All aboard to save the railroad station in Hebron

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1890 — The East Hebron Rumford Falls and Buckfield Railroad's East Hebron Station, pictured above, was one of the so-called "1875 Stations" built when the line reopened as a standard gauge line. This photo is circa 1890.

HEBRON — A small railroad building on Station Road that has been used for storage for years and may be the original East Hebron Station will be saved and restored if the Hebron Historical Society can raise enough funds.

Although questions remain about the authenticity of the building as the town’s railroad ticket station, society members say they are clear about one thing. Whether or not the building is the original East Hebron Station or it is a freight building, it is the only surviving part of the original railroad complex and needs to be preserved.

TODAY — The platform and train tracks ran on the south side of the station, shown in this current picture.

Historical Society Vice President Bob Swift said society members have been going back and forth about the true identity of the building in part because of the limited number of pictures available. An early picture identified as being taken in 1890 shows what appears to be the existing building with the East Hebron Station sign on it. Yet another photograph, he said,  shows a railroad building with a bay window, which seems to be more likely to have the space and layout of a ticket office.

The more imposing problem is the discovery of a raised floor on one side of the existing building that was seen during a recent on site visit, Swift  said. The raised floor on one side of the building and limited space on the other doesn’t seem to fit a ticket office layout, he said.

The Historical Society has a large number of documents about the East Hebron Station that members will now go through in their search for a definitive answer,  said Swift.

Efforts to preserve the building became more urgent last month when the Board of Selectmen recommended at the March 18 annual town meeting that voters reject a $5,000 request from the Historical Society to fund the move and restoration of the building.

The money was intended to seed the project but selectmen argued against it saying, the building was filled with lead paint and not worth the effort or expense.

There was also disagreement between the Society and town about the building’s ownership. To resolve that issue the Board of Selectmen formally gave the Hebron Historical Society the building on Monday, April 10.

“This is the last opportunity to save the building,” Historical Society President Ray Glover said. “We voted (at its April 4 meeting) we will do everything we can to preserve it.”

ALL ABOARD — An old picture of the building identified as the East Hebron Station with the adjacent freight building shows a train in the distance.

Their hope is to find a new site, preferably across the street at Hebron Station School, where the building might be used for educational purposes. The building, he noted, was placed on skidders by a previous owner in the 1950s and rolled from the hayfield, which is now the town’s ballfield, to its present position in front of the nearby Town Garage. The school is located on a knoll across the street.

First, Society members must get permission to move it to a new site, access the building for structural deficiencies and then restore it.

Most importantly, they must raise the money to accomplish all this.

Abandoned railroad tracks

According to the 1903 “Annals of Oxford, Maine, from its incorporation, February 27, 1829 to 1850,” the Buckfield Branch Railroad was chartered in 1847 to build a Portland gauge railroad to Buckfield from Mechanic Falls on the Grand Trunk Railroad. The railway was completed to Buckfield in 1849 and reorganized as the Portland and Oxford Central Railroad in 1857. It was reorganized as the Rumford Falls and Buckfield Railroad in 1874. The railway went into receivership in 1878 and was converted to standard gauge.

The railway was reorganized by Hugh J. Chisholm in 1890 as the Portland and Rumford Falls Railway. In 1892 it was extended north to Rumford Falls and south to connect with the Maine Central Railroad near Auburn the next year.

According to “Abandoned Railroads in Maine, The Potential for Trail Use,” published in 1973 for the Maine Department of Parks & Recreation, Planning & Research Division, the standard gauge line, including that which ran by the East Hebron Station, was abandoned circa 1945 by Maine Central Railroad.

At that time, 41 miles of track ran between Danville in southwestern Androscoggin County and Canton in western Oxford County through the towns of Poland, Mechanic Falls, West Minot, Hebron Station, Buckfield and East Sumner.

The station was described by the authors as “little more than 1 house, colorful general store and an old loading dock and railroad building.” It is believed the “colorful general store” would be the current The Storekeepers at 911 Station Road, which continues in operating today as a general store.

Most of the railroad systems, especially those established inland in Maine to transport goods to the waterfront, were eventually supplanted by a better highway system  trucks and by the 1940s and ’50s, the automobile had taken over the transpiration for most passengers.

The East Hebron Station has a well documented history of helping to transport the large apple crops in the 19th and early 20th century from the area to places as far away as England.

Securing Hebron’s history

Historical Society members say much of the town’s historic resources have been lost. Several old school houses, buildings on the Hebron Academy campus, homes in the town’s center, two churches and several farms in the outlying areas are some of the historic structures that remain.

TICKETS? – Some are questioning whether the small interior of the East Hebron Station, which includes a lifted floor on the right side of the building, would have been used as a ticket station rather than a freight building.

Hebron has only one building listed on the National Register of Historic Places – Sturtevant Hall, an historic academic building on the campus of Hebron Academy. The 1891 Romanesque and Colonial Revival brick building was designed by the noted Maine architect John Calvin Stevens and is considered a focal point of the campus. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

Hebron has limited local land use standards that protect historical resources in its subdivision ordinances. There are some in the shoreland and floodplain management ordinances but there are no other protections others than those in proposed subdivisions and shoreland areas, according to the town’s Comprehensive Plan adopted by annual town meeting voters in 2015.

The plan, developed by the Comprehensive Plan Committee under the supervision of the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments, says the town’s historic resources are a major factors in the town’s character and need to be retained for future generations. The plan addresses several action plans that should be undertaken including preparing amendments to the town’s land ordinances, including amending the Subdivision Ordinance to further protect historic and archaeologically significant sites.

Other goals include identifying and trying to place the significant sites on the National Register of Historic Places and developing a comprehensive survey of the town’s historic assets.

While the railroad building pales in comparison to historical buildings such as Sturtevant Hall, those interested in saving what is left say this is an opportunity that once gone is gone for good.

(Anyone who would like more information on the project or would like to donate money, materials or labor should contact Swift at 207-966-1076. Donations can be mailed to the Hebron Historical Society at P.O. Box 294, Hebron, ME 04238.)

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