Friday, October 31, 2014

Ghosts of Railroads Past

(I originally posted this last October, but since I think I had maybe 3 readers then - including my buddy Randy - I thought it'd be worth posting again - especially given the, um, "spirit" of the day...)

A big part of my motivation for recreating the Valley line is to keep alive the memory of the men who were responsible for getting the stuff of life delivered to you, each and every day.  From coal for winter heat or a bicycle to ride in the summer, for over 100 years in this country the stuff of life was delivered by rail.  And sometimes, if you're lucky, historical research will unearth a ghost or two.

Given that today is Halloween, here's a question for you:  Do you believe in ghosts?

The answer for me depends on what kind of ghosts you mean. I don't believe in the creepy un-dead or spirit wanderings of departed souls. But I do believe in the ghosts of the past - the hauntings of a place by the memories of the people who were there. Who were they? Did they have dreams and plans like we do today? While dead people don't haunt us, the spirits and memories of the past can - and often do. Especially if you're paying close attention.

During this time of year especially, if you keep your eyes open and know where to look, you can see some of these ghosts of the past materializing.  You have only to slow down, pay attention, and keep your eyes peeled. Here's just one example for those interested in the history of railroading in the Connecticut River Valley...
Bridge far
Railroad line from Middletown to East Berlin.  Trust me, it's there - somewhere...
I passed this spot a dozen times back during the summer when I was riding my bike to work. But only recently did I spot a ghost of the old railroad line between Middletown & Berlin across this field. Do you see it there in the distance? How about if I zoom in . . .

Stone arch bridge, Middletown - Berlin line
You'll have to excuse the camera quality of my phone, but if you tilt your monitor just right, you should see, just beginning to poke out of the trees, this beautiful stone arch bridge. The railroad was abandoned and torn up years ago, and the trees have long since reclaimed much of the roadbed. But this bridge remains - a monument to the memory not only of the railroad, but to the spirit of the men who built it.

If during your travels you stop at a spot like this and imagine, even for a few minutes, how those men lived, what their hopes were and whether they ever achieved them, you might see some ghosts.

And if you're especially quiet, you may even hear in the sound of the leaves floating by on the breeze a whisper of thanks from those men for not letting them be forgotten.


  1. Chris, I have been noticing this bridge since the 1960s. Thanks for your text about it. Until Interstate 91 was built in the mid-1960s, the rails were still in place. About 1.5 miles to the northwest, they crossed East Street just south of the Mattabesset River. Further west, just before I-91, the line's substantial steel bridge across the Mattabesset river still stands today. When I-91 severed the line, the rails were cut back to just southeast of the Newfield Street grade crossing, from where they were visible for some time.

  2. By this way, this photo is from Newfield Street in Middletown, looking west.

    1. Hey George and thanks for stopping by the blog - hope you're enjoying it! Thanks also for the additional information on the line - I'm enjoying tracing it using your description.

  3. By the way - Google Maps shows the property line of the old ROW. If I'm not mistaken, it looks like Sebethe Dr (going north off Rt 372) must be built on the ROW. Very cool.