New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad
by Alan Dodd
The New York, New Haven and Hartford in the teens was a large and busy railroad, much larger than the Housatonic before or the New Haven after. The line I am familiar with was the line between New York and Pittsfieeld. The station was a busy place. It was located between the crossing and the old hotel and was a combination freight and passenger station. There were two passenger trains each way every day. These trains carried a mail car and parlor car and the mail was sorted on the train and left off on the stops along the way.
When the Derby Dam was built for water power in Derby factories, a man in Gaylordsville measured the height of the water, wrote it on a postcard and mailed it to Derby every morning. As the river takes a day or go from Gaylordsville to Derby, they knew how much water they had for the day. You couldn't do that today.
Gaylordsville was smaller then and there was no junk mail, so the mail went in one small bag and was taken to the station four times a day by horse and wagon. The milk train came down every morning, stopping by the Creamery sidings along the way for cars loaded with cans of milk, taking them to the city. In the afternoon the train came up through and left car loads of empty cans to be filled for the next day. Both trains carried a passenger car and were used as locals.
As there were few automobiles and most people could not afford to keep horses, the train was widely used for long and short trips. The high school students went to New Milford by train.
The track was kept in excellent condition by crews called section gangs, because each crew had a section of track to care for...one crew in Kent, one in Gaylordsville, one in New Milford, etc... A man walked and inspected every mile of track every day. Mike Hastings, grandfather of Ginny Smith, was head of the Gaylordsville gang for many years. He owned and lived in the Merwinsville Hotel. One time when Mike had a little too much cider, he rode his donkey into the station full of passengers, causing quite a stir, especially when the donkey proved he wasn't house broken.
Ezra Atkins, father of george Atkins, was Station Agent for most of the time I remember. The freight business was large and there were few trucks and everything from horse shoes for the blacksmith to groceries for the store came by freight.
There was a siding for leaving car loads of coal, feed, lumber, and sometimes a carload of horse manure from a livery stable in the city to be used for tobacco fertilizer.
For some reason known only to the railroad, the Gaylordsville station was known as Merwinsville for many years, which was very confusing to passengers wishing to buy a ticket to Gaylordsville.
Near the Front Of The Mountain Road was a cattle loading pen. As there were no trucks, cattle were driven there to be loaded on the train and shipped to the city for beef. Gaylordsville never had a crossing gate, only bells and a sign that said "RAILROAD STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN". Later flashing lights were installed.
In the early days of the New York, New Haven and Hartford, there was a large trolley system in northwestern Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont, connecting with trains not on the railroad. You could go from Caanan, Connecticut to Bennington, Vermont by trolley.
When Theodore Roosevelt was running for his second term as President, he left his train in Great Barrington and went by automobile to make a speech in another town. The car was hit by a trolley and a Secret Service man killed. The President was shaken but unhurt and later that day made a speech in New Milford. The speech was heard by my uncle, Harry Dodd.
There was only one bad wreck that I remember. Somewhere north of Gaylordsville a locomotive turned over, killing the engineer, fireman and brakeman. The brakeman was Charlie Struab, a former resident of Gaylordsville.
The New York, New Haven and Hartford became the New Haven and a branch of the Pennsylvania, getting smaller all the time and disappearing entirely for many years.
In late years the road has been restored by the Housatonic Railroad, who haul car load lots between Danbury and Pittsfield. It is good to see and hear trains in Gaylordsville again, but not much like the old days.
©1998 Alan Dodd