In the years following the end of the American Civil War, railroad fever was spreading throughout the United States. Railroads were being constructed rapidly and connected people in a way they never had been before. Towns and Villages that had railroad access were now given a direct link to the outside world. To the disappointment of the town officials in Bridgton Maine, both the Atlantic & St. Lawrence Railroad as well as the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad bypassed the town as they were building their tracks between Portland and the State of New Hampshire. After an article was published in the Bridgton News about the completion of the Sandy River Railroad on April 18th, 1879, some citizens of Bridgton, ME decided they wanted a railroad of their very own.
The subject of building a railroad to the town of Bridgton was a popular topic among Bridgton residents when the Atlantic & St. Lawrence R.R. was being constructed throughout the 1840s and 1850s. When completed, the closest part of the Atlantic & St. Lawrence R.R. was a distance of 17 miles from Bridgton, not close enough to make much of an economic impact for the town. Supporters for a railroad to Bridgton rejoiced when the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad was chartered to build a railroad from Portland to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, only to be disappointed that once again a railroad wouldn't be building through Bridgton. Serious railroad talk occurred throughout the 1870s and many proposals were submitted.
To help built a railroad to Bridgton was George E. Mansfield. Mansfield was the man responsible for introducing the "Two-Foot Gauge" system to North America after witnessing the narrow gauge Ffestiniog Railway in operation over in the United Kingdom. He would later on serve the B&SR as its superintendent until 1885. Ideas on where the route of the new proposed railroad varied. George Mansfield was in favor of the route being constructed to Hiram to connect with the P&O while others favored building the route directly to Portland along the old Cumberland and Oxford Canal towpath. The route to Hiram was found to be more favorable and on July 30th, 1881, the Bridgton & Saco River Railroad was officially chartered. The new railroad would construct its rail line from Bridgton to the town of Hiram where a connection would be made with the Portland & Ogdensburg R.R.
Construction began in earnest in 1882. Two Identical 0-4-4T steam locomotives, B&SR's #1 and #2, were built by the Hinkley Locomotive Works in 1882 and were based on a design identical to engines in use on the Sandy River Railroad. These engines were used extensively during the construction period transporting workers, rails, and ties to the worksites. The railroad started laying track from Hiram through the towns of Sebago and Denmark as it snaked its way to Bridgton.
The line was completed from Bridgton Jct. (Hiram) and Bridgton on January 21st 1883, giving the railroad a total of 16 miles of track. The B&SR was officially open for business on January 29th 1883 as a large crowd braved the winter weather to see the first passenger train depart Bridgton for Hiram, and the train was stated to be full to overcrowded by the local papers. As quoted by Robert C. Jones in his book 'Two Feet to the Lakes', "The opening of the (rail)road was, with little doubt, the most important event in the history of the Town of Bridgton; and each of those braving the cold of that mid-winter morning was thrilled by the realization that he had in some way contributed to the accomplishment."
In the beginning the B&SR ran 2 daily passenger services between Bridgton and Hiram, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Freight traffic was slow until logging increased in the area around 1891. Besides lumber, the railroad transported apples, coal, goods, mail, and other assorted freight. With the boom in freight traffic in 1891, another locomotive was needed so B&SR #3, a larger 0-4-4T steam locomotive than #1 and #2, was purchased new from the Portland Company in 1891 as traffic increased on the prospering little railroad. In 1893 however, both #1 and #3 were caught in an enginehouse fire. Short on motive power, the B&SR borrowed an engine from the Franklin and Megantic Railroad. This borrowed engine, "Bo Peep", was the only named steam locomotive on the Bridgton & Saco River. It was borrowed from the F&M until It returned later that same year once repairs to the other locomotives were completed.
During the late 1890s, electric railways using trolleys were expanding to many urban and rural places, and the Westbrook, Windham and Naples Electric Railway was talking about extending its line to Harrison, Maine. Harrison was only several miles from the B&SR's headquarters and terminus at Bridgton, and the railroad did not like the idea of a trolley line taking away potential traffic. As a result, In 1897 the B&SR decided to construct the Harrison extension to secure the potential revenue for themselves. This new 5 mile long extension was opened on August 3rd, 1898 and proved to be a success for the railroad, as profits increased thanks to the additional freight and passenger revenue the Harrison extension provided. This extension to Harrison, ME also provided the B&SR with a connection with the steamboats that operated on Long Lake.
Ultimately, more locomotives were purchased for the thriving railroad. B&SR 0-4-4T #4 was purchased by the H.K .Porter company in 1901 and would be the only B&SR locomotive from that company. The next locomotive to arrive, B&SR 2-4-4T #5, was the first locomotive on the roster to feature a pony truck. It also happened to be the last locomotive to be built by the Portland Company when the engine was finished in 1906. The following year in 1907, B&SR 2-4-4T #6 was completed by the Baldwin Locomotive Works. #6 was the first of the Baldwin locomotives and with all the newer motive power that had arrived within the 1900s, the railroad sold off #2 in 1907 to the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington. #1 would last several more years until being scrapped in 1913.
The busy little railroad was garnering the attention of the standard gauge Maine Central Railroad, and they wanted a slice at the profits it was making. Less than a year after acquiring the largest two-foot line in Maine, the Sandy River & Rangeley Lakes Railroad, the Maine Central purchased the majority of the shares in the B&SR by mid-july of 1912 and thus took control of the Bridgton & Saco River Railroad. The locals of Bridgton were not happy about this, because the railroad was now no longer the towns, but owned by a large corporation based out of Portland instead. With the Maine Central acquisition came changes. In 1913, B&SR 2-4-4T #7 was purchased from the Baldwin Locomotive Works and it was the largest engine on the line at the time. It was the first B&SR engine to be equipped with Walschaerts valve gear, unlike all the previous engines which had used Stephenson's valve gear. Also introduced to the B&SR under Maine Central ownership were 4 mixed trains making round trips between Harrison and Bridgton Jct.
Starting in the early 1920s the railroad started to decline in revenue as the better roads and automobiles started to cut in on the railroad's passenger revenue. It also didn't help much that the railroad still was suffering in the wintertime due to the large snowstorms and the clearing expenses that came with it. Nonetheless in 1924, the railroad purchased one last steam locomotive, B&SR 2-4-4T #8, from the Baldwin Locomotive Works and this would be the largest of the B&SR engines. It was also the last steam locomotive constructed for any of the Maine Two-Foot Gauge railroads. The railroad also lost a good amount of its frieght traffic in the mid 1920s due to mills in Bridgton closing in favor of relocating elsewhere in the country for cheaper labor costs. The Maine Central ownership of the B&SR still angered Bridgton Residents by 1926-27 that they held several public meetings to discuss the matter of how the B&SR could not pay its interest bonds for the first time in history, thus possibly loosing the railroad.
On March 28th, 1927, the Bridgton & Harrison Railway Company was chartered to save the failing Bridgton & Saco River Railroad. The B&H officially took over operations of the railroad on October 1, 1927, and thus the Maine Central no longer had control of the Bridgton narrow gauge. This was a victory for the town, but the survival of the railroad was still in question.