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Construction of the Railroad (1846-1886)

The following timeline begins with the advent of the railroad in Vermont and spans the decades of heavy construction.

See a map of the growth of the railroad in Vermont.

Early railroad lines needed to follow the flat river valleys of the mountainous state. The first line was planned in the 1840s by the newly formed Central Vermont Railroad (CVR). The line was planned to begin near Chase's Island on the Connecticut River in Windsor. head up the White River Valley through Hartford, Sharon, Royalton, and Bethel, head up the west branch of the river through Randolph, Braintree, and the summit of Roxbury, at which point the line crossed the Green Mountains. The line then headed down the Dog River through Northfield to the Winooski River just west of Montpelier, headed through Williamstown Gulf, Middlesex, Waterbury, Bolton, Richmond, Williston, Essex, and, finally, Burlington. The line would enter Burlington from the north, through the 350 foot North Avenue tunnel.

Northfield was set up as the headquarters of the Central Vermont Railroad.

A second line was soon planned that would head north from Essex to St. Albans. This new line would be part of the Vermont & Canada Railroad.

Ground was broken for the CVR in Windsor on December 15, 1846, and Northfield on January 28, 1846. The railroad was first open for passenger service between White River Junction and Bethel on June 28, 1848. Stations along in the intervening towns along the line were under construction.

On September 17, 1848, a train ran to the summit of Roxbury. On October 10, 1848, a train ran through Northfield. On February 13, 1849, a train ran from White River Junction to Windsor. A spur line was constructed to Montpelier, and the first train entered Montpelier on July 4, 1849. Rails were laid to Middlesex in August 1849 and to Waterbury the following month.

See an 1849 timecard for the Northfield to Montpelier line.

Much of the work on the railroad was completed by Irish immigrants. Workers rioted in Bolton in 1849 when they were not paid.

The CVR line finally ran into Burlington in December 1849. The rail line ran diagonally across Burlington, through a ravine that run beneath College Street, and cut across downtown streets. The first CVR depot was located at the intersection of St. Paul and Maple Streets (149 Maple Street). The line crossed Maple and Church Streets and circled back to the depot.

Two weeks prior to the CVR line entering Burlington, the Rutland & Burlington Railroad came into the city. Their first station was located at the intersection of Maple and Battery Streets.

A two-story brick building was constructed in 1850 for the CVR headquarters. A spur line was constructed from the Northfield depot about one block east to the Northfield Hotel.

In the late 1840s, a line was planned from Burlington to Montreal, through St. Albans, over the sandbar bridge to South Hero, and through Grand Isle. The line connected the CVR and the Vermont & Canada Railroad. Prior to this line, Franklin County, including St. Albans, was quite isolated. After the line, St. Albans grew to become a significant railroad hub.

Shortly thereafter, additional lines were planned for St. Albans. The next line began on the CVR line in Essex Junction, ran due north to Colchester, Milton, Georgia, and St. Albans. From St. Albans, the line continued north to Highgate, Alburg, Rouses Point, and Canada. Work began on this new line in September 1848, breaking ground on Maple Street in Essex Junction. In October 1850, the rails were laid to St. Albans.

A line was surveyed to begin on the CVR line in Essex Junction and run due north to Colchester, Milton, Georgia and St. Albans. From St. Albans, it would continue north to Swanton and Alburg and Rouses Point and into Canada. Work began in September 1848. Ground breaking in Essex Junction at Maple Street. In October 1850, the rails were all laid to St. Albans. Alburg was reached January 10, 1851, across a pile trestle. bridge. The bridge crossing the Richelieu River consisted of a barge with tracks running over it. This bridge lasted until 1868, at which time a conventional swing span bridge was constructed.

See an 1850 timecard for the Windsor to Rouses Point line.

During the 1850s, the Rutland & Burlington Railroad took over 65 acres of land on the Burlington waterfront for use as its railyard, and the marshy areas were filled to make room for new tracks. By 1853, construction of the wharves and warehouses was complete, and, by the mid-1860s, nearly 600 ships were operating on Lake Champlain. The lumber industry boomed along the waterfront from the mid-1850s through the 1870s.

In 1857, the CVR and Vermont & Canada Railroad 85 miles of straight track and 34 miles of curved track on their main lines. Structures found along the lines in 1857 consisted of 28 passenger houses, 17 freight houses, 10 engine houses, 2 repair shops, 31 water stations, 7 dwellings, 39 wood sheds, 5 turntables, 2 car houses, and 4 ice houses.

In 1858, a direct Vermont & Canada Railroad line was laid into Burlington.

From February 16, 1860 to May 1861, a line was constructed between the Winooski Bridge and the terminus of the Rutland & Burlington Railroad on the waterfront.

The CVR finished construction on their new depot at the corner of College and Lake Streets in May 1861. In the spring of 1863, the old ravine route through Burlington was abandoned due to landslides, and the rails were removed.

The 1860s marked the beginning of growth and prosperity for St. Albans and the rest of Franklin County. The CVR moved their headquarters from Northfield to St. Albans, which was already the headquarters for the Vermont & Canada Railroad. A number of new buildings were constructed in St. Albans in 1862, just west of the depot, including a roundhouse and machine shop. A number of other buildings, including a passenger depot, were constructed throughout the 1860s. A 350 foot covered train shed ran the length of these new buildings. The train shed was demolished in 1963.

Construction began on a new line from Alburg in 1861. The line headed out from Alburg to Swanton Junction, a point two miles south of Swanton, headed north to Highgate, and crossed the border in Quebec at St. Armand. Operation began on this line in 1864.

In 1863, the CVR owned 35 passenger stations, 23 freight stations, 5 engine houses, 3 repair shops, 28 water stations, 13 dwellings, 48 woodsheds, 4 turntables, 3 car houses, and 5 ice houses.

See a map of the rail lines in New England as of 1870.

From 1865 to 1866, 153 miles of new telegraph lines were constructed along the CVR lines. The first telegraph lines in Vermont were constructed in Burlington in 1848.

See a circular for these early telegraph lines.

A new line was planned by the Missisquoi Railroad Company on November 14, 1867, from St. Albans east to Richford. The line was completed in December 1872.

On November 8, 1867, a grant was chartered to the Montpelier & White River Railroad Company to build a line from Montpelier to Barre. Construction began on July 1, 1875. The line was later extended to Williamstown, with a groundbreaking on September 19, 1887. The first train, pulled by the "B.B. Smalley" pulled into Williamstown on June 16, 1888.

February 24, 1875, the Burlington & Lamoille Railroad Company was chartered to connect the Burlington & Rutland Railroad in Burlington with the CVR in Essex Junction and the newly built Portland & Ogdensburgh Railroad at Cambridge. Ground broke in Jericho on May 24, 1875. Work began in Burlington in 1877, and service began on June 30, 1877.

See an 1877 timecard for the Burlington & Lamoille Railroad.

The Burlington & Lamoille Railroad was reorganized as the Burlington & Lamoille Valley Railroad on May 1, 1889, and then leased to the CVR. The CVR immediately abandoned the line between Burlington and Essex Junction.

See an 1879 map of the Central Vermont Railway lines.

The St. Albans Iron & Steel Works developed in 1873 to manufacture rails. Iron rails were produced until 1878, at which time the company switched to steel.

In July 1877, the Portland & Ogdensburgh Railroad expanded across the state through St. Johnsbury, Morrisville, and Swanton.

During the 1880s, shops for repairing rails were set up along lines.

See an 1885 map of the Central Vermont Railway lines.

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