When did tourists begin to arrive in Weirs Beach?
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.
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”.
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.
Timeline of the ownership of the railroad line in Weirs Beach
The Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad at the Elm Street crossing in the center of Lakeport during the 2017 excursion. The building at the center of the postcard is the Lakeport Opera House.
Contrast the 2017 photo with the same view a 100 years earlier, below. In the early view, the Lakeport Opera House is marked “IOOF”, which stands for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. This was the Chocorua Lodge #51 of the secret fraternal society. Formed in 1869, the Lodge remained in the building until 1969, when it moved to Court Street.