Depot Discoveries Part One

West Dummerston Depot West River Railroad

From the 2013 calendar by Old Maps (a Porter Thayer photo, I believe): the West Dummerston Station on the West River Railroad.

I’m a history buff – of the local variety in particular. I find that it lends a perspective and a story to the places I discover or frequent that make the experiences richer and more rewarding. It colors who we are now and where we may be headed; hopefully, we learn from what we have done as well and do a little better on the next go-round. I’m also a rail aficionado, ever since I lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania for two years as a boy; what a railroad town! That combination of interests is what has spawned this blog series about small adventures down the line of railroad history in my neck of the woods.

Southern Vermont, and Brattleboro in particular, has no dearth of backstories either and railroads are no exception. One of our more fabled  local roads was the West River Railroad, more properly the Brattleboro and Whitehall Railroad, which, to make it more confusing, was operated under the aegis of the Central Vermont Railroad/Railway. The latter became part of the Grand Trunk (notice the boxcar behind the tender) and then the Canadian National; CV is now part of the New England Central Railroad (owned by RailAmerica). This shortline endeavor, known as “36 Miles of Trouble”, had many whistlestops along its tortuous length and narrow-gauge 3 foot width (standardized in 1905), all built in a simple, architectural style. The West Dummerston depot stands out (diminutively) for its hipped, fully overhung roof; most of the others were straight gables with the typical bracketed platform overhangs of the time.

West Dummerston northbound railroad approach

The West River Railroad crossed its namesake immediately before its northbound approach to West Dummerston village.

I had recently read that the short line’s West Dummerston depot still stands – of course, I had to go in search. Taking a short jaunt north of Brattleboro on Vermont Route 30, I followed the West River’s course, turning off just before the remains of the railroad’s stone bridge piers still standing in the river bed. West Dummerston is a small hamlet within the town of Dummerston proper, now a quiet residential shade of its former self: I easily found the former railbed cutting across the terrace which holds the village like a shelf display of quintessential New England. I couldn’t quite find the building in question – I was a little off the mark, casting about the main section of town where the church, schoolhouse, and Grange Hall clustered. With a chill wind at my back, eventually I asked for help and was pointed in the right direction. A private residence now, the original roofline was unmistakeable although there was an addition and the millwork had been completely changed. The orientation with respect to the former right-of-way seemed different, as well, and subsequent information confirmed that (see comments below).

West Dummerston depot today, looking north

From the photographic evidence, the tracks ran west of the building; the vintage photograph shows the land dropping behind the depot, and a bit of another building’s roof can be spied just in front of the locomotive’s pilot, or cowcatcher. This means the orientation of the old photo is looking northeastward, toward the hills of Putney on the other side of the West River; it is doubly deceiving since the land around the station is no longer as open as one might expect from that venerable vantage point, but then again, this is true of most of Vermont: the forest has reclaimed most of the agricultural land, not to mention the industries and rail corridors. It is entirely possible that the small structure was moved  from its original footprint (this would have been a cinch, given its stature) but it doesn’t seem to have gone far. I have read that there was a freight building also, at one time. There was probably a siding or two; I believe there is a switch for a spur in front of the depot in the old photoThe building of this quixotic road was a big deal in those days; every valley village had a stop (indeed, many of these small towns pledged a sizable sum to finance the construction) and rail service , although questionable at times, was zealously courted and jealously secured.

Brattleboro was the southern terminus of the West River Railroad, where it met its step-parent the Central Vermont coming north from Connecticut, after running over a mile or two on the right-of-way of the southbound Vermont Valley Railroad (later, the Boston and Maine) coming from Bellows Falls, Vermont, further up the Connecticut River. The West never made it to its intended northwestern goal of Whitehall, New York; after 36 miles of struggle it ended at South Londonderry, Vermont: its initial charter as the Brattleboro and Whitehall thus gave way fittingly to its river namesake. The assignment of title and chronology of events can be quite confusing but makes for a very interesting saga and a freightload of potential adventures. I plan to visit, document, and describe a few more of these discoveries in the future so come back around and see what surprises may manifest. I hope it’s as much fun for you as it certainly is to me!

Note: this post has been edited (April 7, 2013) since original publication to remove specific location references and reflect some additional information. Some extant structures are now held privately and consideration should be given to this. Ask for permission whenever possible. Many owners enjoy conversation about the stories behind the building they are proud to preserve, often being railroad history buffs themselves.

9 thoughts on “Depot Discoveries Part One

  1. The West Dummerston station differs from the other stations due to the original station having been destroyed in a fire (date escapes me right now). The station was moved back from its original location after abandonment so the front is now the back and the back is now the front. The station signs were changed over time and the sign as now displayed on the depot is of the correct style for the later period.

    Like

    • Thank you Glenn… that helps to answer some of the ambiguities. I had not heard that the original station burned (which explains the hipped roof handily and the sign layouts) – but I’ve just started my research. I was wondering about that setback relocation; are you saying the whole building was rotated 180 degrees when it was moved? It is hard to tell when the millwork seems to have been completely changed out and the siding redone. I appreciate your remarks; thanks for stopping in! I hope to have more, in a similar vein, soon.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Depot Discoveries Part Two | quotidiously

  3. Pingback: Depot Discoveries Part Three | quotidiously

  4. Sir,
    As the owner of the West Dummerston Train station, you are correct it is a private residence, rented to others and on a private drive. There is such a thing as knocking on ones door to ask permission to walk around my property and take photos. I really don’t think we need to question whether or not I have an antique sign on the residence nor publize it as a destination for all who would like to look or steal. I am glad there are people who enjoy trains and the history but I am not running a tourist destination especially when one has no manners. You may want to keep that in mind on your future endeavours .I would appreciate this post taken down.

    Like

    • Terry,

      Thank you for your comment. I apologize if my writing about your property and its role in local history seemed out of line to you. I do have great appreciation for the fact you have cared for the station building and maintained its place in the story we all share here in Windham County. I am sure others would echo that sentiment. My intent is to understand our past better, celebrate it as we are able, and instill the insights we gain into our future endeavors, not to cause discomfort.

      I have the utmost respect for personal property and honoring the past along with the present, including the ownership. I did knock on the door, twice, to introduce myself and hopefully make my passing visit an even more pleasant encounter. I encourage anyone who wishes to explore any area, at any time, to do the same: show respect and be friendly, not intrusive: most people respond in kind.

      I did not walk around the property; I stayed on the road. At the time I did not know that the extension past the curve was private. From my research at least the beginning of Riverside Drive is a town right-of-way. But I stayed on the travelled area nonetheless. I was not questioning the authenticity of your sign; I remarked it was different from the one in the vintage photograph – Glenn Annis kindly made a helpful comment on that matter. I understand that things change – it is what characterizes all of history; it is part of the story.

      I have edited the post and removed all specific references to location. I have removed all photography taken from past the curve in the approach. Did you know your property is clearly visible on Google Maps Street View? I do salute your preservation of this wonderful aspect of local history and apologize again. If you care to shed some light on the story behind the depot property, as well, that would be wonderful!

      Thank you,
      Rich

      Like

  5. Rich
    I really enjoyed reading your blog especially the Vermont railroad history. I bought a restored marble mansion in West Rutland Vermont at 50 Clarendon ave. I would love to learn the history of my home and the Rutland railway.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Marie! The history of our local railroads is my favorite topic – I’d spend most of my time on it if I could. The Rutland Railway came down to Brattleboro in its day, of course, and later became part of the Central Vermont, and now the New England Central. I haven’t dug into the Rutland a great deal yet, but I know there is a multi-volume (6 or so?) scholarly work on that railroad alone.
      Your restored marble mansion sounds fascinating. I greatly enjoy architecture as well and I’d love to see that. You’re in the Marble Valley so it fits the picture completely – there should be some interesting stories behind it. I lived in Rutland for a short while when I first came to this wonderful state – it’s a town full of railroad history, but I didn’t realize that at the time.
      Thanks for stopping in and commenting; great to hear from you!
      Rich

      Like

      • Marie – I took the liberty of finding your house on Google Maps streetview – it’s a gorgeous Victorian. Did you buy the entire multi-unit structure or are you in one of the separate units? I found an online pdf of a very nice recent book about the history of West Rutland, focusing on the businesses and residences:

        Click to access WestRutland_Final.pdf

        The chapter on Clarendon Ave starts on page 40 and your house is on page 42! That should get you started; your place is probably chockfull of connections. West Rutland was built by the combination of the marble quarries and the railroads that moved it, so you’ll have plenty to dig through. have fun!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.