Railroad Depot, Plymouth NH

The Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad station at the Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company.

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The same location in 2019:

This railroad station in Plymouth would have been a busy place at the turn of the last century.  Aside from local residents, passengers would have included students at the Plymouth Normal School, as well as travelers to the White Mountains.  Located at the southern end of the White Mountains, any visitor from the south would have passed through here, and many stayed at the Pemigewasset House, the large building in the center of the photo.  The hotel was owned by the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, with the depot conveniently built into the basement.  The daily northbound and southbound trains that passed through here around noon would stop for a half hour so passengers could enjoy a lunch at the restaurant in the hotel, which was also owned by the railroad.

The Pemigewasset House burned in 1909, taking the old railroad depot with it.  The hotel was rebuilt, but further up the hill and away from the tracks.  The depot was rebuilt here as a stand-alone building, and it survives to this day, in the center of the photo partially hidden by trees.  In the first photo, the railroad was owned by the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, but was operated by the Boston & Maine Railroad, who leased the BC & M from 1895 until merging with it in 1919.  Two Boston & Maine passenger cars can be seen to the left, with a number of other rail cars in the distance beyond the station.

Passenger rail service to Plymouth was eliminated in the mid 20th century, and today the old railroad station is a senior center.  The only passenger trains that run now are scenic trains, including a fall foliage train that, like its predecessors, stops in Plymouth for lunch.  The Boston & Maine Railroad hasn’t existed as an independent railroad since 1983, but in the 2019 photo an old B&M boxcar sits on a side track, contrasting with the B&M coaches in the first photo.  Most of it has been repainted, but the old railroad’s light blue colors can still be seen amid the rust on the back of the boxcar.

Pemigewasset House, Plymouth, NH (3)

The west side of the Pemigewasset House, seen from across Main Street at the corner of Highland Street around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

These photos were taken facing the opposite direction from the ones in this post, which were taken from about the spot of the telephone pole. The present-day pole isn’t the same one from over a century ago, but its location is just about the only thing in the scene that hasn’t changed over the years.  The Pemigewasset House, which is explained in more detail in this post, was built in 1863 to replace an earlier building on the same site.  Like its predecessor, the second Pemigewasset House burned in 1909, and today several commercial buildings occupy the site of the hotel, between Main Street and the railroad tracks.

Pemigewasset House, Plymouth, NH (2)

The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, looking south from near the corner of Main and Highland Streets around 1900-1909. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The approximate location in 2015:

It’s difficult to determine the exact location of the first photo, because the Pemigewasset House hasn’t existed in over a century and the area has been completely redeveloped.  The popular hotel stood here from 1863 until it was destroyed in a fire in 1909, and as explained in this post it is the place where Nathaniel Hawthorne died during a visit to the White Mountains with former president Franklin Pierce.  The brick building in the 2015 photo was probably built soon after the hotel burned down, and today it has several storefronts on the Main Street side of the building, along with this section along Green Street, which is used by Pemi Glass, a local glass and mirror company.

Pemigewasset House, Plymouth, NH (1)

The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth in 1860. Image from History of Plymouth, New Hampshire (1906).

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The rebuilt hotel, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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The scene in 2015:

The town of Plymouth is sort of the gateway to the White Mountains; it is located at the very southern end of the region, along the Pemigewasset River. This river valley forms the primary transportation corridor to the White Mountains from the south, and the town was a logical place to run an inn.  Beginning in the 1760s, Colonel David Webster operated a tavern here, which was subsequently expanded by his family in the early 1800s.  Wesbter’s Tavern was sold to Denison R. Burnam in 1841, who renamed it the Pemigewasset House, after the river that runs behind it.  By the time the 1860 photo was taken, Burnam had expanded the building several times, but two years later it was destroyed in a fire.

The Pemigewasset House was quickly rebuilt as the building seen in the second photo.  The hotel came under the ownership of the Boston, Concord, & Montreal Railroad, whose tracks were located on the opposite side of the building.  Around noon, both northbound and southbound trains would stop here for a half hour so passengers could eat in the dining room, and for those who wanted to stay the hotel could accommodate 300 guests at $3 per night or $14 to $17.50 a week.  For those heading further north to the White Mountains, they could either take the railroad or, if the Profile House at Franconia Notch was their destination, they could take a more direct trip on the daily stagecoach.  This 30 mile journey took all afternoon back in the late 1800s; today, a traveler can make the same trip on Interstate 93 in about a half hour.

The hotel is probably best known, however, as the place where Nathaniel Hawthorne died.  Hawthorne had been in poor health, so in the spring of 1864 he took a trip to the White Mountains with his friend, former president Franklin Pierce, in an attempt to recuperate.  The two had been friends since the 1820s, when they met at Bowdoin College.  By the time Pierce became a presidential candidate, Hawthorne had already become famous as the author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of Seven Gables, as well as a number of short stories (including “The Ambitious Guest,” written about a traveler who dies at a hotel in the White Mountains).  In 1852, Hawthorne used his fame and writing talent to write a glowing biography of Pierce, portraying him as a man who could unite north and south and preserve the country.  Later that year, Pierce was elected president in a landslide, and Hawthorne was rewarded with a consulate position in England.

By the time they took their trip together to the White Mountains 12 years later, though, things had changed; the country was in the middle of the Civil War, and many blamed Pierce and his disastrous presidency.  They must have made an interesting sight, with one of the most hated, disgraced public figures in the country traveling with one of the most popular and respected authors of the time.  One of their stops was in Dixville Notch, a small unincorporated village in the extreme northern part of New Hampshire, and from there they traveled 100 miles south to the Pemigewasset House, where they stayed on the night of May 18, 1864.  They had dinner and tea at the hotel in the evening, but next morning Pierce awoke to discover that Hawthorne had died in his sleep, at the age of 59.

Like its predecessor, and like countless other massive wood-framed hotels of its day, the Pemigewasset House was vulnerable to fire.  It burned down in early 1909, probably less than a year after the second photo was taken, and in 1913 a new hotel was built a little further up the hill.  It is also no longer standing, having been demolished in the 1950s.  Today, the site of the first and second buildings has been completely redeveloped, and it is difficult determining exactly where the hotel once stood.  However, maps from the 1800s indicate that it was located between Main Street and the railroad tracks, just south of Highland Street.  The 2015 scene was taken from Main Street, facing the triangular-shaped building on the south corner of Main Street and Railroad Square.