Historic Lisbon Train Station Being Brought Back To Life

By AMY ASH NIXON Staff Writer
Friday October 13, 2006

A deep red stain has been applied to thousands of small pieces of wood, the fancy siding that is being applied now to the Lisbon Historic Railroad Station and Museum, largely at the hands of perhaps its No. 1 fan, Roger Robar.

Robar, 70, the clerk of the works of the mostly volunteer-run restoration project begun several years ago, said on Wednesday that the project is now in its phase two stage, where the exterior of the building is being restored and readied for winter. The colors of the building, deep red and a cheerful yellow, are largely in place, and match the visitors' sign at the intersection of Central and
Main streets.

Inside the station, box after box of the siding pieces await installation on the exterior. The siding, rounded at the end and set in so the fancy edges show, are called scalloped or "fish scale," Robar explained. "We're trying to keep it as close as possible to what the original exterior was," he said of the building, built in 1868 or 1869.

"This is a big project," Robar said of the community's ambitious restoration of the train station, which one day will house a museum, a visitor's center and also serve as a comfort station for users of the NH Rails to Trails system for people hiking, biking, cross country skiing, snowmobiling and more in the region.

Project Needs More Help

Cathy Burke, executive director of Lisbon Main Street, said the project, which has benefited from a series of state and federal grants which total about $310,000 to date, is progressing, but is in need of more help. "We need more volunteers. We really need to have people on board to finish up this project in a timely manner," she said. The town of Lisbon has also contributed $5,000 toward the project, Robar said.

One way Robar and others involved in the project hope to see help come forward is in the way of contractors volunteering to help complete the exterior before snow flies. Originally, it was hoped a few local contractors would pitch in, but Robar said it seems most of them are so flooded with their own work and projects, they've had difficulty finding time to squeeze in the train station as community service.

The final stage of the museum's long anticipated restoration will be completing the interior, Burke and Robar said Wednesday. Burke said many people have pitched in and deserve credit for bringing the project this far, but Robar and Peter Loescher, chairman of the Railroad Restoration Committee, deserve special kudos.

"The town has really rallied behind this. A lot of people and a lot of hard work. A lot of money has come in from grants and public support, and that's really the exciting part," Loescher said Wednesday. "The history of
Lisbon is one of my main interests," he said. He is the owner of the Parker Block downtown and enjoys seeing the town's historic buildings preserved, he said.

Loescher said Robar is a master craftsman who has elaborate models of trains in his home. "The station has become one of his models," he said Wednesday. "Now he's getting to work on a big project instead of a model.

"Roger Robar is a quiet man who just loves the station, loves the town and the town owes him a great debt. He's working almost full-time on the station. Roger has really been the glue that has pulled so much together and really made it a showplace. When it's completed, hopefully next year, it will become a destination - for people to come to as a destination. It's just a great project," Loescher said.

Adding To Museum's Collection

In addition to the plea for more volunteers, hopefully professional contractors, to pitch in and help with completing the exterior of the train station, Burke said another need the community can help with is to boost the collection of the fledgling museum, which will showcase the region's railroad history, of which
Lisbon was an important part.

Robar grew up right up the hill from the train station, and has been a railroad buff since he was a child. A number of years ago, he bought a vintage black and white photograph of the train station which was imprinted with the year 1948 on it. He didn't notice until some time later, that in the photo are two little boys, about 10 years old, and they were twins. At that time, he and his late brother, Ronald, were the only set of twins in Lisbon, he said, and he put it together that it was he and his brother in the photo, now adorning the wall of the future museum and visitors center. There will also be space for the
Lisbon Main Street program to be housed in it.

Curving Architectural Roof

The train station was a typical country railroad depot size, 20 feet wide by 50 feet long, Robar said of its footprint. But what is considered a "local gem" by Robar and other train history enthusiasts is its fully-curved architectural roof. Most stations are two-pitched, he said, and simpler in style.

Robar pointed up through the rafters in the open ceiling Wednesday to the arcs of the old timbers that frame up the roofline, pointing out how they curve like antique sleds to create the graceful curvature of the roof.

The station was built, he said, by the
Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad, and old photos of the station will decorate the walls, along with as much memorabilia as can be obtained to outfit the new museum.

New windows and a new main entry door are being custom built for the train station now, and temporary heating will hopefully be installed soon, to allow for some progress to continue over the winter months, Robar said.

Dick Irish, a close friend of Robar's who shares his passion for all things railroad, was in town visiting Wednesday from Washington state, where he now lives. He said Robar "is passionate about restoration," and he wishes he lived nearer to help him with the
Lisbon train station. "He's doing a great job," he said of Robar's lead role in the project. "He's been talking about doing this ever since I first met him and was sorry to see the shape the station had gotten into."

"It was in sad, sad condition," Robar nodded, saying the project's architect told volunteers if they hadn't gotten the grant and started work when they did, it might have been beyond salvaging.

Robar said the building was almost lost from Lisbon entirely, saying its last owner became ill and sold it to someone before the town could buy it. That owner, a few years ago, hired a crew and was beginning to remove the depot from town to move it to his property in
Vermont. Robar was out for a walk and asked what was going on. He then ran over to the town hall and made some noise about a landmark being taken away and the moving of the train station was halted since no permits were in place, he said.

"We literally stopped him that day," Robar said. "This should not ever be moved, it's a landmark."