Crossing

amtrak Brattleboro VT NECRR December 2014Amtrak No.56 pulls into Brattleboro, Vermont in late December, 2014.

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Depot Discoveries Part Five

railroad crossing sign with rail post

The traditional crossing sign still stands, on a post made from a length of rail. A brand new crossing control system (#129.95) has been installed nearby as part of the high-speed rail improvements made recently on the Connecticut River Line.

My latest adventure took me to Putney, Vermont, just north of Dummerston Depot and a few miles north of Brattleboro on the one-time Vermont Valley Railroad, now running under the colors of the New England Central. In the intervening years between its opening in 1851 and the present-day, of course, many other insignia travelled along this winding but mostly gentle grade which follows the Connecticut River valley and the watery boundary between the states of Vermont and New Hampshire. The Rutland Railroad, the Boston and Maine, Central Vermont, Guilford… these are a few of the  companies which have used this section of trackage along the Connecticut River Line. Soon there may be a fresh, bright livery coming up the tracks in the form of orange with an accenting yellow base and black trim: Genesee and Wyoming was just approved (December 2012) to take over RailAmerica, parent company of the New England Central.

Putney Landing Road Google Map

Screenshot from Google Maps shows how Old Depot Road was bisected by the building of Interstate 91. The riverside end is accessed from Putney Landing Road now.

Putney is a small southern Vermont village in the town of the same name (total U.S. census population of 2,634 in 2000; now estimated at 2,702), once known mostly for agriculture and water-powered manufacturing mills. It was chartered in 1753; although settlement began shortly before that time, the long French and Indian Wars were going on and this was contested territory. Settlement did not begin in earnest until the British defeated the French (alongside their respective Native allies) at Quebec in 1760. The small town grew rapidly and began producing products that needed a way to be brought to market, along with a population that desired a means of transportation faster and more reliable than a horse on a rutted or snowbound dirt road. The Vermont Valley Railroad Company was incorporated in 1848 (amended 1849) with plans to build from Brattleboro, Vermont to Bellows Falls, Vermont directly north up the Connecticut River Valley, a distance of approximately 24 miles. Construction began in 1850 and the trains began running in 1851; the Putney Depot was a regular stop. Another stop was made in East Putney immediately north, another tiny mill settlement at Putney Falls (but that’s another story!).

Boston and Maine Station Putney Vermont

A vintage postcard from the Middlebury College Archives shows the original Victorian trim and an assortment of rolling stock on the back siding (view looking northwest).

Putney Station is just off of the eastern section of Old Depot Road, a town highway now split into two separate lengths by the construction of Interstate 91 a few decades ago. It is accessed by turning east from Vermont Route 5 at Curtis’ World Famous BBQ on to Putney Landing Road, which also functions as the feeder from I91 northbound. The station building is left (north) of the railroad crossing (NECRR mile marker 129.95), across from the Putney Paper plant (dba as Soundview Paper Company these days) and immediately before the road crosses the tracks (the west side) and drops to the river at the Putney Landing. The historic landing (actually the southernmost of two main crossings) was begun by Captain John Kathan in 1752 to connect the town with Westmoreland, NH: it’s now an official Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife Access Area, #170, a beautifully peaceful spot on a wide stretch of quiet river.

new england central freight

A southbound New England Central freight heads over the Putney Landing crossing (052748C in the Federal Railroad Administration’s crossing databank).

putney landing road

Putney Landing Road drops to the former Kathan ferry crossing (circa 1752) to New Hampshire on the Connecticut River, now a state recreational access point.

The railroad depot structure has seen some changes since its glory days on the Vermont Valley and Boston & Maine Railroads, but it is in fine repair and if you’re a railfan, it’s even available for an overnight stay from the current owners, through AirBnB. Now, that’s a rare treat! About seven trains a day (including Amtrak’s Vermonter on its roundtrip to St. Albans) pass through this now-sleepy intersection, horns blowing but no whistle-stop to be had.

putney station today

The depot building as it stands today, rebuilt with substantial facade changes but maintaining the same asymmetrical layout; . There’s even a caboose (nearly all of its superstructure has been replaced) on the remnants of the back siding.

True to the period in which it was built, the original building was Victorian in style. More ornate than some others in the area (see my posts on the West River Railroad), the steep cross-gabled roof with its gingerbread trim, diamond window, hooded casings, rake pendants, board-and-batten siding, and bay window are reminiscent of the next Vermont Valley Railroad station south, in East Dummerston. The bay window has survived, along with the semaphore signal tower – lacking its wooden arms now – but still standing tall.

southbound at putney station

Looking south past the station, Putney Paper’s processing mill stretches along the trackage, its siding now gone. The block’s signals glows red from the recent freight.

putney station signal tower

The upper quadrant semaphore signal sleeps in its horizontal (danger or blocked) position, painted arms and colored glass light lenses missing from their sockets.

necr milepost 130

Modern mile post 130 stands alongside its retired granite counterpart (view looking north on the east side of the tracks; note Connecticut River through the underbrush).

putney milepost s 69 boston and maine

Granite mile marker (north side) with its older Connecticut River Line designation of S 69 . A sagging telegraph wire arcs past the tangles of undergrowth.

Next stop north on the Vermont Valley Railroad is East Putney. What will we find there? Whatever it is, it will be another adventure in time and place in this little corner of New England’s railroad history.