When the Northern Railroad came to Canaan in 1847, its depot in East Canaan transformed the town. Canaan immediately prospered from increased connection to the wider world. Its freight yard bustled with dairy farmers, loggers & overall makers and, in time, passenger trains brought summer residents and skiers.
A devastating fire wiped out downtown in 1923; within three hours, two lives were lost, forty buildings burned, and one million dollars in damage was done. The depot and freight shed were total losses. The heat was so intense the rails warped.
Planning and rebuilding began quickly using Colonial Revival architecture to unite commercial and public buildings. The depot and freight shed were built first, and both reflected the new downtown. The freight shed included a slate roof, pedimented ends with lunette windows, and 6/6 windows – original design and materials that exist today. The freight shed ceased being used in the 1930s, and the depot closed in 1958. Since then, the building has seen little maintenance and its condition has worsened over time.
Today, the freight shed’s neighbor is the busy Northern Rail Trail, the state’s longest rail trail at 60 miles in uninterrupted length. It welcomes bicyclists, runners, walkers, skiers, horseback riders, and snowmobilers through downtown Canaan. The location makes it an ideal candidate for a thoughtful reuse strategy.
It is hoped that the Seven to Save designation will help highlight New Hampshire’s historic, but disappearing, railroad infrastructure and also position this remnant of Canaan’s history to be re-imagined to once again boost the vitality of the village. For the first time in decades, maybe the freight shed will be on the right track.
For more information, contact Judith Kushner at 603-523-4337, or firstname.lastname@example.org