The historic site of the Mt. Willard Section House is located along the railway corridor that runs along the west wall of the Crawford Notch. It's near the base of the massive cliff on the south side of Mt. Willard.
I hiked to this site from Rt. 302 via an unmarked pathway which follows the same corridor that was used by the family who occupied the house that once stood along the tracks. It's a short hike of about 0.2 mile, but it's a steep climb with an elevation gain of about 300 ft over that short distance.
Presented below is some background information which was taken from a variety of resources that are publically available on the Internet. And, if you are interested in seeing original floor plans and drawings for the Section House, click HERE.
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The Maine Central railroad constructed this precariously placed dwelling in 1887 to house the section foreman and crew who maintained the track along the face of Crawford Notch through blizzards and avalanches. The house was located less than 20 ft from the tracks. It could only be reached by rail, or by climbing a steep path up the side of the mountain.
In 1903 it became the home of Loring Evans (section foreman) and his wife Hattie, who was also hired as an employee of the railroad to cook and wash for the four crew members who shared this home. Hattie gave birth to four children during the first eight years of living at this home beside the tracks. A special train was dispatched from Bartlett to bring a doctor to attend each birth.
On Thanksgiving day in 1913, tragedy befell the Evans family when Loring was struck and killed by a locomotive while clearing ice from switches at Crawfords. Hattie decided to stay on and to continue caring for the section crew and raising her four young children in her mountain home.
The children (Gordon, Mildred, Raymond, and Enola) grew up beside the tracks. The trains took them to and from school. Since the train could not stop on the uphill grade, the conductor reached down from the rear platform and plucked each of them from the ground as they stood at intervals along the side of the tracks.
The house was occupied by members of the Evans family until 1942. In 1972 the house was demolished after being heavily damaged by fire. Up until that time, people driving through the Crawford Notch would gaze with wonder at the house which clung precariously to the mountainside.
The story of the Evans Family and their life in the Section House is the subject of a book entitled "Life by the Tracks" by Virginia Downs.
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Shown below is an old postcard, followed by an old photo. Both show the Mt. Willard Section House when it was still standing. These images are publically available on the Internet.
|This post card was postmarked in Littleton, NH, on July 30, 1917|
|Photo from Ray Evans collection, and available via courtesy of Robert Girouard|
The next series of photos were taken by me during my visit on 11-Apr-2013.
|Memorial erected at Section House site|
|Looking southbound across the Willey Brook Trestle (Section House is behind me)|
|Looking northbound toward Section House site (trestle is behind me)|
|Looking into basement which contains remains of heating unit for Section House|
|Set of stone stairs along south side of Section House|
|Sweeping vista of Crawford Notch from Section House location|
There are numerous artifacts in the vicinity of the Section House. Of course, it is illegal to remove artifacts from a historic site, but they may be photographed (unless specified to the contrary).
|Some of the many artifacts that I spotted on my final approach to the Section House site|
|Permanent display of artifacts adjacent to the Section House memorial marker|
The next photo really has nothing to do with the Mt. Willard Section House historic site. By walking a short distance northward from the site, you can get a distant view of Silver Cascade which is located on the opposite wall (east side) of the Crawford Notch. The following snapshot is highly zoomed. Those with better cameras than my simple "point and shoot" are able to obtain some stunning photos from this location when water is at peak flow.
|Highly-zoomed image of Silver Cascade|
To sum it up, I'll end with a word of caution. This hike was done during the season when the Conway Scenic Railroad isn't running. Perhaps it's being overly cautious to state this, but it would be prudent to forego doing this hike when the trains are running. (Click HERE to access the railroad's seasonal schedule.)