The Sawyer River Railroad

Sawyer River Station to Livermore, NH

One of the last logging railroads to operate in the White Mountains was the Sawyer River Railroad, which existed from 1877 to about 1937. Construction of this line became feasible when the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad was built through Crawford Notch in New Hampshire. By comparison with other logging roads of the day in the White Mountains, this was a small one, running only eight or so twisting, lonely miles up the narrow valley of the Sawyer River above Bartlett at the south end of Crawford Notch.

The Sawyer River Railroad was part of the story of the Saunders family logging operation in the 75,000-acre township of Livermore. Its owners were the only rail operators of their era to follow a continued policy of selective tree cutting. The little line was under the control of one management over a longer continuous period than did any other similar line - in fact, it was the second logging road built in the mountains and second from last to discontinue operations.

The railroad was constructed in 1876 in connection with the organization of the Livermore Lumber Company, which erected a sawmill at Livermore, N.H. It operated from Sawyer River Station on the mainline of the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad (later the Maine Central's Mountain Division) to Livermore, four miles south, and extended beyond into the forest. The total length varied at times, but was between eight and ten miles. The end of the Sawyer River's line was only about four miles from the East Branch & Lincoln Railroad which ran northeast from Lincoln, N.H., but the two roads were always separated by an intervening mountain range.

The company had a station, brick engine house, general office and yard at Livermore, and a spur track at Sawyer River Station on the Maine Central. One train a day was operated between April and November connecting with a northbound and a southbound train at the MEC station. The railroad never had a mail contract, and so the rural mail carrier made his way over an almost impassable road from the Bartlett Post Office to Livermore.

The mill and railroad operations ceased in 1927-28. In 1935 the United States government decided to extend its forest holdings in this territory and its purchases included all of the land served by the Sawyer River Railroad, as well as the town of Livermore and the mill. The lumber equipment had already been scrapped and in two years a camp of Civilian Conservation Corps workers removed every trace of the railroad and village.

SRR's original locomotive was the C. W. Saunders, No. 1. This 0-4-0 was built by the Portland Company in 1876 with the builder's number of 347; it had 15" x 16" cylinders and 48" drivers. The locomotive served for more than four years. Frequently it was wrecked, periodically jumping the track on some sharp curve and plowing its way into the forest - usually taking the whole train with it. Three different tenders were used during its period of usefulness; on its last trip it was using a converted logging truck to carry its supply of wood. In 1920 it left the tracks at Livermore and fell into the Sawyer River, ending its career.

The second locomotive was Peggy, No. 4 - a 2-4-2T built by Baldwin in 1886, with builder's number 7794. This engine was purchased from the Henry Lumber Company in 1920, which had operated it on the Zealand Valley Railroad, off the Boston & Maine at Twin Mountain, N.H. It had double-flange wheels, which were very convenient if the rails at some points along the line were farther apart than normal. This teakettle was operated until the mill in Livermore closed and the property was taken over by the government. Some say its rusting hulk lay at Livermore until 1947.

In 1876 the Sawyer River Railroad purchased from the Portland Company 35 rail logging trucks with link-and-pin couplings, which comprised the entire roster of rolling stock until 1885 when two four-wheel flatcars were purchased from the same company. In 1916, 14 additional rail trucks were purchased from the Maine Central Railroad when the Swift River and East Branch logging railroads were abandoned. The rolling stock near the end in 1935 consisted of 35 logging trucks and two flatcars. The flats carried both supplies and people to Livermore from Sawyer River, passenger comfort not being a high priority.

Today's visitor to the forest will find little evidence of any civilization in this area. It is very difficult to find the location of Main Street, let alone any sign that a town even existed there. It's hard to believe that the town once had 150 to 200 citizens and a steam sawmill that supported 50 to 60 employees and upwards of 150 to 200 loggers in the hills beyond. The Sawyer River Railroad's junction with the Maine Central is about four miles west of today's Bartlett, near U.S. Route 302.

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