Here’s a fun one for all of you railroad history buffs. Volunteers have just returned another 1,400-pound granite milepost to its original position along the Northern Rail Trail in Boscawen, New Hampshire. This is part of an ongoing effort to recover and return all 58 to their initial positions on the corridor between Concord and Lebanon. Only seven remain missing.
The Northern Rail Trail is the longest rail-trail in New Hampshire and spans Grafton and Merrimack counties. According to Friends of the Northern Rail Trail (FNRT) of Merrimack County, the mileposts, which are 8.5 feet long, were installed by the Boston and Maine Railroad between 1900 and 1905.
They were originally intended to serve as reference points for railroad operations and also to allow the locomotive engineer to gauge his speed. On one side is the mileage to Boston, and on the other is the mileage to White River Junction, Vermont.
For a little more history, here is a direct passage from FNRT Merrimack County’s recent press release about the latest milestone restoration:
The Northern Railroad was constructed, with incredible human labor, from Concord, New Hampshire, to White River Junction, Vermont, in 1847. This revolutionized the economical culture of up-country New Hampshire. But subsidized highway competition in the 20th century spelled its doom. Operations were abandoned in the 1990s, and the tracks were taken up for salvage. The railroad ties were then removed by volunteer snowmobile groups.
During that period, many of the mileposts disappeared. Only 31 remained on the 58 miles of trail from Concord to Lebanon. Grafton County had lost 22. Merrimack County had lost five.
Over the years, many of the mileposts have been recovered from private properties and New Hampshire DOT’s stockpile. The most recent discovery came from Dane Malcolm, who had acquired it from a collector. FNRT Merrimack County states that he "was very glad to see it restored to its original location."
FNRT Merrimack County also credits volunteers Howard Jelleme and Ricer Miller with transporting and installing the milestone back to its original location, and railroad historian and FNRT member Ed Hiller with restoring all recovered milestones to date.
When asked about the significance of the project, Hiller points out both the historical and practical impact of the milestones.
"These historic mileposts are dramatic reminders of the importance that railroads had in our country’s cultural and economic life for more than a century," says Hiller. "They are also widely appreciated by runners and bicyclists for helping them to measure their speed and distance, not to mention by our 'first responders,' who have remarked on their usefulness in responding to emergencies along the trail."
FNRT is on the lookout for the other seven milestones and urges anyone who has one to contact them to arrange a “no questions asked” donation. For more information and contact information, check out the FNRT Merrimack County website.