DANVERS — The chief engineer of the Union Pacific Railroad, a man who helped create the first transcontinental railroad to link America's East and West coasts, was born in the Putnamville section of Danvers.
So it's only fitting that landscaper Peter Hinchey, who also lives in Putnamville, should be awarded the first and only Golden Spike Award for finding a way to link the northern and southern sections of the Danvers Rail Trail.
He did this by finding a way to fill "the muddy divide," a former 500-foot stretch of muck that prevented people from going from Topsfield to Peabody without sinking in the mud. It's the final gap of the 4.3-mile rail trail in Danvers.
Grenville M. Dodge was considered "the greatest railroad builder of the 19th century," according to an interpretive sign that will someday grace the rail trail in the northern section of town where he was born. Dodge City, Kansas, gets its name from the famous railroad builder, financier and politician who was born in Danvers in 1831.
Dodge is featured in the iconic picture taken on May 10, 1869, when the ceremonial golden spike was driven into the railroad. He's shown shaking hands with his counterpart at the link in Promontory Point, Utah.
Hinchey was awarded the Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee's Golden Spike Award at a selectmen's meeting on Tuesday for being instrumental in connecting the northern and southern sections of the walking and biking trail just north of the Danvers Agway on Wenham Street.
The award consists of a plaque with a golden spike on it, a spike that was salvaged from the rail trail and spray-painted gold.
The meeting also provided the board with an update on trail activity in the past 11 months, including counts of 200 to 300 people a day using the trail in good weather, and a new mileage marker sponsorship program designed to raise money for trail upkeep.
The Danvers Rail Trail was constructed at no taxpayer expense over the past two years by the nonprofit Iron Horse Preservation Society of Nevada, which ripped up wooden ties and salvaged the scrap rails along the entire stretch from Peabody to Wenham. Iron Horse also put down crushed stone and smoothed out much of the trail, but there were still sections that were too muddy to cross.
Senior Planner Kate Day said when the committee installed bike racks back in January, the group was tired and dirty and discussing what it could do about the muddy divide.
"We were concerned about how we were going to solve the wet stretch," she said.
About a month ago, Hinchey, who lives not far from the trail and likes to walk and bike it, called Day out of the blue offering his services.
He regularly deals with Masterson Construction of Danvers, and Jeff Masterson agreed to donate the services of a massive, tri-axle dump truck. Driver Mark McCallum dumped 225 yards of leftover tailings from loam processing — a mix of rock, wood and roots — donated by Northeast Nursery in Peabody. Hinchey then used a small loader to fill in the mud.
"Peter did a nice job, and the tailings really hardened everything up in there," McCallum said.
Thanks to a $2,500 grant from the Essex National Heritage Commission, four interpretive signs will be installed along the trail. The sign about Dodge will be installed along the Putnamville section of the rail trail.
Town archivist Richard Trask describes Grenville Dodge as a "hands-on fellow" who braved adverse weather and raids by Indians to survey the railroad's route and find ways over and around obstacles. Dodge developed his skills when he was in his early teens by assisting civil engineer Frederick Lander in surveying a new railroad spur to Wenham Lake to harvest ice.
After graduating from Norwich University in Vermont, Dodge went west and worked as a railroad surveyor. He met with Abraham Lincoln in 1859 to discuss the importance of a transcontinental railroad to stitch the union together. Dodge fought during the Civil War and rose to rank of major general, built railroads for the military, and became friends with Ulysses S. Grant. After the war, while escaping a war party in the Black Hills, Dodge discovered a key pass for the Union Pacific railroad.
If you want to visit the site of Dodge's birth, however, it's located under what is now the Putnamville Reservoir.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DanverSalemNews.
Save the date
The Danvers Rail Trail Advisory Committee is planning activities to dedicate the rail trail on June 2, National Trails Day.