COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center is canceling or postponing all in-person programs and events through May 4. The Harris Center building will also be closed to visitors until May 4. Our trails and grounds remain open.

Reviving a Rail Trail

May 6, 2018
The newly installed historic steel truss bridge on the Jaquith Rail Trail (photo © James Newsom)

A New Life for an Old Railroad

Over the last few years, the Harrisville Trails Committee and the Harris Center have been working to open sections of the old Manchester & Keene Railroad line to non-motorized recreation. This rail line first opened in 1878 to provide train service between Keene and Nashua. In 1893, it was taken over by the Boston & Maine Railroad. Amazingly, it only remained in service for 58 years: railroad use declined during the 1930s, and the Great New England Flood of 1936 damaged many trestles that were never repaired.

In the last year, we’ve focused on a 1.5-mile segment that runs from Jaquith Road in Harrisville to Jaquith Road in Hancock – a section that Harrisville Trails has been exploring the possibility of reopening for 20 years! Opening this section of trail has required clearing trees, excavating old drainage ditches, regrading the rail bed, replacing two bridges, and completing concrete work on existing abutments. The biggest challenge was replacing a large missing bridge over Jaquith Brook. Wonderfully, the 50-foot gap between abutments over Jaquith Brook has now been spanned by a steel truss that was once used as an auto bridge in Roxbury, NH.

The trail was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new bridge on May 6, 2018.

Barbara Watkins (Harrisville Trails) and Jeremy Wilson (Harris Center) cut the ribbon to officially open the new Jaquith Rail Trail on May 6, 2018. (photo © Meade Cadot)

Barbara Watkins (Harrisville Trails) and Jeremy Wilson (Harris Center) cut the ribbon to officially open the new Jaquith Rail Trail on May 6, 2018. (photo © Meade Cadot)

A close-up view of the new bridge and decking. (photo © Russ Cobb)

A close-up view of the new bridge and decking. (photo © Russ Cobb)

This rail trail project was made possible by grants from the New Hampshire Recreational Trails Program and the Quabbin to Cardigan Partnership; Harrisville Trails and Steve Lindsey, who donated the bridge trusses; Charles Merrill and the Merrill Family, who donated land in honor of Mary Merrill; extraordinary donations of both land and funds from Friends of the SuperSanctuary; and many generous donations from individuals in support of the bridge installation.

Many fantastic volunteers and local businesses also contributed time, expertise, and materials to make this project happen. These include:

  • Tom Weller of Weller & Michal Architects and Harrisville Trails, who designed the bridge installation
  • Ted Fellows, who provided engineering services
  • Dave Webb (Harrisville Trails) and Ray Cilley of American Steel and Precast Erectors, and their crew of Doug Whitney, Michael Sparling, Dave King, Chris Emanuelson, and Bernie Bryant, who installed the trusses
  • David and Colin Kennard of Wellscroft Farm and Harrisville Trails, who transported the trusses
  • Jeff Trudelle of Harrisville, who both worked and volunteered on installing the concrete and bridge decking
  • Schaal-Given Contracting, who installed the ramps and railings
  • Dave Whitney, who made the trail passable for the heavy equipment needed to complete the bridge work
  • Brice Raynor of EZCrete and Harrisville
  • Todd Abbott of Abbott Concrete Construction and Harrisville
  • Swift Corwin of Swift Tree Care
  • the Fastener Mill and Hamshaw Lumber

Thanks to everyone who came together to make such an extraordinary community investment in the region’s recreational resources. Happy hiking to all!