Sunday, December 4, 2011

Danbury Railways


This week: an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut. Why not?


My Topo

Connecticut Railroads by Gregg M Turner and Melancthon W Jacobus. Hartford CT: The Connecticut Historical Society, 1989.

Lost Railroads of New England by Ronald Dake Karr, third edition. Pepperel MA: Branch Line Press, 2010.

Tyler City Station Danbury Page

"Motor Trips" New England and Eastern New York for The New England Federation of Automobile Clubs. Hartford CT: The Guyde Publishing Co, 1923.

Atlas of New York and Vicinity by F W Beers. New York: F W Beers et al, 1868. Seen at David Rumsey Map Collection.

History of Public Bus Service in Danbury,

Official Guide of the Railways, for June 1893 and January 1910.


The base map is a mosaic of four USGS 15-minute sheets dated from 1892 to 1904, from the My Topo web site. I drew the railroads and stations and notes using the other sources listed. Eight hours.

Historical Sketch

The first railway in the area was the Housatonic Railroad, which eventually ran from Bridgeport to Pittsfield MA on a generally north-south line. The first section completed, from Bridgeport to New Milford opened in 1840, including a rock tunnel in Newtown, usually called the Hawleyville Tunnel. The railroad investors in Bridgeport wanted to connect their town to quarries, iron mines and foundries, potteries, and other industries in northwest Connecticut. Over the next fifty years, connecting and through services were operated by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad between Bridgeport and New York.

A railway to Danbury, an inland market town with a popular annual fair, had been proposed just as early, but it did not happen until 1852 when the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad opened a line between its namesake cities. Once again the New Haven Railroad provided the important connection to New York and other points, at Norwalk. The D&N ended at Danbury Main Street, with no connection to the Housatonic.

The New York, Housatonic and Northern Railroad was intended to connect the Housatonic Railroad to New York without relying on the New Haven Railroad. The first section built was also the only section opened, namely that from Brookfield Junction to Danbury, 1868. For a few months it ran to the D&N's Main Street station, but in 1869 it opened its own station at White Street and removed the rail connection to the D&N. This segment was operated by the Housatonic from 1872.

The uncompleted route of the NYH&N curved around the west side of Danbury to about the Fair Grounds and then set off as straight as possible toward New York via White Plains, passing through Ridgefield and then on into New York State. The company purchased and graded 23 more miles of route before it failed and sold off all its assets in 1875.

At the same time the Danbury and Norwalk quickly built its own branch line to Ridgefield in 1870. The former Ridgefield Station, where the branch joined the main line, was renamed Branchville, a name it still retains. Passenger service on the Ridgefield Branch ran only until 1925, and it was abandoned in 1964.

A short line called the Shepaug Railroad opened in 1872 from Hawleyville (on the Housatonic) north to Litchfield over a very twisty route. The Danbury and Norwalk again built a branch to take traffic from the Housatonic, from Bethel. It opened the same year and was operated by the Shepaug. The D&N link, which had no stations, was one of the earliest abandonments in Connecticut, 1911. From 1908 the Shepaug's trains ran to Danbury instead via the NY&NE route.

Danbury got its first through trains in 1881 when the New York and New England Railroad opened the last portion of its main line, from Waterbury to Beacon, passing east and west through the area. The NY&NE followed a route something like Interstate 84, from Boston through northeastern Connecticut, Willimantic, Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury, and Brewster.

Entering the area from the east, the NY&NE came alongside the Housatonic near the tunnel in Newtown, where the NY&NE built its own tunnel. South of Brookfield Junction the NY&NE curved over to the Housatonic's Brookfield branch line, and built directly alongside it to Danbury. The NY&NE crossed over to the north side and ran into its own White Street station next to the Housatonic's station. But then west of Danbury the NY&NE route opened new ground, running to Brewster and then north and west.

The age of consolidation began. The Housatonic acquired the Danbury and Norwalk in 1886, renaming it the Danbury Branch. The New Haven acquired the Housatonic and the Shepaug in 1892, and the New York and New England in 1895. This brought all of the Danbury area railways into one system.

The main passenger flow was north and south. The Housatonic built a connection at Danbury in 1889, closing its White Street station and finally bringing the Brookfield trains into the Main Street station for easier connections. Some through trains began to run to New York over the shorter route down the Danbury Branch, but they had to make a reverse move at Danbury because of the stub terminal. A better solution was implemented by the New Haven in 1896, after it acquired the NY&NE, namely a loop track that allowed trains to continue forward, although it meant that looping trains stopped at White Street instead of Main Street. Finally the New Haven built a new station for all Danbury services on the White Street site in 1903.

The New Haven also developed an important east-west freight link. In Orange County, New York, coal from the Lehigh and Hudson River, the Lehigh and New England, the New York, Ontario and Western, and the Erie, and general freight from the Erie, were made up into trains that ran over the Poughkeepsie Bridge (1888). From there the freight main followed the former NY&NE through Brewster and Danbury to Hawleyville, and then onward to Bridgeport or New Haven using the lower Housatonic line.

In 1908 the parallel railroads running east from Danbury were made into a double-track main line as far as Berkshire Junction, where the routes north and east diverged. There had been no junction there before. The parallel lines around Hawleyville were rebuilt in 1911. The new line followed the NY&NE through Hawleyville and then followed a new grade over the site of the old tunnels and down into the lower Housatonic Railroad. The Housatonic tunnel was abandoned, but the NY&NE tunnel was retained with a new west portal for traffic over the old line to Waterbury.

A section of the original Housatonic near Brookfield Junction was abandoned in 1940 after years of very little use. The other two sides of the triangle, Danbury to north and Danbury to east, remain in use. The Shepaug and the ex NY&NE from Hawleyville to Southbury were both abandoned in 1948, years after their last passenger services (1930 and 1932 respectively).

This left just two routes forming a cross at Danbury. The southern leg has Metro North passenger service to Norwalk and New York. Danbury and Bethel stations were re-sited in 1996, and West Redding in 1999. The other three legs have a light amount of freight service.

Danbury was for two brief periods a stop on long-distance passenger trains. The first was an overnight train between Boston and New York from December 1892 to May 1893, that ran on the NY&NE from Boston to Brewster and the New York and Northern (later known as the Putnam Division) down to the NY&N's terminal at 155th St in Manhattan. It took eight hours. The second period saw another overnight train between Boston and Washington, the Federal Express, from 1912 to 1917. The train ran over the freight link previously described, via the New Haven Railroad, the Poughkeepsie Bridge, the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It diverted from the modern Northeast Corridor from New Haven to Trenton. Once the Hell Gate Span opened to traffic in 1917, the Federal Express was re-routed via New York Penn Station.


1 comment:

  1. The New York Westchester and Boston RR had Danbury as a target for the route to Boston.