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Railroad History

The following is largely based on Ronald Dale Karr's excellent book, The Rail Lines of Southern New England:

Railroads first started being built in Massachusetts in the 1830's.  For the first 50 years, competition between many different railroads, often serving the same cities, led to Massachusetts having one the densest rail systems in the nation.  By 1887, three railroads ran from Boston to the Hudson Valley: the Boston and Albany, the Central Massachusetts (later the Boston and Maine), and the Fitchburg.  Each of these railways built numerous spur lines to serve the nearby communities.  The Fitchburg line (now the MBTA commuter line) reached Concord in 1844, passing Walden Pond one year before Thoreau build his cabin there, and by 1845 had reached Fitchburg.  

The spur off the Fitchburg line to Greenville, New Hampshire, was originally called the Peterborough and Shirley, although it never passed through either of those towns (Richard N. Smith, Divinity and Dust).  It reached Townsend center in 1846, and the New Hampshire border by 1850.  The line ended in the center of Greenville, New Hampshire, just after crossing a dramatic steel trestle bridge across the Souhegan River.  It served both as a means of transportation for the people of West Groton, Townsend, Mason, and Greenville, and as a freight carrier for the many water-powered industries along the Squannacook and Souhegan rivers.

With the appearance of the automobile in the early 1900's, passenger traffic began to decrease.  The last regularly scheduled passenger train on this spur ran in July, 1933. Competition from the trucking industry after the construction of the interstate highway system cut into the freight business.  Freight service by the Boston and Maine was ended in Townsend in November 1981, in spite of assurances made to Townsend businesses such as Sterilite that service would continue.  The rail is still active between Ayer Center (where the Nashua River Rail Trail also begins), and Hollingsworth and Vose in West Groton.  The track is now owned by the MBTA.