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Presque Isle: The Star City

Aroostook Valley Railroad

It is impossible to talk about the Aroostook Valley Railroad without talking about the contributions made to the Presque Isle area by Arthur Gould.

Arthur R. Gould arrived in Presque Isle from East Corinth, Maine in 1886. At the time, he was a salesman for his brother’s company. In fact, he was such a good salesman and business man that his advice was frequently sought by area business men

Gould recognized the need for banking services in the area and began to lend money to local businesses. His impact on the area was immense from the first banking services to the lumber industry to the Presque Isle Electric Company. Mr. Gould also served as a Maine and U.S. Senator.

The main hospital building at the Aroostook Medical Center on Academy Street is named in his honor.
In 1905, while searching for lumber, he found a holding ground for lumber up on the Aroostook River towards Washburn. He had the idea of building a railroad from Presque Isle to Washburn to open up a new supply of timber for the mill and at a cheaper price. He approached the citizens of Washburn with the idea. The idea was a hit and pledges of aid and stock subscriptions began coming in.

Gould thought about the railroad idea. He felt that coal would be too expensive and thought an electric railroad was the way to go. He approached the group that controlled the Aroostook Falls in New Brunswick.

There was a special law on the books of the State of Maine entitled “an Act of aid of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad”. This act was originally designed to protect the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad from the risk of building a railroad in such a rural area as Aroostook County. In effect, the law gave the B & A a monopoly to protect it from competitors. All would-be competitors’ plans had to be approved by the B & A.

The Bangor & Aroostook Railroad did view the Aroostook Valley Railroad as a threat to business and expanded their lines through Washburn, Mapleton, Perham, Woodland, New Sweden, Wade, Castle Hill, and Chapman.

Gould was not swayed. He arranged for start-up capital for the power plant at Aroostook Falls and raised $20,000 from the people of Presque Isle to build a railroad building.

The Articles of Association for the Aroostook Valley Railroad were submitted to the Maine Railroad Commission on June 24, 1902 and approved just one week later on July 1.
The initial survey was submitted and approved on May 6, 1903.
Permission was also granted for the Aroostook Valley Railroad to connect with both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad.
On June 20, 1910, the Certificate of Safety was issued for the line to Washburn. During the next ten days (before the official opening), over 17,000 passengers were transported.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

The official opening of the Aroostook Valley Railroad was on July 1, 1910 in Washburn. Washburn declared this its “Greatest Day”. The big red trolley cars were greeted very enthusiastically with bunting and flags, speeches, dignitaries, and music.
Presque Isle declared the day a “holiday” with shops and businesses closed so residents could attend the event.
A banner, “Welcome Gould”, was placed across the main street in Washburn.
Rides were given hourly until ten o’clock that night.

Aroostook Valley Railroad, opening day in Washburn
Aroostook Valley Railroad, opening day in Washburn

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University of Maine at Presque Isle Library

Passenger service was offered via six trains a day in each direction: four between Presque Isle and Caribou; two between Presque Isle and New Sweden.

Freight service consisted on one train a day every day covering the entire route.

Trains frequently consisted on 20 cars each during the winter months.
Freight revenue was approximately $60,000 per year, double that made from the passenger service.

Outbound freight typically consisted of potatoes, lumber, starch, and hay while inbound freight was fertilizer, grain, and flour.

The railroad often stored the freight in the winter. At one time, the AVR had 63, 50 foot warehouses served by the tracks.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

The line originally ran 10.8 miles from Presque Isle to Washburn. In 1911, an additional 11.3 miles were laid to reach New Sweden. With the approval of 7.13 miles on June 29, 1912, the city of Caribou was joined with the AVR and the line grew to service over 32 miles of the Aroostook County area. The financing of the AVR was done through the issuance of stocks and bonds, which were paid off in 1952. Normal operations called for a train to make one round trip per day between Presque Isle and Caribou.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

The track consisted of 70 lb steel rails. Thirty of the 32 miles was actually over private land.

A light inspection of the equipment was done daily with more rigorous inspection performed twice a month by the one repair man. All repairs of rolling stock was done in the two-track repair shop located in Presque Isle.

Aroostook Valley Railroad Trestle
Aroostook Valley Railroad Trestle

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Presque Isle Historical Society

At one time, there was a steel span crossing the Presque Isle Stream. Although the steel has been removed, the concrete piers are still visible today from Riverside Drive between State and Main Streets.

During World War II, an extension was built to the Presque Isle Air Force Base.

This substation on Munson Hill, pictured in1909, was 5 miles north of Presque Isle near the metal bridge which spanned the Aroostook River. It provided a reduction in voltage for the electric trolley.

Aroostook Valley Railroad Substation
Aroostook Valley Railroad Substation

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Presque Isle Historical Society

Gould’s original plan was to have the railroad span 111 miles across the top of Maine. He has already secured the cooperation of the Canadian Pacific Railroad to guarantee the interest on bonds to pay for the project as well as the agreement of landowners for right-of-way.

The route was to go from Washburn to Lac Frontiere where it would connect with the Quebec Central Railroad. The survey for this planned route cost $110,000.

The World Wars put a damper on this grand expansion plan.

Stretching The Trolley Wire Live
Stretching The Trolley Wire Live

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Presque Isle Historical Society

Gould sold his controlling interest to the Canadian Pacific for $225 per share in 1932 and agreed to stay on for a time as President. The Canadian Pacific discontinued use of electricity and switched to diesel.

This substation on Munson Hill, pictured in1909, was 5 miles north of Presque Isle near the metal bridge which spanned the Aroostook River. It provided a reduction in voltage for the electric trolley.

The wire was stretched “live” while carrying 1200 volts of power.

In 1921, Gould built a two-story building on the northwest corner of Second and State Streets to house his electric company and the Aroostook Valley Railroad offices.

Although its primary purpose was to transport freight and goods, the Aroostook Valley Railway boasted a small passenger service.

The passenger station was located on Riverside Drive in the building most recently occupied by the Red Cross.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

Crossing the Prestile Stream




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Presque Isle Historical Society



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Presque Isle Historical Society

Crossing the Aroostook River near Crouseville

As roadways improved, however, the needs for these services declined. Passenger service was discontinued on August 7, 1945. Car 70 was the last car to make the trip.

In July of 1945, two diesel locomotives replaced the two electric ones.

The last freight run was made in April of 1996. The engines and passenger cars were sold to collectors and the track lanes are now snowmobile trails.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

After the Gould era, offices were first located on Main Street in the Sears Building.
The freight office (seen here) was on Dyer Street. Another building used by the Aroostook Valley Railroad during its last few years of operation still exists today at 30 Parsons Street and is currently the Ferris Oil Company office.




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Presque Isle Historical Society



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Presque Isle Historical Society

Snow blade – a real necessity here

Interior of trolley car

If you are ever in Kennebunkport, Maine, stop by the Seashore Trolley Museum. Trolley Car Nos. 70 and 71 as well as engine #52 from the Aroostook Valley Railroad are on display there.

The two trolley cars are “combine” cars as they have two compartments, one for passengers and one for baggage and express freight.

The cars measured 56 ½ feet in length and were originally manufactured by Wason Manufacturing in 1912.
The last caboose used by the railroad in the 1990s, #7, is owned by a private individual in Blaine, Maine.




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Presque Isle Historical Society

Sources:

Graves, Richard A. III. Forgotten Times - Presque Isle’s First 150 Years. Presque Isle, Maine: Northeast Publishing, 2006.
Hall, Oliver L. The Man from East Corinth. Augusta, Maine: Kennebec Journal Print Shop, 1941.
Heseltine, Charles D. and Robertson, Edwin B. Aroostook Valley Railroad. Westbrook, Maine: Robertson Books, 1987.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_R_Gould