Vintage Views: train station memory unearthed

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The summer rain falls gently, a refreshing break from the warm summer days. Today I’m in a more contemplative state of mind, a place that’s kind of gratifying but still a bit worrying. As a local historian, I search for the past with all my might, but sometimes when I find the past reappearing, thoughts of the goodness of nostalgia dissipate and emotions are challenged. That day I stand on Storrs Street with my thoughts and the gentle summer rain. I’m standing in front of an empty parking lot that was once our very large Concord Train Depot.

As the world evolves and we construct new buildings, the diggers have returned to a place where their predecessors completed a very sad task a little over 60 years ago, the demolition of one of the finest train depots in New England. I watch calmly as the excavator digs up another bucket to pour a new concrete foundation in the Capital Shopping Center parking lot. I’m quite amazed that the location of the new building is right on the site of our beloved railway depot.

The world was a very different place in the mid 19th century as the cutting edge technology was the advent of the steam locomotive that ran on the railroad tracks being built across America. With this development, there was a need to accommodate passengers and cargo, as well as the business it would bring to Concord. There was a need for a train depot, a place where people could arrive and depart. This depot in Concord was seen as the centerpiece in a very desirable location. Prior to the train’s arrival, a depot was built at Concord and used for stagecoach transport. When the tracks were laid, the Concord Railroad began operating in 1842. Over the years the depot was used only by the railways as the days of the stagecoach went down in history.

When travelers arrived, they were greeted as they exited the depot by a highly civilized community, perhaps spending an evening strolling down Main Street with dinner and a night’s accommodation at the Eagle Hotel. Over the years, Phoenix Hall or White’s Opera House have also served good food and entertainment. Many early stores carried the latest merchandise, so we found our community was indeed a destination. Yes, the stagecoach disappeared in the past as the railroad made advances with affordable transportation.

Over the years, the Concord Train Depot was replaced in 1860 by another that was larger and more impressive for passengers. Trains arrived regularly and trade continued to benefit. The railroad provided many jobs for the people and many appreciated this wonderful opportunity to earn a fair wage that enabled them to provide for their families.

In 1885 a third depot was built, the largest depot of all. It was built of brick and mortar, an ornate copper roof; The detail was amazing. It was a Northeast flagship and adorned Storrs Street, then known as Railroad Square, for 75 years until the 1960 Capital Shopping Center was built.

Many soldiers left our train depot and served in the early wars. It has been said that the Concord Depot was the port that embarked thousands of soldiers and women. I know that my family and maybe yours saw our ancestors being taken to war.

For some, it was the last time they stood and hugged in this large depot, as war would take a toll on their future.

The railroad depot was leveled just prior to the construction of the Capital Shopping Center on this 25-acre site. The train shed was leveled first, followed by the large depot. The scrap metal was sent to Argentina at the best price; The bricks may have been cleaned and used elsewhere.

The men given the task of destroying this beauty are said to have been deeply saddened, for you see they destroyed more than a building, they destroyed fond memories of the past.

This depot was a sacred place for many, this last hug, the memory of the war, too many departures with no return.

The demolition was not the result of the urban renewal program, but simply a need to dispose of a disused building as the railroad could no longer justify the expense. Valuable real estate that was once home to train depots in our country was sold by the railroad not so much for profit as to eliminate the need to maintain an industry that was quickly slowing as many people bought cars and airplanes for the used transportation.

For many it’s a difficult tale to tell, for others the years have erased the history of the great train depot at Concord. Today you see a mall where you once saw crowds boarding trains to destinations we can only dream of.

As the stagecoach drove, so did the train. Yes, progress has been made, but The Depot will always remain the favorite memory in our community. The beauty of the grand structure as well as the fond memories will never be forgotten.

I returned to the new site late in the day after excavation had been suspended for the evening. I looked past the construction fence that surrounded the site. The men have uncovered large blocks of granite foundations and countless old bricks.

The granite and brick were once part of our large Concord Train Depot. My memories drift back to another time. That sacred place where we said goodbye one last time when our soldiers and sailors went to war. This was our train depot and a memory we will always have.

Sometimes history has the opportunity to keep visiting ancient granite and scattered bricks with a gentle summer rain.

Vintage Views is a local history column exploring Concord and the surrounding towns. It runs every week in the Sunday Your Life section. The author is a historian and not an employee of the Monitor.

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