PARSONS VALE


Two model engines

In 1815, Ezra Parsons settled north of Squam Lake, just east of Rattlesnake Mountain, to make a living for himself. Since this was still the wilderness, there were many stands of fine pre-columbian timber available, so he started a small sawmill and started shipping cut timber to Concord and Portland. It was a good living, and when he died in 1840, the mill passed into the hands of his children. One of them, Dexter Parsons, was an ambitious man who started another sawmill in Center Sandwich, and to differentiate the two mills, called the original mill the Termite mill.

Getting the finished timber from the Termite and Sandwich mills to Portland and Concord was not much fun, because the roads were fairly rough, and the only alternative was to use a steamboat to carry it to the south end of Squam Lake, portage it to Center Harbor, then sail it to Alton, where the roads were slightly better.

There had to be a better way of doing it, and that was easy to find; it was, of course, the 1840’s, and New Hampshire was “The Railroad State.” in 1847, a charter was drawn up for a “Railway connecting the riches of central New Hampshire to the Coast”, and in Spring of 1848 the Parsons Vale and Termite Railroad’s first train left the Termite sawmill and headed east to Portland.

Central New Hampshire was filling with settlers by this time, so the PV&T was able to find plenty of extra revenue shipping other goods to and from Portland, and enough industry had sprung up along the Pemigewasset and Salmon Falls rivers so that it was simple to extend the line from what was now the town of Parsons Vale to Holderness and Plymouth. At the same time, a branch was built from Portland to East Rochester, NH, and from there south to Portsmouth and west to Concord via Rochester.

These proved to be fruitful branches, and the next 5 years saw the building of branches from Concord down the Pemigewasset to Lowell and Haverford, and from Lowell to Boston. An attempt to build a connection from Concord to Plymouth was thwarted by the Boston, Concord and Montreal, which refused permission for various essential crossings.

The recession of 1857 slowed down the expansion, but work went ahead on extending the railroad from Plymouth through Rumney and across the hills to the mills on the Connecticut River, and in 1858, ground was broken on an extension from Manchester to Brattleboro, which saw its first train in late 1860. The Brattleboro extension was more expensive than originally planned, so the Parsons family had to sell off their sawmills to cover the construction costs. (The PV&T was still a privately owned railroad at this date.)

In the fall of 1860, the management of the New London Northern approached the PV&T and suggested a merger. The idea was agreeable to the Parsons family, but outright purchase of NLN stock was not possible. So the PV&T was reorganized as the Parsons Vale and Termite Railway, and the NLN was absorbed into the company in the summer of 1861 in exchange for 30% of the newly issued PV&T stock.

In 1867, the PV&T got the opportunity to expand west further into Vermont. The Montreal and Vermont Railroad, a Vermont railline running from St. Albans to Montpelier, went bankrupt and was purchased at auction. It was reorganized as the Montreal and Parsons Vale Railroad, and built south from Montpelier to Chelsea to connect to the rest of the railroad.

The next few years (1868-1875) saw expansion from Portland to Augusta, Maine as well as a branch from Thetford, VT to Woodsville. In 1875, the PV&M started surveying a railline from St. Albans to Montréal, and immediately got tangled in legal battles with other railroads that were in and around Montréal. In 1877, one of these legal battles, with the Chemin de Fer Quebec et Trois Rivieres was settled by a 5% stock swap between the two railroads. This proved to be such a pleasant idea that in 1880, the proposed PV&M branch to Montréal was shelved in favor of a merger with the Le Coeur, Terrance and Lynville (ex CdFQ&TR) subsidiary the Montreal and Southern Railway. The M&S merged with the PV&M and became the Montreal Terminal Railroad; the American properties of the new MTRR were spun off into the Vermont Terminal Railroad, which immediately merged with the PV&T, which then became the Parsons Vale and Termite Railroad. After the dust all settled, the LT&L owned 12% of the PV&T’s stock, the PV&T owned 8% of the LT&L’s stock, and the MTRR was split between the two companies.

Nothing much happened for the next 30 years. The PV&T reached its greatest growth by extending the Brattleboro branch to Albany and Schenectady, NY, but this was finished by 1888, and the railroad settled down to a period of making money and buying back bonds, retiring the last NLN bond in 1904.

In 1907, the PV&T started doing inspections of various railroad electrifications on the east coast, and by 1912 had decided to electrify the hilly Parsons Vale to Montréal section with high-voltage (2400V) DC overhead wire. The first class A locomotives arrived in the fall of 1912, and were a complete success. After the first world war was over, the electrification was converted to 3000VDC, and, over the next 26 years, the PV&T gradually replaced all of its stream engines with a large stable of class B electric locomotives.

In 1931, the PV&T purchased controlling interest in the Albany-Hudson Fast Line, a 1200VDC third rail interurban in New York state. This was not a particularly healthy interurban line, and despite the PV&T’s best efforts to generate freight traffic, never got more than about 75 carloads a year. By 1938, the railroad stopped running trains, and in 1942 it was torn up to contribute rail to the war effort.

In 1936, the PV&T purchased the carcass of the Lincoln, Wonalancet and Conway at auction, and in 1939, controlling interest in the Southern Vermont Traction Company which was merged in 1940. In 1961, the PV&T, the LT&L, and the MTRR merged into the Parsons Vale Line, and in 1965 the Parsons Vale Rapid Transit Company was leased for 999 years.