Of the three railroad depots (Canadian & Pacific, Bangor & Aroostook, and the Aroostook Valley Railroad) that once existed in Presque Isle, this depot for the Aroostook Valley Railroad is the only one still in existence. The Aroostook Valley Railroad is also the only one of the three that was electric and the only one founded by a local resident.
It is impossible to talk about the Aroostook Valley Railroad without talking about the contributions made to our area by Arthur Gould. He was well known in the area, having been a salesman for his brother’s fruit, nut and tobacco company in Bangor for many years serving the Old Town to Fort Kent route. In fact, he was such a good salesman and businessman that his advice was frequently sought by area business men. Gould relocated to Presque Isle in 1886 from East Corinth, Maine with the intention of starting a bank.
Gould recognized the need for banking services in the area and began to lend money to local businesses. His impact on the area was immense from the first banking services to the lumber industry to the Presque Isle Electric Company and the Aroostook Valley Railroad. Mr. Gould also served as a Maine and U.S. Senator. The main hospital building at the Aroostook Medical Center on Academy Street is named in his honor.
Before Gould could fully establish his bank, he was approached by C.A. Johnson, the owner of the local lumber mill who was looking to retire. Johnson felt Gould would be a good candidate to take over the lumber mill. Gould toured the mill and, while sitting on a log together discussing the business, he made Johnson an offer. Johnson felt the offer was too low, but Gould made a case for his offer based on what he felt was the poor condition of the mill. Gould further informed Johnson that he would pay Johnson in cash the following morning if his offer was accepted, but that the offer was only good for as long as Gould was sitting on the log. Johnson accepted the offer, and Gould became the owner of the lumber mill.
In 1905, while searching for new sources of lumber for his lumber mill, he found a storage area for lumber on the Aroostook River close to Washburn. He envisioned building a railroad from Presque Isle to Washburn to open up a new supply of lumber for the mill rather than rely on the unpredictable river as the traditional means of moving the lumber. He approached the citizens of Washburn with the idea. The idea was a hit and pledges of aid and stock subscriptions began coming in.
Gould felt that coal was too expensive and that an electric railroad was the way to go. He approached the group that controlled the Aroostook Falls in New Brunswick. Residents were skeptical, but Gould was a visionary as well as a salesman. He convinced the Canadians to allow him to harness the power of the Falls and raised the funding needed to build the dam and provide the electricity needed to power his railroad as well as to provide additional electricity to the businesses and residences of Presque Isle. (He was also at this time the manager of the local electric company.)
There was a special law on the books in Maine at the time entitled “an Act of aid of the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad”. This act was originally designed to protect the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad from the risk of building a railroad in rural areas such as Aroostook County. In effect, the law gave the Bangor & Aroostook a monopoly to protect it from competitors. All potential competitors’ plans had to be approved by the Bangor & Aroostook. In fact, the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad did view the Aroostook Valley Railroad as a threat to business and expanded their lines through Washburn, Mapleton, Perham, Woodland, New Sweden, Wade, Castle Hill, and Chapman.
The Articles of Association for the Aroostook Valley Railroad were submitted to the Maine Railroad Commission on June 24, 1902 and were approved just one week later on July 1. The initial survey was submitted and approved on May 6, 1903. Permission was also granted for the Aroostook Valley Railroad to connect with both the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Bangor & Aroostook Railroad.