Willimantic's Railroad Lines
Willimantic was a small but prosperous city in the late 19th century, thanks to its thriving textile
mills and its location at the junction of three major railroad lines. The railroads gave Willimantic
businesses a great advantage in bringing in materials and shipping out finished goods.
Because of the rail lines, Willimantic became a commercial center for the surrounding region, with
banks, wholesale businesses such as lumber and coal yards, and a thriving Main Street shopping area. The trains also brought passenger traffic to the city, creating business for hotels and restaurants. At its height, Willimantic was served by forty passenger trains a day.
Willimantic's passenger station was a busy place around 1900.
The three major rail lines that converged on Willimantic were:
- The Central Vermont Railway, which ran from New London to Essex, Vermont, and, ultimately, to Montreal. The railroad was built northward
from New London and reached Willimantic in 1849. In the early 20th century, in addition to transporting passengers and freight, the Central Vermont
offered overnight package service to New York City.
- The Hartford, Providence, and Fishkill Railroad, running east to west through Connecticut and reaching the Hudson River in New York. The part from Hartford
to Willimantic was completed in 1849, with service to Providence opened in 1854. This route later came under the control of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, usually referred to just as the New Haven Railroad.
- The New York and New England Railroad, which ran in a diagonal direction from Boston to Willimantic and on to New York City.
Known as the "Air Line," because supposedly it was the shortest route as the crow flies, the portion between Boston and Willimantic was
opened in 1872, after many years of fits and starts, and the connection to Middletown and
New Haven was finished the following year. One of the famous luxury trains on this line, running nonstop between Boston and Willimantic, was the New England Limited, also known as the White Train or the
Ghost Train, because all the passenger cars were painted white and trimmed with gold. This line also came under the control of the New Haven Railroad.
The three lines came together just west of the Thread City Crossing bridge, giving the thread mill exceptional access to the railroad system.
For a time in the 1890s, the thread mill operated its own narrow-gauge railroad to transport material from one end of its property
to the other, but this was discontinued in the early 20th century in favor of standard-gauge freight sidings.
Today, Willimantic's railroad history is being kept alive by the
Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum.
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