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William B. Young was an avid fan, enthusiast and historian of the Connecticut Company, particularly its trolley cars, which controlled the street railroad system that provided public transportation in the state’s towns and cities from 1905 to 1948.  Mr. Young, born in 1942, spent much of his youth in Stamford and Roxbury, Connecticut, where he explored local trolley right-of-ways, collected railroad documents and memorabilia, took photographs, and rode the trains at every opportunity, not just in the state but across the country.  While earning a degree in history (focusing many of his term papers on transportation history) at Yale University he worked summers as a Conductor on the Chicago Transit Authority.  After he graduated in 1966 he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Naval Aviator during the Vietnam War, and continued as a flight instructor after the war, when he left active duty in 1977.  After his service he became a database programmer and lived in North Carolina until his death in December 2010.

Mr. Young compiled an enormous and extraordinarily comprehensive collection of materials about the trolley system which includes publications, photographs, timetables, maps, postcards, manuals, and reports.  He corresponded with an extensive network of other knowledgeable railroad and trolley historians, where the minutiae of the cars and the broad history of the company were discussed and dissected with equal interest and regard.  His ultimate goal in amassing this information was the creation of a car roster database, which classified each car in the system by number, owner, purchase cost, weight, roof, type, builder, first year in service, accident history, motor type, compressor type, and controller.

In February 2011 Mr. Young’s sister, Mary Young, contacted the archives about donating the collection.  In the time between this initial contact and its ultimate donation in June 2012, Ms. Young and  her sister Lucy gathered the materials from Mr. Young’s home in North Carolina, separated those materials most appropriate for donation, boxed and organized the materials by format, created “finding guides” and other descriptions to ease discovery of the materials, and provided much of the written information about Mr. Young and the company that helped place it all in context. This comprehensive collection is now available for use by the general public, and its finding aid, which includes long descriptions of the life of Mr. Young and the Connecticut Company, is available at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/wbyoung/MSS20120077.html.  An electronic version of the database will be made available by the Shore Line Trolley Museum, but an extensive printout of the database can be found with the collection here in Archives & Special Collections.

The Connecticut Company, which by 1907 was controlled by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, operated most of the trolleys and buses in Connecticut, with fourteen divisions and, at its peak in the 1910s, a roster of over 2200 cars and nearly 800 miles of track that either ran in or connected twelve major Connecticut cities.  Ridership started to drop in the 1920s and systems were abandoned by the 1930s.  The last trolley ran on September 25, 1948, in New Haven, as the post-war boom of personal ownership of the automobile became widespread.

Connecticut is lucky to have two trolley museums to preserve this important aspect of transportation, including the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven (http://www.shorelinetrolley.com/) and the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor (http://www.ct-trolley.org/).

The archive is deeply grateful to the family of William B. Young for this valuable collection that will serve as a vital resource for this corner of the state’s transportation history.

Laura Smith, Curator of Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

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In our continuing efforts to make our collections available online we present to you a set of Railroad Commissioner Reports of the State of Connecticut, now available through the HathiTrust at http://archive.org/search.php?query=%22uconn%20libraries%22%20%20railroad%20%22annual%20report%22.  This is done courtesy of our cooperative relationship with the Boston Libraries Consortium and the Digital Programs and Preservation and Conservation staff here at the UConn Libraries.

The railroad commissioner reports are very rich documents, published yearly between the 1850s until 1911, and provide details about bridges, structures and track laid for each railroad in the state as well as the expenditures and income.  Many of the issues have details about train accidents and lists of the members of their board of directors, important information for any railroad researcher.

Many of these reports were donated by a long-time donor of railroad materials, Mr. Leroy Beaujon of Roseville, California.  Mr. Beaujon has a soft spot in his heart for the Central New England Railway, which ran in western Connecticut and eastern New York State until it was taken over by the New Haven Railroad in the early 1900s.  He grew up on Canaan, Connecticut, so his interest in the railroads of that area was formed early in his youth and has remained throughout his life.  We are pleased that we can make Mr. Beaujon’s gift of the railroad reports available not only to the researchers who visit us here at Archives & Special Collections but to anyone, anytime and anywhere.

Check out the reports online, and enjoy!

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

“The 12:25 to Waterbury.” Engine 1338 of the New Haven Railroad in Newington, Connecticut, on July 10, 1946. Photograph by Seth P. Holcombe.

Seth P. Holcombe loved steam trains, and as a youth who grew up near the railroad station in Hartford, Connecticut, he particularly admired those of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (better known as the New Haven Railroad), the predominant railroad in southern New England from 1872 to 1969.  Mr. Holcombe was born in 1918 and lived his life in the Hartford area, graduating from Trinity College in 1941 and serving as registrar of the Morgan Horse Club (now known as the Connecticut Morgan Horse Association) as an adult.  He was also an avid photographer and took numerous photographs of the trains he loved.  His interest never wavered from the steam trains of the New Haven Railroad, so when the railroad switched to a diesel fleet in 1952 Mr. Holcombe’s interest in the railroad waned.

Seth Holcombe died in 2009 and his wife Lucy made a gracious gift of his photographs to the Railroad History Archive this year.  The collection shows trains in and around Hartford, as well as other railroad lines across New England when Mr. Holcombe would travel on excursions.  A finding aid to the collection is available at http://doddcenter.uconn.edu/asc/findaids/holcombe/MSS20120040.html and all are welcome to come to Archives & Special Collections to view this terrific set of photographs.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

The Torrington, Connecticut, railroad station was built in 1898, as a stop on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (better known as the New Haven Railroad). The line was originally built as the Naugatuck Railroad, which traveled from Devon north to Winsted, beginning in 1849.

We’ve placed ten photographs of the Torrington station from the Railroad History Collections on to Flickr — check them out at our photostream, beginning at http://www.flickr.com/photos/doddcenter/tags/torrington/. Let us know what you think of them!

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

The Lyman Viaduct under construction, July 4, 1871

 
It’s hard to gauge just how high the Lyman Viaduct is until you click on the photograph to get a larger view and look closely at the bottom.  See the man and the horse (or maybe it’s a mule, it’s hard to tell)?  Then compare them to the enormity of the trestle, then under construction.  Amazing, isn’t it?
 
At 1100 feet long and 137 feet high, the Lyman Viaduct iron railroad trestle was built 1872-1873 to span the valley of Dickinson Creek near Colchester, Connecticut. Named after David Lyman, the man who built the New Haven, Middletown & Willimantic section of the Air Line Railroad, the trestle was a major link in a railroad line that was billed as the fastest route between Boston and New York City. 
 
In 1912, as trains became heavier and the railroad became concerned about the stability of the trestle, the Lyman Viaduct was filled in with sand and gravel. It is now part of the Air Line State Park Trail, on the Rails-to-Trails network.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August 1986.
 
The Lyman Viaduct is a technological marvel, showing the great lengths Americans went to to take advantage of the most powerful mode of transportation of the time.  By the early 1900s almost every town in Connecticut had a railroad line easily accessible, enabling travel among the towns and cities as well as across the nation. 
 

This primary source conforms to the Connecticut Social Studies Curriculum Framework for Grade 8 students, particularly Strand 1.5 — weigh the impact of America’s Industrial Revolution, industrialization and urbanization on the environment.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Railroad station in Litchfield, Connecticut, ca. 1900

On Wednesday, October 26, at 7:00p.m. I will be giving a talk at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield, Connecticut, about that town’s railroad history.  The story starts with the Shepaug Valley Railroad, which opened for business on January 1, 1872, and traveled from Hawleyville to Litchfield in this mountainous region of western Connecticut.  After financial difficulties in the 1870s and 1880s forced the railroad to restructure, the line emerged in 1887 as the Shepaug, Litchfield and Northern Railroad, only to come under the control of the massive New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, better known as the New Haven Railroad, in 1892.  From that time to its final demise in 1948 it was known as the Shepaug Branch of the New Haven Railroad.

As the Shepaug, Litchfield and Northern Railroad it was nicknamed the “slow, late and noisy.”   The route contained almost 200 curves, one tunnel, and several stiff grades.  It was known as the “second most crooked railroad in the U.S.” (the most crooked was the Mount Tamalpais and Muir Woods Railway in Marin County, California), measuring 32 miles of track but was actually 17 miles as the crow flies.  Train speed could never exceed 20 miles per hour.

If you are interested in attending the talk at the Oliver Wolcott Library you can register at http://www.owlibrary.org/programs.php

You can find more photographs from Litchfield’s railroad past on Flickr, at http://www.flickr.com/photos/doddcenter/sets/72157627746164811/

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Many of our researchers have successfully accessed the online New Haven Railroad Valuation Maps, from the UConn Libraries’ Digital Mosaic site at http:/images.lib.uconn.edu/.  Although we have heard from many how useful it is to have the maps accessible to off-site researchers, we’ve also heard that the vagaries of ContentDM, the database system where the maps sit, don’t help them follow the railroad line from point to point.  The maps, which are each one mile footprints of the railroad tracks as they follow the complicated New Haven Railroad system as it was in 1915, have always been rather isolated from, and unlinked to, each other.

New Haven Railroad Valuation Map of Hartford, Connecticut, now accessible from a map index at http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/mash_up/nynhhrr_index.html

Happily, that glitch is now overcome, thanks to the the magnificent efforts of the Map and Geographic Information Center, better known as MAGIC, an important special library within the UConn Libraries system.  MAGIC, headed by Geographic Information Systems Librarian Michael Howser, has created a map index that now allows researchers to follow the railroad lines on a map and click at any point to bring up the 1915 valuation map. 

You will find the index at http://magic.lib.uconn.edu/mash_up/nynhhrr_index.html

Isn’t this great?! One could even say that this is truly, well, magical.  Tools like this make viewing the maps so much easier.  You will see, though, that as of this moment you can search only the Connecticut railroad valuation maps.  MAGIC has plans to, in time, complete the index, to encompass all of the maps that are currently in the Digital Mosaic, which include Massachusetts, Rhode Island and eastern New York.  Something else I want to point out is that the index makes it obvious that there are gaps in the system, that there are sections where, although the railroad ran between some points, there are no maps that covered these areas.  The fault of this lies in the fact that our original set of valuation maps was never absolutely complete, and that is reflected in the online maps.

I want to extend my most sincere thanks to Michael Howser and his staff, particularly Geography PhD student Jie Lin, who made this index a reality.   You’ve made a lot of railroad researchers VERY happy!

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Can’t get enough photographs of railroad locomotives?  Here is another to enjoy.

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

1881, Housatonic Railroad locomotive and crew

Charles Dickens, in his 1842 book American Notes, wrote about an excursion he took by train from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts.  He describes his trip in this way: “[The train] whirls headlong…clatters over frail arches, rumbles upon the heavy ground, shoots beneath a wooden bridge which intercepts the light for a second like a wink, suddenly awakens all the slumbering echoes in the main street of a large town, and dashes on haphazard, pell-mell, neck-or-nothing, down the middle of the road…there – on, on, on – tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars; scattering in all directions a shower of burning sparks from its wood fire, screeching, hissing, yelling, panting; until at last the thirsty monster stops beneath a covered way to drink, the people cluster round, and you have time to breathe again.”

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Railroads came on the scene in the United States in the early 1830s and immediately took hold of the national psyche, changing concepts of speed and time and providing limitless possibilities of the movement of agricultural products, goods of industry, and people to all points across the country.  The railroad was the means that brought the Industrial Revolution to the United States, ushering in the modern world we know today.  To the people of the 19th century, the railroad was a dream, a miracle, a danger, and the most marvelous thing they had ever seen.

The Railroad History Archive has many thousands of photographs.  Most focus on locomotives and scenes of the New Haven Railroad, the predominant railroad line in southern New England from 1872 to 1968.  We have photographs of railroad stations and other structures, railroad yards, passenger cars and dining cars.  We have photographs of railroad bridges, railroad tunnels, and railroad trestles.

But few photographs are as evocative as the one above, where railroad men pose with the nation’s new obsession. 

For more information about the Railroad History Archive, visit http://railroads.uconn.edu/

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Amtrak's train 83 rounds curve as it kicks up the fresh snow at Old Saybrook, Connecticut. Photograph by Robert LaMay, January 2011.

May 1 was Amtrak’s 40th Birthday! In celebration of this event we’ve put up an exhibit in the McDonald Reading Room of photographs and timetables showing the trains of Amtrak. All of the photographs were taken by Robert LaMay, whose collection we have in the Railroad History Archive.

For more inforamation about Amtrak’s 40th anniversary and National Train Day on May 7, visit http://www.nationaltrainday.com/turning-40/. For more information about the Railroad History Archive, visit http://railroads.uconn.edu/

Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

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