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The Naugatuck Railroad

A quintessential, lower-New England town, Thomaston, Connecticut, was characterized by its Saint Thomas and First Methodist churches; its single, wind-swept, leave-blanketed Main Street; and the carved, jack-o-lantern faces peering out of the windows of its 19th-century buildings on a blue, but temperature-nipping Halloween weekend.Virtual Western Roofing Expo 2020

The red brick Thomaston Station, flanked by small hills whose increasingly thread-bare trees had relinquished their colorful leaves to autumn’s wind, had been fed by a single main track and was located next to the sprawling, equally red-bricked, but now closed Plume and Atwood Brass Mill. They both had a story to tell. Like the life-representing leaves released to history and relegated to memory, the location exuded a rich past, which I eagerly listened to as I awaited the Naugatuck Railroad’s 2:00 p.m. departure. Paradoxically, the silence was the loudest speaker https://www.mosaicroofingcompany.com/.

Originally part of the Farmington Proprietor’s 1684 purchase of Mattatuck Plantation, Thomaston itself had achieved independence in 1739 as the “Northbury Parish,” uniting with the Waterbury Parish in 1780 to form Watertown, but separating almost as quickly and becoming “Plymouth Hollow.”

Seth Thomas, of timepiece fame, settled in the village in 1813. Expansion intermittently earned it the unofficial name of “Thomas Town” until it was permanently changed to the present “Thomaston” in 1875 to honor the very man who had largely been responsible for its existence.

His factories, now numbering many, churned out watches and mantel and tower clocks, and he was responsible for the Naugatuck Railroad’s routing through town in order for him to be able to link it with the ever-expanding brass center in Waterbury.

Chartered in 1845, the Naugatuck Railroad itself was created to connect Bridgeport in the south with Winsted in the north on Naugatuck River-paralleling track, its initial construction commencing three years later, in April, with service from the just-completed New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad junction to Seymour subsequently inaugurated on May 15, 1849. Extensions to Waterbury followed on June 11 and Winsted on September 24.

The former line, simply designated the “New Haven,” carried more passengers than freight on a route system which, at its peak, encompassed most of New England, stretching from New York to Providence and Boston, and it eventually acquired several other, smaller companies, including the Maine Central and the Boston and Maine. The Naugatuck Railroad was one of them. Initially leasing it on May 24, 1887, it altogether absorbed it 19 years later, in 1906, but passenger service was discontinued on more than half the line, from Waterbury to Torrington and Winsted, in 1958, and five years later the track was completely abandoned between these two cities.

Because of the weakening New England industrial base during the 1960s, which reduced demand for rail services, the New Haven Railroad was forced into a merger with Penn Central in 1969, but further deterioration, due to freight customer loss and track disrepair, resulted in its own bankruptcy. The line north of Waterbury had, by this time, been renamed “Torrington Secondary Track,” after its destination.

Incorporated into the government-created and -sponsored Conrail, the former Penn Central had operated the Waterbury Branch until the Connecticut Department of Transportation had purchased the line between Devon and Torrington in 1982, leasing the track to the Boston and Maine Railroad for its own freight service north of Waterbury. Victim, like so many previous operators, to declining demand and revenue, it discontinued operations in 1995, after it itself had become part of the Guilford Rail System.

On June 7 of that year, the Railroad Museum of New England obtained a state charter for a wholly-owned operating subsidiary designated “Naugatuck Railroad” after the original, 1845 enterprise, leasing track from the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

Outlining its mission, it states, “the Railroad Museum of New England, Inc., is a not-for-profit educational and historical organization founded in January 1968. Its mission is to establish an interpretive facility where the story of the region’s railroad heritage can be effectively told. We have an extensive collection of New England rolling stock, including locomotives of all types, passenger cars, freight cars, and cabooses. We have New England railroad artifacts dating from the 1840s to the present-everything from tickets to signal towers.”

Its Naugatuck Railroad subsidiary, having turned its first wheel in September of 1996, operates historic excursion trains from Thomaston to Waterville throughout the year, including a myriad of seasonal- and holiday-appropriate rides and periodic steam engine runs.

Center of its activities is the Thomaston Station. Replacing the original, smaller, wooden depot located on the other side of the track, the 2,424-square-foot, wooden frame and brick building, with interior plaster walls and ceilings, had been constructed in 1881 by the first Naugatuck Railroad and currently occupies a 1.11-acre site on East Main Street.

After the last passenger train had departed in 1958, it had been used for several purposes: as a freight agent’s office until 1968, as a storage location for the Plume and Atwood Brass Mill, and as a small engine repair shop in the early 1990s. But a vandal-set fire in 1993, spreading from an inside corner and raging up the attic stairs, destroyed the roof.

Monetary donations from the Thomaston Savings Bank permitted roof, chimney, and upper masonry repairs to commence in 1997, followed by interior cleaning, and the installation of a ticket window, gift shop counter, and exhibit panels took place two years later, while a second grant, made in 2001, enabled a new canopy deck to be installed and the original platform canopies to be restored.

A 600-foot-long display track, located behind the building, had been lowered and reconstructed, and today cradled a stationary freight train “pulled” by New Haven diesel locomotives 6690 and 6691, which were attached to a collection of box and tank cars and the prerequisite red caboose numbered C-507. Posing on the spur line, it stood across from the station’s “Baggage Room” door.

The depot, to serve as the cornerstone of an ultimate, 1950s, working railroad station, will be joined by an extended, paved, and lighted platform; an operating control tower; hand-operated crossing gates; a crossing tender’s shanty; a mail crane; a water shed for steam engine servicing; and a hand-operated freight derrick.

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