Depot Discoveries Part Four

This chapter in the Depot Discoveries Series has a different conclusion than the previous three posts, but one shared with many a foray in search of “what had been” – and it probably will not be the last of its kind. Sometimes all that is left of a notable site is a few stones or bricks buried in weeds, or a level lot overgrown with trees, and occasionally nothing at all, completely erased by a bulldozer blade. But there may be a few clues nearby to indicate the remnants of the memory. This is one of those explorations: we’re going to East Dummerston Station alongside the Connecticut River.

East Dummerston Station

The only image found of the former East Dummerston, Vermont depot, from an excellent local history book “Dummerston: An Equivalent Lands Town 1753-1986“, published by the Dummerston Historical Society, edited by Alice Crosby Loomis and Frances Walker Manix (1990).

This expedition required a bit of (mostly unrewarded) advance research. There were no historical images online and to my surprise I could find only one passing text mention on the web (another book quote) to the effect that there had been a station in this location at all, although I knew otherwise. I finally found a short informative description and a wonderful photograph in the above-mentioned book; otherwise it would have been considerably more difficult to confirm my bearings. The first clue is the existence today of a certain “Dummerston Station Road”, a dead-end gravelled public thoroughfare which leads east from Vermont Route 5 toward the river and the New England Central mainline, originally the Vermont Valley Railroad.

google maps screenshot

A screenshot of Dummerston Station Road, ending at the railroad and the river.

The road passes by a few wooded residences, farmland, and a former grass airstrip (noted officially by Google as Moore’s Field and waggishly by the locals as Dummerston International); some nearby gravel extraction operations (we are, after all, in the mighty Connecticut’s alluvial plain, with its glacial and prehistoric Lake Hitchcock deposits lining the valley); and a number of incongruous pop-up houses stark upon the rolling fields. A topographic feature unknown on this stretch until it opened in 1961, U.S. Interstate 91 cuts right across the narrowing path of the road, which promptly dives beneath into a concrete box culvert, full of washed-in silt from the approaches, and pops out in a field used for seasonal truck farming.

interstate 91 underpass

The rails and the river are just beyond, the river obscured by the raised roadbed of the railroad skirting its banks. The first railroad to cut, fill, and bridge this natural right-of-way through the tumbling terrain was the Vermont Valley Railroad, chartered in 1848 (amended 1849) by the state legislature and also known as part of the Connecticut River Line. Connecting Brattleboro with Bellows Falls,  construction began on a bit over 20 miles of trackage in 1850 and the road opened for operations in 1851; then the great railroad finagling of the late 1800’s began… Soon after, in 1865, Vermont Valley was  leased by the Rutland and Burlington Railroad, which quickly became simply the Rutland. Then the Central Vermont stepped in, followed by the Boston and Maine, and eventually, as railroads began to decline and reorganize in the mid-to-late 1900’s, the B & M became part of Guilford Transportation Industries (now Pan Am Railways). Guilford allowed the Connecticut River Line between Brattleboro and Windsor to decline badly; Amtrak’s passenger service was forced to run the Montrealer over the dismal trackage at only 10 mph. With service suspended in 1987, the section was ordered sold and transferred back to the Central Vermont, which repaired the length connecting to its own superior tracks north and south of the gap. Amtrak’s Montrealer service was reinstated two years later in 1989 and continues to this day (as the Vermonter), with many more improvements, notably welded rail allowing high-speed passenger travel up to 80 mph. East Dummerston no longer rates as one of the stops, of course… that ended a long time ago. A few miles south, Brattleboro is the nearest passenger station but the trains do still thunder past this forgotten destination. The Central Vermont was absorbed by Railtex in 1995, which renamed it the New England Central Railroad. Railtex in turn was acquired by RailAmerica in 2000.; finally, Genesee and Wyoming Inc. agreed to buy RailAmerica in 2012. In a strange turn of history, the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad was originally a 14.5 mile shortline in western New york state with a single client; it now owns or controls 63 railroads with thousands of miles of track in six countries! The railroad continues to operate as the New England Central in this region, however, so the rest is just semantics.

west abutments

Eastern approach to crossing # 052746N. The East Dummerston Station’s access road turned off to the left just before this frame, placing it north of the overpass and on the west side of the tracks.

Dummerston Station Road dips down through a cut in the farmed river terrace as it approaches the right-of-way, passing through narrow quarried granite abutments wide enough for double track, as the railroad passes overhead on its existing single and westernmost line. Why continue past the obstructing railroad, when the Connecticut River suddenly stops all forward progress? This was the town’s upper ferry landing, crossing to West Chesterfield, New Hampshire – its counterpart on the far shore is still very much in evidence also; long bridges were rare in those days and highly susceptible to flooding.

east abutments

The eastern abutments with a long southeastern wing wall, looking west from the upper ferry landing, now a turnaround and access point for fishing and a few waterside camps.

The historical East Dummerston depot building, as seen in the first photo, was a rather substantial gray wooden structure with board and batten siding, done up in what appears to be a mild Carpenter Gothic Victorian style. Wooden finials and pendants, a steep cross-gabled roof with bracketed wide platform overhangs, diamond windows and hooded head casings show that this was once a place worth visiting. My sole reference book describes the station thusly: “The passenger waiting room and telegraph office, etc. were in the central part of the building with living quarters for the station agent and his family in the southern portion and upstairs. There was a small barn [behind] at the right where the Station Agent could keep a horse and wagon for local transportation… The northern end was used as a freight and Express depot with a spur track or siding to the north for unloading carload freight such as whole corn, oats, etc…” This was a typical arrangement at small, rural whistle stops:  a mainline track, a passing track (if not double track), and a back spur track for parked freight cars to be loaded and unloaded at leisure.

overpass milepost

Standing trackside barely southeastward of the overpass, on the former double track roadbed. Note the rudimentary railings guarding the abutment drop offs. 

The station stood “on the west side of the track a few rods north of the underpass to the river and the old upper ferry.” In the photo above, this would be at the left rear; it is completely overgrown at trackside now and I could find no trace at all of a structure – not even a pier or brick. There are many bulldozed piles of earth and rotted crossties scattered in the brambles and scrubby trees; the railroad uses the plot as an access point for signal and track maintenance nowadays – there was a rail truck parked for awhile when I visited. The block’s signal tower and control boxes are evident at center right in the photo also. The concrete mile marker seems to be a relic of a previous incarnation’s tally system; the current mile post numbering for this spot is 012627, according to the crossing databank maintained by the Federal Railroad Administration, which still lists this as CV territory.

former switch location

South of the station site toward Brattleboro is the beginning of the signal block, at the former location of the northbound easterly siding switch. Note the narrowing right-of-way to the left (riverside). The metal milepost corresponds to the crossing’s numerical designation.

ravine culvertCast concrete culvert head, grated by lengths of buried rail, far into the forest.

I wandered further south on the mainline and found the area, now dismantled, where a former siding’s turnout had been located and which appeared to be the start of a signal control block. The roadbed narrowed significantly at this point, with a steep drop to the river below the eastern embankment.  Piles of rotted ties moldered alongside the rails and the surviving telegraph poles leaned and teetered on the eastern shoulder, a few still hoisting glass or plastic insulators and dangling wire tendrils. A very steep, flat-topped hill rose to the west, with a level shoulder between itself and the steel of varying width and sparsely overgrown, seemingly utilized for some storage or access purpose not too long ago. A narrow, dark ravine fed out of these western gravel embankments, washed out by the surface runoff of millennia. I ventured in to the understory and was surprised to find a strangely monumental culvert well into the forest, perhaps 300 feet west of the rails, installed by the railroad to prevent washouts far in advance of the water’s encroachment upon the track itself. Its outfall was deep in the original backfilled gully, east of the intervening roadbed, of course,  and almost at water level. It was a fitting way to end my exploration of this ghost station site, with this odd discovery still firmly anchored in place and serving its original function.