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Great Railroad Stations - Waterbury, CT

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Great Railroad Stations 

by John C. Dahl

Waterbury, Connecticut

One of the most unusual of the larger railroad stations in New England is Waterburyís Union Station. This unique structure was constructed by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and opened its doors in 1909 as the city of Waterbury was nearing its zenith as an industrial center and transportation hub. Waterbury and itís neighboring towns were famous for manufacturing clocks, and the high clock tower of the station is itís signature characteristic.

The famous Beaux-Arts firm of McKim, Mead, and White prepared plans for the Renaissance Revival style building. A handsome brown brick was used for the exterior and careful observation will reveal a multitude of intricate brick patterns. The quality of this construction has stood the test of time. Originally, the station clock tower was not included in the plans. An executive of the railroad had traveled in Italy, and returned insisting that a tower be added to the station. Thus the slender 245 foot campanile (bell tower) was added, modeled after the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy. Complete with gargoyles, the tower houses a clock, the largest in New England. The tower bell was installed in 1916 and can often be better heard on the cityís nearby hills than at street level because of the great height of the tower and todayís traffic noise.

The Waterbury, Connecticut, station is seen on a beautiful Autumn morning, October 13, 1997. Built by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and today home for the local newspaper. Jon Rothenmeyer photo

The station replaced an existing terminal on the same site as part of grade crossing elimination work.

Waterburyís railroads once were part of the ambitious scheme that connected New England railroads with the Erie. Thus the line was engineered to the wide gauge that the early Erie embraced. High, wide clearances allowed the New York & New England as it was then called to handle freight that could not be accommodated on the Shore Line. During the height of the passenger era, Waterbury handled some 86 passenger trains a day! In the summer of 1915, six passenger trains could be seem at one time in the station. Railroad offices occupied the stations upper floors.

The station is situated in the heart of the downtown area at the foot of a hill, and a lovely view across a historic town green space greatly enhances the setting. The New Haven dominated southern New England, and this station is one of itís best examples of that clout. In the 1950ís, railroad service began to decline, as Waterbury and the rest of New England began itís slow migration away from manufacturing to a service based economy. The station was acquired by the Waterbury newspaper, today known as the Republican-American. The newspaper added a wing for itís printing presses, and a second floor was inserted into the once open concourse. (Second floor office occupants enjoy the wonderful vaulted ceiling.) Quite possibly this early adaptive reuse saved the building from demolition.

Passenger service all but disappeared as the New Haven fell into the chaos of Penn Centralís bankruptcy. Today rail service to Waterbury has been restored by the Connecticut DOT (Metro North operates the trains) using rebuilt diesels and MNís plain coaches. The locomotives, although somewhat the worse for wear, and a bit on the grubby side, sport the New Havenís famous "McGinnis" paint scheme from the 1950ís. Given the turn around in commuter railroads in New England, perhaps one day service will be expanded, and intercity passenger trains will once again call at this classic landmark.

The morning fog is lifting revealing New Havenís classic diesel paint scheme on itís namesake rails. Commuterís are boarding the 9:15 am departure to New York.  Jon Rothenmeyer photo.


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This page was last updated Thursday, December 06, 2001

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