History of my Hometown: The Railroad in Southbury

Despite the fact that I’ve been a Harlem Line rider for most of my life, I didn’t actually live in New York until two years ago (sorry regular readers, I’ve probably said that a million times). I grew up in a small farm town in Connecticut called Southbury. The place would be miserably boring, except for the fact that Interstate 84 bisects the town, making it easier to get to the more populated areas of Waterbury and Danbury. Southbury is just about equally distant from those two, with Danbury to the west and Waterbury to the east. But Danbury and Waterbury branch trains were hardly as frequent and reliable as those on the Harlem Line, so we always took a ride to either Brewster or Southeast and boarded the train from there.

Southbury isn’t much of a farmtown anymore, however. Many of the farms have been sold for commercial purposes. The place where I used to pick pumpkins as a child is now a strip mall, complete with grocery and office supply stores. A once-grassy hill is now home to a chain pharmacy. After the place had been constructed, a few finishing details were added to the outside of the building: one of which was the address. 14 Depot Hill. Apparently the construction workers were hardly typographers, and didn’t place the ‘p’ on the proper baseline, making it look like ‘DePot.’ It prompted an editorial in the local newspaper, reminding the town of why exactly the road was called Depot Hill – it was once the location of a long-gone railroad depot.

I had known there was a railroad past in the town. In school it was briefly discussed – including the head-on collision between two trains that supposedly was the end of the railroad. After reading much on the subject of rail history, I seriously doubted this. Railroading wasn’t the safest occupation, and accidents happened frequently. I hardly believed an accident would cause the line to be shut down. But on December 10, 1892 two trains did collide – and the engineer and conductor on one were thrown in jail for apparently forgetting they were scheduled to wait on a siding for an oncoming train to pass. It didn’t mark the end of the rail line, though.

 

Southbury’s station was part of the New York and New England Railroad, which operated from 1849 to 1898. In 1898 the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad leased the line. Service to Southbury continued until 1948. Today there is hardly any evidence that a railroad ran through the town, except for Depot Hill, and a few remaining portions of the railroad trestle bridge that spanned Lake Zoar. Some of the former rail bed has been converted into the Larkin State Bridle Trail. Below are some photos of the railroad around my old town that I found in a few books and such. Most of them aren’t the best quality.

   
  
 
   
 
 
 

I am not 100% sure that the railroad bridge shown in the last historical picture corresponds with the remaining trestles that are there today (two bottom photos). The geography doesn’t quite match… though it is possible that the photo was taken before the Stevenson Dam was erected, which presumably altered that area, creating Lake Zoar. If anybody knows more about this, or actually has a photo that is definitely of that railroad bridge, leave me a comment!

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Nature along the Harlem Line: The Muscoot Reservoir & Bridge L-158

I thought it might be fun to do something different this Friday… Tuesdays I visit train stations, but I don’t talk much about what else is around the station. The Harlem Line has plenty of intriguing spots along the route, and many for the nature lover. I do get emails every once and a while asking me questions about doing things – people wondering what is within walking distance of the stations, and what they can get away and do. And for those who, like me, do not drive, or don’t feel like driving, you can definitely take Metro-North to get to interesting spots.

As I mentioned, there are many nature-related locales on the Harlem Line. Some of the obvious ones are the Botanical Garden and the Appalachian Trail, but there are many lesser-known spots. Pawling has the Pawling Nature Reserve, which is not far from the Appalachian Trail. At the end of the line in Wassaic is the trailhead for the Harlem Valley Rail Trail which follows the old route the Harlem Line once took further north. Lower Westchester has the Bronx River Parkway Reservation which is more than 13 miles long and stretches from Valhalla to Bronxville – and passes by North White Plains, White Plains, Hartsdale, Scarsdale, Crestwood and Tuckahoe stations.

One of the lesser-known spots is near and dear to my heart, situated in Goldens Bridge and not far from my house. In the evenings it is here that I make laughable attempts at running off the past nine years I spent sitting on my ass in front of a computer. In all seriousness though, it is beautiful and quiet little spot that few people other than fisherman and neighborhood residents (and some deer, swans and bullfrogs) know about. The trails are not extensive, but they surround the beautiful reservoir and provide access to various fishing spots. I went one step beyond that and purchased a boat for use on the reservoir as well (boat use is heavily regulated, this is NYC’s drinking water, after all). However, the most noteworthy part of this “Public Access” DEP area is the old railroad bridge.


I created this map based on my own explorations of the area. Maps are actually fun to make. :P

I’ve mentioned Bridge L-158 a few times before. It is one of the few remaining vestiges of the branch of the Harlem Line that ran from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY, but was moved in 1904 by the New York Central Railroad to Goldens Bridge. Although the original bridge carried two tracks, the Mahopac branch was a single track line and when the bridge was reconstructed the width was shortened for a single track.





If you’re interested in visiting this part of the Harlem Line, it is within walking distance of Goldens Bridge station. Although it is rarely enforced, you do need an access permit to use the land for recreational use. But access permits are easy to get – you can register for one online and print it out immediately. If you’re interested in fishing or boating, you’ll need additional permits, so I advise checking the DEP’s site. People fish in the reservoir all year long, as the Muscoot is one of the reservoirs in which ice fishing is permitted. Although it is a lot smaller than some of the other nature spots around it is at least worth visiting to see the historic bridge. There are some times where it gets so quiet, except for the crunching leaves under the foot of a squirrel or deer, that you forget that you’re not that far from the city… only until you hear a train go by, yanking you back to reality.

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Snow Over Railroad Bridge L-158

A thick blanket of snow has covered New York today, a snow some media dramaqueens have called a “snowpocalypse”. I must admit I laugh every time I hear that term. While some folks were collectively crapping their pants due to snow, I instead decided to take a walk (after sleeping late of course, work was cancelled after all). Not far from my house (and from Goldens Bridge station) is an old railroad bridge with a lonely numerical designation: L-158. With the area covered in snow, it looked even more lonely.

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L-158 was once a railroad bridge, though the tracks are long gone. It was originally built in 1883 over Rondout Creek near Kingston, NY. In 1904 it was dismantled and reconstructed in Goldens Bridge to cover the expanding reservoir. The tracks were part of the Lake Mahopac Branch, which opened in 1872, and went from Goldens Bridge to Lake Mahopac. The Lake Mahopac Branch ended service in 1959, and the tracks were removed soon after. In 1978 L-158 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



All historical information and photographs come from Louis Grogan’s book The Coming of the New York and Harlem Railroad. Years for the photos above are as follows: 1951, 1948 and 1946

Ever since I moved to Goldens Bridge, I’ve always been fascinated by this bridge. It is situated on land owned by the DEP, and thus you must have a Watershed Access Pass in order to visit. I have a rowboat on the Muscoot Reservoir, and many summer days I went out on the water rowing underneath the bridge. And as witnessed by the photo gallery, took way too many pictures of the bridge. I’m really longing for the return of the spring and summer so I can go out and row again, and to see L-158 surrounded by greenery, as opposed to today’s snowfall.

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