This blog highlights some of my adventures with the focus on railroad history. Originally intended as a blog of my rail trail rides, it now also includes hikes, railroad trips and even stop-and-go car trips if they are railroad history related...

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Trumbull's Abandoned Ice House

It was a beautiful day -- sunny but not too hot with a breeze. After my mountain bike ride in the valley, I decided to revisit the rail trail -- it was just too nice outside to head home!

IMHO the stretch between Whitney and Tait has got to be one of the most scenic rides in the state! The lush canopy of greenery kept the ride cool and pleasant.

I rode to the old ice house as it has been probably more that a decade since I last visited the spot with my son. It is very overgrown now but once I descended the steep bank, I got close enough to take a few nice photographs...
The Ice House up close
Remnants of the old carriage road that led to the Ice House
Colorized railroad valuation map
Topo of the former pond - Source

Further Info

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Newport/Hoboken NJ - Then and Now...

A walk along the riverfront and an eye-opening visit to the Hoboken Railroad Terminal back in October 2016 (see previous post) piqued a deep-seated curiosity to dig up more details about the history of the docks in this area.

Its really a fascinating story and probably little known to the thousands of folks who work or live in this modern immaculate corporate enclave.

Of course a first glance backwards will take you to Frank Sinatra (Hoboken was his birthplace) and Marlon Brando (Elia Kazan’s award-winning film: “On the Waterfront”) but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you turn back the clock a bit further, you will uncover a terrible maritime tragedy and an innovation in tunnel ventilation--both significant historical milestones especially considering their impact on safety standards across the globe.

Now you might ask “what does any of this have to do with railroad history"? The answer is that the waterfront was a major transportation hub and railroads were integral in the massive growth of economic activity that occurred,

The photos below will take you on a brief “then and now” tour focusing on the docks. This stark contrast is mirrored in many other similar places across the globe as technology and transporation changes evolved over time. The still-standing eroded remnants of these piers are ghostly reminders of a far different hustle and bustle of a not so distant past.

But first a bit of history...

Shipping Hub

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, Hoboken was the seat of a vast shipping and industrial complex. Huge docks and warehouses lined the shore and quite a few large railroad yards engulfed the area. Many major railroads reaching westward terminated at Hoboken and the amount of freight shipped through these docks was enormous.

Shipbuildng was also major industry here so the waterfront was a bustling hub of economic activity.
Early 1900s Holland America Docks - Hoboken NJ

The Tragic Pier Fire of 1900

The 1900 Hoboken Docks fire occurred on June 30, 1900, and killed at least 326 persons. The fire began when cotton bales stored on NDL’s (Norddeutscher Lloyd) outermost wharf caught fire, and winds carried the flames to nearby barrels of turpentine and oil, which exploded in rapid succession. It burned NDL’s Hoboken piers to the waterline, consumed or gutted nearby warehouses, gutted three of NDL’s major transatlantic liners, and damaged or destroyed nearly 24 smaller craft.

Many of the deaths occurred as the flames reached several of NDL’s transatlantic steamships docked at the piers. Three of these ocean liners became deathtraps for dozens of seamen and visitors who were unable to reach safety on deck or to squeeze through portholes to escape.

News stories of the fire had described below-deck crew “trying in vain to force their way through the small portholes, while the flames pressed relentlessly upon them.” The fire prompted arguments that portholes on all ships should be larger in size and eventually regulations required portholes to be big enough for a person of reasonable size to escape.

Holland Tunnel ventilation 

Begun in 1920 and completed in 1927, the Holland tunnel was the first mechanically ventilated underwater vehicular tunnel in the world. The eighty-four fans, in four ventilation buildings can completely change the air inside the tunnel every 90 seconds. A forced ventilation system was essential because of the poisonous carbon monoxide component of automobile exhaust.
Holland Tunnel ventilation buildings in Jersey City/Newport -1988.

Disassembling Yesteryear
The pier that stretched out to the ventilation tower is slowly being dismantled.

An Industrial Powerhouse

The waterfront's extensive pier system powered its economy from the mid-19th to mid-20th century. During both World Wars and throughout the time in between, Hoboken (and neighboring Jersey City) continued to thrive. Hoboken became the major point of embarkation during WWI and more than three million soldiers passed through the city onto awaiting ships for the transatlantic voyage. While the country experienced the economic woes of the Great Depression, jobs in Hoboken’s shipyards and factories were still available,

World War II facilitated economic growth in Hoboken, as the many industries located in the city were crucial to the war effort. Even during the 1950s, the economy was still driven by Hoboken-based big industries... Unions were powerful and the pay was good.
Hoboken / Jersey City Railyards c. 1900

 S.S. Rotterdam arriving on its maiden voyage  (1959)
5th St. Pier Hoboken NJ Source
Erie and Lackawanna railroad yards in the snow
S.S. New Amsterdam departing Holland America Lines
 5th St. Pier, Hoboken NJ. 1952-1953 Source


By the early 60s, the development of containerized cargo--necessitating deep water ports--and due to interstate highways, the switch to trucking--had increasingly undermined the Hoboken waterfront. Many of Hoboken's industries moved away during this time and the city was considered something of a post-industrial wasteland until the 1970s. The vast railroad yards were slowly abandoned and the shoreline fell into disarray.
Jersey City - Abandoned, NJ Central Railroad yards
Now the site of Liberty State Park
Credit: Andy Blair
Jersey City waterfront in 1987
Credit: Lefrak Organization


Redevelopment of the area began in 1986 as a $10 billion project led by real-estate tycoon Samuel J. LeFrak and his firm The LeFrak Organization. With its close proximity to Manhattan, great transportation links, lower real estate costs and numerous tax breaks--Newport was born on the ashes of the former railroad yards.

But the walk along the riverfront, despite its somewhat overtly clean-cut Disneyland ambiance, still reveals the area’s grimy industrial past--a lingering testament to the powerful role the docks and the railroads had in the economic growth of the region.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Merritt Parkway Rail Trail Tunnels

After a morning rock building trail session up at Pine Mountain, curiosity got the best of me. I heard they were finally building tunnels for rail access across the Merritt Parkway ramps at Trumbull and I wanted to check it out.
Just like the last trek in, I parked at the end of Rocky Hill Road but this time it looked a whole lot different! It appears this is where one of the the tunnels will emerge.
I gingerly hopped over the jersey barriers along the ramp and saw the tunnel work.
All the scrub and overgrowth on the walk to the bridge has been cleared.
Its a beautiful sight - crossing the bridge!

After crossing the bridge, a short trek brings you to the next ramp tunnel...
The tunnel stops just short of the actual roadway (ramp) and ends in a huge metal plate. I peaked thru a mini window in the metal plate and saw that the rocks under the roadway have yet to be removed!
Walking back, I took another nice photo of the bridge (going north)

Previous Posts on the Bridge (great for comparison!)

Revisiting the Abandoned Railroad Bridge over the Merritt Parkway
Abandoned Railroad Bridge over the Merritt Parkway

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Old Chatham Railroad Discoveries (plus RT 7 CT Rail Stations)

What a productive and fun-filled day—despite the early morning crappy weather and my original goals not being met!  Although a big mountain biking Trailfest was set for the weekend, I had promised to take my wife Cristina to my niece’s women-only wedding shower in Stockbridge, MA.

While Cristina was at the wedding shower, my original plans were to ride my bike—either road bike/rail trail biking or mountain biking at Pittsfield. A huge rainstorm the day before and early morning nasty gray clouds put the kibosh on those ideas, so I opted instead to sniff out--via car and foot--this section of the old Rutland railroad line:

Old Chatham

An old embankment on the Berkshire spur just north of Old Chatham intrigued me a while ago to start some preliminary research: Chatham Division of the Rutland Railroad

Old Chatham is a quaint little village that required a trip on Peaceful Valley Road--rather than the Mass Pike and Berkshire Spur--when traveling westward from Stockbridge. Once you duck under the Berkshire Spur, you encounter vestiges of the Rutland rail crossing.
railroad crossing
Curiosity next led me down Depot Lane and I was quickly rewarded! 
Depot Lane
My first discovery was a steam engine in a local’s driveway! I was fortunate to met and chat with the homeowners Bill and Holly Logan who explained it was actually made out of styrofoam and the rear simulates the remnants of an explosion. How cool!
Exploded Stream Engine (sculpture)
Hanging between the trees is another art object called "viewfinder":
The Logans also informed me that right across the street was the old depot. I was once again fortunate to meet the owner—Joe Finn—and we had a nice chat including a gift of a spike he had from the line [he is also a jazz guitarist so of course we chatted about music as well :-)]. He was very knowledgeable of the history of the line and pointed out the foundation of an old milk factory. The Poulin historical photo, taken right before abandonment illustrates the sidings between the station and the milk factory. It its heyday, Old Chatham was a hopping place :-)
Old Chatham Depot
Old Chatham Depot (1953)
Poulin Photo collection
Milk Factory Foundation
The ROW (looking south)
Yep - there's railroad ties!
Lastly, these friendly locals informed me that the old ROW was navigable more or less all the way to Chatham. I will be back with my mountain bike to put together a detailed photo overview :-)


I was getting hungry and realizing a mountain bike ride at another date would be the best bet for documenting the ROW, I headed straight for Chatham. As I pulled into the Brewery, I had the good fortune of catching a 3-header CSX come thundering by. (Actually I think it was a 5-header - I rushed out of the car to get a snapshot and only 3 engines are shown here.)
CSX Freight Train
Lunch consisted of a beer sampler and local grass-fed beef burger. Mmm… mmm… good.
Chatham Brewery Beer Sampler
As I scarfed down my last beer sampler, I realized it was already time to head back to Stockbridge so I took the shortest route across a bunch of scenic back country roads.
Chatham, NY
I had photographed the Chatham Train station previously.

West Stockbridge

Travel took me once again thru West Stockbridge and another curious turn off on Depot Road took me to what I believed might have been a train station. Later—upon online research—I realized that the larger coffee shop /restaurant just a bit further was the old passenger station (according to their website).


The wedding shower was held in the majestic Red Lion Inn. It’s a beautifully-preserved relic from the past. I had a special treat awaiting me on the wall - an 1855 historical map detailing the old railroad lines. Once again - How Cool!
The Red Lion Inn
Clark 18555 Historical map

North Canaan

Cris and I returned home via Rt 7. We first stopped at the North Canaan Railroad Station. Its in sorry shape now but will be renovated. 
North Canaan Station
The view north

Stone Wall Farm

Heading south from Canaan, Route 7 is really scenic as is hugs the Housatoninc River winding its way thru the Litchfield Hills. Our next stop was at Stone Wall Farms - a lovely community farm just north of Kent Falls State Park. We picked up some raw milk and local honey. (Once back home, Cris made me a cup of warmed raw milk with the honey - it was delicious!)


Further south, a steam locomotive beckons you from the side - the still active Housatonic Railroad parallels the road here. The museum looks kinda of interesting!
Housatonic Rail Line
Kent of course has a beautifully restored station. Ages ago, I remember it being an ice cream parlor --now its a pharmacy.

While wandering to the trackside of the station I heard the mellow sounds of a jazz guitar and discovered this old converted passenger car is a guitar shop! Kent CT rocks!

Further Info

Chatham Division of the Rutland Railroad

The Chatham Division, The "Corkscrew"

Filmmaker captures history of ‘Corkscrew Railroad’ in DVD

Union Station (Chatham, New York)

1858 Map of Columbia County, New York

1873 Historic Map of Columbia County, New York

The Poulin Collection 
^ Great Collection of Rutland Railroad Photos

Waiting for a train (Stockbridge)
^ I have got to check out the Stockbridge station sometime!

Housatonic Rwy State Line Branch (Berkshire RR) abandoned 1964