Located on the University of New Hampshire campus, the Durham depot houses a waiting room and the famous Dairy Bar cafe, known for its unique flavors of ice cream.
Durham, New Hampshire
3 Depot Road University of New Hampshire campus Durham, NH 03824
- Annual Station Revenue (2015)
- Annual Station Ridership (2015)
|Facility Ownership||University of New Hampshire|
|Parking Lot Ownership||University of New Hampshire|
|Platform Ownership||Pan Am Railways, University of New Hampshire|
|Track Ownership||Pan Am Railways|
|ATM||Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms|
|Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking|
|Enclosed Waiting Area||High Platform||Long Term Parking Spaces|
|Pay Phones||Quik Trak Kiosk||Restrooms|
|Short Term Parking Spaces|
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The Durham station is located on the University of New Hampshire campus; accordingly, the Downeaster service is quite popular with the students and faculty. In the fall, riders receive a dazzling show outside their windows as the leaves turn colors and produce a fleeting mosaic of rich oranges, yellows, golds, and reds. On portions of the journey, the rail advocacy group TrainRiders/Northeast runs a host program in which volunteers assist customers on board by doling out useful advice about the train and the stations and towns along the route.
The depot sits just north of the underpass below Main Street, and it is within walking distance of most of the major academic buildings and residence halls. The Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) reassembled the one-story building at its current site in 1912; from the south façade, a covered, open-air waiting area extends along the tracks. Walls of buff brick rise from a coursed ashlar base of brown, rusticated granite blocks. These add a visual heaviness to the structure against which the lightness of the buff brick is a lovely contrast.
Facades are punctured by roman arched windows and doors which are trimmed in the brown granite and include carved capitals with finely detailed foliage. The addition of the capitals gives the impression of pilasters supporting the arches which are emphasized by three courses of brick. Attention to detail is evident in the mortar used between the granite blocks; its reddish-brown color blends well with the hues of the large blocks of stone. The depot and the trackside canopy sport hipped slate roofs.
Overall, the building belongs to the architectural style referred to as Richardsonian Romanesque after the oeuvre of Boston-based architect Henry Hobson Richardson, a Harvard graduate who had studied at the famed Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris. His aesthetic was characterized by squat, compact buildings usually constructed with unfinished stone in dark red, tan, brown, and gray hues. The asymmetrical compositions were often pierced by deep-set, round arches reminiscent of Medieval Romanesque structures found in Europe; polychrome decoration was also a common feature.
The old B&M station has long been a part of the university and the town’s built heritage, but Durham is the depot’s second home. It was originally erected in 1896 for the town of Lynn, Massachusetts. Durham’s first depot, a one-storey wood structure sheathed in clapboard and featuring a simple gabled roof with a trackside overhang, served students and townspeople until the new depot arrived in 1911.
The tracks ran right through the middle of the young campus, and a terrible accident in January 1905 prompted school officials to ask the railroad to shift the line to the perimeter. In that month, a Boston-bound train derailed south of the main grouping of academic buildings. Students and teachers quickly rushed to the site to rescue passengers trapped in overturned cars. Fashioning sleighs, they took the injured back to the dormitories where local doctors attended to them.
When the railroad decided to upgrade the tracks in the area in 1911-1912, it agreed to move them a few hundred feet west to their present location. The old wood depot was sold and transported to the corner of Main Street and Mill Road where it served as a store. To mark the rising importance of Durham as an educational center, the B&M took apart the Lynn station brick-by-brick and shipped it up to Durham where it was reassembled at its current site. Portions of the old right-of-way through campus are still visible, and many civil engineering students recall having to survey it as part of class work.
In 1958, the B&M gained the right to discontinue a number of its passenger train routes, including the service between Boston and Portland. With this in mind, the railroad sold the depot to the university in 1960 for $1, with the provision that it be maintained so as to accommodate passenger service. The sale was a good solution, for the university gained a new building and the B&M avoided the continued payment of taxes and maintenance costs for an empty structure. In 1965, the university opened the Dairy Bar café in the old depot and it remains in business.
The establishment of the Downeaster service in 2001 and the rapid growth in ridership prompted university officials to consider a renovation and refurbishment of the depot, which was completed in the fall of 2008. The $940,000 project took into account road access, general maintenance, and historic preservation initiatives. A roundabout was constructed in front of the station to better allow campus and regional buses to drop-off and pick-up riders. The extensive and durable slate roof was repaired where needed and the historic semaphore atop the building was restored as a reminder of the early days of railroading before more modern signaling systems were put in place.
Inside, the structure was envisioned as three separate spaces serving different functions. A heated vestibule—appreciated on cold wintry days—holds ATM and Quik-Trak machines which used to be housed across the street in another building due to a lack of space in the depot. Interior modifications allow the waiting room and the Dairy Bar to maintain separate entrances and hours. In the café and waiting room, the marble floors and custom woodwork were cleaned and repaired as necessary. Essential mechanical and electrical systems were replaced, and ADA compliant restrooms were added.
Financing for the intermodal center was obtained from the following sources: $668,000 from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHA) Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program for improved transit capacity; $84,000 from the FHA’s Transportation Enhancement Program for the rehabilitation of historic elements; and $188,000 from the University of New Hampshire, which views the station as an essential component of its Climate Education Initiative to promote sustainable transportation choices. It forms a wonderful gateway to the campus for those who arrive by train. For the benefit of the community and visitors, the building and its history are interpreted through informative plaques and displays.
The rehabilitation and re-use project was recognized by the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance in 2009, just one of 13 awards bestowed upon communities across the state. The depot is truly a center of campus where students and townspeople can catch the train or bus, relax outside at a picnic table beneath the canopy, or visit the Dairy Bar for a meal. The café sources locally grown, sustainable ingredients, and many of its menu items, such as “Graham Central Station” ice cream, playfully reference the railroad that runs by its door.
Town of Durham
Prior to the colonization of coastal New Hampshire by European settlers, the Durham area was populated mainly by the Pennacook Native Americans. Their territory was focused on the Merrimac River Valley to the south in Massachusetts, and appropriately their name translates to “at the bottom of the hill or highland.” Similar to their neighbors, the Pennacook were part of the Algonquian language family found in the northeastern United States. They were divided into numerous smaller bands and were attracted to areas such as Durham due to the brackish wetlands that hosted a variety of plants and wildlife.
Many of the Pennacook sub-groups were severely affected by disease during the first decades of contact with European colonists. In general, the Pennacook were semi-sedentary, and different village sites were occupied during the year depending upon the season and the availability of food through hunting, fishing, harvesting, or planting. After decades of warfare with other American Indian groups and the growing colonial population, the remaining Pennacook moved north into Canadian territory in the late18th century.
Durham was founded in 1635 by pioneers who traveled up the Piscataqua River and across Little Bay to settle at the falls of the Oyster River. At the time, the land that is now New Hampshire belonged to Massachusetts; not until 1692 did the New Hampshire colony finally gain full and permanent independence from its southern neighbor. Most of the coastal area was divided among four townships, and for its first century, Durham was part of Dover. Referred to as Oyster River Plantation, the village location was ideal for its fresh water, natural meadows for livestock, and the transportation opportunities afforded by the waterways leading to the Atlantic Ocean. The land along the river was quickly settled and nearby dense forests provided the timber necessary to construct homes as well as boats. Oyster River Plantation took the form of a small agricultural village, and the first generation of residents worked to clear and shape the land for planting.
On the perimeter of the English colonial sphere, Oyster River Plantation was subject to attacks by American Indian groups, some of whom later allied with the French in Canada to harass English settlements. In 1694, during one of the wars typical of eighteenth century American Indian-English relations, the settlement was attacked by a combined French-American Indian force. Half the buildings were destroyed, and dozens of residents were killed. Rather than return to Dover, the survivors rebuilt and in 1716 Oyster River Plantation became a separate parish named after Durham, England; in 1732, the town was officially incorporated.
During the later half of the century and into the first three decades of the next, Durham, like many of its neighbors on the Little and Great Bays, became a ship building center. The English greatly valued the tall stands of hardwoods that covered the landscape. England was suffering from a lack of wood at home, and thus timber was a major colonial export to the metropolis. Master shipwrights and apprentices helped guide a period of prosperity for Durham until accessible timber was exhausted and the shipbuilding industry moved north to Maine.
School children across the United States learn of the “shot heard round the world” at the 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, but Durham also played an important role in the Revolutionary War period. In December 1774, Major John Sullivan of Durham and a 400 Sons of Liberty removed a supply of gun powder and arms held at the British fort at Portsmouth where the Piscataqua River empties into the Atlantic. Paul Revere had ridden to Durham to warn the young lawyer that a British warship was sailing for the fort to take control of its armaments. With time in short supply, Sullivan and his compatriots hatched a plan to obtain the powder and take it back to Durham. The Oyster River was too shallow for the British ships to navigate, and thus Durham seemed a safe hideaway. In retrospect, this maneuver is considered the first overt act of resistance by the Americans during the Revolutionary War.
Sullivan went on to participate in the Continental Congress and served in the Continental Army; he later led an expedition against the Iroquois of western New York and Pennsylvania. He was elected governor of New Hampshire and was a staunch proponent of his state’s ratification of the U.S. Constitution. His house, located on the south bank of the Oyster River, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in the 1730s, Sullivan occupied the house from 1764-1795; he is buried close to the building and a monument there was dedicated to him by the state in 1894.
Post-war, Durham returned to shipbuilding, and in the long run, agriculture became the community’s economic base. Local farmers benefitted by the arrival of the B&M in 1841; rail allowed their goods to be shipped to more distant markets and connected the town to the international port of Boston 60 miles to the south. Towards the end of the century, through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation, the reorganized B&M leased numerous regional short lines and competitors to become the dominant passenger and freight railroad in the far Northeast.
Benjamin Thompson, a bachelor farmer and businessman who had amassed a great fortune, died in 1890, and when his will was read, the townspeople discovered that he had left one of his properties and almost $500,000 to the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts. Thompson greatly valued agriculture as a business and way of life, and his gift convinced the school to move to Durham from Hanover where it had been founded in 1866.
The college packed up everything and shipped it by rail to its new campus. The first permanent building erected for the school was named after the benefactor. Completed in 1893, Thompson Hall’s tall clock tower with its pyramidal roof is visible from many areas of the grounds. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, the building has become a symbol of the school, which was renamed the University of New Hampshire in 1923. Much like the train station, the Romanesque Revival hall is constructed of red brick accented by rusticated, light grey granite which in places is layered with an unusual tan colored mottled brick. The university is noted for its research centers which are set amid a beautiful landscape of forest and field with outcroppings of granite.
Durham is a quintessential university town. Main Street runs from downtown right through the heart of campus, acting as the backbone of the greater community. Many townspeople cheer on the school’s hockey team, considered one of the best in the country, enjoy live shows and music at the performing arts center, and browse the salons and traveling exhibitions of the university’s art gallery which houses more than 1,500 works, including 200 Japanese woodblock prints. South of the main grounds, the university also owns East Foss Farm, a 164-acre tract used by various academic departments for research and instruction. Managed woodlands, wetlands, and meadows are home to a variety of native wildlife. All visitors are welcome, and the school encourages students and residents to take advantage of the farm’s nature trails, whether by foot, mountain bike, or even cross-country skiing in the snowbound months.
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The Downeaster is financed primarily through funds made available by the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority. Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at the Durham station, which is served by 10 daily trains.
Photo: Bob Hall courtesy to Amtrak