Engineering News—August 4, 1894

Railway communication between Canada and the Atlantic coast was suggested nearly 50 years ago, when railways were beginning to be recognized as a coming power in the development of the United States, and the first proposition for a railway from Montreal Que., to Portland, Me., and then eastward to St. John, N. B., and Halifax, N., S., was made in 1843, by Mr. John Alfred Poor, of Portland, who became one of the leading men in promoting railway enterprises in New England. Mr. Poor recognized the advantages of a railway between the upper and lower provinces of Canada, traversing the state of Maine, and advocated the construction of a line for its international importance as shortening the time between Great Britain and the North American continent by establishing an eastern port. Mainly through this enterprise the railway was built by which the Grand Trunk Ry. now runs from Montreal to Portland, as well as the eastward line from Portland to St. John, and Halifax, above referred to. Mr. Poor was born in Jan. 1808, at East Andover, Me. He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1832, and started a practice at Oldtown, twelve miles from Bangor. He was enthusiastic and energetic in advancing the interests of his native state, but it is with his work in railway enterprises that we are concerned here. His ideas were large, but practical, and 50 years ago he foresaw the construction of air international railway between Canadian and American ports, and of a transcontinental railway from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Up to the time of his death in September, 1871, he was actively engaged in railway promotion and construction. The above particulars are abstracted from a recent publication, "The First International Railway—Life and Writings of John Alfred Poor," edited by Laura Elizabeth Poor, and from this book we have compiled the following description of the growth and development of railways in Maine and the Lower Provinces of Canada. It may be mentioned that in 1849 Mr. Poor purchased the "American Railway Journal," of New York, which was afterward owned and edited by Mr. Henry Varnum Poor.

Mr. Poor was present at Boston on April 16, 1834, when the first locomotive engine, with passenger cars attached, ran over a railway just built from Boston to Newton, and afterward extended to Worcester and beyond. This is said to have given him the idea of the great future of railways which led him to devote so much time to promoting and encouraging their construction. In 1836 the first railway operated by locomotives in the state of Maine was built between Bangor and Oldtown. The legislature adopted measures which led to fire survey of several routes for a railway between the seaboard of Maine and the St. Lawrence River, in Canada. The shortest and most practicable route was from Belfast to Quebec, and a report was made upon it by an engineer but nothing was done. In 1839, a survey was made for a railway between Portland and Lake Champlain, but this enterprise also came to nothing. Mr. Poor was thoroughly acquainted with the geography of the state and its resources, and in 1843 he made public his plan for two great railways, one from Portland to Montreal, and the other from Portland to Halifax, his project being to shorten the steamship route to England. In 1884 he began to agitate for the former line by means of public meetings, memorials, etc., and he traveled over the proposed route. A company was organized, a preliminary survey completed before December, and a charter was applied for, but before it was granted it was found that agents from Boston were in Canada trying to secure aid in the construction of a road from Montreal to Boston. Before the railway to Montreal had been suggested in Portland, three lines from Boston to Montreal had been chartered. These were the Boston, Concord & Montreal, R. R., chartered in 1844, acting in connection with the Passumpsic R. R., whose charter was of earlier date; the Vermont Central R. R., in connection with the Northern R. R. of New Hampshire, and the Rutland & Burlington R. R., as an extension of the Fitchburg R. R. All these had agents in Montreal before Portland, and during the whole time that the railway policy of Canada was under discussion in 1845. Mr. Poor at once went to Montreal by a sleigh in February, and after a dangerous journey arrived in time to prevent the adoption of a resolution by the Board of Trade in favor of a line to Boston. Later a race by, team was made from Portland, and Boston to Montreal with English mails landed at both places by the same steamer. Teams were stationed along the route, and the mail from Portland arrived twelve hours before that from Boston. This led to the adoption of the Portland line by the Canadians, and the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Ry. Co. was incorporated to build the American portion of the line. Work was commenced at Portland on July 4, 1846, and soon after the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Ry. Co. was incorporated to build the Canadian portion, and commenced work at Montreal.

The distances of the two routes were as follows:

 Montreal to Sherbrook

 91 miles

 Sherbrooke to Canaan

 30 miles

 Canaan to Colebrooke

 10 miles

 Colebiboke to Andover

 43 miles

 Andover to Portland

 72 miles


 246 miles

 Montreal to Sherbrooke

 91 miles

 Sherbrooke to Stanstead

 34 miles

 Stanstead to Haverhill

 80 miles

 Haverhill to Concord

 70 miles

  Concord to Boston

 76 miles


 351 miles

The question of gage was a disputed one, the Chief Engineer, Mr. A. C. Morton, advocated the 5 ft. 6 ins. gage adopted by the British. Government as the standard for India, while others advocated 6 ft. and 4 ft. 8½ ins. The Canadian Parliament passed a law fixing the, gage of the St. Lawrence & Atlantic Ry., at 4 ft. 8½ ins., unless the Governor in Council should within six months determine upon a different gage, and Mr. Poor, with delegates from the Atlantic. & St.. Lawrence and St. Lawrence & Atlantic companies, succeeded in obtaining an order in council establishing the gage of' 5 ft. 6 ins. In 1851 Mr. Poor successfully urged the adoption of this gage for the Great Western Ry. of Canada. His idea was to avoid such a connection as would enable the standard gage railways of Massachusetts to control the railways of Maine.

The project of a line from Portland to St. John and Halifax was now taken up, and it was proposed to use the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Ry. as far east as Lewiston, and then make an extension to Gardiner and Augusta, with a branch at Brunswick and Bath. As soon as this was proposed the Kennebec Valley people began a rival line, on the standard gage, east from Portland, in 1845. In 1846 a broad gage line, the Androscoggin & Kennebec Ry., was started eastward, from Danville Junction, under the auspices of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence, the latter assuring connection with railways leading out of Portland on the west. For this purpose Commercial St. was built, and tracks laid along it to connect the two eastern and western railways. The war of the gages was closed by the consolidation of the parallel and competing lines from Portland to Waterville, by Boston capital, with the Boston or standard gage.

In 1848 charters were applied for in New Hampshire and Vermont for the construction of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Ry. across these states, and were granted after much opposition. In 1849 a suspension for want of money was feared, but was avoided by the plan suggested by Mr. Poor of letting the whole road as one contract and paying a high price, as the only means of saving the contractors from failure. The contract was let to Black, Wood & Co. In 1851 Mr. Poor was chosen President of the New York & Cumberland Ry., now the Portland & Rochester, and he also secured the extension of the line from Gorham to the Saco River. When the line from Portland to Halifax was suggested, a rival project from Quebec to Halifax was started and a survey was made. The lower Provinces made offers of money and public lands if the home or imperial government would undertake the accomplishment of the scheme, but the British Ministry rejected the application in 1850, and the lower provinces then supported the Portland line. The city of Quebec proposed to connect with the Portland and Montreal line at Richmond, thereby obtaining connection with Montreal and Portland, and ultimately with the lower provinces. In 1850 the Maine Legislature was petitioned to authorize a survey to discover the best and most practicable route between Bangor and the New Brunswick boundary, and $5,000 was appropriated for the survey. In 1853 a charter was granted to the European & North American Ry. Co., of Maine. Mr. Poor claimed that by means of this railway to Halifax and a steamship line to Galway, Ireland, 2,000 miles from Halifax, the transit between the two continents could be reduced to five days, and between London and New York to seven days. The Britannia tubular bridge across the Menai Straits was opened in the spring of 1850, enabling the London & Northwestern Ry. to run through trains from London to Holyhead, whence steamers crossed to Dublin in 3½ hours, and from Dublin the Midland Ry. of Ireland had been built half way to Galway.

In 1851 New Brunswick granted a charter for the Portland and Halifax line, with a land grant and cash subsidy. In Nova Scotia, the Hon. Joseph Howe, of the Executive Council, had taken the ground that the railway should be a public highway, and as such should be built by the government, and he sent to England to secure an imperial guarantee to the Nova Scotia lands to be issued for this purpose. This was granted in 1851, on condition that by the co-operation of New Brunswick and Canada a connection should be secured from Halifax to Quebec through British territory. Such a line had been surveyed by the imperial government when the Portland and Montreal railway was begun, and the colonial line, was the revival of the same project, three times .abandoned but eventually built. The condition was too heavy, however, and Mr. Howe's mission came to nothing. He made a speech at Portland in favor of this line in 1851, and was answered by Mr. Poor, speaking for the European & North American Ry., as "international and commercial rather than intercolonial and political."

In 1852 Hon. Francis Hincks, a Canadian statesman, went to England to seek assistance from the imperial government toward building a trunk line of railway for Canada. It would extend from Quebec to Montreal by the branch from Quebec to Richmond, on the St. Lawrence & Atlantic, and from Montreal would run to Toronto. The delays of the Colonial Office disgusted him, and he made arrangements with the English firm of railway contractors, Messrs. Jackson, Brassey, Peto & Betts, for the construction of the line. Mr. Poor's suggestion for a connection between Canada and the lower provinces was adopted, the plan being to build a cut-off from Bethel to Bangor (by which Bangor would be only 30 miles farther than Portland from Montreal), and the extension by way of Calais and along the shore to St. John, N. B. The English contractors proposed to build this line from Waterville, Me., to Halifax, N. S., advancing 80% of the money, intending to bring out the entire scheme in London. The charter was refused by the Maine Legislature, and the Grand Trunk scheme was delayed for the Bangor part until April, 1883, and then brought out alone in London. Another adopted suggestion of Mr. Poor's was the lease of the line from Montreal to Portland in order to secure a winter port, the Canadian idea having been to provide only for local traffic between Montreal and Toronto, but the contractors saw the necessity of a through traffic and wished to provide for extensions at both ends. In August, 1853, this line, owned by the two companies, was formally leased to the Grand Trunk Ry. Co., and in 1856 the Grand Trunk line to Toronto was opened. The western extension has been carried out to Sarnia, Ont., and thence on American soil to Chicago, as the Chicago & Grand Trunk Ry.

In 1857-1858 Mr. Poor advocated the construction of branches of the European & North American Ry. to the Aroostook and Piscataquis counties, of Maine, and advocated also the development of the resources and water power of these districts. In 1863 the Oldtown & Lincoln, The Penobscot and the Aroostook roads were united with the European & North American. When Massachusetts was applied to in 1865 to discharge the debt due from Maine in favor of the European & North American Ry., aid was declined on the ground of a Maine law of 1860 forbidding the change of gage. Mr. Poor applied to the legislature to repeal this law, and for leave to lay a third rail on the Portland, Saco & Portsmouth Ry., with a view of extending the broad gage from Halifax to Boston and New York. The law was repealed. At this time there was mulch agitation in the lower provinces over the proposed confederation of all British North America, and New Brunswick strongly opposed the confederation.. In 1865 Mr. Poor, in behalf of his company, proposed to complete the lines in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for an annual subsidy of $80,000 from the two provinces, guaranteed until the lines should pay 6% of the cost. The former government declined this arrangement, but voted $10,000 a mile to complete the line from St. John westward to the boundary. Mr., Poor, as president of the Maine company, made a contract with the New Brunswick company, and then made a contract to build the entire line of the European & North American Ry. through the state and the province. Work was commenced at St. John in November, 1865, and at Bangor, Me., in 1867. In 1867 the repeated offer of the imperial government to build the Intercolonial Ry. from Halifax to Quebec, conditional upon the confederation, induced both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to accept the confederation. The European & North American Ry. was opened in October, 1871 (some years before the opening of the Intercolonial Ry.) with a grand celebration in which the President of the United States and the Governor-General of Canada took part.

In addition to this "international" railway, Mr. Poor also projected a line to connect Portland with Chicago and ultimately with the Pacific coast, recognizing the importance of a transcontinental line of railway. In 1869 he wrote that for 30 years he had contemplated as a certainty the completion of such a line, and in 1845 he had correspondence with Mr. Asa Whitney on the subject. Mr. Whitney's and other early projects for a transcontinental railway were described in our issue of Feb. 16, 1889. Mr. Poor secured from the legislature a charter for a railway from Portland to Rutland, Vt., by way of the Ossipee valley, White River Junction and Woodstock. The route then proposed was to Whitehall, Oswego, Buffalo, Detroit and Chicago. The city of Portland, however, did not foresee the advantages of the line and opposed the plan, but favored the Portland & Ogdensburg Ry., in spite of Mr. Poor's arguments against that line, which was ultimately built but which after taking nearly $2,000,000 from Portland, passed into the control of Boston railway men. In 1869 the Portland, Rutland, Oswego & Chicago Ry. Co. was organized, and in 1871 a bill was presented in Congress for the payment by the Treasury, of $50,000 per mile, in 30-year bonds, as each section of 40 miles was built and equipped, the road to be double track, with steel rails and iron bridges. Five of six railway companies along the projected route agreed in July, 1871, to unite as one company, and the meeting was deferred until Sept. 29 owing to the delay of the other company. Mr. Poor, however, died on Sept. 5, and the project fell through, He had formed a scheme for Atlantic and Pacific steamship lines in connection with his transcontinental railway, and looked forward to through traffic between China and England under one company's management, a plan which has never been carried out in the United States, but has been carried out by the Canadian. Pacific Ry. There is, however, a through train summer service now between Portland and Chicago, by way of the Portland & Ogdensburg (Maine Central), the Rome, Watertown & Ogdensburg and the Michigan Central railways.

The accompanying map shows the present railway system of New England, and, by short dash lines, the several early projected railways referred to in the article. The route of the Bangor & Aroostook Ry., the contract for which has recently been let, as noted in our issue of July 21, is shown by a dotted, line.

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