Cambridge Rail Era History I Marker
The 1900’s Railway Heyday:
The town continued to grow. By 1905 there were over a dozen dwellings new where you stand today. Many still exist, including the old school house, which has been converted into a home.
Roscoe Fuller ran the store, a livery and a farm. Willey Bros., who were cattle dealers, had holding pens this side of the creamery, which was called the New England Dairy. There was a large icehouse at the end of th creamery building and a hotel that housed traveling salesmen and railroad employees. The Cambridge Junction post office was located in the former Ralph Bourne store before it was discontinued on July 31, 1958.
The Struggling Rail Line:
The rail line struggled throughout much of its history. It changed hands from the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain Line (StJ&LC) to the Boston & Lowell (B&L) and back again through the 1800’s. It continued to struggle through the 1920’s and the devastating Flood of 1927.
1930’s showed continued decline in passenger rail use due to the increased use of automobiles. By 1944 the rail line was $3,000,000 in debt. After coming out of bankruptcy 1948, the newly restructured StJ&LC began to modernize with new diesel engines.
In 1967, Sam Pinsly who owned several other rail lines in Vermont, purchased the railroad. In order to further modernize the rail line, most of the iconic covered bridges were removed to make way for larger diesel engines. The only remaining covered rail bridge was the Fisher Bridge.
In 1973, the railway was purchased by the State of Vermont and operated by several companies. In 1978, it became the Lamoille Valley Railroad and continued with limited use through the 1980’s until operations ceased in 1994.
A Series of Tragedies
Fire on January 26, 1922
A blaze was discovered around 9:30am, apparently from an over-heated furnace. A bucket brigade from the nearby Lamoille River was hampered by a -32 degree Farhenheit temperature that day. The only rooms saved, along with some important papers, were the waiting room, ticket office, post office, and freight house.
The Flood of 1927:
The rain began in the late evening on Wednesday, November 2 and continued all night. Early the next morning, the rain was heavy and continued all day until dark. Relief did not come until noon on November 4. By that time, 6-8 inches of rain had fallen in just a three-day period.
Cambridge Rail Era History II Marker
The area where you’re standing now looked very different a few hundred years ago. This part of the rail trail was once a bustling train stop with a nearby train station and many more buildings and services that supported the railway. See how different the landscape looked in 1910 in the large photo on the other panel.
1700’s-1800’s A Town Begins and Grows
The town of Cambridge had been granted by Thomas Chittenden in 1780 and charted in August 13, 1781. The area was first settled by John Stafford in 1783. At the time his nearest neighbor was 20 miles away in Jericho, and the nearest road was Hazen Rd in Craftsbury.
On March 29, 1785 the town was officially organized.
The many rivers and streams in the town offered ideal locations for mills. The first saw mill was built in 1785. Soon after, the first grist mills were built in 1791; the same year that Vermont became the 14th state, and the University of Vermont was chartered.
The town began to develop, bringing millers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, wheelwrights, harness makers, and more skilled trades. The area was well noted for its ideal landscape for farming and maple sugaring. Farmers in the area became well known for th butter they produced.
In 1827 the first post office was built in the center village. They decided to call it Jeffersonville, after President Jefferson. Soon other areas in town also had their own post offices, including North Cambridge, East Cambridge, and Pleasant Valley to name a few. We still refer to these areas by those names. The Cambridge Junction post office was established in the train stations in 1892.
Transportation routes continued to develop with the first arched bridge built by Enoch Carleton and Joseph P. Hawley in 1832. Later in 1867 the construction of a road going through Smugglers’ Notch began. It was not completed until 1883. By 1840 the town population grew to 1,790.
The Late 1800’s The Bustling Railroad Town
In 1864, a charter was obtained to construct a railroad from St. Johnsbury to New Hampshire. Boosted into life in 1867 with investment from the Fairbanks family, the rout began to take shape. It wasn’t until July 1877 that Governor Fairbanks drove the last spike into the completed 96 mile rail line.
In 1874, the town of Cambridge got on board and agreed to aid in the construction of the rail line from the “Shore waters of Lake Champlain in the City of Burlington to some point in the town of Cambridge to connect with the Lamoille Valley Railroad.” Both the St. Johnsbury & Lake Champlain Railroad and the Burlington & Lamoille Railroad passed through the town.
On September 4, 1886, work began on the Union Station at Cambridge Jct. by the Burlington and Lamoille and the Vermont division of the Boston and Lowell Railroads (B&L). The original train station contained a waiting room, ticket room, and post office on the first floor. William Thomas and his family lived on the second floor.
The Story of the Poland Covered Bridge
In the 1800’s, Cambridge Junction was a significant railroad junction where the Vermont division of the Portland and Ogdensburg met the Burlington and Lamoille Railroad. Those living in Waterville and Belvedere wanted a shorter route to the trains. A bridge would accomplish this, but Cambridge viewed such a bridge unnecessary for two reasons- it would have no particular use for its residents and it would add to the taxes.
Luke P. Poland of Waterville, a lawyer who had been Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, a Representative and a Senator in Washington D.C. made such bridge a project in his retirement years. He led a lawsuit judgment ordering a bridge and a connecting road be built by the Town of Cambridge. Cambridge dragged its feet, but on June 8, 1887 the town voted to instruct the Selectmen, Charles Holmes, Jason French, and Roscoe Fuller, to construct the bridge at a cost of $6,000-10,000. George W. Holmes began the construction in September 1887 and it was named the Poland Bridge.
Not everyone was pleased with the new bridge, as noted in a newspaper article on June 15, 1887: “Judge Poland has caused the Town of Cambridge to be inflicted with a bridge and a road at an expense of $6-10,000 which as shown will be of no material benefit to anyone but himself. It will be known as the ‘Poland Bridge’ except to the taxpayers of Cambridge who will christen it ‘the Bridge of Sighs.’ Poland did not live to use the bridge, dying in his hayfield the following July.””-https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=207876