5.8.13

NEW ENGLAND VARNISH.

Destination: Freedom continues its exploration of the Downeaster.  I opted to go to Brunswick and nose around the college and the commercial area.  Their correspondent made time for Freeport as well.
Brunswick is a quaint and historic town, with much to offer a visitor. The campus of Bowdoin College, a small liberal-arts college, contains several historic buildings, and the town contains many historic and beautiful houses. The town has a museum operated by the Pejepscot Historical Society, as well as two museums operated by Bowdoin College and located on campus. One is an art museum, and the other is devoted to Arctic exploration and art created by people who live in the region. Brunswick also celebrates its hometown hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, who led a Maine regiment with distinction at the Battle of Gettysburg 150 years ago. Chamberlain had been a member of the Bowdoin faculty before the war and spent many years as the president of the college after the war. He also served a term as Governor of Maine. His house is preserved as a house museum.

There is a strong and positive relationship between Brunswick and the train, too. Deborah King, who heads the Brunswick Downtown Business Association, said that thousands of people came out to celebrate National Train Day in Brunswick this past May, and that people couldn’t get enough of the promotional literature available for the train or for Downtown Brunswick. King said that many of the train’s riders from Brunswick are business travelers to Boston or students from Bowdoin College. Students get a break on the fare, with a price of $74.00 for six one-way fares to Boston.

Freeport is not as quaint a town as Brunswick. It has a main street with lots of stores, a museum and some historic houses. Its primary attraction is shopping, and it hosts a number of outlet stores. The largest and most famous is L.L. Bean, one of the world’s largest “outdoor” stores, which also sells sportswear and housewares. The flagship store is located in downtown Freeport and is open all night. There is enough interesting merchandise to fill hours of browsing time, there are comfortable places to sit while taking a break, and the people-watching in the middle of the night is a unique experience. Across the street from L.L. Bean is Derosier’s, a grocery store that has been in business since 1904 and also sells sandwiches and other prepared foods. They feature a lobster roll; a spongy white roll with chunks of lobster meat on it (considered a delicacy in Maine), for ten dollars. Other places charge as much as $25 for one.

Rudolph reports that the town council in Freeport has voted to make the town a “quiet zone” where the trains will no longer be allowed to sound their horns at the eight grade crossings in town. How safety concerns over this move will affect any plans to expand service through the town is yet to be determined.
The article notes some of the shortcomings of the existing service; it also notes that ridership has been increasing all the same.

Also from New England comes the understanding that Edna St. Vincent Millay can only take a train where a train is going, which has not included the Housatonic Valley lately.  That, too, might change.
John Hanlon, President of the Housatonic Railroad, the company that owns the tracks that currently only carry freight cars, was delighted to see the governor and other officials continuing with their support.

"What a wonderful day," said Hanlon.

The Housatonic Railroad Company commissioned a study in 2011 conducted by Williams College economist Stephen Sheppard. The study estimated that restoring passenger rail would amount to a $343 million increase in sold goods and services in Berkshire County over a 10-year period.

Hanlon, who said his company is seeking the support of the federal government and the state governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut to expand service, believes that rail is the best way to bring in new investment from out of state to the Berkshire region.

"There's never going to be a new road, there's never going to be scheduled airline service so for public transportation to occur up here, rail is pretty much it," said Hanlon.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is also working within the county to find suitable station locations for passenger rail.
Through service between Pittsfield and Grand Central Terminal, with parlor car service on some trains, lasted into the early Penn Central era.

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