July 23, 1890
The Maine-based Kennebec Central Railroad began operations on a 5-mile (8-kilometer) stretch in the southeastern part of the state between the community of Randolph and a home for disabled U.S. Army veterans in the town of Chelsea. The company responsible for building this railroad had been incorporated during the fall of the previous year. Weston Lewis was designated as the president of the Kennebec Central Railroad Company, with P.H. Winslow named as its treasurer.
This narrow-gauge railroad’s primary purpose entailed transporting passengers to and from that veterans facility, which was established in 1866 and became known as the Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers starting in 1872. This facility was also called Togus, a longtime Native American phrase for that site that is often translated to mean “place of the mineral spring.”
Togus housed mostly Union Army veterans from the Civil War. From reveille at 5:00 a.m. to bugle taps at 9:30 p.m., the facility was very much run like a military establishment. The place was a city unto itself, with not only barracks, some small cottages, and dining halls but also a hospital, library, chapel, store, bakery, butcher shop, brickyard, boot-and-shoe factory, fire station, sawmill, opera house theatre, and zoo.
The Kennebec Central Railroad allowed the veterans to make regular visits to the city of Gardiner, which was located towards the end of the line just before Randolph. In addition, the railroad made it easier for those in the surrounding communities to visit Togus and enjoy many a Sunday afternoon on the facility’s spacious grounds. The trains ultimately ran six times a day in each direction, and the one-way fare for traveling along that route was 30 cents.
This Kennebec Central Railroad also played a key role in several special events held at Togus. One of these events was an 1892 reunion of Civil War veterans, many of whom served in the 32nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. (General Luther Stephenson, who had been one of the commanders of that infantry regiment, served as superintendent of Togus from 1883 to 1898.) Approximately 250 veterans, along with their guests, traveled via steamship from Boston to Gardiner for the reunion. They were welcomed at Gardiner by Stephenson and then, according to the Boston Globe, “the Kennebec Central railroad ran a special train of five heavily loaded cars, in order that the party might reach the home at an early hour.”
The railroad’s favorable reputation extended well beyond Maine for other reasons as well. The Ohio-based Newark Advocate reported in an 1894 article, “The Kennebec Central railroad has carried over 100,000 passengers and has never had an accident of any sort, and no living creature has been injured on the road.”
The original rolling stock for the railroad included six flat cars, two passenger coaches, and a 16-ton (14.5-metric ton) 0-4-4 Forney locomotive. In addition to shuttling passengers, the trains transported such needed supplies as coal to Togus.
As the result of increased competition from automobiles and trucks in that region of Maine, however, the Kennebec Central Railroad ceased operations altogether in 1929. The Eastern Branch of the National Home for Disabled Veteran Soldiers that it served for nearly four decades remains in existence today as the Togus Veterans Administration Medical Center.
For more information on the Kennebec Central Railroad, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennebec_Central_Railroad