The Cotton Track
A Chronology of Industry and the Railroad at the Hooksett Falls
Includes some comparative figures for the nearby Suncook Mills.
The B&M Suncook Loop bridges are on left, and the Manchester Light, Tracton, & Power building is to the right. At the end of the bridge, beyond the section house, can be seen a box car and hopper car on the Cotton track. Photo taken circa 1908. Click on the image to go to the Library of Congress website for a greatly enlarged image.
1823- The Hooksett Manufacturing Company is established to manufacture cotton cloth at a mill that is to be built on the east bank of the river, just below the Hooksett Falls. Capitalization is to be $200,000. The first mill building is 40' wide and 80' long, and the company relies on riverboat and canal transportation for freight service.
1831- A mill canal is dug, and breast wheels replace the original tub wheels.
1835- Amoskeag Manufacturing acquires the mill.
1842- The Concord Railroad builds a mainline through town, crossing from the east side of the river to the west a short distance below the falls. With the mill located too far from the tracks, freight must be hauled to and from the mill using wagons.
1852- The Concord & Portsmouth Railroad is built through Hooksett to Suncook Village. Coming no closer than about a mile away, and higher up the side of the valley, the mill is again denied direct rail service.
1860- The Pembroke Mill is built in Suncook.
1862- The Suncook-Candia portion of the C&P is abandoned and removed. A new Hooksett Branch is laid from Suncook to Hooksett, crossing the Merrimack river on three multi-span wooden covered bridges just above the falls, creating what is to become known as the Suncook Loop. Besides facilitating traffic to and from Suncook Village, the new line also permits more convenient rail access to the Hooksett mill, as well as the brickyards that extended north from there into Allenstown. At some time thereafter, the Concord Railroad (or one of its successors: Concord & Montreal after 1890; Boston & Maine after 1895,) places a siding at the east bank of the river to permit freight car loading and unloading. This siding would later come to be known as the Cotton track.
1865- Robert Bailey, et al, of Boston purchase the Hooksett Manufacturing Company from Amoskeag. The new company has a capitalization of $300,000.
A second mill, Webster Mill, is built in Suncook.
1868- The third, largest, and final mill in Suncook is built. Sometime therafter, the China Mill is consolidated with the previous two as the Suncook Mills Company. All three facilities have direct rail access to coal sheds and cotton warehouses, and have a maximum output on the order of 35 million yards of cloth.
1880- By this date, the Hooksett mill had expanded its facilities and output, reaching 5 million yards of cloth.
1889- Spring high water destroys the Suncook Loop covered bridges for the first time. The bridges are subsequently rebuilt.
1894- Hooksett mills institute a pay cut of 10%, apparently the second in recent years.
1896- The mills at Suncook and Hooksett receive electric lighting in January, with the latter's power provided by Hooksett Electric Light and Power Company's generating station at Hooksett Falls.
Spring flooding shuts the mills down temporarily, and a 60' x 40' addition is built on account of the vacated basement in the existing structure. After another shutdown lasting 15 weeks, the mills, employing some 300 people, restart production.
1897- Mill #3 is completed at Hooksett in December, being 2 stories, 144' x 56', and requiring 40 additional employees. A new engine and boiler room (66' x 55', 2 stories) is also constructed at that time.
1901- A group of investors acquire the Hooksett Manufacturing property in August of this year and begin to operate it as the Dundee Mills Company.
Manchester Traction, Light, and Power Co. acquires the Hooksett properties of the Merrimack Electric Light, Heat, and Power Co., the successor to Hooksett Electric Light and Power.
1902- The Concord & Manchester Electric Branch (of the B&M,) interurban is built though Hooksett, Allenstown, and Pembroke, connecting the namesake cities. Coming down from Head's Corner at the north end of Hooksett, the electric railway runs westerly of and adjacent to Merrimack Street. However, the Agent of the Dundee Mills takes exception to the line remaining on the west side of the road all the way down past the mills on account of a platform located along the steam railroad, at which mill employees unload freight. If the electric railway tracks were to be laid between the platform and roadway, the workers would be forced to contend with a grade crossing in order to continue to access the platform. Against the B&M's wishes, the town instead decides that the electric railway line will
cross over to the east of the highway north of the platform, and re-cross the highway once the line is past the mill buildings. This arrangement eases the chore of hauling coal and fiber the short distance between the steam railroad and the mill.
The B&M contracts with Manchester Traction, Light, and Power to supply electrical power for the interurban, and a substation is built immediately north of the Hooksett mill to provide the 600V DC required.
Fifty mill workers strike at Hooksett, on account of a weaving wage cut from two to one and one half cents per pound. Three days later, they return to work, having accepted the pay cut.
1904- By this date, the Hooksett mill produces crash, a coarse linen fabric used for toweling and coats, and a new dyehouse and bleachery has been built.
1914- The ICC, as part of its nationwide Valuation Survey of railroad property, maps the Suncook Loop. At this time, the Boston & Maine's siding is less than 200' north of the wooden covered bridges at the Hooksett Falls. This siding, located adjacent to the roadway, is 607' long with turnouts at both ends. A section house is located on the far side of the tracks at the same location.B&M 1914 Valuation Map
1920- The R.G. Dun Mercantile Agency estimates that the Dundee Mills has an estimated pecuniary worth between $125,000 and $200,000. Its credit is rated as "Good."
The NH Bureau of Labor reports that the Dundee Mills employ 225 men and women. That number remains unchanged two years later.
1924- At a May public hearing held by petition, the town's selectmen decide that it would be in the public interest to eliminate both grade crossings, and that the Boston & Maine RR should share in the expense of relocating the interurban tracks. The petitioners who brought this to the Town include the Agent of the Dundee Mill. After a review by the NH Public Service Commission, the state determines that there is a compelling public interest in moving the line to eliminate the two grade crossings, but that, due to the Town's role in selecting the original routing, the railroad is to be responsible for only 25% of the track relocation expense, including any amount required for grading and trackwork, as well as strengthening the wall of the mill canal and placing guard rails to help minimize risk in the event of a derailment adjacent to the canal.
1925- The Dundee Mills enter into a renewed side track agreement (Contract #21473, superseding Contract #5107,) with the Boston & Maine in January, whereby the mill rents land containing 259' of the siding, with the railroad owning and in control of the remainder of the siding, connected to the main track by turnouts at each end. The rental is fixed at $58 per year. B&M 1924 Sidetrack Diagram
Head Brick Company has a 381' north-facing spur placed 3/10 of a mile further north on the Suncook Loop during October. 140' of this spur extends onto Head's property. Contract #22632, signed the following winter, sets the rental fee at $6 per year. B&M 1925 Sidetrack Diagram
1926- In October, the Manchester Traction, Light, and Power Co. acquires license from the Dundee Mills to allow the B&M to place freight cars on the Dundee Mill siding. This agreement is governed by Contract #21473-1.
Manchester Traction, Light, and Power Co. is succeeded by Public Service Company of New Hampshire.
Only two months later, the B&M and PSNH, sign Contract #23483. This new agreement includes the removal of the south switch from the Dundee siding and an extension of that track 286' in a southerly direction. The resulting spur has sections controlled by each of the customers. B&M 1926 Sidetrack Diagram
1928- Dundee Mills ceases operation.
1929- The State of NH begins work on US Route 3, also known as the Daniel Webster Highway, though southern NH. This new concrete road bypasses Hooksett Village and provides a convenient alternate route for both area shippers and residents. Ridership on the electric line begins to drop off rapidly.
1930- Emerson & Stillman (subsequently, Emerson Toy and Chair Company,) acquires the Hooksett mill complex and begins manufacturing furniture at the site. By May, the B&M understands that Emerson's growing business was already beginning to be lost to trucks, due largely to the limitations of the tri-weekly morning service they offer to Hooksett. Moving quickly to stem the tide, the B&M institutes changes to improve the service offered: some minor staffing changes at the Hooksett depot enable the agent there to better meet Emerson needs, and, effective May 19, 1930, the Suncook local provides daily except Sunday afternoon freight service to Hooksett, allowing the B&M to better expedite all shipments offered by Emerson. (Freight train service via the Suncook Loop to Hooksett is documented in detail on my article, Service to Suncook.)
In June, the prior B&M sidetrack agreement with Dundee is replaced with similar Contract #21473-A, with all conditions remaining unchanged.
1931- In studying the situation at Hooksett regarding switching service, the B&M orders the station agent to submit records of freight service to the various customers. With four months of data, this documents in exquisite detail the railroad freight business in Hooksett at this point in time.
1933- The C&ME ceases operation of the interurban line though Hooksett on April 29. Bus service begins the next day.
Emerson Manufacturing Co., a successor to Emerson Toy & Chair, reflecting on the expense of moving all their inbound and outbound freight between the mill and the loading platform just up the street, acquires control of the former electric railway track and right-of-way along River Road in the vicinity of the mill. Rather than remove the rail, as is done everywhere else along the abandoned line, the plan is to connect the track to the end of the steam road's freight spur. The required trackwork, completed by August, extends 1100' past the previous end of the spur, around an extremely sharp curve, continuing downgrade to the far southern end of the mill. Another new track, 398' long and forming a switchback with the first, is laid from the end to the northern end of the mill (and towards the PSNH generating station.) B&M 1933 Sidetrack Diagram
Meanwhile, the B&M briefly considers removing the spur's turnout and relocating it to remove the old Dundee siding area. However, it is decided that this expense is not warranted, particularly as the railroad is interested in seeing Emerson give up the lease on that portion so that the B&M can in turn use that for public delivery (a teamtrack.)
Continued discussions between the parties initially determines that cars will be hereafter left for Emerson beyond the track used by PSNH. In order to obtain the necessary permission from the power company, Emerson agrees to place any cars for PSNH further down the tracks at their gate opening at the end of the new switchback. Shortly thereafter, Emerson requests that cars be left on the PSNH track area, because they need the opportunity to get a run at the cars when moving by truck to negotiate the heavy curvature of 38 degrees. However, despite this arrangement, the mill continues to experience difficulty moving the cars with their truck, and the railroad subsequently agrees to leave 10 stretcher cars at the siding on a temporary basis during October, so that train crews can assist the mill in placing freight cars closer to the buildings without the locomotive needing to negotiate the curve.
Once all of these details are ironed out, Emerson and the B&M sign Contract #30582 in November. The final arrangement includes leaving cars south of the PSNH track; ten days later PSNH signs Contract #23483-1, giving their official approval for the B&M to operate over their leased track in order to deliver Emerson's cars.
1934- Suncook Mills employees strike.
1935- The B&M Railroad closes the wooden covered bridges over the Merrimack River at Hooksett to all train service due to the poor condition of those structures. All passenger service previously traveling up the Suncook Loop is rerouted onto the mainline through Bow. Freight service is maintained from Bow Jct south through Suncook all the way to Emerson's track, now the line's extreme southern terminus.
Emerson Manufacturing and the B&M catch up on paperwork by signing Contract #21473-B during August, in order to assign the sidetrack agreement first made with Dundee ten years earlier, and previously reassigned to Emerson Toy & Chair Company, to the current corporation.
1936- The floods of March bring great destruction to Hooksett and communities across the region. The high water pushes the covered bridges downstream, physically severing the Loop, and destroying a good deal of private, public, and railroad property below the falls. Emerson Manufacturing's mill suffers structural damage, but after cleanup, the factory continues production.
In June, the Suncook Valley Railroad leases the Suncook Loop from Bow Junction South to Hooksett from the B&M. In doing so, they gain Emerson Manufacturing and PSNH as new customers as well as shippers in Suncook Village.
1937- Suncook Mills offers their mills for sale and sells all residential property at auction.
1938- Emerson Manufacturing suffers additional flood damage during a hurricane in September.
1943- Emerson Manufacturing purchases the Webster Mill in Suncook. All operations are subsequently moved out of Hooksett. The remaining buildings are torn down.
This chronology is based on a broad collection of sources, but critical pieces of the story came from Brent Michiels' collection. He has my sincere gratitude.
Posted 2/13/11. Updated 12/15/17. Copyright retained by Earl Tuson.