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OPENING OF THE NORTHERN RAILROAD TO GRAFTON, N. H.
At the opening of the Northern Railroad from Franklin to Grafton in New Hampshire, on the 28th of August, 1847, a large number of persons from all the adjacent towns were assembled at Grafton to witness the ceremonies of the occasion. Mr. Webster happened to be then at his farm in Salisbury, in the immediate neighborhood; and this fact being known to the company, he was spontaneously called upon, in the most enthusiastic manner, to address them. Mr. Webster readily complied with the unexpected summons, and made the following remarks.
I am very happy, fellow-citizens, to be here on this occasion, to meet here the Directors of the Northern Railroad, the directors of various other railroads connected with it below, and such a number of my fellow-citizens, inhabitants of this part of the State. Perhaps my pleasure and my surprise at the success of this great enterprise so far are the greater, in consequence of my early acquaintance with this region and all its localities.
But, Gentlemen, I see the rain is beginning to descend fast, and I pray you to take shelter under some of these roofs. (Cries of "Go on! go on! Never mind us!")
In my youth and early manhood I have traversed these mountains along all the roads or passes which lead through or over them. We are on Smith's River, which, while in college, I had occasion to swim. Even that could not always be done; and I have occasionally made a circuit of many rough and tedious miles to get over it. At that day, steam, as a motive power, acting on water and land, was thought of by nobody; nor were there good, practicable roads in this part of the State. At that day, one must have traversed this wilderness on horseback or on foot. So late as when I left college, there was no road from river
Vol. ii. 35
to river for a carriage fit for the conveyance of persons. I well recollect the commencement of the system of turnpike roads. The granting of the charter of the fourth turnpike, which led from Lebanon to Boscawen, was regarded as a wonderful era. The champion in the legislature of this great enterprise was Benjamin J. Gilbert, then a lawyer at Hanover, always a most amiable and excellent man, and now enjoying a healthful old age in the city of Boston. I think he is eighty-four years old. He is well known to the elder inhabitants of this county, and I am glad of this opportunity to allude to him as a highly valued friend of long standing.
I remember to have attended the first meeting of the proprietors of this turnpike at Andover. It was difficult to persuade men that it was possible to have a passable carriage road over these mountains. I was too young and too poor to be a subscriber, but I held the proxies of several absent subscribers, and what I lacked in knowledge and experience I made up in zeal. As far as I now remember, my first speech after I left college was in favor of what was then regarded as a great and almost impracticable internal improvement, to wit, the making of a smooth, though hilly, road from Connecticut River, opposite the mouth of the White River, to the Merrimack River at the mouth of the Contoocook. Perhaps the most valuable result of making these and other turnpike roads was the diffusion of knowledge upon road-making among the people; for in a few years afterward, great numbers of the people went to church, to electoral and other meetings, in chaises and wagons, over very tolerable roads. The next step after turnpikes was canals. Governor Sullivan, Dr. Dexter, Colonel Baldwin, and other eminent citizens of Massachusetts, had planned the Middlesex Canal, connecting the Merrimack River at Pawtucket Falls, near where Lowell now is, with Boston. And a canal was built around those falls also, to complete a water conveyance to Newburyport. Great expense was incurred afterward in locking the various falls higher up the river, until at length the river was made navigable for boats as high up as Concord. This was thought to be a great and most useful achievement, and so indeed it was. But a vastly greater was now approaching, the era of steam. That is the invention which distinguishes this age. The application of steam to the moving of heavy bodies,