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Step 1 — Artifact analysis

rail-map

  1. What kind of map is this?
  2. What physical qualities (compass, date, scale, etc.) are observable on this map?
  3. Use of the artifact:
    • Why might this map have been drawn?
    • What evidence suggests why this map may have been drawn?
    • Where might it have been used?
    • When might it have been used?
  4. What does this map tell us…
    • about the time in which it was made and used?
    • about the life and times of the people who made it and used it?
  5. What information is missing from this map that would help the reader understand more about this place and/or time?
  6. How is the region portrayed in this map different today?

Step 2 — Read the description of the artifact and its context

Vermont, northern part [cartographic material] (912.743 W152n) shows town boundaries; town post office locations; some pond, lake, stream, and mountain names; some road names; and Central Vermont Railroad line. Circa 1905.

This map of northern Vermont railroad routes was published by the Walker Lithograph and Publishing Company of Boston. The Walker Lithograph and Publishing Company published two maps, with the state broken into northern and southern tiers. This particular detail is from the map detailing northern Vermont. The focus of this detail is on the northeastern corner of Vermont (commonly referred to today as the Northeast Kingdom). Included in this map detail are the routes of the Grand Trunk Railroad and the Maine Central Railroad.

This map was published around the turn of the twentieth century. Of particular interest in this detail are the extension of the Maine Central Railroad north to Beecher Falls and into southern Quebec, as well as the route of the Grand Trunk Railroad allowing movement between its hub of operations in Montreal to Portland, Maine.

Step 3 — Consider the artifact in its historical context

The railroads of northeast Vermont in the context of the Gilded Age. Considering both the artifact and your knowledge of the time period, answer the following questions:

Step 4 — Final narrative

This artifact is significant because it illustrates the expansion of the railroads into Vermont's most remote location, the Northeast Kingdom. The artifact is a detail from a railroad map showing town boundaries, town post office locations, some pond, lake, stream, and mountain names, some road names, and the railroad lines and junctions in northeastern Vermont. The map itself would have been used by station masters to show rail customers routes for both passengers and freight. With the growth of the rail system, maps were updated frequently with new lines, junctions, and stations.

The railroad was important because it could move two things, people and goods. Towns developed along rail lines across America. Vermont was not an exception to this rule, although the development took place on a much smaller scale. In many cases it was a matter of expanding rail service to already booming towns, such as Burlington. In other cases, smaller towns developed as a result of rail expansion. In the Northeast Kingdom, the village of Island Pond at one point had fifteen different rail lines meeting (Freeman, 888).

The railroad's effect on the northeastern most part of Vermont during the Gilded Age can be examined through two examples involving tourism and manufacturing.

The Brunswick Mineral Springs lie along the Connecticut River, about two miles south of the railroad junction at North Stratford, NH. Brunswick Springs consists of six separate mineral springs that boil out of a steep bank sixty-five feet above the river. The six springs contain, in order, arsenic, bromide, sulfur, magnesium, calcium, and iron. According to The History of Brunswick, Vermont, the story is told that Indians from Lake Magog brought a British soldier to the springs in 1784 to heal a wounded arm. (26) Not long after, the first Brunswick citizen began to take boarders into his home for mineral water treatments, and a tourism industry was established.

The heyday of Brunswick Springs coincided with the Gilded Age. In his essay, Arcadia in New England: Divergent Visions of a Changing Vermont, 1850-1920, Kevin Graffagnino recounts how communities such as Brunswick Springs advertised their waters as a cure for “rheumatism, diabetes, syphilis, cancer, and virtually any other human ailment.” (46) This was a specious claim, but effective. To the city folk of the Gilded Age, locations such as Brunswick Springs offered not only a rural retreat from the summer heat, but a cure to all their ills as well.

The Brunswick Springs House was built above the springs drawing patients far and near. The development that allowed this was the railroad. Patients seeking the healing waters of the springs were able to travel by rail to North Stratford where they were then taken by stage to the Brunswick Springs House. Visitors would spend the summer before returning to the city refreshed and healed. The success was temporary however. A fire burned down the original Brunswick Springs House. Two subsequent attempts to rebuild also met a fiery fate, leading to the legend that the grounds were cursed by the original Native American inhabitants to punish anyone looking to profit from the springs' healing waters.

Brunswick Springs failure was no fault of the railroad. Curse or no curse, the mineral springs tourism industry was short lived throughout Vermont. The railroads presence allowed the Brunswick locals to benefit economically from the short lived interest in the healing properties of their mineral waters. The railroad could lead tourists to the waters, but it could not keep them drinking. Today the springs still bubble out of the hill side above the Connecticut unaffected by development. While some say that the area remains unspoiled by development thanks to the curse, the situation owes more to the springs' remote location. Vermont tourist houses were soon bypassed by vacationers preferring to purchase their own summer homes. Brunswick was forgotten as a summer destination because it was so remote. It remains like this to this day.

The railroad would have a more lasting impact further up the Connecticut in Beecher Falls. The Upper Coos Division of the Maine Central Railroad was completed into Beecher Falls in 1888. This extension included a round house and turnaround. The extension of the rail line meant that goods could be moved with ease. Not long after the rail expansion the Beecher Falls Manufacturing Company was set up. A sawmill and furniture factory were built almost on the border with Quebec. During its lifetime, the Beecher Falls Manufacturing Company was the largest furniture manufacturing company east of Michigan. It is still believed to be the largest wooden factory building in New England, if not the U.S. (Holmes, 118).

Without the railroad, the Beecher Falls Manufacturing Company never would have succeeded. While there was plenty of raw material available for furniture making, prior to the rail line extension there was no feasible method of shipping the finished goods to market. The railroad allowed a cheap method of shipping furniture. The real cost of shipping freight plummeted during late nineteenth century, reaching a low of .75 cents per mile, per ton in 1900 (Cashman, 23). Without the railroad, the Beecher Falls Manufacturing Company never could have survived.

The furniture factory changed owners several times over the years. It currently operates as the Beecher Falls Division of Ethan Allen, Inc. The factory is still housed in the same wooden structure, albeit with some modern upgrades and expansions. As a precaution the Beecher Falls Volunteer Fire Department is adjacent to the original wooden structure. The factory is easily the largest employer in the area, employing approximately 500 people. The factory's presence has allowed the locals to weather the economic changes that have taken place singe the Gilded Age. Unlike with Brunswick Springs, there has been a continued economic benefit to what the railroads introduced.

Sources

Cashman, Sean Dennis. America in the Gilded Age. New York: New York University Press, 1993.

Freeman, Abraham Clark. The American State Reports Containing the Cases of General Value and Authority. San Francisco:  Bancroft-Whitney Company, 1903.

Graffagnino, J. Kevin. “Arcadia in New England: Divergent Visions of a Changing Vermont, 1850-1920.” Celebrating Vermont: Myths and Realities. Ed. Nancy Price Graff. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1991. 45-60.

Holmes, Beatrice Schoff. History of Canaan, Vermont. Colebrook, NH: M/S Printing and Advertising, 1976.

Hunter, Verne M. and Marjorie M. Carrier. History of Brunswick, Vermont. Littleton, NH: The Courier Printing Co., Inc., 1977.

Railroad Connections, Vermont Northern Part. Map. Boston: Walker Lithograph and Publishing Company, 1905. [Vermont Historical Society Call Number 912.743 W152n]

Lesson plan and commentary by

Phil Shaw
Canaan High School
Canaan, VT