New owner hopes to bring back the glory of the Greenville rail station

  • Historical photos of the Greenville rail station depict the building's original structure. Courtesy photo—

  • A historical photo of the former Greenville rail station depicts the building's original structure. Courtesy photo—

  • Tom Hawkins of Temple and contractor Clint Young have been working on a restoration and renovation project on the former King House, stripping the building back to its original design as the Greenville rail station. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Historical Society President Marshall Buttrick gives Tom Hawkins of Temple and Clint Young a history of the Greenville Rail Station. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 12/8/2021 11:28:05 AM
Modified: 12/8/2021 11:27:38 AM

The former King House restaurant in the heart of Greenville is taking on a new shape – or, more accurately, an old one.

Tom Hawkins of Temple recently purchased the building to be the new home of his sign fabrication business. But, he also has another goal – bringing back the building’s original shape, when it was first built and used as the Greenville rail station.

“I didn’t really want to do my business in a restaurant, but it dawned on me that I could peel it back and get back to its original shape,” Hawkins said. “And I realized it’s a real gem.”

Amidst the renovation, Hawkins has stumbled upon several pieces of the building’s history as a rail station, even decades after it has seen that use.

Western Union telegraphs, yellowed with age and dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, an unsigned check from the treasurer of the Boston and Maine Railroad, a handful of iron nails and inexplicably, the original door to the women’s restroom, with an ornate door handle, have all been dug out of the attic, dating back more than 100 years.

There are more-recent treasures, too.

Gracing one wall of the former restaurant, and dating back to December of 1974 when the building was the Depot Restaurant, is a mural of the train depot painted by H. Hanson. The mural has remained in place and undisturbed through several restaurant owners. Despite major renovations going on around it, Hawkins said the mural will remain intact.

Hawkins has also preserved the bar that was once in the back of the restaurant, in one of the later additions that has already been torn down. The bar was brought into the building in the early 1970s, and once was in the Ambassadors' Club at Logan Airport in Boston. The bar has seated, among other famous personages, President John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. While it may not find a home in Hawkins’ shop, he said he’ll make sure it’s properly preserved and finds a good home.

Already, Hawkins has torn down several of the late additions added onto the building, stripping it to its former long, thin dimensions. In the interior, much of the building has been stripped down to its original structure, peeling away decades of renovations and revealing hidden secrets of the layout of the station, back when it was built in 1890.

But the history of the railroad in Greenville stretches farther back than that. In fact, the Greenville rail station is the second train depot for the town. The original building was jacked up and moved to Adams Hill Road, where it was converted into a private residence. Trains were coming into Greenville before Greenville officially existed.

Rail comes to Greenville

Back when Greenville was part of Mason, in 1850, the railroad was first built and brought trains in from Shirley, Mass., according to Mason Historical Society Chair Marshall Buttrick. The plan was originally to build out the railroad to connect with Peterborough, but the railroad ran out of money, and so it was Greenville that became the end of the line.

The line was built by the Peterborough & Shirley Railroad, but the company only operated it for about a decade before it was bought out by the Fitchburg Railroad, which operated it for passengers and freight until about 1900, when it was, in turn, purchased by Boston and Maine.

And it did bustling business, said Buttrick.

“There was definitely a period where there were at least three [trains] in and three out each day. Maybe more,” Buttrick said.

The first train of the day was the “milk train” which would leave from Greenville at 6:50 a.m., hauling passengers, but also eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products from local farms. Buttrick’s family, the Adamses, was one of the farms that would bring their goods to the station weekly to load up to sell in markets in Massachusetts, he said.

The train also made runs at 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Greenville had a thriving mill culture in those days, and the train was also a way to get the furniture and textiles made locally to a larger market.

“People came and went by railroad, and it really put Greenville on the map,” Buttrick said. “You could travel from here to Boston or Chicago. It was just how it was.”

And Buttrick noted the Greenville station was in place nearly two decades before rail came to Peterborough, so Greenville became a hub for travelers.

“For a period of 20 years, if you wanted to get to Boston from Peterborough, or anywhere else around, you would have to come through Greenville,” Buttrick noted.

The burning of the railroad bridge, and ‘Jimmyville’

The railroad, before it could reach the heart of Greenville and its busy mills, first needed to cross the gorge over the Souhegan River.

The first trestle bridge, built between 1850 and 1851, was 97 feet high and 611 feet long, making it the longest and tallest bridge in the state at the time, and cost $17,000 to build. And every foot was made of wood – a treacherous material for a structure meant to carry wood- or coal-burning locomotives.

Perhaps inevitably, on Dec. 9, 1907, hot coals from the firebox landed on the bridge, which caught fire and burned to the ground.

Work on a replacement bridge began swiftly, but Buttrick said the town didn’t stop its train service. In addition to needing the train to get goods to market, it was also used by some children to access school in Townsend. With the train unable to come over the bridge to the town center, a new, temporary station was set up on Adams Hill Road. It became known as the “Jimmyville” station, after James Nolan, who was the assistant to the train station agent.

The station was in place until a new, steel bridge was completed in 1908.

Greenville remained a train hub through the 1930s for passengers, and into 1972 for freight.

The steel trestle bridge remained a landmark in Greenville, an often-used dare for teens, Buttrick said. It’s also the site of the iconic flight of Bronson Potter of Mason, who on July 4 of 1979, flew his small single-engine airplane under the trestle. The stunt cost him his pilot’s license, but has become a fond memory for the many townspeople who came out to witness it.

The bridge was eventually removed in 1984, but the large granite piers, dating back to 1850, still remain as a memorial to what once was New Hampshire’s tallest, longest bridge.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.




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