A long time ago, this was one of Brattleboro, Vermont’s storied tourist attractions. It was called the Cold Spring: it’s still there, but you may never have seen it, much less known of its existence. One hundred fifty years ago, the pursuit of leisure unfolded at a slower pace and often in a more pastoral setting. Six Flags this was not.
A hand-colored vintage postcard of Cold Spring in its heyday.
A helpful background description can be found in the Brattleboro Retreat’s nomination document to the National Register of Historic Places (structure number 41):
Cold Spring (1845)
This spring is located just west of Upper Dummerston Road where it joins Route 30. A source of pure water, it was the destination of daily walks by patrons of Dr. Wesselhoeft’s Hydropathic Institution, located in Brattleboro. In 1899 the Retreat built a stone hood over the spring and a rustic bridge of boulders over the ravine. It became a favorite resting place for Retreat patients on their daily walks.
Another historic postcard view, probably a bit later than the previous, circa 1906.
The Brattleboro History website, a wonderful collection of articles compiled by historian Thomas St. John, has a section devoted to this now-forgotten landmark, noting that the first recorded mention of the namesake spring was a journal entry on September 20, 1796 by one Thomas Chapman, Esq. He stopped to visit the property’s owner, the Congregational Rev. William Wells, and wrote (sic) “The Farm is every where well Watered with excellent Springs of Soft Water, and his House & Farm yard supplied from Springs Adjacent which is conducted under ground in Wooden Tubes…” Availing himself of the clear, cold spring water, the good Reverend had opened an English malt house in 1797, soliciting barley, oats, and rye from his farming neighbors. The Wells residence was later converted into the Burnside Military School (founded 1859); the cadets and officers made substantial improvements to the Cold Spring on their watch.
The stone bridge and walled pathway as it is seen today, just off busy VT Route 30.
“Would you know a pleasant terminus of a comfortable stroll from the village, just long enough for a summer twilight? Go to Cold Spring. Are there times of heat when you would repair to a seat in a spot of delightful shade, and would quaff the sweetest of cool, spring water? I commend you to Cold Spring. Or, do you desire a quiet nook by the wayside where you may sit with another by moonlight under a grand canopy of graceful branches? Let Cold Spring be the place. But let the hour be late, or you may find the blue uniforms preoccupying the coveted seat.”
From Picturesque Brattleboro by Frank Pomeroy:
“… the pleasant nook by the roadside, where as long as man can remember, have bubbled up the waters of Cold Spring… at which the travelers of all these years have in passing been wont to stop and drink.”
Brattleborobrief at Blogspot posted an article on this hidden gem nearly three years ago; it’s barely off the beaten path but still almost unnoticed. Just west of Upper Dummerston Road, immediately after it forks left from Vermont Route 30 North (just past the Retreat Farm), you can part the undergrowth on the side of the road and find it for yourself!
Historic photo of the Williamsville station on the West River Railroad; conspicuous is the steel truss bridge over the mouth of the Rock River, looking northbound. The West River is just out of the frame to the right, paralleling the tracks.
After departing Brattleboro, the second stop heading north on the West River Railroad (after passing through West Dummerston village) was the Williamsville Depot. Another modest but serviceable frame structure in a simple Victorian style akin to the other station buildings along the line, it stood on the west edge of the tracks sandwiched between the rails and the road to Newfane. The West River itself coursed along close by to the east, a constant companion to the 36 miles of twisting, narrow roadbed. Williamsville is a village in the town of Newfane, Vermont – the seat (shire town, in the New England vernacular) of Windham County in the southeastern corner of the state. The actual village center is over 2 miles away, but railroad service was a coveted commodity in the late 19th century and the residents of Williamsville were going to have their own stop, if they had any say in the matter: the town of Newfane bonded $25,000 as a pledge of support. The road between the hamlet and its little railroad station was dubbed Depot Road; it has recently been renamed Williamsville Road. Interestingly, the Williamsville depot lies (just barely!) over the town of Newfane’s eastern boundary line, which passes through the mouth of the Rock River and places it within the town of Dummerston.
The former roadbed of the West River Railroad and the site of the Williamsville station is now parking for a popular swimming hole at the confluence of the West and Rock Rivers.
Both the railroad and the adjoining valley road crossed the Rock River, known as the Marlboro Branch in those days, immediately north of this point on separate bridges; the road originally on a covered bridge just west of the railroad’s own timber trestle span. The bridges changed appearances regularly, a result of Vermont’s knack for spring freshets – eventually the wooden bridges were replaced with steel versions, which continued to be challenged by the floodwaters and swept downriver periodically. Upon its closure in 1936, the railroad’s last steel truss was considered as a replacement for the road’s bridge, with a slight realignment of the highway necessitated, but both the plan and the span were scrapped soon thereafter, and a new structure put in place for automobile traffic. The area is a very popular swimming hole nowadays; the former trackside and both shoulders of Vermont Route 30 are often lined bumper-to-bumper with cars, many bearing license plates other than Vermont’s own green tags, on hot summer days.
The depot structure now serves as a residence a short distance away from its original site.
The original stops on the West River Railroad were built by a Brattleboro contractor named Patrick Fleming; as mentioned, they were all of a similar architectural style, a simple New England Victorian. A nice summation which basically applies to all of the station structures on the line can be found in a historical survey of the village of Newfane itself, citing the somewhat larger depot there (page 11). An excerpt: “… the modest one-story, wood-framed and clapboarded building extends three bays along its trackside (east) eaves facade, its gable roof sheathed with asphalt shingles. Chamfered stickwork decorates the gables of the two-bay north and south elevations; similar outriggers support the deeply overhanging eaves of the east and west elevations. The two-over-two sash have bracketed sills. Transomed sliding doors on the east and north elevations distinguish the former baggage/freight room in the north half of the building…” The orientation and layout of the Williamsville station was identical to this description but on a smaller scale, the result of its importance relative to the others.
The doors and window millwork have all been replaced on the current residential structure, but the resized openings are still very evident. The sliding freight doors were positioned higher than the passenger’s walk-in entrance since they were on a raised wraparound platform for ease of loading and unloading baggage and shipped goods, readily seen in the historic photograph and obvious in the renovated state of affairs.
Thanks for stopping in! Check out the other posts in the series, tagged “local railroad history.” We’ll pick up the story somewhere else down the line soon…