Freight Station: This building was constructed originally in 1849 to serve both freight and passengers. These early stations were built by the BC&M RR as they laid down the tracks. After twenty years, it became just the freight station when the passenger station was built. The freight station was sold to the Ashland Paper Mills in January 1961 and was owned by the subsequent owners of the paper mill property, first by Consolidated Cellulose, which became Concel, then by the Fletchers who bought the paper mill but never actually operated it as a mill. Bill Bernsen, a friend of Art Harriman, was touring the country and stopped in Ashland to visit the Harrimans. He mentioned his interest in old train depots, so Kaye Harriman showed him the old freight station. He bought the building from the Fletchers in 1979. Mr. Bernsen converted the station into his residence, art gallery and studio. The building's exterior is still very close to its original appearance.
Passenger Station: As early as 1859, there was a complaint in the Laconia paper from the Holderness correspondent about the “very poor Depot conditions” here. Very little is known about the original construction of the passenger station. The BC&M RR annual report for the year ending March 31, 1870 just stated “We have built a passenger depot at Ashland”. The 1883 birdseye view shows a simple building with a hip roof, no trackside office projection, three doors and three windows in the trackside facade, located very near the street.
After the merger that created the C&M RR, the station was moved and remodeled. A February 1891 news item reported plans to move the station down the track and to improve it. By July 25, a new cellar and foundation had been built. By August 8, the newspaper could report that the station had been moved onto its new foundation. Repairs had begun in September. The newspaper referred to the building as being “transformed into a modern station”. The interior had been torn out and was now “sheathed up in artistic style”. Slaters were at work on roof. By late October, the remodeling was completed. The railroad also bought additional land at that time to the south of the station along the tracks.
Later changes were few. In the early 20th century, the semaphore signal replaced a ball signal. In the 1950s, as service contracted, one door and one window on the track side of the north waiting room were replaced by a sliding door.
Passenger service ended on October 24, 1959. A few months later, in February 1960, the railroad sold the station and its lot to Meadow Glen House Inc., a corporation owned by Joseph Curley. Curley was a railroad fan who, save for some storage, and did little with the building. He did rent it back to the B&M RR for a few years, and it was used by station agent Stanley Hall as his office. I am uncertain when the office was closed.
Joseph Curley's widow Vera Curley gave the building to Ashland Historical Society in 1980 in memory of her husband. Its restoration had a slow start. In the first years, the Society considered leasing or even selling it to somebody who could restore the building, before eventually deciding that it should be museum. In 1986, the lot was used by the Gratons to build a covered bridge for the Jack O'Lantern golf course in Woodstock. The bridge was transported by train from here to Woodstock. The station was listed on National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Repairs were made to the foundation, structure and roof in 1981. More roof repairs followed in 1989. A new sewer line was installed in 1991 to connect the station with the “new” town sewer system. Steel beams were added under the main floor in 1993.
In 1994, the Society made a successful application for the restoration and renovation of the station under ISTEA, the Federal government's Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act, which included funds for the historic preservation of transportation structures. The grant was mostly federal money, administered by the state. The Society only had to raise 20% of the cost, while the federal and state governments paid 80% of the cost. The original estimate obtained by society was $100,000. The Society had already raised over $20,000. However when project went out to bid in spring of 1997, the only bid was $209,000, which exceeded the budget, so the bid was turned down. The state and federal agencies agreed to double their contributions. The Society had to borrow another $14,000 so the project could continue. By October 1998, the Historical Society had raised $41,186.60 from over 200 individuals, businesses, and foundations, and through fundraising events, such as a large auction in the school gym, and the “sale” of windows and planks. The project was put out to bid again later in 1997. The total project cost was $205,933. The renovation was designed by Samyn-D'elia Architects of Ashland. The contractors were Laferriere Construction of West Danville, Vermont.
The work began in October 1997 and was finished in June 1998. The work included replacement of sills, a new foundation for the ticket office, a platform on the trackside of the building, replacement of the removed door and window, new signs, repairs of windows, siding, and trim, removal of old lead paint (followed by new paint and stains), a new slate roof, a new chimney, a concrete basement floor with drainage, new electrical system, and repairs to the plumbing, walls, floors, and cabinets. One restroom was modernized. The other restroom was converted to a kitchenette. The Ashland Historical Society on its own restored the semaphore signals, and installed kitchen appliances, an alarm system, dehumidifier and display cases. The restored and renovated building was first used for meetings in 1998, and opened as a museum in 1999, after a grand dedication on June 26, 1999. Later repairs and upkeep have been made as needed, such as the 2015 repainting, as well as plumbing, electrical, and other repairs. But there has been little visible change to the building since the restoration.
Our collection of railroad items has now filled the museum. At the start, the collection included many gifts from Pauline Glidden. It has grown almost entirely by donations since then.
More on the passenger station property:
We should note that much of the level ground around the station is fill. In 1906, for example, more fill was added behind the station so that teams could drive to the far end of the platform.
The trackside platform is shown as almost 450 feet long on the map of the property from the 1890's, running north almost to the street and a long distance south towards Meredith. It appears as a wooden platform in early views. The platform also extended down the southerly end of the building.
In 1916, B&M RR carpenters built a new platform. In the mid 1950's, photographs show an asphalt sidewalk along the tracks. As part of the 1990's restoration of the station, the wooden platform was replaced immediately in front of station. We are now hoping to extend it to the south to accommodate more cars of the fall foliage trains and are in the process of getting state and town approvals. Of course, we will need to raise the money to build it.
Canopy or Awning. This large open shelter for baggage, wagons and passengers was built on the street side of station. Its floor was at the same level and was continuous with the platform. It probably dated from the same time as the station remodeling, in the 1890's. In August 1935, the railroad removed part of the floor so cars could park under cover in stormy weather. The canopy was torn down in the 1950s. Dated published photos suggest the demolition took place between June 1952 and October 1953. The timbers were used in a barn on Highland Street.
Baggage room building. A December 1895 news report said that the railroad would be “putting up a new building at the passenger station for use as a baggage room”. In September 1896, it was reported that the railroad had built a building for storage of baggage at the north end of the passenger station. But, the building apparently moved around. Older photos show it directly behind the restroom addition but set close to the station.
The same news item of October 1906 that describes the new fill says that baggage room had been moved but not where it went. One photo shows it way in the distance to the south of station. A 1929 news article says the baggage room was moved from the south end of the platform to a position “this side of the covered platform”, presumably at the street end of canopy, and speaks of a plan to use it for the Railway Express, which it apparently was. A 1935 aerial view and a mid-20th century photo show it at the street end of the canopy. It was later sold, probably in the 1950s, to Norman Weeden, who worked for the Railway Express. It was moved to the Weeden property at the corner of Winter and Reed Streets and converted into a garage which still stands there. It was gone from the Station grounds by October 1953.
Fifield Building: A. F. Fifield owned a store on Monument Square. In May 1911, the newspaper reported that A. F. Fifield would have a new store and lunch room at the station during the summer months. The 1912 Sanborn fire insurance map shows a small building to the southeast of the station, labeled “candy & news”. In 1912, it was announced that the Fifield store for the summer would sell papers, magazines, fruit, candy, ice cream, cigars, tobacco and novelties of all kinds. In the 1913 announcement of the store opening for the summer, soda was added to that list. I am not sure what the store looked like or what happened to it.
Part 5: This presentation of The Railroad in Ashland was delivered by David Ruell to the Ashland Historical Society on September 12, 2019 in the Ashland Railroad Station Museum.