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.
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).
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 photo. The 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.