The Calais Branch started out as the Maine Shore Line Railroad, incorporated in 1881 with intent to connect Calais, on the Saint Croix River, with Bangor to the west. It started building its line at Brewer (adjacent to Bangor) and drove southwards to the bay towns of Waukeag/Hancock; this line opened in 1884. While not the original destination of Calais, it offered rail access to Bay Harbor and Mount Desert Island by way of a ferry.
Later, the Washington County Railroad sought to build the line that the Main Shore Line did not -- one that ran from Calais to Bangor. It began building 1897, but instead of reaching Bangor, it connected to the MSL (now Maine Central Railroad) in Ellsworth, at a location named Washington Junction. The line was completed a year later, and opened on January 2 of 1899. The WCRR operated seperately until 1904 but was not profitable. Eventually the MEC took it over and the line was operated as the Calais Branch ever since.
Pulpwood was a staple on the line for years with the Saint Regis pulpwood yard in Cherryfield served by rail for many years. In addition there were numerous other pulpwood loading sidings along the entire line and that was a big business for many years.
Eventually the pulpwood business all went by truck and the Woodland mill was the only major business left. Guilford Transportation Industries bought out the MEC in the early part of the 1980s and discovered it made more sense to route the mill traffic through Canada. Thus, they abandoned the Calais branch around 1985. The people of the State of Maine voted to buy the line for future use and have since owned it. Little activity took place for many years so eventually the state authorities decided to take up the rails from St. Croix Junction to just east of the wye track at Washington Junction in Ellsworth.
The line from Washington Junction in Ellsworth to Mt. Desert Ferry at Waukeag was cut back in several stages. Automobiles were not allowed on Mt Desert Island until the 1920s with the causeway opening in 1931. This brought about the demise of ferry service and the line was cut back to the Sullivan bridge where it served a feed and hardware store for many more years, at least through the early 1960s. The line was cut back again to the crossing with ME Route 182 at Franklin Roads, where it served a tannery for several more years. Eventually it was cut back to the wye at Washington Junction.
Today, track remains from Brewer to Ellsworth and is operated by a local tourist train, which has seen great success since first opening in 2010. The operation hopes to expand to Green Lake in the next few years.
The Eastport Spur: The Calais Branch also included a short spur line from Ayers Junction to Eastport. This spur served the Maine sardine industry for many years, as a large number of canning plants were located within Eastport. Alas, the industry died off to a large extent and the Eastport branch was abandoned in about 1974. This branch only had 70-lb rail which necessitated the use of a lightweight GE 44 ton center cab diesels until the end.