Lynn Clark and Rebecca Courser want people to know about the mystery surrounding the Warner Railroad: although a small town, Warner had seven stops.
Clark, the executive director of the Warner Historical Society, and lead researcher Courser have been gathering interesting facts about the town’s mills and the railroad that kept everything bustling more than 150 years ago.
They want to share this information as part of the Historical Society’s summer series, but something presented a new challenge – the coronavirus.
Since most in-person events are being canceled due to the spread of COVID-19, Clark and Courser decided to continue their summer series All Aboard! Economic, Social and Environmental Change During New Hampshire’s Railroad Era virtually.
Starting Thursday, June 11, at 7 p.m., Clark and Courser will discuss the impact of the seven Warner Railroad stations that opened Sept. 21, 1849, focusing each week on a separate effect.
The talks will take the form of a free Zoom call, with live presentations and open discussions.
“It’s new to us, this new format. But, for us and for everybody involved, we’re really excited to see how it works,” Clark said.
Clark and Courser are enthusiastic about their approach to studying trains.
Most research, Clark stated, is focused solely on the trains. However, Clark and Courser have a much broader coalition. Clark said that because a majority of people previously focused on the engineering of the trains themselves, this unique research puts trains “into a different context than they’re used to.” Because of this, Clark and Courser have “this wealth of information at [their] fingertips, from people who are experts in all of the workings of the train.”
This eclectic approach to studying trains has not disappointed the researchers at the Warner Historical Society.
“Warner has seven stops along the railroad, which is a little unusual,” Courser said. “The fact that we have so many is because our tracks ran along the Warner River. So, there were sites of many mills along the river that needed to transport their finished product, to get their raw material, and to make their finished product,” Courser continued.
Although they may seem superfluous, Courser states that the numerous stops were quite advantageous for the people of Warner. “The railroad really offered an opportunity” to businessmen and the people of Warner, Courser said.
However, there were both positive and negative effects created by the seven railroad stations.
Clark said Irish laborers built the railroad, and that “[Warner inhabitants] were uncomfortable with that. Undeservedly, [the Irish] had quite the reputation for being wild men.”
Topics like immigrant and migrant labor, globalization and more will be covered in the All Aboard! series.
Another hazard of this new transportation technology became apparent the day the train was inaugurated.
“The first day that the train was inaugurated, there was a big organized event that was going to happen in Warner… so, a lot of cars were on the tracks coming towards Warner, and unfortunately they were overcrowded and a young man fell off and died,” Courser said.
Despite those early problems, the new transportation system had a real impact on the economy of Warner.
“I think the positive benefits outweighed the negative,” Clark said. For example, the agricultural impact was significant.
“One of the ways [we measured impact that] I found fascinating,” Courser said, “was the trends in agriculture: What was happening in 1850 as compared to 1880? How were the products that farmers were shipping to market different?”
For one, the train allowed farmers and businessmen to ship less “stable” products, like milk.
“They start to get refrigerated cars and people could ship to [other] markets,” Courser said. Thus, the railroad created more business for locals, expanding their markets beyond Warner.
Additionally, farmers were able to specialize in their production. “In the beginning, farmers grew a lot of their own grain, but then it became much more efficient to ship them because the Midwest was growing grain at such large quantities that it could be shipped East and actually be cheaper,” Courser said.
Although seemingly easy feats, the expansion of the Warner Railroad represents a much larger growth in America.
Courser, specifically, highlights the development of fast communication across the country.
Now, “mail could be delivered a couple of times a day because the train was coming through and mail would be dropped off and mail picked up. So you could send a postcard from Warner to Kentucky and say to your grandmother, ‘I will see you at supper this evening.’ And she would get the mail by maybe at four o’clock in the afternoon, and know that you were coming on the next train. So, people had a lot of business with the train,” Courser said.
The businesses that the Warner Railroad brought to Warner in 1850 are still doing business today. Unfortunately, these historic businesses are being greatly impacted by this pandemic. “COVID-19 is affecting downtown Warner,” making Courser wonder “whether or not businesses are going to be able to survive this. It’s going to take the community to help that happen.”
(Want to find out more about the opportunities the Warner Railroad brought to Warner? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to register for this free event. The first talk of the series will take place Thursday, June 11, at 7 p.m.)