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OPENING OF THE NORTHERN RAILROAD
TO GRAFTON, N. H.
Ar 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
on the water and on the land, towers above all other inventions of this or the preceding age, as the Cardigan Mountain now before us lifts itself above the little hillocks at its base.
Fellow-citizens, can we without wonder consider where we are, and what has brought us here? Several of this company left Boston and Salem this morning. They passed the Kearsarge on the left, the Ragged Mountain on the right, have threaded all the valleys and gorges, and here they now are at two o'clock at the foot of the Cardigan Hills. They probably went to the market this morning, ordered their dinners, went home to a leisurely breakfast, and set out on their journey hither. Here they now are, enjoying the collation of our hospitable friend, Mr. Cass, at the hour when their families are dining at home. By the way, if they had thought fit, (and it would have been a happy thought,) they might have brought us a few fish taken out of the sea at sunrise this morning, and we might here enjoy as good a fish dinner as our friends are now enjoying at Phillips's Beach or Nahant. This would have been rather striking; - a chowder at the foot of the Cardigan Hills would have been a thing to be talked about.
Fellow-citizens, this railroad may be said to bring the sea to your doors. You cannot, indeed, snuff its salt water, but you will taste its best products, as fresh as those who live on its shores. I cannot conceive of any policy more useful to the great mass of the community than the policy which established these public improvements. Let me say, fellow-citizens, that in the history of human inventions there is hardly one so well calculated as that of railroads to equalize the condition of men. The richest must travel in the cars, for there they travel fastest; the poorest can travel in the cars, while they could not travel otherwise, because this mode of conveyance costs but little time or money. Probably there are in the multitude before me those who have friends at such distances that they could hardly have visited them, had not railroads come to their assistance to save them time and to save them expense. Men are thus brought together as neighbors and acquaintances, who live two hundred
We sometimes hear idle prejudices expressed against railroads because they are close corporations; but so from the necessity of the case they necessarily must be, because the track of a rail
way cannot be a road upon which every man may drive his own carriage. Sometimes, it is true, these railroads interrupt or annoy individuals in the enjoyment of their property; for these cases the most ample compensation ought to be made. I have myself had a little taste of this inconvenience. When the directors of the road resolved to lay it out upon the river (as I must say they were very wise in doing), they showed themselves a little too loving to me, coming so near my farm-house, that the thunder of their engines and the screams of their steam-whistles, to say nothing of other inconveniences, not a little disturbed the peace and the repose of its occupants. There is, beside, an awkward and ugly embankment thrown up across my meadows. It injures the looks of the fields. But I have observed, fellow-citizens, that railroad directors and railroad projectors are no enthusiastic lovers of landscape beauty; a handsome field or lawn, beautiful copses, and all the gorgeousness of forest scenery, pass for little in their eyes. Their business is to cut and to slash, to level or deface a finely rounded field, and fill up beautifully winding valleys. They are quite utilitarian in their creed and in their practice. Their business is to make a good road. They look upon a well-constructed embankment as an agreeable work of art; they behold with delight a long, deep cut through hard pan and rock, such as we have just passed; and if they can find a fair reason to run a tunnel under a deep mountain, they are half in raptures. To be serious, Gentlemen, I must say I admire the skill, the enterprise, and that rather bold defiance of expense, which have enabled the directors of this road to bring it with an easy ascent more than five hundred feet above the level of the Merrimac River. We shall soon see it cross yonder mountainous ridge, commonly called " the Height of Land," and thence pitch down into the fair valley of the Connecticut.
Fellow-citizens, you who live along the line of the road must already begin to feel its beneficial effects. Your country is rather a rough one. There are, indeed, good lands about the base of the Kearsarge, on Beach Hill, Babcock's Hill, and other places adjacent to the road. There are other portions not so fertile. We may infer this from the names they bear. We have come through “ Little Gains," “ Hard Scrabble," and “ Dungeswamp,” which latter, I understand, is an Indian word to signify the poorest land in creation. But, fellow-citizens,
health and industry, good morals and good government, have made your homes among these mountains prosperous and happy. This great improvement comes to your farther assistance. It will give you new facilities, connect you more readily with other portions of the State, and most assuredly, according to all experience, create new objects for the application of your enterprise and your labor. You do not yet begin to feel the benefits which it will confer on you. I rejoice most heartily that my native State has adopted a policy which has led to these results. I trust that policy may be steadily pursued, till internal improvement in some really and intrinsically useful form shall reach every glen and every mountain-side of the State.
And now, my friends, having thus shortly complied with the wish expressed by you that I should address you in a few words, I take a respectful leave of you, tendering to you all at parting my best wishes for your health and prosperity.