Restoration of the Granite Mileposts on the Northern Railroad Line

The Northern Railroad became the Rail Trail in 1992

By Ed Hiller
Seen here is a panoramic view of a particularly attractive milepost scene used on the title page of the AHS record document. Caption and photo: Ed Hiller

The Northern Railroad, constructed in 1847-48, extends 70 miles from Concord, New Hampshire to White River Junction, Vermont.  It was acquired by the Boston & Maine Railroad in 1887.  The last scheduled passenger train on this line was in January 1965, and the last freight train was in May 1982. In 1992 the use of this right-of-way was abandoned and the tracks were removed for their scrap-iron value. The state of New Hampshire then purchased ownership of most of this line and now operates it as a recreational rail trail.

Around 1901 the B&M Railroad installed granite mileposts along their railroad lines, and many remain in place to this day.  They are impressive dressed-granite posts, one foot square, standing four to five feet above ground, and weighing approximately 1,400 pounds.

On the Northern Line, one side of the post is painted with a “B” and the mileage to Boston, and the other with “WRJ” and the mileage to White River Junction. Originally they were positioned giving distances from Concord, the southern terminus of the Northern Line.  But some time around 1920 when the B&M absorbed the Northern Line into its total network, it repositioned  these mileposts and repainted them to give distances from Boston.  Some posts still show vestiges of the earlier “C” indication.

Unfortunately, with the demise of active use of the most of line, many of these mileposts were removed by private parties. Of the original 69 mileposts along the Northern Line, only 39 remain in place.

In Grafton County almost all of the mileposts disappeared.  Only 5 of the original 28 remain – three in Lebanon, one in Canaan and one in Grafton. As a result of widespread publicity, one milepost was located in private hands and was restored to its original position in Lebanon.  The New Hampshire Department of Transportation provided 14 original mileposts removed from a decommissioned rail line in upstate New Hampshire. These were repositioned at missing sites.  Seven missing mileposts were replaced with metal signs. One missing milepost at the Mascoma River bridge in Lebanon remains unmarked.

Merrimack County was more fortunate – 33 of the original 41 remain. Danbury, Wilmot, and Andover have retained all of theirs. Franklin lost one, Boscawen lost six, and Concord lost one.  Two posts located on private property were returned to their original locations. The New Hampshire Department of Transportation provided an additional 3 original posts that were installed at missing locations. Two missing mileposts have been replaced with metal signs. One  missing milepost at the Contoocook Bridge in Concord remains unmarked.  We continue to seek out the original posts that remain missing. Whenever original mileposts are discovered – such as the two discovered along US Rte. 3 just north of the village of Boscawen, for example – we hope to negotiate with the landowners to cooperate in furthering the historical integrity of the Trail.

Since the termination of active maintenance of the right-of-way, the markings on the posts have faded, many almost beyond recognition.  A project of restoration was undertaken, utilizing the historical B&M specifications for the mileposts and for the lettering fonts.

The granite mileposts are one foot square and 8½ ft. tall, extending 4½ ft. above ground. Thus each one weighs about 1,500 pounds. They are positioned as near to 15 ft. from the nearest rail as possible, and placed on the right side of the track as seen going outbound from Boston.

The panels for the lettering on each side are bush hammered.  [This is a surface preparation by hammering with a heavy tool having a head of conical or pyramidal points that creates a smooth texture that resembles naturally weathered rock. This hammer was invented by the French sculptor Henri Bouchard (1875-1960), hence the name “bush”].

The B&M Standard Plans defined the font for the mileposts. The letters are 5 in. tall, 3.75 in. wide (most characters), and stroke width of 5/8 in.

Alan LePain, mechanical designer and computer aided design expert, has worked extensively with the B&M RR Historical Society on restoration of mileposts on the Boston-Northampton line in Massachusetts. He computerized this historic B&M font, and supplied us with a full set of computerized scale drawings, from which stencils were cut on Mylar sheets. These include
the full set of numbers, plus the “B” and the “WRJ”.

The restoration of the painting on the mileposts consisted of a number of
separate steps.

1. Clearing of brush around the post
2. Cleaning of the surfaces using a wire brush
3. Applying a coat of white paint to each face
4. Positioning the “B” and the “WRJ” stencils and painting with black paint
5. Positioning the number stencils and painting with black paint
5. Taping the 3 inch borders at the bottom and painting with black paint
6. Touching up of unavoidable bleeding of paint under the stencil with white

The total time on site per post to accomplish these steps was 3½ to 4 hours. In addition, three separate round-trip visits to the milepost site were required to allow for paint drying time. By working alternately on two posts, the travel time was minimized.

The paints that we found suitable are:
Black:  Benjamin Moore N09680 exterior acrylic latex
White:  Benjamin Moore N10301 exterior acrylic latex

Use of water-based paints allows easier clean-up in the field, and appears to provide long lasting paint coverage.

The photo below gives some idea of the care that has been taken in restoring these historic monuments.

Ed Hiller works to restore an early milepost sign. Photo:
Mary Hiller