Zealand Valley Railroad, 1885-1897
By the early 1890s, the Henrys had removed most of the saleable lumber in the Zealand Valley. They also had lost a substantial amount of standing timber in an 1886 forest fire, which burned much of their acreage. Understanding that the supply of lumber in Zealand was dwindling, the Henrys bought thousands of acres of virgin timber in the Pemigewasset River valley, around Lincoln. In 1892, they moved their logging operations to Lincoln and George Van Dyke leased the Zealand mill. Van Dyke was an occasional partner of Henry and had purchased, from Henry, a nearby tract of timber, along the Little River. In 1893, he built the Little River Railroad. He leased track from the Boston and Maine Railroad (which had taken over the Boston Concord and Montreal) and rented the needed locomotive and caboose from J.E. Henry. He hauled his logs to Henry’s nearby mill in Zealand and probably used the other buildings as well. Major forest fires, combined with the exhaustion of the lumber supply brought an end to Zealand. By 1900, Van Dyke had cut all the available timber and the Zealand mill was no longer needed. Two major forest fires brought a final end to Zealand. The mill and several other buildings were destroyed in 1897. (The 1897 fire was the second major fire, the first mentioned above, was in 1886.) After the large mill burned in 1897, a small mill replaced it and was used to cut the final logs of the Van Dyke operation. After the 1897 fire, the Boston and Maine Railroad closed its Zealand Station, but trains continued to stop there when flagged. By 1900, Van Dyke was done, the Little River Railroad was abandoned, and the town of Zealand would slowly fade away. Interestingly, the Rand McNally Atlas, 1895, indicates that were still 50 residents.
The 1880 Industrial Census for the town of Carroll notes that in addition to the sale of $25,000 worth of lumber, the Henry enterprises sold over $75,000 worth of charcoal. The charcoal business exceeded the lumber business. There were five charcoal kilns in Zealand and a note in Charles Henry’s diary for 1892 says that each kiln held 35 cords of wood. The 1880 census for Carroll also tells us that five residents identified themselves as “coal burners”. However, we can’t say, with certainty, that the charcoal included in the 1880 census was made in Zealand nor can we be sure the five “coal burners” had anything to do with J.E. Henry. The details are hazy because, in the August 23, 1879 issue of the White Mountain Echo, is a long article about a hike through the Zealand Notch. It repeatedly describes the untouched scenery and makes no mention of a logging enterprise or other industrial activity in the Zealand Valley. The kilns, if this article is accurate, were not in Zealand in 1879, which makes it questionable that in 1880 they turned out $75,000 worth of product. There were other charcoal kilns in the area, one on the Mt. Clinton Road, and another where the Bretton Woods ski area is today. As of this writing, Henry’s 1880 kilns cannot be positively located. Additional research will, hopefully one day solve this minor mystery.
Belcher, in “Logging Railroads of the White Mountains” states that nothing remains of the village of Zealand today. This is not correct. Slightly to the west of the Zealand Camp Grounds on Rt.302, the remnants of the old mill can be seen along the north side of the Ammonoosuc River. On the south side of the river, it is possible to determine the location of the engine house and the charcoal kilns can be located (although not easily). On the north side of Rt. 302, are a number of cellar holes; at least two are quite large; one is likely the boarding house and the other may have been a storage shed. In addition, the old Maine Central Railroad bed is still there and includes a cut granite underpass, few of which survive.