When did tourists begin to arrive in Weirs Beach?
Click here to supersize the map.
Around December 1, 1848, the Boston, Concord, and Montreal railroad reached Weirs Beach, making it easily accessible to New Englanders. The railroad had reached Laconia on August 8 of 1848, prompting the “biggest celebration the town had ever witnessed up to that point.”. Meredith was reached by March 19, 1849. Weirs Beach was reached about halfway between these two dates.
Continuing construction of the railroad past Weirs Beach, its easternmost point, the BC&M swung to the Northwest, reaching Plymouth, NH (mile 51) on January 21, 1850. The more mountainous terrain ahead proved more difficult to traverse, requiring at Glencliff a 3/4-mile-long deep cut. The end of the line (mile 92) was eventually reached in Woodsville, NH, around 1852. An essential one-mile spur from Woodsville, bridging the Connecticut River to Wells River, VT, and connecting to the Connecticut and Passumpsic (rivers) railroad (and thereby to the Central Vermont railroad, which ran on to Montreal), was finally completed on May 10, 1853.
Weirs Beach was commonly known in the latter half of the nineteenth century as “Weirs Steamboat Landing“, or simply, “Weirs Landing”. So, when a century later, the town became Weirs Beach, it was not the first time a descriptive had been added to the name of the town. In fact, the town has also been called (and often misspelled) at least 9 other ways over the years! 1)Weirs 2)Weirs Station 3)Weirs Bridge 4)Weir’s Bridge 5)The Wiers 6)The Weirs 7)The Weirs P.O. 8)Wares and 9)Weit’s. (From various 19th century maps of NH).
To this day, locals still refer to the town as “The Weirs” instead of as Weirs Beach. A 1926 Laconia Democrat article noted that “…the popular summer resort is correctly called The Weirs and not Weirs. Laconians know that The Weirs is the one and only way to print the name. The ‘The’ is important”.
Click here to see several large pictures of the train canopy.
Weirs Beach grew to become one of the most popular tourist destinations in New England. By the turn of the century, four express trains left Boston’s Union Station each day bound for Weirs Beach.
The Boston & Maine railroad gradually gained control of other railroad lines until by 1915, it controlled 2300 route miles of track, traversed by 1200 steam locomotives, and had 28,000 employees. The B&M railroad linked hundreds of towns in the northern New England states to Canada, New York, and beyond. By 1915, the B&M controlled over 90% of the 1260 miles of railroad lines in New Hampshire.
After peaking in 1915, train service from Boston to Weirs Beach began a long, slow decline, culminating with the end of year round service in October of 1959. A limited summer service was offered for the next few years, until it too was ended, in 1965.
The Weirs Beach train station was open year round until 1940; but from 1941-1951 the station was only open 7 months a year, from April 1-October 31. From 1952 through 1959, the station was only open 5 months a year, from May 15 – October 15. After only selling 199 train tickets the entire season of 1959, the station closed permanently.
Click here for a 2006 map showing the status of railroad lines in New Hampshire. By 2001, only 459 miles of line were being used. As can be seen from this map, the tracks all the way from the MA-NH border to Weirs Beach are still being maintained. The B&M maintains its line as far north as Concord, and the state of NH is maintaining the branch from Concord that passes Weirs Beach on its way to Lincoln, NH. Therefore, there is no physical reason why train service from Boston to Weirs Beach could not be revived, only economic ones.
According to a Laconia Daily Sun newspaper article, dated April 27, 2007, a railroad authority was proposed for NH to “plan, design, build and manage future commuter and tourist lines”, including “a commuter rail from Manchester to Nashua and Lowell, with connections to Boston.” This commuter rail plan “has already received substantial federal funding, and most of the designs are completed”; and efforts are being made to “define this project as reaching all the way north to the state capital”. If this project was to actually get built, particularly to Concord, revival of service to Weirs Beach at some point in the future could become a real possibility.
However, another Laconia Daily Sun article, dated September 5, 2007, throws cold water on the whole idea. Judge Barbado of the US District Court in Concord denied the Conservation Law Foundations’s request for a feasibilty study for a commuter railroad in the median of the planned widening of a 20-mile stretch of Interstate 93 in Southern NH, or in the abandoned Manchester-Lawrence railroad corridor. NH State Representative Fred King, R-Colebrook, commenting on the ruling, said “The people pushing for railroads are crazy. Nobody is going to build one.” Yet, Representative Howard Cunningham (D-Center Sandwhich) pointed out that the escalating cost of widening the highway – from an initial estimate of $275 million to $805 million today – “might some day make mass transit viable in comparison.”
The best hope today for revival might lie with the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, which has been pushing since 2004 for revival of train passenger service in NH, and the New Hampshire Rail Transit Authority, which was officially established on July 17, 2007. According to a Laconia Citizen newspaper article, dated April 26, 2010, the Authority is seeking $3.5 million in federal funding for additional study of the proposed Boston to Concord “NH Capital Corridor” (NHCC) Commuter Rail service. The estimated cost to extend service from Lowell to Concord is $250-$300 million.
BC&M’s No.29 locomotive, “Mt.Washington” was the heavy-duty workhorse of the line. Built in June 1876, this 30-ton “Mogul” 2-6-0 was said to be the most powerful engine in New England at the time. Its job was to haul passenger cars up the steep 6-degree grade from Fabyans in Crawford Notch to the Marshfield Base Station of the Mount Washington Cog Railway, an elevation change of 1097′ over 6 miles. It always drove backwards on the way up and forwards on the way down, as there was no place to turn around at the top of the dead-end grade. The Fabyans-Marshfield branch opened in 1876 and was abandoned in 1930.
1844 – On December 27, the Boston, Concord, & Montreal (BC&M) railroad is incorporated. The grand name of the railroad was chosen to appeal to investors; but in reality, the name was very misleading; the railroad was a “country” line, serving only a sparse, rural population, and never came close to Boston or to Montreal, except by connecting to other, larger railroads (and paying expensive connection fees.)
1846 – On February 7, construction begins in Concord and heads north to Sanbornton Bridge (now Tilton). This first section was relatively easy to construct, being mostly flat land alongside the Merrimac river.
1848 – On May 22, service begins, initially only as far as Tilton.
1848 – Around December 1, the Boston, Concord, & Montreal (BC&M) railroad reaches Weirs Beach, 34 miles from its starting point in Concord.
1857 – On January 31, with temperatures at 30 below zero, the BC&M repair depot at Lake Village (now Lakeport) burns. Four engines and considerable equipment are lost, but the railroad recovers from the disaster.
1869 – In July, the Mt. Washington cog railway begins operations. The BC&M, which by this time had expanded operations considerably into the White Mountain region by leasing other railroad lines, owns a 25% share. Later that summer, President Ulysses S. Grant passes through Weirs Beach on his private sleeping car, on his way to tour the new cog railway.
1874 – The Pemigewasset Valley Railroad is chartered on July 9 to build 20 miles of track from Plymouth to North Woodstock. On February 1, 1882, the BC&M leases the line for 100 years. The line finally opens on March 1, 1883. The line is the key to the extraction of timber resources from what would later become the White Mountain National Forest. Eventually, five logging railroads would branch off this line. The line also offered regular passenger service until September 21, 1938.
1880 – Up to this point in time, BC&M’s steam engines had burned only wood. The BC&M begins conversion to coal as a fuel source.
1883 – The BC&M reaches its peak as an independent railroad, operating 37 engines, 21 coaches, 5 parlor cars, and 3 observation cars. 343,630 passengers are carried that year, as well as 324,132 tons of freight.
1884 – On June 19, the Boston and Lowell (B&L) railroad leases the BC&M for 99 years. The line is renamed the B&L White Mountains division. The B&L pours money into its new line, building a new restaurant, the Weirs Cafe, at Weirs Beach, and spending liberally on marketing and advertising.
1887 – On April 11 the board of directors of the BC&M votes to take legal action to void the lease to the B&L. This action is approved by a BC&M stockholders meeting on May 30. The B&L sues. The BC&M ultimately prevails in court, as the lease is defeated in May, 1889.
1887 – On October 11, the Boston and Maine (B&M) railroad takes over the B&L.
1889 – On September 19, the Concord (NH) railroad receives permission from the NH general court to merge with the BC&M. On January 1, 1890, the merger is completed. The new railroad is named the Concord & Montreal (C&M) railroad. Here are 1892 and 1894 route maps of the C&M.
1892 – On January 1, the new name “Lakeport” is adopted by the railroad, replacing Lake Village, the railroad station just south of Weirs Beach. Also in 1892: in downtown Laconia, a new passenger station is erected, designed by architect Bradford Gilbert.
1895 – On June 21, the B&M railroad leases the C&M railroad for 91 years.
1914 – As required by the federal government, the B&M conducts a system-wide valuation of all its lines, recording all B&M track, bridges, buildings, etc. on a series of right-of-way maps. Each set in the series recorded an entire line from beginning to end. Each map in the set showed exactly 1 mile of railroad, and began where the previous map left off. The former BC&M line from Concord to Woodsville was valuation #21 and contained 130 maps. Weirs Beach was map #70. The map began at Channel Lane and ended just past Centenary Avenue.
1919 – The B&M expansion strategy was to buy up as much stock of its leased lines as possible. On December 1, with the B&M already owning a considerable piece of the C&M, the C&M is officially consolidated with the B&M under a court directive, and it is merged into the B&M system.
1954 – One hundred and two years after completion, the B&M abandons 42 miles of its main line trackage, from Plymouth to Woodsville, on October 31. What was formerly the terminus of the Pemigewasset Valley branch, Lincoln, becomes the new, northern end-of-the-line.
1957 – A map is released dated January 1, 1957, showing the remaining B&M lines. The northern NH part of this map is reproduced here.
1970 – In December, the once-mighty B&M files for bankruptcy protection. It continues to operate, much diminished, until 1983, when it is sold to Guilford Transportation Industries.
1975 – The State of New Hampshire begins a policy of acquiring railroad lines to “encourage active freight rail service to shippers as an economic development measure” and to “preserve them for possible future use”. On October 30 it acquires the line to Weirs Beach.
1976 – On January 28, the Wolfeboro Railroad leases the line from the State, and renames it the “Central Division”. That year, 425 cars of freight are handled for the Franconia Paper Mill in Lincoln. Presaging the later tourist line, a daily summer shuttle is operated between Laconia and Meredith; and weekend excursions are offered between Concord and Lincoln during autumn foliage time. But only one short year later, operations end, on February 12, 1977.
1977 – The Goodwin Railroad leases the line, and continues freight operations to the mill in Lincoln. The mill shuts down permanently on June 11, 1980. In October of 1980, the Goodwin Railroad shuts down as well. The North Stratford Railroad takes over the line on a temporary, emergency basis.
1982 – On September 1, the New England Southern Railroad begins a series of operating agreements to provide freight service on the line. Initially, three trains a week service thirteen shippers, the largest being Home Gas of Northfield. By 2001, only monthly freight service is offered. The operating agreements are continuously renewed at least through June 30, 2002, and perhaps to the present. Also in 1982, the Laconia Passenger Station is added to the National Register of Historic Places.
1984 – On August 25, the Winnipesaukee Railroad begins tourist operations along the Paugus and Meredith Bay shorelines.
1987 – The Plymouth & Lincoln Railroad (the Hobo railroad) begins tourist operations along the Pemigewasset River.
1991 – The Winnipesaukee Railroad loses its lease with the state. That summer, the Hobo Railroad takes over the tourist operations on Winnipesaukee, slightly renaming them the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad. The Hobo Railroad continues to operate the tourist operations to the present day. Click here for a photo gallery of the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad.
2001 – In April, NH’s latest State Rail Plan is released. The Concord-Lincoln track is rated “Class 2”, which means the maximum speed is 30mph for passengers and 25mph for freight.
2008 – On the evening of August 7, severe flooding breaches the line at the Weirs Beach boardwalk and at several places northward as far as Ashland. After only a few days interuption, tourist service resumes between Weirs Beach and Meredith. Emergency repairs to the boardwalk section to allow the line to traverse Weirs Beach and continue southward to Lakeport are completed on August 28, just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend. However, the damage to the line northward of Meredith is far more extensive, with numerous embankment washouts and culvert erosions that leaves the tracks suspended in air in numerous places. After a month of repairs costing around a million dollars, the line reopens from Meredith to Ashland, just in time for foliage season.
2009 – A temporary pedestrian walk-around the destroyed section of boardwalk is built in May. In November, work begins on reconstruction of the Weirs Beach boardwalk, including not only the missing span, but reinforcement and upgrading of the entire southern section.
2010 – On Thursday, May 27, just before Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer season, the newly reconstructed boardwalk reopens.
2012 – A new draft rail plan is released by the NH DOT.
2017 – The 125th anniversary of the Laconia Passenger Station is celebrated on August 19. The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad makes a rare excursion past Lakeport (pictures below) to downtown Laconia. This requires lowering the drawbridge that crosses the end of Paugus Bay, near the Lakeport Landing marina. The drawbridge is automatic, but there are no automated gates, just rarely used warning lights, at the crossings in Lakeport Square, on Messer Street, and Main Street, so railroad personnel are required to direct traffic at these points.
Above, the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad at the Elm Street crossing in the center of Lakeport. Contrast this photo with the same view a 100 years earlier, below.