Milford’s former Boston & Maine railroad depot on Garden Street is in pretty sorry shape – graffiti, weeds, chipped paint, and rusting cars are one’s first Impression of the exterior of the 160-year-old structure. And yet, despite decades of neglect, the old depot and the aging freight house across the tracks have long been the subject of big dreams.
It’s hard to believe that the Summer and Garden Street intersection was once the busiest place in town. But at the turn of the century, some 16 trains a day pulled into the station, delivering passengers to waiting hacks and coaches ready to shuttle passengers around town or up to holiday in Mont Vernon. A ticket office featuring heavy metal grillwork was situated at the center of the south end of the building and the Express office was in the west end. Waiting passengers sat in some style on settees and rocking chairs while pot-bellied stoves provided comfort during the winter months. After 1900, the new sewer system in town allowed for indoor restrooms while hot water radiators provided heat. Across the tracks, stood the freight house with its unique clipped gable roof – a building that was recently called “one of the last of its kind in New Hampshire.”
But by the early 1920s, the heyday of passenger train service was over and the station’s long decline had begun. By the 1930s, the depot was serving as a second-rate bus station for B&M and eventually the Community Bus Lines of Hancock. In the 1960s, Wirthmore Stores planned to renovate the station and make it into a farm supply store, but that effort proved short-lived. It seemed Milford had left the old station behind.
Fast forward to 2013. With the intersection now a “sea of pavement,” a non-profit group of architects and design professionals called Plan NH adopted the neighborhood for an intense two-day brainstorming session and study. An ambitious redevelopment plan and accompanying 17-page color pamphlet was the result, complete with artist renderings of a potential renovation and photographs of other depot makeovers around New Hampshire to serve as inspiration. Their vision included a handsome restoration and repainting of the station and freight house, the addition of walkways around Railroad Pond and more sidewalks to better connect the area to downtown. Calling the area – somewhat optimistically – “Depot Village,” the group proposed that the restored buildings could one day host artist studios, a farmers market, an ice cream shop, or perhaps a railroad museum.
But while the plan had support in town hall, the group admitted that “a project like this often occurs because of the tireless work of one or two champions. There is only one question: Who will it be?” Indeed, for all the beauty and vision of the Plan NH proposal, that question has never been adequately answered.