Relatively little is known about the identities of the men who built the railroad and the structures along its route. Recent Irish immigrants provided some of the hard labor for the construction. Henry McFarland provides a description of some of those working on the railroad in Concord: “Laborers, not longaway from the green isle, wearing Tam O’Shanter caps and corduroy suits, with a few dollars to spend, were often on the streets [of Concord], somewhat in contrast with equipages carrying the families of contractors” .8 In Andover, in order to cut through Hogback Hill “a group of Irishmen with a onehorse dump cart were employed to haul dirt down to the hollow by Henry Keniston’s where the old road turned in”.9 It is estimated that over 5,000 carts of gravel were used. In 1848 the Railroad reported that a group of Irish workers were pushing some stone cars, laden with iron when the flooring of one of the bridges over the Mascoma River in Lebanon gave way and the men and cars fell into the river, seriously injuring three or four of the men.10 At least some of the immigrants apparently stayed in local communities after the construction was completed. The U.S. Census of 1850 lists fifty-three Irish-born residents, most of whom were laborers, in Lebanon alone.11 A letter written in Lebanon on November 23, 1845 provides evidence that workers were brought in from afar to work building on the railroad. Theletter states that there are at that time sixteen miles of grading to be done on the railroad. The recipient of the letter, a George Borden, is given instructions on how to travel from Troy to Lebanon by stage at a cost of $3.50 to get to the job site. 12 Cursory research of Census records suggests that George Borden was a blacksmith living in New York State.13 Many, including farmers, came looking for temporary or seasonal work. The identities of the men who built the depots and freight houses along the line are unknown.
Those building the railroad also included talented stone masons. Joseph Brown, a Franklin stone mason and contractor, reportedly put in the stone abutments for many of the bridges along the Northern Railroad.14 The granite stones used to construct the turntable in Franklin were cut from a quarry on Searle’s Hill and then hauled by a team of oxen driven by “Boston John” Clark (1790-1874). Clark and Joseph Brown reportedly set the granite blocks and then built the turntable in 1850.
By December 28, 1846 eighteen miles from Concord to Franklin was completed and opened for public use. As of May 1847 construction of the road from Franklin to the Connecticut River was in rapid progress. All of the masonry except the Connecticut River bridge, a few culverts and the topping of a few wing walls of bridge abutments was complete.15 The rails reached Andover in July 1847, Grafton in early September and Lebanon in November. The first regular train from Concord to Lebanon ran on November 17, 1847. Daniel Webster, one of the great orators of his day, spoke at the opening ceremonies at Lebanon. He noted that the Northern Railroad connected “the home of my adoption [Boston] with the home of my nativity [Franklin] and my Alma Mater [Dartmouth College in Hanover]”.16 More than 1,200 accompanied the inaugural train to Lebanon. These included many
10. 3rd Annual Report, 11.
11. Carroll, 70.
12. Letter in Collection of Arthur Pease, Lebanon.
14. Shepard, 263.
15. 2nd Annual Report, 1847, 8.
16. Robert M. Lindsell, The Rail Lines of Northern New England (Pepperell, Mass.: Branch Line Press, 2000), 249.