The historic trackage of the Housatonic Railroad became a part of the far flung New York, New Haven & Hartford in the later part of the 1800’s. Western Connecticut had certainly seen its share of railroad companies. A virtual spider web of rail lines crisscrossed the state and wove together the old colonial era towns and villages and newer small towns founded during the industrial boom times of the 19th century.
The New England country depot is a classic in and of itself. Like the famous New England covered bridge, or the village green with the local church, or a town meeting hall with a black faced clock in the steeple, country depots are a link back in time. Harking back to the post Civil War era, these wonderful buildings were almost always constructed out of wood. Stations built in the 1870 era were becoming more standardized, but often still had unique details. In typical Victorian style, they usually had very steep pitched roofs (often wood shingled as well) with fancy wood or iron brackets supporting the large overhangs. Tall rounded top windows were common, and neat paneled doors were often found in these structures. Many of these details reflected the booming machine age, being mass produced in factories primarily located in the cities of the Northeast. Heated by iron pot bellied stoves, lighted by kerosene lamps and outfitted with a bay window on the track side, they were found every few miles along the track. A lower quadrant semaphore signal often stood next to the tracks, and controlled by the depot agent. The sound of the telegraph key and distant whistle of a steam locomotive announced the daily trains.
Built circa 1872, the Kent, Connecticut depot is essentially unchanged on the outside. One can imagine a late afternoon in August. A telegraph key is clicking through an open window while summer songbirds chirp in the nearby trees. In the distance, the lonely whistle of a steam locomotive echoes in the valley. All is right with the world.
Since the surrounding areas were almost always agricultural in nature, milk traffic and locally grown produce were important freight. In those days the milk train was anything but slow. Often they were the fastest accommodation to be found on any railroad. This traffic was a money maker, and in the days before mechanical refrigeration, getting the milk and produce to market quickly was mandatory. Mixed trains brought in the odd car of coal or lumber or feed. On its end would be tacked a wooden coach or combine bringing the city newspapers and the U.S. Mail and Aunt Mabel for a summer visit. If a community was on a mainline, there would be the added excitement of the railroad’s premier passenger expresses. Hanging about the depot taking this all in was a ritual of daily life for adult and child alike. In between fishing or "skinny dipping", train watching at the depot were the things small town boys could do on those hot lazy summer days of long ago. Wouldn’t it be neat to revisit just such a day, down at the depot?
Photo by Jon Rothenmeyer, October 1997
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