by Gary Samson
By Maggie Paine and Mylinda Woodward '97
See also: Hear That Train a Comin'
Letters to the editor correction Spring '01
When the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts moved to Durham in the summer of 1893, it traveled by rail. The Boston and Maine Railroad transferred Dean Charles Pettee and his faculty--along with their books, equipment, supplies, desks, files, household effects and families--from Hanover to the new campus in a matter of hours. A half-century earlier, it would have taken days.
Passenger train service began in Durham in 1841, when the Boston and Maine Railroad Company was formed by the merger of two smaller railroads. From then until 1958, the railroad provided cheap and easy access to neighboring towns and to Boston, Mass., and Portland, Maine. Indeed, if convenient railway service had not been available, the state legislature might not have been willing to accept Durham as the permanent home of New Hampshire's land-grant college.
The railroad split the campus in half from the very beginning. The tracks were originally located farther east than they are now, crossing Main Street at the point where Edgewood Road intersects it today. Of the five original buildings completed in 1893, two (Thompson Hall and Conant Hall) were on the east side of the tracks and three (Hewitt Hall, Nesmith Hall and the dairy barn) were on the west side. The railroad station was located just north of where DeMeritt Hall now stands.
In the days before automobiles became common, virtually everyone and everything coming to or departing from Durham traveled by train. The number of trains stopping in Durham fluctuated between seven and 12 each weekday. It was not uncommon for students to take a train to Boston just to enjoy an afternoon in the city. People traveling to Concord, Manchester or points west could take the train from Durham and transfer at Newfields. Special trains were scheduled to carry students to out-of-town football games and to handle extra traffic around the holidays.
The only serious train accident in Durham occurred early on the morning of Jan. 22, 1905. The St. John's express, thundering south at about 50 miles an hour, struck a defective rail just about where Kingsbury Hall stands today. A number of cars were derailed, and 11 passengers were seriously injured. Within a few minutes, students and faculty members arrived and began assisting the 85 passengers to get out of the cars. Injured passengers were taken to nearby campus buildings, and the railroad sent a special train from Dover with doctors and nurses to care for them. A few days after the accident, the president of the railroad gave the student body $1,000 in appreciation for their help. The students put the money into a gymnasium fund, which helped to purchase equipment for New Hampshire Hall when that building was completed in 1906.
As the college continued to grow on both sides of the tracks, the trustees began to think it would be better not to have a railroad running through the middle of the campus. They persuaded the railroad to move the tracks to their present location in 1912, when it was upgrading the line through Durham. The college purchased the old right of way, and the station was moved to a lot near the corner of Mill Road and Main Street, where it began a second career as a store. The railroad dismantled a station in Lynn, Mass., shipped it to Durham, and rebuilt it next to the new tracks.
Railroad service remained vital to both the town and the campus through the first half of the century. In the 1950s, however, the interstate highway system was built, and railroads went into decline. The Boston and Maine Railroad shut down its passenger and freight operations in Durham in 1958, and the University of New Hampshire bought the passenger depot, which now houses the UNH Dairy Bar. On a summer evening, you can buy an ice cream sundae and sit at one of the outside tables just a few yards from the tracks. You might even see a train go by. ~
Mylinda Woodward '97 is the assistant university archivist. Maggie Paine is the editor of UNH Magazine.
Hear That Train a Comin'
Sometime this spring--May 1 is the current target date--Amtrak will start providing passenger rail service between Boston and Portland, with stops in Exeter, Durham, Dover and other towns along the way.
Amtrak will offer four round-trips a day between Boston and Portland. At least initially, the train will stop in Durham only on weekends, but weekday service will be available from Dover or Exeter. The schedule is not yet final, but the trip from Durham to Boston's North Station will take an hour and a quarter, and the one-way fare is expected to be about $10.
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