The coming of the railroad to Wilton, New Hampshire was largely due to the rapid increase in the number of mills and factories built in and around the East Village along the river beginning in the early 19th century. This increase was the impetus to Wilton business leaders of the time to petition the state for a charter to form the Wilton Railroad Company which was granted in 1844. The first official run of a wood-burning steam engine from Nashua City Station to the newly constructed Wilton Station occurred on Dec. 1, 1851. The small, wood-frame station was deemed obsolete, and replaced by 1860 with a more substantial structure. In this time, the town prospered, and the local mills cranked out everything from worsted yarn to wooden boxes and furniture. After thirty years of use, however, this second station began to show its age; the tin roof was rusting and it leaked. In 1888, a derrick on a wrecker train caught the side of the building and heavily damaged it, requiring the demolition of the station. By 1892, it was replaced by this new brick station. Between the World Wars, automobile use dominated the American transportation landscape, shifting demands from rail to road. In the late 40’s, a restaurant opened in part of the building, operating until the early-to-mid 50’s. The station was closed when passenger service finally ended and the building, undergoing “adaptive re-use”, into a medical center. It operated for some time as a scenic, heritage railroad stop from 2003-2006.
TOOT TOOT! Next stop, Willington, Connecticut. Historically, all of central Connecticut was occupied by various Algonquin tribes which for thousands of years inhabited the region, the larger Pequot and Mohegan, and the smaller Nipmuck, Podunk, Shenipset and Skunkamaug all sharing a common-lineage, and language. In 1720, a party of eight men, originally from England, bought 16,000 acres of the region and called it Wellington after the town in England. Willington was incorporated in 1727. Like many early towns, Willington began as a farming community with modest industry until the 19th century, when the American Industrial Revolution saw mills and factories sprouting up all along the river towns in the region. Villages spouted up in town, mostly following their geographic location in relation to the town center (South Willington, West Willington, etc.) and each had their own industry and character. By the 20th century with industry in decline, many of the former mills and villages closed up and residents moved to “greener pastures”. The town is today mostly rural and serves as a suburb to larger towns nearby.
This train depot is located in West Willington just over the town line of Tolland. Due to this, the depot was originally named Tolland Station. Rail service began here in 1850, when the New London, Willimantic and Palmer Railroad Company built a freight and passenger station near this location. The rail line was later absorbed into the larger Central Vermont Railway in 1871. The original depot burned down in 1894, and was replaced that same year by this structure. The line, and this station, were in use for passenger service until 1947, when it closed. The depot has luckily been occupied by businesses ever-since, preserving this building typology in America that we are losing every year.
The first train arrived in Gardiner, Maine in 1851. Rail here introduced a new mode of transportation for passengers and freight, which previously relied on horse or ship up the Kennebec River. When the old station was deemed too small and outdated, the Maine Central Railroad Company decided to hire Portland architect, George Burnham to complete plans for a more fitting station. This building is a mix of styles, the two I would categorize it as are Romanesque Revival and Spanish Revival. The building incorporates a number of influences of the two along with a deep overhanging roof supported by large brackets, heavy rusticated granite blocks at the base, and quoining around the windows and corners. The station was in operation until about 1960 when rail service here halted. Since that time, the building has been adaptively reused as a retail store, today as a recreational cannabis dispensary. So you can get high and look at cool architecture!
All Aboard!! The Kneeland Street Station was built at the southern edge of Downtown Boston in 1847 for the newly established Old Colony Railroad Company. By the early 1840s, the city of Boston had six major rail lines connecting it with other places including Lowell, Maine, Fitchburg, and Salem to the north, Worcester to the west and Providence to the southwest. The southeastern part of Massachusetts had yet to be served by a rail link to Boston. On March 16, 1844 the Old Colony Railroad Corporation was formed to provide a rail connection between Boston and Plymouth. Construction of the line began in South Boston in 1844 and the line opened to Plymouth in 1845. The company needed a more accessible station to the residents and businessmen of Downtown Boston, so they acquired a large parcel of land on Kneeland Street to extend the line. The corporation hired architect Gridley James Fox Bryant, who designed this stunning railroad station constructed of brick with strong stone trimmings. As was common, a large clock was affixed to the building to allow waiting passengers to know how long they would be waiting. From 1845 to 1893, the Old Colony railroad network grew extensively through a series of mergers and acquisitions with other established railroads, serving lines to Providence, Newport, Fall River, New Bedford and down the Cape. The railroad was acquired in 1893 by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, and sought to consolidate the many local stations into a larger building. They soon after began construction on Boston’s South Station, re-routing lines to that new building. They sold off the excess stations, including this one on Kneeland Street, and it was eventually demolished in 1918.
The railroad line through Crawford Notch in the White Mountains of New Hampshire was completed and opened in 1875 by the Portland and Ogdensburg Railroad, and had a transformative effect on the local economy. Soon after completion, tourists arrived in droves during the summer months to take in the area’s scenic beauty and clean air. From this, wealthy investors built large resort hotels, like the Mount Washington Hotel, to satisfy the demand of the affluent visitors. The Portland and Ogdensburg was taken over by the Maine Central Railroad in 1888, and this depot was built in 1891. It was one of the most elaborate stations built by that railroad’s Mountain Division, because of its prominent location in the mountains. The Crawford Depot presently serves as a visitor center and shop operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Nearby is the trailhead to Mount Willard, which has some of the best views for a modest hike.
The Southport railroad stations in Fairfield, Connecticut, are reminders of the important role of railroad passenger service in the historical development of the town which continues to this day. In Southport, there are two stations, an east-bound and west-bound, one on either side of the tracks. The older east-bound station was built in 1884 to replace a depot destroyed by fire. It is typical of the substantial brick stations built at small-town stops throughout the state in the period. The use of brick was likely to prevent fire destroying yet another station. The stations were commonly large enough to accommodate spacious waiting rooms, ticket counters, offices, restrooms, and a baggage area. The brick station was converted to a restaurant, with a modern addition by Roger Ferris + Partners completed by 2017.
The wooden west-bound station was built around 1895 as part of a massive rebuilding of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad’s main line. At this time, the railroad adopted a single design-concept for all the stations, reverting to wood construction, and limited the stylistic details. The Southport station has an interesting design however; with its saltbox-like roofline, bargeboards, and stick detailing. Imagine all the people and stories that passed through these buildings. Parents saying goodbye to children going off to college or war, businessmen and women commuting to and from work, or people like me who took it to Manhattan!