Creation of the Boston & Maine Railroad

The Boston & Maine Railroad traces its roots back to a venture in Massachusetts called the Andover & Wilmington Railroad in 1833. As the railroad expanded north towards Portland, Maine, a New Hampshire company called the Boston & Maine Railroad was created in 1835 to extend the Andover & Wilmington’s rail line from the Massachusetts-New Hampshire state line to the border of Maine. In 1842, all the railroad companies that made up the Massachusetts to Maine route merged, carrying forward the Boston & Maine Railroad name. With construction of new rail lines and the lease and acquisition of other railroad companies, by 1900 the B&M had a dense rail network that covered Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and Quebec.

The Railroad through Sandown

History of the Worcester, Nashua & Portland Division of the Boston & Maine Railroad.

The first sections of what would become the Worcester, Nashua & Portland operating division of the Boston & Maine started in Worcester, Massachusetts with the construction of the Worcester Branch Railroad and Worcester & Nashua Railroad in 1848. The Worcester & Nashua Railroad had a route from Worcester to Nashua through Ayer, back in the days when railroad names often reflected their destination cities.

The Nashua & Rochester Railroad was constructed from Nashua to Rochester, with trains first travelling the route in 1874. The railroad’s primary sponsor was the Worcester & Nashua Railroad to reach Portland, Maine. The last hurdle, reaching Portland, was completed by the Portland & Rochester Railroad in 1871 with support from the City of Portland. The Portland & Rochester joined the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1883.

Due to the massive costs of building the route between Nashua and Rochester and its operational expenses, the W&N and N&R companies reorganized in 1883 as the Worcester, Nashua & Rochester Railroad. The debts of construction and a not-so-profitable route between Nashua and Rochester were still too overwhelming for the new railroad and was absorbed into the Boston & Maine’s growing regional railroad system in 1886. Its inclusion marked the creation of the Worcester, Nashua & Portland Division.

By 1900 the Boston & Maine Railroad had three routes between Massachusetts and Portland, Maine, and despite the multiple routes the WN&P held the honors of the busiest single-track, non-signaled main line in the country. The Boston & Maine made improvements such extending a second main line track in Massachusetts to Nashua and installing signals over the entire route in 1913.

Unfortunately the B&M did not see the need to maintain three routes to Maine, and the Worcester, Nashua & Portland was the first to get cut. The division itself ceased to exist in 1925, with the line split and shared between two other operating divisions. With this change, what was once a main line between Nashua and Portland dropped to branch line status. Schedule changes and declining use of the rail line saw the eventual end to trains between Hudson and Fremont and between Epping and West Gonic in 1934. A section in Nashua and what remained in Hudson were abandoned not long after in 1941 and 1942 respectively.

The line between Rochester and Portland saw new life in 1949 with the start-up of the Sanford & Eastern Railroad. The railroad was owned by Sam Pinsley, who was acquiring rail lines being abandoned that still had small volumes of rail traffic. Like what happened on many of the other New England shortlines he created, the remaining rail customers slowly closed, moved, or switched to trucks for shipping. With fewer and fewer customers the Sanford & Eastern stopped running in 1963.

The remnants of the WN&P on the B&M system continued through the years until 1981 with the next series of abandonments – Rochester to West Gonic and Ayer to Hollis. A short one mile stretch in Nashua eventually was torn up in 1993. Today, trains still regularly travel between Worcester and Ayer, but the remainder of this once busy route is now a mix of recreational trails, state highways, and abandoned railbed.