Conserving Elmwood Junction

An Uproar in Hancock

A June view of bright green wetlands grasses, as seen from the site of an old railroad bridge at Elmwood Junction. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

Elmwood Junction’s diverse riparian wetlands make for great birding. (photo © Brett Amy Thelen)

In the early 1980s, Richard (Dick) and Eleanor Amidon purchased about 20 acres on South Elmwood Road in Hancock, with frontage on the Contoocook River. There, Dick hoped to site a light industrial building — for an electrical circuit-cleaning operation, as I recall. The land also happened to feature diverse riparian wetland and woodland edge habitat, and was the historically significant site of the former Elmwood Junction railroad station complex.

The proposal caused quite an uproar in town, with residents split between those concerned about the potential threat of water pollution plus the site’s historical significance and those supporting Mr. Amidon — a well-respected citizen who, among many credits, served as long-time town moderator and led the town’s effort to acquire the Camp Guild land on Norway Pond, the first step in conserving the pond’s shoreline.

A Compromise is Reached

An aerial view of Powdermill Pond and Elmwood Junction, circa 2007. (photo © Meade Cadot)

An aerial view of Powdermill Pond and Elmwood Junction, circa 2007. (photo © Meade Cadot)

After a very contentious town meeting, some sort of compromise seemed in order. So, I approached Dick and asked if he would consider selling the land for conservation purposes. He graciously agreed not only to sell the land, but to sell it for half of his purchase price! The Hancock Conservation Commission tried getting the needed funds from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, but when that failed, the Harris Center stepped in to co-sponsor a fund drive to raise the required $10,300.

On February 28, 1986, a letter was sent by the Hancock Conservation Commission to all town residents, asking for donations, with checks to be made out to the Harris Center’s Elmwood Junction Fund. The letter was co-signed by selectmen Ken Moller and Marian Harrington, conservation commission chair John Bozogan, Catherine Hahn, David Reardon, and myself.

The response to the appeal was even better than expected! So, on August 15, 1986, two deeds were simultaneously registered. The first was Dick and Eleanor’s sale to the Harris Center. The second was the Harris Center’s deed to the town, with restrictions spelling out that the land be maintained “as open space forever” and managed “for conservation purposes.”

Illuminating Railroad History

A historic photo of Elmwood Station. (photo courtesy Dale Russell)

A historic photo of the Elmwood Junction railroad depot, courtesy of the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

Over the years, the property has become known as a birding hotspot and a great place just to walk, cross-country ski, or bicycle — and marvel at the signs of its railroad past.

Soon after the town acquired the land, long-time Harris Center member and railroad history buff Willard Viall began library research on the history of the junction. Then he connected with Dale Russell of Greenfield, who, with old map in hand, was a step ahead and had already done the “field studies,” finding the locations of the depot’s main features. Willard had about 15 sign posts made up to identify those features, and with Dale’s help put the posts in the ground. Unfortunately, posts in and near the old rail beds were not compatible with the heavy snowmobile traffic back in those days, and most of the signs disappeared.

Three decades later, and fortunately for us all, Eagle Scout candidate Sigmund Winiecki of Jaffrey chose the rehabilitation and expansion of that interpretive trail as his service project. Sigmund contacted Dale Russell to help him get started, and Eric Masterson at the Harris Center agreed to serve as his project supervisor. After time in the field scoping out the area and consulting with the Hancock Conservation Commission and the Hancock Historical Society, Sigmund cleared a quarter-mile loop trail with the help of his cadre of volunteers. To illuminate the depot’s past, he also worked with Harris Center graphic designer Margaret Baker to create kiosks and markers detailing the trail’s history and special features. Today, Elmwood Junction is truly a site to see!

–Meade Cadot