Vintage Station


This, as you might guess from the equipment in the background, is a museum. But what appeals to me is that the building is a real station, or at least it was. And to an extent, it is again since the museum sometimes offers train rides along their half-mile of track.

The station was constructed in 1872 by the New York and New England Railroad to serve an area on the border between Chaplin and Hampton, Conn. The station lists I know identified this as Clark’s Corner, but apparently at some point it bore the name Chaplin. This was a small rural area, and this station was typical of the kind that served such places, taking farm produce and lumber to distant markets.

That railroad was formed from the ashes of the bankrupt (and optimistically named) Boston, Hartford and Erie Railroad in 1871, so the station was probably part of the new owner’s investment in growing their business. The railroad would go on to considerable success, before being forced into bankruptcy in the 1890’s by the New Haven and taken over. In particular, the NY&NE’s Air Line route from Boston to New York was the fastest way to reach there for many years (for a map, see this page, with the Air Line highlighted in red under an earlier owner’s name).

The New Haven had their own wave of investment, and replaced the station with a new one in 1901. The last station master there bought it and had it moved to his property, where it remained until being donated to the museum 90 years later. That actually happened to a lot of old railroad buildings. They were well-built wooden structures, and railroads often outgrew them. Frugal farmers knew a deal when they saw one, and acquired a lot of useful sheds and barns that way.

Before the New Haven extended its reach inward from the coast, three railroads ran through central eastern Connecticut, and they crossed in the vicinity of Willimantic. The New Haven ended up owning two of them, and today only the third survives, the others having been abandoned as redundant or gradually falling to the reduction in rail use in the mid-twentieth century. In the course of that wind-down, the New Haven abandoned a small maintenance facility in Willimantic that in the 1920’s had had a six-stall brick roundhouse and turntable, along with other facilities. By the 1950’s, only the foundations were left, gradually buried in brush alongside the remaining tracks.

And then some volunteers decided the site would make a good location for a museum. There are a number of volunteer-organized railroad museums in New England. It seems to be the usual way these are done, as the rich who endow art museums have little interest in industrial history.

In this case, the result of their efforts was the Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum, in Willimantic. And besides a number of old locomotives and some freight and passenger cars, buildings seem to be their specialty. The volunteers have rebuilt the former roundhouse on its old foundation, completely from scratch following an original set of blueprints, and equipped it with a hand-operated turntable. They’ve even restored the original service pits under the tracks, which had remained hidden under the brush for all these years. The roundhouse is now used for it’s precursor’s original purpose: to store and work on locomotives (and sometimes freight cars).

They’ve also rescued and restored several wooden railroad buildings: a freight house, a section-crew’s shack, and the smallest railroad office I’ve ever seen, a 6′ x 6′ (2m x 2m) operator’s shack, where once a telegraph operator sat to relay messages along the line. And this station. All are in use, one way or another, usually in ways that parallel their original function.

Today the station has been relocated to the museum grounds, sitting alongside a track that lies close to the original route of its former railroad, although many miles from its original site. The station has a recreation of the original interior, with telegraph and telephone (neither operational) plus a second desk for the station manager to use for business paperwork, and various artifacts on display.

I like trains, but this is a museum where the buildings are actually more interesting, at least for me. There’s a real feel walking around them of what they would have been like when in use. That’s what makes this photo special for me: it’s a recreation in a sense, and the original never had a diesel locomotive in front of it, having been retired more than thirty years before those started to displace steam. And yet it has a feel of reality around it.

I’d actually planned to use a photo of the roundhouse for this week, but some odd lens flare ruined that image. I’m still not sure why; the sun was behind me and I’ve never seen that kind of flare before. But I think I probably like this image more, now that I’ve looked at it for a couple of hours.

This image is an HDR, made from my usual bracket of five photographs at 1 EV offsets. This time taken with my Panasonic Lumix (my usual museum camera). The bracket was centered at 1/250’th-second exposure, with ISO 800 (I’d been indoors shortly before) at f/11. The lens was fairly wide, at 17 mm (not as wide as it sounds, since this isn’t an SLR). Processing was relatively minor, taking the Deep 2 preset, but backing off the Depth slider to its “normal” position, and increasing contrast while lowering saturation (that present usually overdoes saturation). The image was cropped to better place the building, removing some open ground on the bottom. And finally it was sharpened before export.




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