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photo by Al Braden

Steam & Steel

A century and a half ago, steam engines rumbled into the Connecticut River Valley on steel rails, transforming the landscape and the economy. Until then, travel had been limited to unimproved roads and to the river itself. Thanks to a series of canals, river boat traffic was common here on the Connecticut years before ground was broken for New York State's famous Erie Canal, in 1817. Flat boats and a few steam boats traveled from Hartford, CT reaching into the northern forest as far as Barnet and Bath.

By 1850, fast new rail connections to New York, Boston, and Montreal ended the days of slow passage by water. Farmers found expanded markets for perishable products that could be delivered overnight. Manufacturers thrived with faster access to raw materials and markets. City dwellers thronged to the region to vacation at mineral springs hotels and resorts that promised good health and great scenery. Many surviving historic train stations date from the early 20th century, when passenger rail service boomed.

Today, passenger and freight trains run along riverbanks, over high trestles, and even through a tunnel under a downtown square. Amtrak serves the southern portion of the Byway. Come in on Amtrak's Vermonter, ride an excursion train, visit our historic stations, and listen to the train whistles that still echo up and down the Valley.

Amtrak's Vermonter makes twice-daily stops in the Waypoint Communities of Brattleboro, Bellows Falls, Claremont, Windsor, and White River Junction, with service between Montreal and New York. East-west connections to the Vermonter may be made in Springfield, MA. The Green Mountain Railroad offers a seasonal excursion train that runs from Bellows Falls to Chester and Ludlow, VT.

The Flying Yankee, one of only three articulated Streamliners ever built, is returning as a New England celebrity. Currently undergoing meticulous restoration in Claremont, the sleek train of the 1930s and '40s is expected back on the tracks in the Connecticut River Valley in 2002.

Rail enthusiasts will want to visit the New England Transportation Museum in White River Junction's rail station, which illuminates the heritage of railroading and promotes the return of rail. Early each fall, White River Junction celebrates its history with Glory Days of the Railroad, a day-long festival offering excursion rides and exhibits, from the heart of the historic rail yard.

Historic Train Stations

In the 19th century, when railroads were the easiest, fastest, and most popular form of travel, passenger stations were essential to community growth and vitality. Today, historic train stations still stand in the heart of several Waypoint Communities.

Brattleboro
Union Station was among the last generation of major railroad passenger stations built in Vermont. It was constructed of stone in 1915-1916 for the Central Vermont and Boston and Maine Railroads. The station is now home to the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center. Amtrak maintains an office on the ground floor adjacent to the tracks.

Bellows Falls
The Boston and Maine Railroad Passenger Station, built of brick in 1922, stands at the junction of two rail lines – the Boston and Maine's Connecticut Valley main line and the Green Mountain (former Rutland) Railroad's line to Rutland, Vermont. The junction turned Bellows Falls into a rail hub. The station serves both Amtrak and the Green Mountain Railroad’s excursion passenger train.

Windsor
The Central Vermont Railway Station is an imposing building, built in 1905 in a Victorian-era fashion known as Vernacular Romanesque style. The station is now a restaurant, and Amtrak operates an office nearby.

White River Junction
As its name suggests, White River Junction was a crossroads for five railroads, all constructed between 1847 and 1863. Two lines survive – the Boston and Maine, and the Central Vermont. The B&M built the present large brick passenger station in 1937 in the Colonial Revival style. Amtrak stops at the station twice a day. It houses a welcome center operated by the State of Vermont and local chambers of commerce. Outside the door stands a great iron horse, "Old 494," a restored locomotive engine that hauled passenger cars and light freight up and down the river valley from 1892 to 1938.

Fairlee
The small wood framed depot, built around 1860, is the oldest surviving railroad structure along the Connecticut River.
South of Fairlee village is another historic station in the hamlet of Ely. Now a private home, it was constructed about 1900 to offer full rail service to the local rural area as well as to house the station agent's family.


Woodsville
The tracks themselves may be gone these days, but the glory of Woodsville’s railroad days remains in its rail-era inspired downtown, where the train station now provides a home for shops.

St. Johnsbury
St. Johnsbury also served as the junction of railroad lines – the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad (running east-west) and the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad (north-south.) The enormous Canadian Pacific depot, built as a union station in the last quarter of the 19th century, presently houses the Rural Community Transportation system as well as several businesses.

Colebrook
When the Great North Woods were logged in the second half of the 19th century, custom narrow-gauge rail lines were set deep into the forest to bring out the logs. These proved as ephemeral as the old logging camps themselves, but traces of them remain in the woods as trails, or grown back up with trees. Just south of Colebrook, North Stratford’s village train station is being restored as a rail museum.

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Connecticut River Byway Council