Great Falls

bellows falls spring melt connecticut riverHigh water charges beneath the twin bridges at Bellows Falls on the Connecticut River.


Depot Discoveries Part Seven

In which Part Seven is more accurately entitled Part Five Continued. It’s a return to the Putney station on the Vermont Valley Railroad, part of the Connecticut River Line (later the Rutland Railroad, Boston and Maine, Vermont Central, et al.), with some light to shed on the evolution of the depot building itself and a few asides. Sometimes things take a turn, and the old aphorism “You don’t know what you don’t know” takes on fresh meaning. However, the more light shed, the more clarity and who doesn’t like credence?

Boston and Maine Station Putney Vermont

The original depot building built by The Vermont Valley Railroad described in my earlier post, a Victorian structure in keeping with the times and other sister stops on the same line. Note the wooden rolling stock on the back track, including a passenger coach, and the single mainline track in this vintage postcard from the Middlebury Collection.

The Vermont Valley Railroad came north from Brattleboro, Vermont starting in 1850, up the west bank of the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls, Vermont, a major rail interchange in those burgeoning days. There it connected with the Cheshire Railroad, the first to service Bellows Falls in 1849 (just across the river in North Walpole, New Hampshire); the Sullivan (later Sullivan County) Railroad, also of New Hampshire, which reached North Walpole from the north later that same year; and the Champlain and Connecticut Railroad (later the Rutland and Burlington RR) which linked Bellows Falls and Burlington at the very end of the year 1849. The Vermont Valley Railroad opened for service in 1851, making the Bellows Falls connection through a novel 400-foot-long tunnel dug under the village’s business district so that it could make the approach to the junction on the “Island.” The 30 acre “Island” was created when the Bellows Falls Canal, the first in the nation, opened to allow navigation around the Great Falls in 1802.

Boston and Maine Putney Vermont station

A 1940’s (or later) photograph with a southbound loco shows the original station but now fronted with double track; the second main track between Putney and Bellows Falls, Vermont, about 14 miles, was constructed between 1901 and 1903. Steel rolling stock waits on the home track and a post barrier of short rail sections has been installed at the edge of the parking area.

The railroad built its depots, as most lines did, in an architectural style reflective of the time period and scaled to the settlement it was serving (as well as the construction budget!). Putney’s wood-frame Victorian station was quite similar in looks to others up and down the road’s rails, with a steep cross-gabled roof, gingerbread rake trim, diamond windows, pendants, hooded window casings, and a bay window trackside to allow the stationmaster a good view of the trackage.

boston and maine putney vermont station alternate

Another shot seemingly taken on the same day; the Putney Station placard is hung over the gable window’s hooded head casing. The lower quadrant style semaphore‘s arm is in the down (or off) position, signaling the track is clear to proceed.

Through further research, this author has learned that the Putney Depot in its original incarnation met its end in a night fire on April 13, 1951 and was replaced with a new, smaller structure the following year. Operation at this time, very near to the end of service to the small town of Putney, was by the Boston and Maine. The new station building was built on roughly the same footprint, if not the same foundation, as the original; the bay window location is relatively unchanged, but the structure’s length appears shortened. The semaphore signal is now an upper quadrant type, a common-sense safety improvement over the older lower quadrant model: if the operational wire or throw rod was broken, the arm would fall by gravity to the horizontal (blocked or danger) position, whereas the old style’s arm would fall to the vertically down (off or safe position) – a potential hazard if the track was not, in fact, clear.

rebuilt boston and maine putney vermont station

The rebuilt Putney Depot stood on the same footprint as its predecessor and is the structure still standing in that location. A boxcar lurks in the shadows as before. The purpose of the stone curbing between the double track, also seen in the earlier photographs, is puzzling.

putney vermont depot today

As per my earlier post on the subject, the Putney station building is the one still standing in that location, near Kathan’s Ferry crossing on Depot Road; it’s available as an overnight rental through AirBnB. Permanently parked on a remnant of back track behind the depot is a wooden car with a cupola, but this is not a caboose. It is an ex-Central Vermont flanger car, used to scrape the rail top surfaces after the plow had cleared the bulk of a snowfall from the right-of-way; the cupola gave the operator a view of the tracks so the blades could be lifted at switches and grade crossings for clearance. Formerly Central Vermont Railway rolling stock, it was last in the possession of Green Mountain Railroad; saved by the owner from the scrapheap, it was moved to its present place of repose around 2002.

g&w flanger

A flanger car on the Genesee and Wyoming Railroad in Retsof, NY (image by John LaRue). In a strange twist of coincidence, the trackage in front of the Putney depot is now operated by the G & W, which took over RailAmerica’s New England Central Railroad, the most recent owner of Vermont Valley’s original Connecticut River Line,  in 2012.

There’s no end to the pleasant discoveries that may be made as we poke around the brambles, the library stacks, and the web. Thanks for dropping in – please feel free to leave a comment if you like and be sure to check back for more ad hoc adventures and depot discoveries!