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Student Exhibit: Somerset Railroad

Railroad Station, Skowhegan, ca. 1900
Railroad Station, Skowhegan, ca. 1900The station was built in 1858 and torn down in 1948Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

Written by Morgan Hisler, 2005, an eighth grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.

The Somerset Railroad was completed in 1872. It started out as a dream to link the Maine Coast with Canadian businesses to the north. It ran from the North Woods around Moosehead Lake down to Southern Maine and back again for 56 years.

The train carried tourists, sportsmen, U.S. soldiers and German prisoners of war. Its massive steam engines and freight cars opened new markets for Maine. Farmers, woodsmen, canneries, and lumber mills benefited from these new markets.

Madison Avenue, Skowhegan, ca. 1930
Madison Avenue, Skowhegan, ca. 1930The trolley car ran from 1894 until 1929.Item Contributed by
Maine Historical Society

On the average, the Somerset spent thirty thousand dollars to build a mile of track. Bridges were included in this amount of money. The people who lived by the track became involved in the railroad in many ways. Embden issued bonds, and they raised money to buy Somerset stock.

They needed to repay the bonds within forty years. There was a vote on who wanted to borrow forty-thousand dollars in railroad stock, and 132 people voted for the stock and 7 voted against it. Embden promised the town that they will not sell the bonds until they could buy stock for the railroad.

Maine Central Railroad Bridge, Skowhegan, 1916
Maine Central Railroad Bridge, Skowhegan, 1916This bridge was destroyed in the flood of April 1st of 1987. It was rebuilt as a foot bridge and renamed the Bloomfield Bridge.Item Contributed by
Skowhegan History House

Many people from Embden, North Anson, Madison Bridge, Solon, North New Portland, and Norridgewock signed a petition to the Maine state legislature saying that they wanted the train to be built. There were 3 periods of growth in the building of the Somerset. From 1872 to 1876, 25 miles of rails was laid down, reaching from Oakland to North Anson. From 1887 through 1890, 16 miles were laid, reaching North to Bingham.

In 1904 the last piece begun. This piece was 49 and 1/2 miles long and it stretched through the North Woods to Moosehead Lake. Oakland was the Somerset's hometown. Oakland is where the railroad painted its cars, tinkered with its second-hand engines, and patched its equipment. This is also where the interchanging of freight and passengers the Maine Central was done.

Maine Central Railroad Bridge, Skowhegan, ca. 1896
Maine Central Railroad Bridge, Skowhegan, ca. 1896Item Contributed by
Skowhegan History House

The Maine Central was another train. Working on the railroads is hard enough anyways, but when the Somerset first began to run trains the jobs were very dangerous. In 1889 the brakemen were still walking on the tops of freight cars to set the hand brakes. Years later, on log trains, the old link- and- pin couplings were still being used. These devices were very dangerous. If one slipped then a man could lose his fingers instantly. There was a brakemen named J. Levine who was killed when he slipped from the front of an engine. There was a fireman named William Dorge who was killed during the war in France right before the truce. Both of these men were part of the Maine Central crew.

In 1929, on March 11, the ending of the Somerset Railway was officially declared. They figured that it should be ended because the people who ran it had died. The tracks were began to be taken up on October 13, 1936. A buyer in Japan bought the rail as junk metal.