Claremont, NH (CLA)
Claremont's Monadnock Mill complex is considered one of the best preserved collections of mill buildings in the state; similar mill structures now house offices, residential lofts and shops.
Plains Road and Maple Avenue
Claremont, NH 03743
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 2,474
- Facility Ownership: N/A
- Parking Lot Ownership: John Lambert
- Platform Ownership: New England Central Railroad (NECR)
- Track Ownership: New England Central Railroad (NECR)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
The Claremont station is located about two and a half miles west of downtown and near the municipal airport. Travelers on the Vermonter use a concrete platform and passenger shelter that are adjacent to a former Boston and Maine Railroad (B&M) depot built in 1920.
In October 2015, the community dedicated the enclosed, wood frame shelter that protects passengers from inclement weather and provides bench seating. A fanciful weathervane featuring a steam locomotive tops the handsome structure. Local businesses donated all material for the shelter, and volunteers contributed their time to finish, stain and seal the timbers, as well as landscape the surrounding area. The Claremont Cycle Depot, which occupies the B&M depot, allowed the shelter to be constructed on its property.
City government, with the assistance of residents, has taken a proactive approach to improving the station in order to position it as a regional gateway. In July 2014, the City Council created the Ad Hoc Committee for the Claremont Train Stop to explore ways to enhance the station. Objectives included increasing ridership, promoting economic development and supporting tourism. To complement the new passenger structure, the city installed Trailblazer signage on local roadways to guide travelers to the station and has also promoted the stop through marketing efforts.
Similar to many of its contemporaries, the historic one-story depot has a high hipped roof that creates deep eaves that were meant to protect passengers from inclement weather as they waited outside for the arrival of the train. In historic photographs, the station sports a distinctive two color paint scheme in which the base was a darker color than the main body, helping to visually ground the structure. The essential form of the station remains as it was a century ago but for some changes to the window and door openings.
When European explorers first visited what is now southwestern New Hampshire, it was primarily inhabited by the Abenaki American Indians who belonged to the Algonquian language family. Unlike portions of the coast, the New England interior was difficult to access due to mountain ranges and thick forests. Many scholars believe that it was not densely settled and was instead used as a seasonal hunting ground by various tribes; early explorers described great quantities of beavers and otters that were sought after for their furs. The interior remained beyond the sphere of European colonists well into the mid-18th century and acted as a buffer zone between the French towns of southern Canada and the English settlements of coastal New England. The region only became attractive to a greater number of English colonists after the British defeated the French in 1760 and gained permanent control of Canada.
In the mid-18th century, New Hampshire Governor Benning Wentworth began chartering numerous towns throughout the western part of the colony and into what is now Vermont. Wentworth was especially interested in the region due to its stands of timber which could be used in boat building, a lucrative industry on the New Hampshire coast. Trees such as white pines were highly valued for ship components such as masts. In 1764, Claremont was granted to 70 proprietors, most of whom never set foot on the territory since it was intended as a real estate investment. The parcel was named after a country manor house located in Surrey, England that was owned by Wentworth’s relative Thomas Pelham-Holles, Earl of Clare, who was also a two-time Prime Minister.
Unlike many of the early settlements in the area, Claremont was not located on the Connecticut River, but rather on a tributary referred to as Sugar River because of the stands of sugar maples along its banks. A few miles from where it joined the Connecticut, the Sugar tumbled more than 130 feet down a series of falls, and thus provided a source of water power that could be tapped to run mills. The first residents concentrated on clearing fields for agriculture, an arduous task that required chopping down trees and pulling out stumps; boulders and rocks also had to be removed before the ground could be tilled.
Promoting the agricultural and logging possibilities of the land, the proprietors soon convinced a group of settlers from Connecticut to put down roots. One of those men, Benjamin Tyler, was a millwright, an all-important figure in a frontier community. Given two acres along the north bank of the river, he built grist and saw mills, the former to refine grain and the latter to cut and finish wood for building construction. The center of town was the Common—now Broad Street Park—around which the primary civic and religious institutions were established, including a cemetery, school, and meeting house.
The Connecticut River was a vital north-south transportation route through New England, and farmers in Claremont, who grew corn, rye, and oats and tapped maple syrup, could ship their bounty down the waterway on flat bottom boats. A series of navigation projects at the turn of the 19th century, such as canals to bypass falls, further improved shipping. Claremont also benefitted from a new highway opened to the west of town that provided an overland route up the river valley. Just as transportation options were increasing, manufacturers began to take advantage of the natural energy generated by the tumbling waters of the Sugar River. Dams were thrown across the river to regulate its flow, and by the 1830s the banks were lined with small mills producing flour, wool and cotton textiles, paper, and wood products.
One of the more influential early enterprises was the Claremont Manufacturing Company, organized by local investors who in 1832 purchased 15 acres of riverfront property just west of downtown that came to be referred to as the Lower Village. Following precedents set at early manufacturing centers such as Lowell, Massachusetts, the company laid out three streets for an industrial village which was to include a paper mill, worker housing, and shops. The company’s example was soon followed by others and the Lower Village developed into Claremont’s primary industrial zone.
The Sugar River Manufacturing Company was also established in the 1830s; its founders were wary of the attempts to develop the Lower Village and hoped to keep the manufacturing sector firmly within the boundaries of downtown. After some initial financial difficulties, the concern was sold to a Boston-based group that then renamed it the Monadnock Mills. For more than a century, Monadnock specialized in cotton and wool flannel textiles. Much of the wool came from Merino sheep imported from Europe. Within a generation of being introduced to the region, the animals dotted the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire.
With the installation of jacquard looms in the 1870s, workers were able to create prized Marseilles quilts. The machine-made versions approximated the look of the French originals that were noted for their fancy, complex hand needlework. By mechanizing the weaving process, an item that would have been quite expensive and inaccessible to many was suddenly affordable. By the late 1880s, the Monadnock Mills annually produced in excess of 2 million yards of cotton cloth and 100,000 quilts. Its output and workforce of 500 made it one of the largest textile manufacturers in the Connecticut River Valley. To keep up with national demand for its products, the company built additional mill buildings on both sides of the river.
New technologies developed in the Victorian era resulted in the need for new kinds of factory buildings that were often larger than their predecessors. Open, light-filled floor plans accommodated complex equipment and helped consolidate various functions into one space to streamline the production process. To accommodate these industrial demands, the Lower Village was largely rebuilt and the north shore also experienced a spate of new construction.
As industry increased, the traditional river and overland routes were not sufficient to move finished goods to regional and national markets. The Connecticut River had been improved for navigation, but was still subject to flooding and icy conditions in the winter. State leaders began to explore other options. Chartered in 1846, within three years the Sullivan County Railroad ran the 26 miles between Windsor and Bellows Falls, passing through Claremont and other New Hampshire towns. The endpoints provided vital links to Montreal, Boston, and New York.
Although its predecessor was chartered in 1848, the Claremont and Concord Railroad (CCRR) did not link its namesake cities until 1872. Running south of downtown and the Lower Village, the CCRR met the Sullivan County Railroad at the present site of the Amtrak station; the meeting point became known as Claremont Junction. To finish the laying of the tracks from Bradford, Claremont donated $100,000 towards the effort. It was typical for towns to provide cash or land to railroad companies in order to ensure that they did not get bypassed and left off the main line. The CCRR right-of-way was known for covered bridges that prominently displayed their wooden Double Town-Pratt lattice trusses and laminated arches; recently, some of the bridges have been restored. After a few changeovers in ownership, both rail lines came under the control of the B&M towards the end of the century. Through a calculated campaign of acquisition and leasing, the B&M came to dominate greater New England railroading during the first half of the 20th century.
Renewed industry and improved transportation connections brought on a period of great prosperity for Claremont. From 1880 to 1905, the town’s population doubled, and a group of business leaders collaborated to embellish downtown and transform it into a regional commercial hub. Pleasant Street was lined with handsome brick buildings that often featured ground floor shopping emporiums. The principal streets terminated near the river at what is now Opera House Square. When an existing hotel in the area burned down in 1879, the business association endorsed the creation of a public square and the construction of a new hostelry and shops on the north side.
Completed in 1892, the Hotel Claremont’s primary façade, embellished with soaring gables, bay windows, and a corner tower with a canonical cupola, created a fitting and elegant visual termination of the views down Pleasant and Broad Streets. It also filled a gap in the otherwise continuous street wall of the square, transforming it into an “outdoor room” suitable for important community gatherings. The hotel remained one of the finest lodging houses in the state until it was converted into offices in the late 1960s.
Claremont’s regional leadership in the manufacturing and commercial sectors was reinforced by the erection of a new town hall on the southeastern corner of the square. Dedicated with great fanfare in June 1897, the Italian Renaissance Revival building, constructed of brick with brownstone detailing, features a soaring tower whose drum displays clock faces and is topped with a copper dome and finial. The building originally contained administrative offices and an assembly hall on the first floor while the second was given over to an opera house that could seat almost 1,000 patrons. It became the center of Claremont’s social life, and people traveled from afar to enjoy musical shows, theatrical performances, movies, and other entertainments. In the face of competition from television, the opera house closed in 1963. A decade later, a devoted group of citizens worked to restore the space and it reopened in 1979. The theater continues to host a wide array of performances, all watched over by the original ceiling fresco featuring the New Hampshire state seal.
The restoration of town hall is symptomatic of Claremont’s larger renewal efforts. The textile mills of the American South had cut into the profit margins of older companies based in the Northeast, and most of the remaining business closed after World War II. Abandoned, the city purchased a number of the mill buildings as it contemplated future uses. In the 1980s, some of the mills were converted into residential space and government offices. The success of these efforts encouraged private developers to renew other properties, and many of the historic buildings now offer mixed uses including residential lofts and commercial and office units. The Monadnock Mill complex is considered one of the best preserved collections of mill buildings in the state, as it not only includes the mills, but also the associated office buildings and workers’ housing.
Visitors often come to Claremont to explore the well preserved historic landscapes that provide invaluable insights into how a typical mill town operated in the 19th and 20th centuries. For others, a good, powdery snow is like a siren call to bundle up and head to nearby resorts for a day of skiing or snowboarding. In warmer weather, bikers and hikers take advantage of area trails, particularly one that follows the Sugar River. It crosses a couple of the former CCRR covered bridges, allowing for a close-up view of their incredible engineering and construction.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station which is served by two daily trains. The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
- 10 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 5 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Dedicated Parking
- Wheelchair Lift