By Scott Yeomans
Copyright Scott Yeomans, 1998
In 1847, promoters obtained a charter for The Hartford & Providence Railroad. They intended to build a road from the river docks in Hartford, through Manchester to the quarries in Bolton, on through Andover, Willimantic, Baltic, and Moosup to the Rhode Island border. There they would connect with the Providence & Plainfield. Together the two companies would provide a route from Hartford to Providence. This newly chartered firm was also given the privilege of uniting with any rail line west of Hartford that it should choose. In addition they were empowered to build a branch at Vernon to serve the Rockville area.
The Hartford & Providence group chose to connect with the New York & Hartford. The New York & Hartford was charted in 1845 and was to construct a rail line beginning at Hartford and ending at Brewster, New York, where it would connect with the New York & Harlem Railroad. Upon hearing the news that a line was now chartered from Providence to Hartford, the New York & Hartford promoters sought to merge with the Hartford & Providence. The union took place in 1849 with the new firm becoming known as The Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad Co. Fishkill-on-Hudson having replaced Brewster as the final western destination. The Hartford, Providence & Fishkill completed the Hartford to Willimantic via Andover track in 1849.
By the end of 1898, the New Haven Railroad Company had obtained the rights to the line. Eventually the New Haven bought all of the former Hartford, Providence and Fishkill lines outright. They would run the line through Andover as part of their Highland Division until it was itself taken over by the Penn Central in 1962. In 1975 the State of Connecticut bought the right-of-way as the rails were being removed. Today the Ct. DEP controls it and has designated it as a recreational trail.
When word was received that a rail line was to be built between Hartford and Willimantic, the people of Andover readied a petition calling for the rails to be brought through the parish. The document enumerated 37 industries in and around Andover which would make use of the railroad. The list included 5 saw mills, 1 grist mill, 5 blacksmith shops, 2 shoe shops, 3 hat factories, 1 paper mill, 1 shingle mill, 2 trip hammers, 1 carriage factory, 1 miniature cabinet factory, 1 inn and 2 stores. All totaled, the area promised to ship 1,340 tons of freight annually and to provide 3 passengers per day for the trains.
Irish laborers using picks, shovels, hand drills, ox drawn dump carts, and large amounts of black powder created the track bed and laid the first rails that put Andover on the map. Stone for the bridges and culverts was cut from the many granite boulders and ledge outcroppings that line the right-of-way. Many of the distinctive quarry sites are still undisturbed to this day. To cut the stone, holes were drilled in the rock in a neat line. Once sufficient holes were drilled, they were fitted with dry wooden plugs. As water was then poured onto the plugs, they would expand. This pressure would then cause the granite to break along the line of the holes. The workers were housed both in temporary buildings built by the railroad and in private inns and homes along the way. The Hendee house ( the large house at the corner of Center Street and Hebron Road) in the center housed at least a score.
The railroad played an important role in the development of the town. Being one of the first stations in a relatively large geographical area, Andover became the focal point for passengers and freight. It allowed for the development of several manufacturing plants in Andover. The Case Fibre Board Company (the paper mill) received raw materials and shipped its finished products. The creamery used the railroad to easily reach the important markets of New York and Boston. Coal, used in the plants boilers and for heating and cooking in the homes, was purchased by the railroad car load and stored on the sidings at the station.
The trains also changed Andover in other, possibly more dramatic ways. By 1900, much of the town was stripped of trees. They were in large part cut off to feed the mills that made railroad ties and other lumber which were easy to market and ship with the convenience of the railroad. The passing trains also led to the periodic burning of the land and homes along the right-of-way. Even the first station succumbed to a spark in 1880 and burned to the ground. Much of the center was at risk from that fire, but damage beyond the station was limited to a couple of barns.
On March 5, 1941 the railroad station was closed for the first time. With the increasing use of automobiles, the economics of running a railroad were changed. Passenger service continued for a time with patrons buying their tickets on the train. On Saturday, December 30, 1950 the Hartford Times newspaper reported that the New Haven railroad had filed a petition with the Public Utilities Commission for permission to end passenger service at seven stations, including Andover. At this time only 3 trains per day stopped at Andover to take and leave mail and passengers. Freight service had been discontinued about 6 months earlier.
The last train to pass through Andover did so in 1973.
Train wreak July 7, 1910. About where Lake Road crosses the rail trail today.
To Return to the Main History Page