At mid-day, the Exeter train station is quiet, the small depot shut up. The low-roofed building peaks in the center at the station’s heart, before flattening to a slope just barely steep enough to allow snow to run off of it during the winter.
The bricks are faded from time, the original clay red softened to a brownish orange. The original slate roof has patches of different colors where repairs have been made over the years. A white MBTA board with purple strips top and bottom shows the Worcester to Boston line that runs through here; a small plastic container bolted to the map has a few schedules inside, the purple ink faded from exposure to the sun.
Morning and evening, the station bustles with people headed one way or the other to work, choosing the train to avoid traffic or gain some extra time to read, work or study. Most of the trains on this line stop at Framingham, but enough run all the way to Worcester to make commuting possible.
The first train leaves about 5 a.m., and by six, most of the riders who work in Boston have left. The ones headed to Worcester are more likely to drive, but a few students line up to catch the 8 and 10 a.m. trains, messenger bags slung over one shoulder. More students get off, coming from Framingham or further east to take classes at Exeter State.
In the evening, the trains dump passengers, still carrying on conversations that started an hour earlier at South Station or Back Bay, onto the edge of the small downtown. From downtown, people can walk right up to the platform. On the other side of the tracks, the MBTA bought some land from Steve Donaghue back when they expanded service to the line in order to create a small parking lot across from the station. The rest of the old mill property is fenced off, the crumbling asphalt behind the chain-link fence in contrast with the crisp lines and stenciled numbers on the spaces marked in the MBTA lot. Steel stairs painted green rise from one end of the platform to a pedestrian bridge across the tracks, the stairs on the other end connecting to the parking lot, fully 20 feet lower than the platform.
On the last day before Thanksgiving break, the 10 a.m. train is full of Exeter State students headed for Worcester to catch Amtrak west through the Berkshires and into New York. The Boston-bound trains see heavy traffic too as students head into change trains to a different commuter rail line or an Amtrak train for one of the other New England states.
The rail line curves around the edge of the mill property, the trains crossing the old mill stream and blocking access to the marsh from the south. The mill cuts off access from the east, and the west end of the marsh extends all the way into neighboring Maynardville.
The town has wrestled for years with a way to keep the tracks from splitting the college from the rest of the town, but the mill property stands in the way of any solution. The combination of the two makes it easier for students too stay on campus and discourages faculty and staff from coming downtown to grade papers or eat between classes.