Housatonic Railroad

The Housatonic Railroad between Connecticut and Massachusetts

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View of the railroad going through the village of Housatonic.

The stations are circled. The left one is the passenger station, the right is the freight station.

According to written accounts by historian, Benard A. Drew, the original Housatonic depot was replaced around 1859. In 1881, a third depot was erected, and the former one was moved north for use as a freight house. The building still stands today. The village of Housatonic, of course, was known for the huge Monument Mills complex, a major shipper on the RR in the 1800s and early 1900s.

According to Drew, the 1881-built passenger station closed in 1962. Then on, passengers had to wait outside and purchase tickets on the train. The building still stands today, and looks like it’s being used for storage or whatever. A very handsome old-fashioned RR depot. Nice thing about today’s HRRC is that many of the 1800s RR depots are still standing. Just driving by them today is much like taking a visual road-trip back in time.

Click to see more maps of the region served by the Housatonic

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Return of Passenger Service?

Waterbury Republican American June 12, 2010 wrote about: “Housatonic Railroad to Start Own Study of Reopening Passenger Line”.

“The connection might prove useful to the 725,000 New York City-area tourists who visit the Berkshires each year. The Berkshire Visitors Bureau estimates they comprise 29 percent of the county’s annual 2.5 million visitors.”

Some selected comments follow

You can bet the farm that tens of thousands of these NYC residents visiting regularly will shift from however they get up there now to respectable rail service.

Not only that; thousands of newly minted visitors from NYC will appear due to this service, as well.

That noted, if it takes seven hours to get from Grand Central to Pittsfield, then ridership will indeed be limited. Or if it’s priced higher than, say, $60 each way (ideally priced in the $30s or $40s each way), then such service may prove unprofitable.

As for government subsidies, the more the merrier. Gas-guzzling motor vehicle operators (not to mention manufacturers such as GM, owned largely by us!) enjoy massive government infrastructure support – why not RRs, which tend to serve the citizenry more effectively.

Regarding locals using the service locally, I’d speculate that ridership would be surprisingly high as more urban folk choose to reside in the Berkshires – in part due to this new service. Residents currently committed fully to solo motor vehicles for transport of course will be least likely to participate . . . at first.

During 2010 there has been a lot of stories about the Housatonic Railroad restoring passenger service; To New Milford? To Pittsfield? Rather than list a lot of maybes, I found this article on Housatonic rail passenger service from Lakeville, Connecticut. Lakeville is between the Housatonic at Canaan and the Harlem Division of Metro North. It used to be on the Central New England Railway. It even outlasted the CNE as part of the New Haven until the 1960’s. Now Lakeville has no rail service.
The Housatonic Railroad Company is taking its move toward re-establishing passenger train service here another step forward. It has launched a study of the benefits the service would provide for communities along the New York City to Pittsfield route. An earlier feasibility study determined about 2,000,000 one-way trips would be taken annually.

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The West Stockbridge Railroad

The West Stockbridge Railroad was chartered in 1831 and incorporated April 5, 1836 to run from West Stockbridge west to State Line, where it would continue to the Hudson River in New York State as the Hudson and Berkshire Railroad. The line opened on August 10, 1838. On February 6, 1844 the Berkshire Railroad (then leased to the Housatonic) leased the West Stockbridge and Hudson and Berkshire Railroads. On November 21, 1854 the Western Railroad bought the Hudson and Berkshire, which became a branch from the Western’s line (later the Boston and Albany Railroad) from Chatham to Hudson, and was abandoned east of Hudson. The West Stockbridge Railroad stayed part of the Housatonic system.

The New York, Housatonic and Northern Railroad was chartered in 1863 to run from White Plains, New York northeast via Danbury to Brookfield, Connecticut on the Housatonic. It was only built north of Danbury, and on May 1, 1874 the Housatonic leased and opened it.

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At Rising, the main line continued to Pittsfield while another line branched off to State Line.

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Canaan Railroads Explained

As far as I know, at Canaan, there were two connecting tracks forming a wye at the station, if coming north on the Housatonic, movement could be made east on the CNE, and if coming south on the Housatonic, movement could be made east on the CNE. There was once a proposal to install a west leg of a wye for northbound trains on the Housatonic to the CNE along with a new coal pocket, but it never materialized. There was a wye for turning in Canaan Yard.

There were 5 or 6 limestone industries in East Canaan when the Central New England Railway was active. This might have been a reason the New Haven decided to leave the track in from Canaan to East Canaan until 1940.

However, the most important reason when the New Haven abandoned the line west of Norfolk Summit that they held off on the section between East Canaan and Canaan was the Gulf Oil facility located about one-half mile or less east of the Route 44 crossing in East Canaan. The State of Connecticut was none too happy about this as they wanted the New Haven to rebuild the bridge over Route 44 for better clearances just east of downtown Canaan and just about where the line ends today. Since there was only one consignee east of that bridge, the New Haven went to them and offered to help Gulf Oil build a facility in Canaan if they would agree to giving up their facility in East Canaan. This was done and in 1940, the line east of the Route 44 bridge was abandoned to East Canaan. This made the State of Connecticut very happy and shortly after abandonment, they knocked down the bridge and widened the road. – – The kicker on all this is that Gulf Oil soon gave up getting their oil by train and switched to truck delivery. The track from East Canaan to West Winsted was taken up in 1938. In 1940 the track was removed from East Canaan to where it still remains today, about a mile east of the station to service Pfizer’s limestone mill.

As far as I know, at Canaan, there were two connecting tracks forming a wye at the station, if coming north on the Housatonic, movement could be made east on the CNE, and if coming south on the Housatonic, movement could be made east on the CNE. There was once a proposal to install a west leg of a wye for northbound trains on the Housatonic to the CNE along with a new coal pocket, but it never materialized. There was a wye for turning in Canaan Yard.

There were 5 or 6 limestone industries in East Canaan when the Central New England Railway was active. This might have been a reason the New Haven decided to leave the track in from Canaan to East Canaan until 1940.

However, the most important reason when the New Haven abandoned the line west of Norfolk Summit that they held off on the section between East Canaan and Canaan was the Gulf Oil facility located about one-half mile or less east of the Route 44 crossing in East Canaan. The State of Connecticut was none too happy about this as they wanted the New Haven to rebuild the bridge over Route 44 for better clearances just east of downtown Canaan and just about where the line ends today. Since there was only one consignee east of that bridge, the New Haven went to them and offered to help Gulf Oil build a facility in Canaan if they would agree to giving up their facility in East Canaan. This was done and in 1940, the line east of the Route 44 bridge was abandoned to East Canaan. This made the State of Connecticut very happy and shortly after abandonment, they knocked down the bridge and widened the road. – – The kicker on all this is that Gulf Oil soon gave up getting their oil by train and switched to truck delivery. The track from East Canaan to West Winsted was taken up in 1938. In 1940 the track was removed from East Canaan to where it still remains today, about a mile east of the station to service Pfizer’s limestone mill.

Here’s some maps of the Canaan area.

Going west from Canaan, State Line was easy to find. The stone state border marker was there, where the line went north to Boston Corners or west to Millerton. It was easy to see where the roadbed was. At Millerton there was a diamond over the NYC Harlem Div. and a connecting track on the east side of the Harlem track where a westbound train on the CNE could go north on the Harlem. After CNE the NYC used some of this track to service one last customer in Millerton. Here’s some maps of the Canaan area.

Going west from Canaan, State Line was easy to find. The stone state border marker was there, where the line went north to Boston Corners or west to Millerton. It was easy to see where the roadbed was. At Millerton there was a diamond over the NYC Harlem Div. and a connecting track on the east side of the Harlem track where a westbound train on the CNE could go north on the Harlem. After CNE the NYC used some of this track to service one last customer in Millerton.

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Bernie Rudberg drove through Canaan on September 1, 2006 and took a couple shots of the station reconstruction. The hammers were banging away when he was there. It is starting to look like a station again.

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In 1911, the Housatonic bought a large block of Rutland stock and in 1913 the line was straightened and double tracked to New Milford.

Check out the bridge abutments in Brookfield.

There are not many grade crossings left with Wildman St being the biggest problem.

Let’s face it. I am sure there will be many who don’t want to see increased rail traffic. The sound of horns as trains approach grade crossings. Fortunately the noise level of modern locomotives is not that big of a factor. I would think though that it is an existing rail line, improvements should get easy approval. The bigger difficultly would be adding or rebuilding passing sidings that would now be required.

Let’s stop contemplating who will run what trains and on whose tracks. The next phase of the study will review environmental impact issues in the corridor. We have all read horror stories about turtle spawning grounds in other states; hopefully the New Milford extension will not experience the same issues.

I suggest rather than wasting energy on whether commuter rail service will be extended to New Milford or not, that your time may be more productive by writing your State Reps, Congressmen and Senators not only to garner support for the extension of commuter rail service to New Milford but to show support for improvements on the Danbury Branch.

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Alice’s Restaurant

Arlo Guthrie’s church was extensively used in his 1968 film Alice’s Restaurant, which became kind of a hippie-era cult classic. It may still show up on some cable station now and then. According to Arlo’s version of the story, which he tells in his long narrative song of the same name, it’s supposed to be true.

The film has one brief scene, of New Haven train #138 at Stockbridge.

Berkshire historians know that there never was an “Alice’s Restaurant” — not by that name anyway! Its most recent reincarnation was as Theresa’s; used to be known as The Back Door.

Old photos show as many as five tracks across from the church. This is where the State Line branch went off the main line. All freight and passenger business was done here. The lines paralled up to Rising or Dalys, where the branch went off to State Line. There is a large block of marble where the station was and I have always wondered if it was part of the foundation? Last Passenger train to State Line was a “Mixed Train”.

Alice Brock’s “The Back Door” was in “downtown” Stockbridge, at the rear of an alley. That’s the establishment spoken of in the song, and briefly featured in the film, which was all shot on location.

As a result of Arlo’s song and film, Alice sort of got “discovered” and opened a considerably larger and far more upscale establishment up on Rt. 183 across from Tanglewood, called “Alice’s at Avaloch” (which, by the way, Arlo was a business partner in). Last time we were in that territory that place was called “The Apple Tree Inn.” I don’t know what it is today. Last I knew, over 15 years ago, Alice had moved all the way across Massachusetts to P’town. Don’t know if she was still in the restaurant business there!

Arlo and his “brood” are still active in the area. His Guthrie Center at the old church is doing a lot of community-oriented stuff today. As far as I know, they handle their garbage in more conventional ways nowadays!

He himself lives on a farm in Washington, MA. His home in Sebastian, FL got pretty much wiped out in the hurricanes of a couple of years ago.

 

We have a special feature on “Twilight of American Rail Travel” . which features one of Arlo Guthrie’s songs.

See Penney Vanderbilt’s Blog on Arlo Guthrie and Alice’s Restaurant

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Housatonic Freight

Here’s a look at some of the freight traffic that the Housatonic carries:

Fairfield Processing loads 5-8 cars a week in 2 locations in Danbury, west of Wildman St and at former Mallory Hat Co on Rose St. The Danbury traffic is all originating which is gravy as the Housy gets to keep a larger share of the tariff.

50′ boxcars go to Kimberly Clark. wood pulp bundles for making paper towels and tissue (New Milford)

50′-60′ chemical tank cars go to Pharmco (Brookfield)

50′ corn oil tank cars go to AC Humko (New Milford)

50′ tanks of Sulfuric Acid go to Fidco in Northern New Milford (Boardman’s)

Garbarge gon’s usually 6 at a time go to AWD (Danbury)

50′ box cars of lumber and center beam flats of dimensional lumber to Shepaug (Newtown)

50′ box cars of lumber and center beam flats of dimensional lumber to Georgia Pacific (Botsford-Newtown)

50′ box cars of lumber and center beam flats of dimensional lumber to Stevensen Lumber (Monroe)

Covered hoppers go to Specialty Minerals in Canaan for limestone loading (they are located on the former New England Central Railway)

Covered hoppers go to Becton Dickenson in Canaan, and to Sheffield Plastics in Sheffield, plastic pellets unloading.

On the Coltsville Industrial Track at Pittsfield, MA.; The train usually just goes to the Filkins’ warehouse (about mid-way), but sometimes the train will travel further north past the Crane Ave. crossing to drop off some cars for storage. The track ends just south of the Berkshire Mall Road at the Pittsfield/Lanesboro line. The Coltsville track is a remnant of the former Pittsfield & North Adams RR which was constructed in 1846 and became a branch of the Boston & Albany Railroad.

HRRC has their own ballast cars; at least 4 of them parked at the New Milford Station siding.

Housatonic locomotives as of February, 2006:
HRRC 3600 GP-35M Roots blown 2000 HP
HRRC 3601 GP-35 Turbo, pinned 2200 HP
HRRC 3602 GP-35M Roots blown 2000 HP
HRRC 3603 GP35-3M Roots blown 2000 HP, Dash 3 upgrade, new electronics and wiring, AR10 Alternator with an AC Auxillary Alternator. Extended Range Dynamic Braking and Self-Load capabilities.
HRRC 3604 GP-35 Turbo, pinned 2200 HP
HRRC 7324 GP-9 1750 HP
HRRC 1802 GP-9E 1800 HP

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Housatonic Stations

Weather for Danbury Danbury, Connecticut
Weather for Brookfield Brookfield, Connecticut
Weather for New Milford New Milford, Connecticut
Weather for Kent Kent, Connecticut
Weather for Cornwall Cornwall, Connecticut
Weather for Canaan Canaan, Connecticut
Weather for West Stockbridge West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Lenox, Massachusetts Lenox, Massachusetts

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Here are some scenes from the Canaan, CT Railroad Days train trip today ( 7/18/10).

We had seats on the 10:00 AM train to Great Barrington, MA. Tickets were sold out and the train was full.

They would not let us off the train in Great Barrington. It seems that on previous days, when there were three trips scheduled, people would hang around Great Barrington and take the last train back to Canaan. Of course with three full trains going up, there was not enough room for everybody to come back on the last train.

Bernie Rudberg

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Housatonic Railroad predecessors

The Housatonic Railroad, of which you inquired, was incorporated June 1,1836 and organized April 5, 1837. Its first line ran from Bridgeport to New Milford, Connecticut, about 35 miles, and was opened in 1840. The line from New Milford to the Massachusetts State line, about 38.0 miles, was opened December 1, 1842. On November 26, 1888, this road built a line from Botsford to Huntington, Ct, about 9.8 miles.

Following is a list of the railroads leased by the Housatonic Railroad Company:

 

BERKSHIRE ROAD

Incorporated in Massachusetts April 13, 1837; organized March 29,1838; leased January 11, 1843. Connecticut State line to West Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 21.1 miles, opened December 1, 1842; physically joined with Housatonic Railroad under agreement of May 10, 1838; leased perpetually from date of opening to Housatonic Railroad on January 11, 1843.

 

WEST STOCKBRIDGE RAILROAD

Incorporated in Massachusetts April 5, 1836; organized April 26, 1838; leased February 6, 1844. West Stockbridge Massachusetts, to New York State line, about 2.8 miles, opened April 1,1844; connected with Western Railroad (now part of Boston & Albany).

 

STOCKBRIDGE & PITTSFIELD RAILROAD

Incorporated in Massachusetts March 20, 1847, organized July 3, 1848; leased January 1, 1850. Van Deusenville to Pittsfield, about 22.7 miles, opened December 24, 1849; leased perpetually to Housatonic Railroad from January 1, 1850 on January 25, 1850.

 

NEW YORK, HOUSATONIC & NORTHERN RAILROAD

This was a New York corporation and was authorized by Act of Connecticut, dated July 1, 1864, to construct a railroad from New York State line to Brookfield, Connecticut. Only the portion from Danbury, Connecticut, to Brookfield Junction Connecticut, was built, a distance of about 5.4 miles, and opened September 24, 1868; leased March 1, 1872, and bought October 9, 1882.

 

DANBURY AND NORWALK RAILROAD

Incorporated in Connecticut May 29, 1850; organized June 7, 1850; leased October 1, 1886. Danbury to South Norwalk, Connecticut, 23.8 miles, opened February 22, 1852. Branchville, Connecticut, to Ridgefield, Connecticut, about 4 miles, opened July, 1870. South Norwalk to Wilson’s Point, Connecticut, about 2.7 miles, opened July, 1882. Hawleyville to Bethel, Connecticut, 6 miles, opened July, 1872.

 

NEW HAVEN & DERBY RAILROAD

Incorporated in Connecticut July 9, 1864; organized April 24, 1867; leased July 10, 1889. New Haven to Ansonia, Connecticut about 13 miles, opened August 5, 1871. Derby Junction, Connecticut, to Huntington, about 3.8 miles, opened November 14, 1888.

On September 10, 1892, the Housatonic Railroad Company, the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company and the New Haven & Derby Railroad Company each leased its railroad and property to the New Haven for 99 years from July 1, 1892. Each of these leases provided for an exchange of stock.

On February 24, 1893, the Berkshire Railroad Company, the Stockbridge & Pittsfield Railroad Company and the West Stockbridge & Pittsfield Railroad Corporation were all leased to the New Haven for 99 years from April 1, 1893.

On March 29, 1898, a certificate of retirement was filed with the Secretary of State of Connecticut. It was approved June 22, 1889, and on that date the Housatonic Railroad Company ceased to exist as a separate corporation. Its franchises and property were transferred to and merged in the stock and franchise of the New Haven.

On March 23, 1905, the Berkshire Railroad Company, the Stockbridge & Pittsfield Railroad Company and the West Stockbridge Railroad Corporation were authorized by an act of Massachusetts to unite as one corporation under the name of the Berkshire Railroad Company, and this company was granted permission to convey its property and franchises to the New Haven June 30, 1910, which was done October 26, 1910.

The Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company by deed dated October 26, 1905, conveyed all its property and rights, except its franchise of being a corporation, to the New Haven, as did the New Haven & Derby Railroad Company by deed dated November 3, 1905. Both of these companies later merged in the New Haven on March 26, 1907.

Thus the title to all railroads and property formerly operated by the Housatonic Railroad Company, whether by ownership or lease, passed to the New Haven Railroad

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ndcglenhamhousatonic11

After the demise of Penn Central, The Housatonic RR ran on Glenham rails.

The ND&C RR (Newburgh, Dutchess and Connecticut Railroad) established an operation that survived through good times and bad for over 25 years until it was absorbed into the Central New England Rwy and later became part of the New Haven RR. Still later 11 miles of the old ND&C line became part of the ill fated Penn Central, next Conrail, then the Housatonic RR and currently Metro North.

After many years and many different names, these tracks are still in service and owned by Metro North MTA. There is no regular train service on this “Beacon Branch” but they are keeping the line open for possible future use.

To see more about this historic rail line, once a part of the Central New England Railway in New York State and the New Haven Railroad.

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State Line Branch
State Line branch opened 1843. Last passenger train 1928. Interchange closed State Line 7/1/1959 Last freight train out of State Line 1959. State Line to West Stockbridge abandoned 1961 2.6 miles. West Stockbridge to Rising abandoned 3/9/1964 6.7 miles. 5/31/1964 all rail intact West Stockbridge to Rising. Track removal was between June and Sept 1964.

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Canaan Station in the 1940’s

Lee Beaujon collection

Sadly, the right half of this historic building burned. It was torched by teenagers. They were caught and now there is a restoration program underway.

Click here or on picture to see more Canaan photos

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