January 19, 2018
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The story behind the Bangor area’s forgotten commuter railroad

By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff
Updated:

You probably don’t even notice them. But if you’re on the bike path between Old Town and the University of Maine, or walking through Broadway Park in Bangor, you’ve seen them — the granite boulders carved with a deep ‘V.’

The V’s aren’t some secret code carved by WWII-era spies, or messages left from a prehistoric alien visit. They do mean something, however: They mark the 12-mile path of the Bangor, Old Town and Milford Railroad, known colloquially as the Old Veazie Railroad (hence the V).

Running 12 miles from Milford to Bangor, it was Maine’s first public railway and among the first steam railroads in North America. Between 1836 and 1869, it ferried passengers and loads of cut timber from Milford to Bangor.

Years before Boston or New York had a commuter rail, the Bangor region had an early version of one. It ran across two rivers, through miles of bog and traveled at a whopping pace of 12 mph. When Bangor was the world’s largest lumber port, the Veazie railroad helped power the economic engine.

“A lot of the saw mills were in Old Town and Orono, but the shipping was done in Bangor, so a lot of the business dealings would happen via this train,” said Jim Neville, executive director of the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor. “It certainly aided in the rapid growth of Bangor as the lumber capital of the world. And it spurred growth and development in the region as a whole.”

Bob Cardin, a Veazie native and local history and railroad enthusiast, organized the effort to place the boulders back in 1992 and wrote a brief history of the railroad, with help from the folks at the Cole Land Transportation Museum. The museum has some items salvaged from the railroad on permanent display, as well as copies of Cardin’s history.

“In terms of public or mass transportation above the singular scale, this is definitely the oldest in the state,” said Neville.

When the railroad ran, you could leave Bangor at 7 or 11:30 a.m., or 5 p.m., and return from Old Town at 9:30 a.m., or 2:30 or 7:30 p.m., according to Cardin’s history. The fare was 37.5 cents one way. It took about an hour to get there, since the engines ran at a maximum of 12 mph — the locomotives were the “drop hook” variety, which had no control over their speed.

The railroad started in Milford, near where the Milford Congregational Church now stands. It crossed the Penobscot River via a long-gone covered bridge and then made its way through Old Town — much of the bike trail that connects Old Town and the UMaine campus follows its path — before crossing the Stillwater River. It then took a straight route through the Orono bog, crossing into Bangor behind where Walmart and Home Depot are now. It continued through town, across what is now Broadway Park, and into downtown, with a passenger station on the hill across from what is now the federal building.

From there, the engines would be disconnected, and horses would pull the cars from Harlow Street toward Washington Street, ending at what is now Penobscot Plaza.

Two steam engines were used to pull the train — the Pioneer, and the Bit Smith, both built by the Robert Stephenson Company in Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, which built many of the locomotives used in the U.S. during the early years of railroads. The Bit Smith broke down in the 1840s, but the Pioneer was in use until the end.

The railroad was originally constructed and owned by the Bangor, Piscataquis Canal and Railroad Company. In the 1840s, however, following a slight relocation of some of the tracks, the tracks ended up crossing land that General Sam Veazie owned.

Veazie, a litigious sort and a shrewd businessman with enormous real estate holdings in the Bangor area, sued the railroad and acquired ownership of it. He ran it until his death in 1868, and in 1869 Veazie’s railroad was sold to the European and North American Railroad, which shut it down so it wouldn’t compete with its own line along the river.

Today, all that’s left of the Veazie railroad is a handful of rail ties and beams salvaged from the Orono bog in the early 1990s, on display at the Cole Land Transportation Museum. You can also see part of the old railroad bed in the North Penjajawoc Forest and Walden Parke Preserve, both part of the Bangor Land Trust, and the Caribou Bog Conservation Area, part of the Orono Land Trust.

 


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