Freight sheds have long acted as the “back yard” of railroad stations. These buildings stood alongside the tracks, usually adjacent to a passenger station, and were built as less ornamental but more utilitarian versions of their depots. Each one served its local community as much as any vibrant business would; their loading docks provided an outlet for farmers to ship crops, milk, wood, or ice while also giving storage space for items like carriages or stoves traveling long distances over multiple railroad lines.
Once railroad traffic declined, freight sheds met the same demise as depots. Today in Maine, these sheds have become increasingly rare reminders of the industrial side of railroading. They are excellent candidates for adaptive use, due to their typically central locations, solid original construction and open floor plans.
Freight sheds, with their simple architecture and state of neglect, often do not inspire the same preservation interest as depots. Because of their long-term use as places of storage, freight sheds can have deferred maintenance, making their preservation a timely concern. Their spaces bear witness to a rich and dynamic history of labor, technology, and municipal growth. As intown areas across Maine embrace reinvestment and redevelopment, reuse of these resources bears careful consideration.
EXAMPLES OF GOOD WORK: BATH & BRUNSWICK
In two Midcoast Maine communities, groups of concerned citizens are taking a closer look at their freight sheds and developing strategies of reuse. In the City of Ships, the Bath Freight Shed Alliance has acquired a lease on its Commercial Street property and has begun improvements to house the City’s farmer’s market there (including EBT card reader capability). So far, repairs to the building include work on its sills, roof, and electrical upgrades, as well as site clean-up. When complete, the freight shed will also be headquarters for Maine’s First Ship, an organization currently building the Virginia – a reconstruction of the first maritime vessel known to have been crafted in North America.
Brunswick’s freight shed, despite pressure from new development across from its Union Street location, may also become home to the town’s farmer’s market. Though no formal organization holds the reins of the project, the practical conversion has many supporters, including the owner of the property. Brunswick’s already vibrant farmer’s market would benefit from an enclosed space downtown with access to electricity to increase the usability and accessibility of local agriculture.
Support for freight shed conversions often stems from a variety of sources. In Bath, other partners for the permanent farmer’s market comes from Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc., Maine Street Bath, and Maine’s First Ship. Recently, an online fundraiser supplied $18,000 for the Alliance, and when combined with creative solutions to tackling chores (using local high school trade students to do the electrical work), its resources can go a long way.