More on the history of Brownville Junction
To the Editor;
I have read and reread the article titled “What the Central Maine and Quebec Railway sale means for the state’s industries, economy” printed in the Dec. 6, 2019 issue of the Observer. With all certainty, increased activity and improved service and conditions on Maine’s railways is a step in the right direction for the economy of central Maine.
The article comments that “the last time Maine had a Class 1 railroad was in the 1980s, when Canadian Pacific owned a section of track in the state.” What the article does not mention is the history of this stretch of railroad that cuts through the center of Maine. The railroad that stretches from Lac Megantic, Quebec through the center of Maine to McAdam, New Brunswick was established by purchases of lesser railroads and constructed from scratch in other areas by the Canadian Pacific Railroad in the late 1880s. The Canadian Pacific was in competition with the Canadian National to develop tracks that would allow the CPR access from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. This was achieved at that time by connecting the railroad to the port of St. John, New Brunswick.
The village of Brownville Junction (formerly known as Henderson) was built for the specific purpose of providing housing, shopping, education, churches, entertainment and more for those families who moved to the area from Quebec and New Brunswick as well as from other areas in Maine to work on the railroad. Prior to the development of the railroad, a project headed by Eder E. Henderson, this area was all farmland.
For many, many years — until technology and mechanical upgrades changed many railroad procedures — the Canadian Pacific Railroad provided jobs for thousands of people in the area. Pictures from the early years (and into the 1960s) show a thriving, prosperous community in Brownville Junction.
With significant improvements in the way the business of railroading was done, many jobs were eliminated — not only on the CPR in Maine but throughout the railroad industry. The effects on small towns like the Junction were devastating over time. As in Millinocket when the Great Northern Paper Company was disbanded and thousands of people lost their jobs, a similar occurrence happened — while in a less dramatic fashion — with railroad towns: they were built on the continuation and development of one industry. When that one industry changed (or ceased operation) entire communities of families had to regroup: find new jobs and travel or move to a new community with better opportunities.
Can this repurchase of the railroad from Lac Megantic to Brownville Junction and on to the improved and expanded port in Searsport restore communities along the line? We can only hope that the effect of the Canadian Pacific Railway regaining ownership of the railroad in Maine will be renewed activity and interest in small towns like Brownville Junction.
Anyone looking for more information about the history of the CPR in Maine — which includes some very interesting facts – -should purchase Ken Hatchette’s book “The Canadian Pacific Railroad in Brownville Junction, Maine 1886 to 1963.” The book is available through Amazon or from the Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society.
Brownville-Brownville Junction Historical Society president