Categories: Stonington, Transportation
Rails and Paper Trails
From the first tracks laid in 1830 to a system that fueled the growth of the Industrial Revolution and became the primary means of travel by the end of the 19th century, the railroad has played a pivotal role in the development of the United States. In Connecticut, it stimulated commerce by making it easier to transport goods from factories and farms—first to the financial centers of New York and Boston and, eventually, to points far beyond New England as the rail system spread across the country.
This transformative enterprise first came to Connecticut in August of 1832 when the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad broke ground in Stonington. After that, most towns in the state began surveys to chart lines between cities, and by 1890 a network of railroad tracks connected virtually every town in the state. The physical labor involved in establishing, supporting, and expanding the railroad system was rivaled by the administrative work it entailed. From reports of financial, legal, and real estate dealings to maps, blueprints, engineering surveys, timetables, photographs, and more, railroad companies created an extensive paper trail. For example, acts of incorporation, such as that of the New York and Stonington Rail Road Company (a short-lived line that was quickly subsumed into the New York, Providence & Boston Railroad), show the establishment of legal rights to property needed for railroad right-of-way. Likewise, cost estimates reveal the type and quantity of materials used as well as the magnitude of the financial investment.
One of the most significant holdings of surviving documents related to rail systems in southern New England is the Railroad History Archive of the University of Connecticut Libraries. It is the official repository for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad’s corporate records and also preserves material from earlier lines. These include the Central New England Railway, the Boston and New York Airline Railroad, the Old Colony Railroad, the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad, and the Newburgh, Dutchess, and Connecticut Railroad.
Contributed by Laura Smith, Curator for Business, Railroad, and Labor Collections, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.