The Story of Waumbek Junction: A Remote Railroad Station in the White Mountains
By Joanne P. Jones
Walking into Cherry Pond and the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge in Jefferson, New Hampshire, one comes to a spot very near the pond where the trail meets some railroad tracks. Although there is little evidence of the fact, this area where the trail and tracks meet is the site of the former Waumbek Junction, an active railroad junction in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The purpose of this article is to document the buildings which once were used at Waumbek Junction, as well as the people who once lived there.
First, a bit of background information. Waumbek Junction is located next to Cherry Pond in the remote, roadless area on the western side of Jefferson, near the Whitefield town line. Here the Boston & Maine Railroad (running roughly west to east) once met the Maine Central Railroad (running south to north), allowing passengers to switch from one line to the other. Timetables for the two railroads indicate that Waumbek Junction was once a busy place where over a dozen passenger trains stopped during a summer day in the peak years prior to World War I, with passengers changing trains for destinations such as the Waumbek Hotel in Jefferson or the Fabyan House in Bretton Woods.
Interestingly (as can be seen in the Boston & Maine timetable below), the Junction had various names over the years. Originally called Cherry Pond, the name changed to Waumbek Junction in the 1890s. According to Robert and Mary Hixon in their book The Place Names of the White Mountains, “in some eastern Indian dialects, waumbekket-methna meant literally ‘snowy mountains,’ and in the Algonquin language waumbik meant ‘white rocks’.” However, in May 1900, the name was officially changed to Jefferson Junction by a Boston & Maine order and remained Jefferson Junction until the late 1920s when it was once again named Waumbek Junction. As railroad ownership of local lines changed over the years, the names of those lines changed. The Boston & Maine eventually absorbed the previous carriers: the John’s River Railroad (1870-1878), the Whitefield & Jefferson Railroad (1878-1889), and the Concord & Montreal Railroad (1889-1895), with the Boston & Maine assuming control of the line in 1895. Going forward from 1895, the line was sometimes referred to as the Whitefield & Jefferson Branch or the Berlin Branch of the Boston & Maine Railroad.
In the case of the Maine Central, the local line was incorporated as the Upper Coos Railroad in 1883 and was then leased by the Maine Central in 1890. Going forward from 1890, the line was sometimes still referred to as the Upper Coos Railroad and sometimes called the Maine Central Railroad—Quebec Division (since the line ended in Quebec, Canada).
1916 timetable for the Whitefield & Jefferson and
Waumbek Branches of the Boston & Maine Railroad
Documenting the buildings that once existed at Waumbek Junction was not an easy task. Although some information was gleaned from published sources such as Bill Gove’s Logging Railroads of New Hampshire’s North Country and Ron Johnson’s Maine Central R.R.—Mountain Division, very little detailed information about the Junction is readily available. By far the most illuminating sources are two unpublished items: the valuation survey records, compiled in the early part of the 20th century by the Interstate Commerce Commission as part of a nationwide inventory of railroad assets, and the right-of-way and track maps, done at this time by the railroads for the I.C.C. Specifically, beginning in 1914, survey parties visited all railroad sites (including Waumbek Junction) to inventory and measure the buildings and other structures at a site and to calculate the value of the property. The records compiled by the survey parties who came to Waumbek Junction in 1914 and 1916, as well as the track maps of the Junction done by the Maine Central and Boston & Maine Railroads, show that a passenger station, freight house, station agent’s house, barn, and ball signal were all found at one time at Waumbek Junction.
1916 right-of-way and track map of the Upper Coos Railroad This map, done by the railroad for the Interstate Commerce Commission, shows the buildings that once existed at Waumbek Junction.
The passenger station was located on the east side of the Maine Central tracks just north of the junction with the Boston & Maine tracks, before the crossing of the John’s River. It measured 16 ft. by 36 ft. and had platforms that extended along both the Maine Central and Boston & Maine tracks, so that passengers could easily switch from one train to another. According to the I.C.C. valuation survey records, the Maine Central and Boston & Maine owned the station jointly. The Maine Central report for the year ending June 30, 1896 lists a new station for Waumbek Junction (measuring 16 ft. by 36 ft.), so most likely the station was built in late 1895 or early 1896. It is more difficult to pin down a closing date for the station. On the I.C.C. valuation survey records, there is a notation that the station was “retired” in 1942. According to Rick Nowell, Archives Chairman at the Boston & Maine Railroad Historical Society, “torn up, sold, or abandoned all could be considered retired.” Most likely, the station closed to the public in the early 1930s (when passenger service was reduced in northern New England) and then sat abandoned for the next 10 years. Except for a few pipes hidden in the woods, no real evidence of the station is visible today.
Undated postcard showing the passenger station at
The freight house was located in the diamond between the Maine Central and Boston & Maine tracks, across from and slightly south of the station. It measured 16 ft. by 28 ft. and, as seen on the track map, was nearly surrounded by platforms. Like the station, the Maine Central and Boston & Maine owned it jointly. We could not find a date for the construction of the freight house, but a notation on the I.C.C. valuation survey records indicates that the freight house did not come off the books until 1967. However, the building was still standing in June 1981 when Ben English, Jr. photographed it. The only remaining evidence of the freight house today is a telephone box, once mounted on the front of the building. Nearby, is the remains of a clay cistern, which served as a dug well fed by a spring. David Govatski recalls that it had “a wooden base and a cover that was six by six feet.”
The freight house at Waumbek Junction in 1964 The track layout of the crossing is in the lower part of the photo. To the left is the Boston & Maine to Whitefield and Woodsville. To the right is the Boston & Maine to Berlin. To the lower left is the Maine Central to Quebec Junction and Crawford Notch. To the upper right is the Maine Central to Lancaster and Coos Junction. (Ben English, Jr. photo)
Shown on the Boston & Maine track map (but not the Maine Central one), south of the freight house and just outside the diamond, was a ball signal to control the crossing of the trains at the Junction. One ball, or one red lantern raised to the masthead meant that Boston & Maine trains could cross the Maine Central tracks. Two balls, or two red lanterns meant that Maine Central trains could cross the Boston & Maine tracks. No dates could be found for when this signal was placed at the Junction or for when it was removed. However, at some point, it was moved to the grounds of the Conway Scenic Railroad in North Conway, where it now resides.
The ball signal at Waumbek Junction in 1964. Two balls at the masthead allowed trains on the Maine Central to cross the Boston & Maine. One ball at the masthead allowed trains on the Boston & Maine to cross the Maine Central. We are looking along the Maine Central toward Lancaster and Coos Junction. The passenger station used to exist on the right, beyond the Boston & Maine track to Berlin and this side of the short railing on the bridge over the John’s River. (Ben English, Sr. photo)
The house for the station agent and his family was located east of the Junction, about halfway between the Junction and the current Cherry Pond observation platform. Although no photos are known to exist, the I.C.C. valuation survey records for this structure (referred to as the “private dwelling” and the “tenement” in the records) show that it was a two-story building with a front parlor, dining room, kitchen, and several bedrooms. The I.C.C. records include measurements for a small barn, which, although not shown on the track map, was probably located somewhere near the house. The Boston & Maine owned both the house and the barn. We could not establish dates for the construction of the house and barn, but a notation on the I.C.C. records indicates that they came off the books on Nov. 11, 1927. A shallow cellar hole off the Waumbek Link trail is all that remains today.
Floor plan of the first floor of the station agent’s house. From the 1914 Interstate Commerce Commission valuation survey records. (Boston & Maine Railroad Historical Society Archives)
Very limited information is available about the people who once lived at Waumbek Junction—the best source being the Hand-book of Officers, Agents, Stations and Sidings published each year by the Maine Central Railroad. Copies of this Hand-book in the collection of the Maine Historical Society reveal the names of agents working and living at the Junction between 1914 and 1930—J. E. Crepeau, H. A. Vigeant, A. B. Congdon, J. A. Proulx, and M. D. Roy. In checking the 1920 census for Congdon (who was the agent at the station from 1917 to 1921), it is found that his full name was Alexander B. Congdon, age 25, married to Florence Congdon and the father of 3 young children. Thus, at least for this period, a family lived at Waumbek Junction. Whether the other agents were married or had families could not be determined. Names of the agents who worked and lived at the Junction prior to 1914 are unknown.
Finally, in researching information for this article, an interesting connection was discovered between a well-known White Mountain family and Waumbek Junction. In February 1909, Mrs. Clara Crawford, age 54, rode the train in a winter storm from Jefferson Highlands to Bemis, waiting inside the Waumbek Junction station to switch trains. Following the train ride, Mrs. Crawford came down with a cold and died on February 13, 1909 in Bemis. Her husband, Ethan A. Crawford III, grandson of Ethan and Lucy Crawford and proprietor of the E. A. Crawford House in Jefferson Highlands, subsequently sued the Maine Central, claiming that the failure of the railroad to adequately heat the Waumbek Junction station caused his wife to catch a cold, which resulted in her death. According to the May 6, 1910 issue of the Jefferson Times, Crawford won the case in Coos Superior Court in Lancaster and was awarded $2,636 (equivalent to over $60,000 in today’s dollars). Although the Maine Central appealed this decision, the following year, the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld the award. Definitely an unusual twist in the tale of little Waumbek Junction!
If you would like to visit Waumbek Junction:
There are two approaches to Waumbek Junction, but the most popular one is the Presidential Range Recreational Trail. The trailhead for this rail trail is on the right off Hazen Road, 1.5 miles from NH 115 near the Biomass Power Plant. Hike in 1.5 miles on the flat trail (formerly the Maine Central railroad bed), passing a spur trail to the observation platform at 1.4 miles. When you arrive at the Junction, you will see a large Pondicherry sign on your right. (As noted on the sign, Pondicherry is a division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, managed by a partnership between the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, N. H. Audubon, N. H. Fish & Game, and the N. H. Bureau of Trails.)
You can also come in from Route 115A in Jefferson. This approach is 2.5 miles along the old Boston and Maine railroad bed and passes through Moorhen Marsh. The rail crossing on Route 115A is 0.4 miles from Route 115 in Jefferson. Both routes are suitable for bicycles in the summer.
And finally, if you should visit Waumbek Junction, please take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints—and enjoy this lovely spot at the edge of Cherry Pond.
#1 marks Waumbek Junction; #2, the location of the freight house; #3, the location of the ball signal; #4, the location of the passenger station; and #5, the location of the station agent’s house. (Drawn by author.)
Larger Version of the Map Above
Timeline for Development of Waumbek Junction
Joanne Jones retired in 2011 from Phillips Exeter Academy, where she was a librarian for 27 years. She now volunteers at New Hampshire Audubon and the New Hampshire Historical Society Library in Concord. She and her husband Kevin are the adopters of the Little Cherry Pond Trail at Pondicherry and pass by Waumbek Junction en route to the Little Cherry Pond trailhead.
Acknowledgements: The author would like to thank the following individuals for their assistance in this research project—David Govatski, retired forester with the U. S. Forest Service, White Mountain historian, and President of the Friends of Pondicherry; Ben English, Jr., retired teacher, railroad historian, and author; Louis Barker, Railroad Planner, NHDOT—Bureau of Rail & Transit; Rick Nowell, Archives Chairman, Boston & Maine Railroad Historical Society; and Kevin Jones, husband of the author and partner in this research adventure.