THE PORTLAND & OGDENSBURG
P & O Map from 1878 Brochure
Bryant Tolles Collection
Click here for an enlarged version of this map
The P& O RR, chartered in 1867 was intended to extend from Portland, Maine to Ogdensburg, NY, thereby connecting the seacoast and the Great Lakes. The 18.5-mile section from Bartlett to Fabyan, through Crawford Notch, is the portion that concerns us. Track reached Conway in 1871 and Bartlett in 1873. It reached Bemis, later known as Notchland, in 1874 and Fabyan in August 1875. The first train arrived at Fabyan station on August 7. Passenger service from the Bethlehem side, via the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad had reached Fabyan in 1874. Two other dates should be noted: the New Fabyan House Hotel was completed in 1873, having been built by a corporation of which Sylvester Marsh (builder of the Cog Railway on Mt. Washington) was a major stockholder. In 1876, one year after the P&O RR was completed, the BC&M RR extended its line from Fabyan to the base of the Cog Railway.
A brief word is needed about Dr. Samuel Bemis before discussing the construction of the railroad. Samuel Bemis built the granite mansion that still stands along Rt. 302. He also owned thousands of acres of land in Crawford Notch and Abel Crawford’s old Tavern, which was not in operation at the time. Bemis was a believer in railroads. His private papers show that he owned stock in several. He sold the Portland and Ogdensburg the right-of-way for their railroad through his land for $1.00 and he allowed construction crews to live in the old Crawford Tavern. (Damage to the building by the workmen was substantial and caused it eventually to be torn down.) Bemis required that the railroad build a station at his home and they did. That station was known, at various times, as Notchland or Bemis Station.
Construction of the railroad was considered one of the engineering marvels of the time. The grade from Bartlett to the Crawford House was significant: the station at Crawford House was over 1,200 feet higher than the station in Bartlett. Much of the way, it was necessary to carve a shelf out of the mountainside for the track. All work was done with hand tools and horse drawn carts. Blasting the tons of rock used black powder. Dynamite had been invented and patented in Sweden in 1867, but was not available in the US until about 1885. The photo album linked below shows the monumental amount work that had to be done.
First Station at Fabyan, 1875
Dick Hamilton Collection
The completion of the railroad through the Notch had significant impact on both the tourist industry and the logging industry. Tourists from New York and Boston could reach the White Mountains in less than a day and in fact, a year later, they could reach the summit of Mt. Washington in less than a day. Prior to this time, visitors to the Crawford House could only get there by stagecoach. The same was true for the earlier Notch House, the White Mountain House, the Willey House and Abel Crawford’s Mt. Crawford House.
The railroad through the Notch (and beyond) opened up the timber resources of the interior portions of the White Mountains. Lumbermen, taking advantage of the improved transportation, built their own logging railroads, which connected to the mainline tracks. The improved access to markets encouraged them to build large steam operated sawmills in the forests and many towns, now abandoned, were built around the mills. Some towns included engine houses, stores, charcoal kilns, homes for the workers and a school house for the children. Some of these towns, like Livermore, had 200-300 inhabitants. Vast amounts of lumber were cut over a period of several years utilizing the logging railroads. Not surprisingly, eventually, conflicts of interest developed between the lumbermen, removing the trees, and the hotel owners who were “selling” natural scenery. We’re leaving that story to another time and place.
Click here for photos showing the construction of the P&O. The photos are organized geographically, from East (Bartlett) to west (Fabyan). Captions and
descriptions provided by Dick Hamilton and Ben
P&O Promotional Brochure
“A Century of Railroading in Crawford Notch” by Edwin B. Robertson and Ben English, Jr
“Building the Railroad Through Crawford Notch” by Edwin Robertson.
“Maine Central R.R. Mountain Division” by Ron Johnson