Railroads of Canton

In the heyday of the Collins Company Canton was served by not one, but two railroads.

Today they are gone; only a few vestiges remain of what once, before the advent of paved highways and the automobile, were the town’s principal links to the outside world. A walking and bicycling trail and bridge adjacent to the Collins factory occupy the old rail bed, and stone piers that supported another railroad bridge are visible in the Farmington River north of the village. Early in the establishment of the Collins Company Sam Collins recognized that the success of his enterprise would depend on a transportation system that could convey his products to customers well beyond the range of horse-drawn wagons. Equally important was the delivery to his factory of raw materials, equipment and supplies. Prior to 1830 the best available transportation systems were canals. In 1825 construction was begun on a canal from New Haven, Connecticut to Northampton, Massachusetts (the “Farmington Canal “), which came within five miles east of Collinsville. But canal transport was slow, and it stopped altogether during winter months when water froze.

In February 1827 the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first common carrier railroad in the United States, received its charter. “Railroad fever” quickly spread throughout the country as many isolated towns and villages began campaigning for railroads to connect their communities to rapidly developing rail networks. Thus it was that construction of the New Haven and Northampton Railroad (NH&N) started northwards from New Haven in 1847. Track was laid in what had been the canal bed or on its adjacent towpath for much of the way to Granby, where the railroad arrived in 1850; hence, the NH&N was often referred to as “The Canal Line.” The branch to Collinsville began at a junction with the NH&N in Farmington and later was extended through Pine Meadow (1870) and then to its termination in New Hartford (1876). The New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H) acquired control of the Canal Line and in 1887 leased and later purchased the entire NH&N system. Penn Central took over operation of the Canal Line in 1969. Passenger service was discontinued in 1928. The New Hartford branch north of Collinsville was abandoned in 1956 as a result of disastrous flood damage inflicted on the Farmington Valley in August 1955. The remainder of the branch was abandoned in 1968.

The second railroad to serve Canton was the Connecticut Western (later the Central New England), completed between Hartford and the Connecticut-New York state line in December 1871. Construction commenced in October 1869 by four work crews. Two crews began in Winsted and two in Canaan, each crew working in opposite directions from each of the two sites. The western terminus was extended to Beacon on the Hudson River by 1875. The company went bankrupt in the wake of the great depression of 1873-1879. It was reorganized as the Hartford & Connecticut Western RR (H&CW) in 1881. Two years later the H&CW was absorbed by the Central New England & Western RR (CNE&W), which had been created by the owners of the new 6600-foot bridge across the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie to give them a direct rail link to southern New England. The president of the Philadelphia and Reading RR (P&R) had consolidated control of the anthracite coal fields of northeast Pennsylvania and saw an opportunity to capture the New England market for anthracite coal. He gained control of the CNE&W and merged it with the Poughkeepsie Bridge as the Philadelphia, Reading & New England RR, which in 1898 became the Central New England Railway (CNE). In 1904, J. P. Morgan’s NYNH&H (the “New Haven”) purchased control of the CNE to obtain the Poughkeepsie Bridge. The New Haven had access to the Poughkeepsie Bridge from its Danbury line and had little use for the CNE, which it operated as an independent company until 1927, when it merged with the CNE. Passenger service over the entire CNE was discontinued in December of that year. Bit by bit portions of the CNE were abandoned. All that remains today is an eight-mile segment extending north-northwest from Hartford. Be sure to visit the museum’s impressive diorama depicting Collinsville as it appeared during the first decade of the 20th century, complete with an operating model railroad.

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