The Gale River Logging Railroad
by Rick Russack
Very little has been written about the second logging railroad to be built in the White Mountains. The Gale River Lumber Company ran its logging railroad from 1874 to 1878. (The Brown Brothers of Whitefield built the John’s River Railroad in 1870-that road is considered the first in the region.)
According to an article by Ben Crouch, in the Summer, 1976 Bulletin of the Boston and Maine Historical Society, The Gale River Lumber Co. did not move it’s lumber to a sawmill. It cut large spruce south of Pierce’s Bridge, in Bethlehem along the Gale River. The logging railroad ran about three miles towards Franconia from the south bank of the Ammonoosuc River, at Pierce’s Bridge. On the north side of the river, at Pierce’s Bridge, ran the tracks of the Boston, Concord & Montreal. There was no physical connection between the logging railroad and the BC&M. Necessary logging equipment was brought to the north side of the bridge, moved across the bridge by oxen, and loaded onto the logging railroad. Logs cut were brought out the same way.
The lumber company owned two standard gauge locomotives, of unknown type, a small number of flat cars, about 40 log trucks, a snow plow and a supply car. More than likely, these were all purchased from the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, which had reached Littleton in1853.
The business of the company, according to Crouch, was to fill orders for masts and spars for the sailing ships. Only those trees suitable for this purpose were cut. By the end of 1878, the suitable trees had been removed and the logging railroad had served its purpose. Within the last year, a number of researchers have been exploring the area where this railroad was believed to have been. Little has been found, but there are cellar holes, evidence of roadbed and bridge abutments.
When the logging ended, other interests had ideas about the rail line. Richard Taft and Charles Greenleaf, owners of the Profile House in Franconia Notch wanted a railroad from Bethlehem to their hotel so their patrons would not have to travel by stagecoach. They, along with others, formed a corporation in 1878 and received a charter from the state to build the Profile and Franconia Notch Railroad. They built a bridge over the Ammonoosuc, at Pierce’s Bridge, to connect the new railroad with the Boston, Concord and Montreal tracks on the north side of the river. They acquired the land needed for their roadbed down to the Profile House. The first three miles of the new railroad used the existing track of the Gale River Railroad. The logging railroad was standard gauge but managers of the new railroad decided that the P&FN RR would be narrow gauge. Instead of removing the older, standard gauge tracks, in true Yankee fashion, the new owners simply added a rail between the existing rails for the first three miles and then continued laying narrow gauge track to the Profile House.
Information about who actually owned the Gale River Lumber Co. is hard to come by. Records in the NH State Archives provide some clues. Several names prominent in lumbering in the region appear to have been involved. The owners of the P&FN had to purchase the land for their new railroad between Bethlehem and the Profile House. The records indicate that they bought the first three miles, south from Bethlehem, from the Waumbek Lumber Co. As stated above, the Gale River Railroad was three miles long, so perhaps that answers part of the question . Names of other lumbermen owning land along the P&FN were: John Sinclair, Isaac Croft, and J.G. Easton.
Other than Ben Crouch’s article mentioned above, the only other reference to the Gale River Railroad appears in the hard-to-find “Log and Lumber Railroads of New England” written by Douglas Rice and published in 1982.