Sunday, December 11, 2011

Danbury Railways revised


Last week we had an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut, and I said, why not?

This week I say: Why not do it better?

Sometimes I can't let go of something when I know I didn't quite finish it. So I blew another 12 hours or so crossing the I's and dotting the T's.

First of all, the jpg map was awful. Here are much better ones, a big PDF with the topo map background and a smaller clean JPG without.

Besides an improved appearance, these maps also have various corrections and additions. Most notably, I added a strip on the west side where I had just barely cut off the interesting area around Brewster, and I added two more partially constructed railways.

Secondly, I rewrote the Historical Sketch section into better English style, and added more details. I can write good. Or write well. Whichever.

The result so far is semi permanently enshrined at

I was especially surprised to learn that there were three partially constructed railways in the area. I had the New York, Housatonic and Northern last week, but now I've added the Ridgefield and New York and the Danbury and Harlem Traction line. These more than pipe dreams. All three companies purchased and graded many miles of property, leaving traces that can still be seen today.

As I mentioned last time, the NYH&N actually opened the small portion from Danbury to Brookfield Junction, which is still in operation today, and the company also graded another 23 miles (!) that was never operated, far into Westchester County. The Ridgefield and New York similarly graded all or most of its route down to East Port Chester (across the boundary river from Port Chester NY). The trolley line D&HT not only graded part of its route but actually laid about five miles of track and made a test run with a trolley borrowed from the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway.

Local railfans and history buffs have discussed the grades— here is a good one about the D&HT grade, although read carefully because it also references the R&NY grade and mentions the NYH&N.

I made two real finds at the U Conn MAGIC web site, the library's wonderful acronym for the Map and Geographical Information Center. They have a 1934 aerial photography set of the entire state that shows the Danbury and Harlem Traction grade very clearly. They also have almost all of the New Haven railroad valuation maps of 1915, providing enormous detail on the railroad's property and structures at that time, which was about its maximum extent.

The valuation maps, amazingly, include the entire Ridgefield and New York line from Danbury to East Port Chester, even though it was never completed. Notations show that the property from Ridgefield south was sold to the New Haven in 1906. The Ridgefield to Danbury section, which was added to the proposed road some time in the 1880s, is carefully detailed, but why is unclear, because the notes emphasize that the New Haven did not own the property.

Last time Charlie Warren commented that the New York, Westchester and Boston project included a proposed line to Danbury. I know that it was to have continued north from White Plains along a route very similar to that of the unbuilt New York, Housatonic and Northern. I haven't shown it since no work was done. However the New Haven's strange acquisition of the Ridgefield and New York property makes me wonder whether there was any idea of extending the NYW&B from its Port Chester terminal by that route to Danbury. It was already graded after all, although it would probably have needed extensive rebuilding to eliminate grade crossings and live up to the NYW&B standard.

I came across this amusing article about a property for sale in northwestern Greenwich, left over from the New York, Housatonic and Northern project. From the street you see a narrow lot (by local standards) 100 feet wide with a modest house on it, but... the property goes back almost half a mile! Type 56 locust road greenwich ct on Google maps.


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