View across Flat Mountain Pond to Whiteface Mountain
In the early Twentieth Century, New Hampshire's White Mountains were laced with logging railroads. From Berlin to Plymouth, the rail lines were crowded with trains, hauling thousands of logs and pulpwood, from deep within the forest to mills around the Granite State. Over a dozen logging railroad companies and hundreds of miles of tracks formed a web of rail beds that are still visible today. Logging railroads such as the Saco Valley, Wild River, Zealand Valley, Success Pond, Rocky Branch and Sawyer River ran through New Hampshire's mountain country. The best known and largest of these companies was the East Branch and Lincoln which operated from 1892 to 1947. Rail beds were laid through the rich stands of virgin forests in the Pemigewasset wilderness. The company, located in Lincoln, was owned by the lumber baron J.E. Henry and his sons. As with many of these now abandoned rail lines, they no longer carry a Shay locomotive, log cars and loggers, but have become walking, biking and hiking trails that now take outdoor enthusiasts deep into the forest of northern New Hampshire.
Last week I decided to hike the one of the now abandoned rail beds of the Beebe River Railroad. This rail bed actually starts in Holderness, and winds its way along the Beebe River, continuing through a valley south of Sandwich Mountain and then climbing into the Flat Mountain Pond region, ending at the base of Whiteface Mountain. Along the route of the rail bed can be found reminders of a bygone era, when lumber was king: log rail ties, clearings where lumber camps once stood, rusty bed frames, parts of cook stoves, saw blades and much more.
The Beebe River Rail Road was started in 1917 and completed in 1921. It was owned and operated by the Woodstock Lumber Company and the Parker Young Company. The company not only built the rail line into the wilderness and an accompanying saw mill, but also constructed a village with homes for its workers, a hotel, company store, boarding house and even a movie theater. Trees harvested from the forest were turned into stock for piano manufacture, lumber and other products. Poorer grade logs were shipped to the Lincoln Paper Mill. In 1924, the Draper Company purchased all the holdings for the manufacture of bobbins used in the cotton and woolen mills to the south. At its peak, the mill produced 100,000 bobbins per day and employed up to 350 people. Today you can still visit the small village of Beebe River off Route 175 in Campton and see the abandoned mill, mill pond and general store. It's truly a unique experience.
When I planned this hike I was assuming spring would be well underway, but thanks to Mother Nature we were hit by a snow storm that dumped several inches of wet snow throughout portions of Northern New England. However, I wanted to keep to my plan and I invited a couple of hiking friends with me, Steve Zimmer and Ken Robichaud. Of course Reuben was assuming he would also join me, as he always does. The plan was to hike the Bennett Street Trail, to the Flat Mountain Pond Trail and then bushwhack into abandoned logging camps via the network of rail beds that were laid in the beginning of the 1900s. We would then continue on the Flat Mountain Pond Trail that would take us to our waiting car at the White Face Intervale. As our hike began at the trail head we encountered one of the first signs of spring: a mass of Trout Lilies and Purple Trillium sprouting up through the snow, ready to unfold their beautiful flowers. My spirit was uplifted, knowing that the snow wouldn't be around very long and we were heading towards summer.
The gradual incline of the trail followed along the bank of Pond Brook. Here we encountered roaring cascades with numerous deep pools, ideal for a dip on a hot summer day. This however wasn't summer, so we quickly moved along to the junction with the Flat Mountain Pond Trail and the Beebe River rail bed, where the railroad ties are still visible. The hike from this point forward was a gradual climb along the road bed into the Flat Mountain Pond valley, so called because the pond lies between two mountains, North and South Flat Mountain. At the south end of the pond are several campsites along with a lean-to that overlooks the pond, Lost Pass and South Tripyramid Mountain. This is a picturesque setting that would make for a great overnight camping experience. It was here that we took a break for lunch. A stiff cold breeze blew across the pond, but the bright sun warmed our faces.
Following lunch we made our way along a rough trail high above the pond. We could look down and see the old railroad ties lying underwater where they once guided logging trains up and down the mountain. The trail brought us to the north end of the pond and we followed barely visible road beds that took us to a logging camp, probably abandoned in the early 1940s. The rails were torn up at that time and used to manufacture armaments for the war effort. At one site there was a plethora of bed frames, cooking gear, saw blades, an old cook stove and other effects that were a part of everyday life of the loggers and the logging camp, where they once lived, months at a time. There were additional camps that we would have loved to visit, including the Hedge Hog camp located at the base of Whiteface Mountain, but it involved a difficult bushwhack of over a mile. We decided that we needed to begin the five mile hike down the Flat Mt. Pond Trail to our waiting vehicle at the Whiteface Intervale.
This intermediate hike of ten miles is wonderful for anyone who wants to relish in the beauty of a mountain stream, a scenic pond, breathtaking vistas and explore the history of the logging industry and the associated railroads that once dominated this state's economy. For more information on this trail, check out the AMC Guide. Also, there are several good books on logging railroads in the state including, Logging Railroads of the White Mountains, by C. Francis Belchert, and Logging Railroads of New Hampshire's North Country, by Bill Gove. The Campton Historical Society has a display and information on the Beebe River Railroad, the Beebe River village and the Draper Mill.
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