 1869.  Today, one can still be shoved by incredible tilted boiler steam locomotives to the top of New England, up grades as steep as 37.41%. (Steam fans note: this is a railroad that is still 100% steam powered!)

The Maine Centralís railroad grade through the pass is possibly the most spectacular piece of mainline trackage in northern New England. From Bartlett (at the bottom of the grade) to Crawford Notch station the railroad hugs the side of the mountains and crosses spectacular trestles at Frankenstein and Wiley Brook.  Wiley Brook once featured a station, turned section manís home. The Loring Evans family lived there from 1903 to 1942.  Mrs. Evans opted to stay on after her husbandís untimely death in a railroad accident, and she raised four children on the tiny plot of land isolated from the world except for the railroad.  The grade is over 2-1/2% for nearly twenty miles, and double headed steam was the rule.  The Crawford station, located just west of the notch itself, features charming wooden Victorian gingerbread and a neat witches hat tower.  It was constructed in 1891. Nearby once stood the famed Crawford House hotel.  Passenger service on the line also included Boston & Maine, as the line provided a key link in B&Mís trackage, connecting Intervale to Bretton Woods, where the famous Mount Washington Hotel is situated.

The Conway Scenic Railroad based in North Conway, New Hampshire recently reopened the line through the Notch for its tourist trains. (North Conway has a magnificent railroad station of its own which we will visit in a future installment.)  Today the restored Crawford Notch depot serves as visitor center operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Visit Crawford Notch, especially in the summer or autumn, when the magnificent forests and clean mountain air will refresh you, the sound of steam whistles echoing from Mount Washington will inspire you, and the throb of the iron horse climbing the grade near Wiley Brook can once again be heard.

 

The Maine Central depot at Crawford Notch, New Hampshire
is seen on a peaceful summer evening, July 17, 1985.

 

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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

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