Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington Railroad (HT&W)
Hurricane and Floods - A Shortline's Struggle to Survive
Although the Hoosac Tunnel is quite a famous milestone in U.S. railroad history, very little is widely known about the small narrow gauge line that was in the area. This narrow gauge line has an interesting story—reflective of the pioneering spirit of the lumbering business in the late 1800s—and a fascinating tale of metamorphisis and survival in changing times.
Quite a few years back, I explored the Wilmington area with my young son. Foundations of an abandoned town called Mountain Mills can be seen and we rode a bit of the abandoned ROW southward as well. Memories of that trip prompted researching and compiling the assorted info posted here. Currently most of the abandoned right of way (ROW) from the former site of Mountain Mills Village to Readsboro is now officially opened and part of the Catamount XC Ski Trail.
The Hoosac Tunnel and Wilmington Railroad (HT&W) was a narrow gauge railroad created in 1892. The HT&W was a consolidation of the Deerfield River Railroad and two other smaller lines in both Massachusetts and Vermont. It was about 24 miles and extended north from the east portal of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts to Readboro,VT and then on north to Wilmington. The railroad was converted to standard gauge in 1913.
Initially created as a lumber source to supplement the dam and paper pulp mill in Readsboro, Vermont; the line north from Readboro grew to operate two passenger trains per day to accommodate vacationers destined for Wilmington and the mountain resorts in the summer season.
The New England Power Company purchased the railroad in 1922 and began construction of a dam across the Deerfield River. This required relocation of the ROW north to Wilmington over to the west side of the river.
It is kind of uncanny to realize this once thriving town of Mountain Mills no longer exists. Be sure to visit the link in the Further Info section below ("What's left of Mountain Mills today") which has quite a few photos of the overgrown foundations scattered in the woods.
These Historical Photo thumbnails are sourced from Center for Digital Initiatives/University of Vermont - Porter C. Thayer and calenders offered by the Deerfield Valley News. Click on image to go to source (enlargement). Fair Use Notice
Revival and Demise
Did you know that the world's first organized railroad fan trip was held on the HT&W? Members of the Railroad Enthusiasts chartered a train ride the length of the line on Sunday, August 26, 1934. They were the first rail passengers on the line since bad floods in 1927.
Despite setbacks due to the 1938 hurricane damage and dam and power plant construction along the line, in the late 1950s the HT&W received a new customer in the form of a nuclear power plant at Monroe Bridge. HT&W hauled in much of the material for construction on the plant. Sadly the construction of yet another power plant further south—the Bear Swamp Hydroelectric Power Station, would have required extensive relocation of the HT&W and resulted in abandonment of the railroad line on October 13, 1971. The power plant was finished in 1974.
The trestle was built on the site of the former Mountain Mills dam. Two trestles were built but broke from floods...
The Trail continues across the Dam and ascends the hill to the right in a series of switchbacks.
Logging Railroads and Today's Trails...
In addition to the HT&W, many logging railroad lines existed further northwest of Wilmington. They branched into all the surrounding towns such as Stratton, Glastenbury, Dover and Searsburg to gather, harvest and transport lumber.
This online PDF is a wonderful source of photos and historical info on the logging railroad's operation.
-Trails-Many of today trails retrace the abandoned railroad grades of the old lumber lines.
- The Coming of the Train by Brian A. Donelson
History Website, Book, Maps
- What Lies Beneath The Lost Town of Mountain Mills
- The Hoot Toot and Whistle by Gino DiCarlo **
A Great Collection: History, 1906 Time Table, Map and Brochure, Photos
- What's left of Mountain Mills today
Geat PICs of the Mountain Mills ruins
- A Bike Ride Recap (2007)
A nice adventure, back before the trail was "fixed up"
- Hoot, Toot & Whistle
Nice write up
- Harriman Reservoir History
Nice reminiscences about logging up at Somerset