New Canaan Railroad History
On February 7, 1866, a New Canaan railroad committee met in Stamford, feeling that New Canaan was in an "isolated corner" and "entirely cut off" and that railroad service could redress New Canaan's geographic disadvantage. By May 30, 1866, the incorporation of New Canaan Railroad Company was adopted by the General Assembly and approved by the Governor. Its purpose was to extend tracks and provide service from the New York & New Haven Railroad to New Canaan.
A route was established and plans were made to lease, for $600 annually, the tracks from Stamford to New Hope (Glenbrook). The branch then left the main line and followed the course of the Noroton River through Springdale, running north to the terminus at New Canaan, a total run of eight and seven-tenths miles. The incorporators chose a date of historic significance, and on July 4, 1868, the train made its first trip from Stamford to New Canaan. An editorial stated: Let not our people be crowded while there is so much pleasant land along the new route New Hope, Springdale, Riverside, Talmadge Hill and New Canaan.
At incorporation in 1866, $200,000 in stock was authorized by the New Canaan Railroad Company charter; however, only $164,050 was raised as 3,281 full shares were issued valued at $50 each. There were 197 stockholders living in Connecticut and ten stockholders from out of state. The total cost of the road plus the equipment amounted to over $250,000 which meant that the company was in debt for over $70,000 bearing seven per cent interest from the start. Although many New Canaan residents, as well as the town itself, enthusiastically supported the railroad financially, the expected subscriptions from Stamford never materialized.
Joseph B. Hoyt of Stamford was the only Stamford resident elected an officer; the three other officers were from New Canaan. Among the nine members of the Board of Directors were three men from Stamford: one man was from New York, while five were New Canaan residents.
Initially, it was thought that business and industry would be attracted to New Canaan, but instead train service drew summer residents, appreciative of New Canaan's open spaces, from urban centers such as New York City. They purchased large tracts to build estates. In fact, New Canaan railroad committee's prospectus stated, "In towns enjoying railroad accommodations and whose natural advantages were not equal to ours, property has not only doubled but quadrupled, and, in many instances, increased ten fold in value."
Since the major business of the branch road was carrying passengers rather than more profitable freight, the railroad was constantly in financial trouble. Within a year, a spur (from the main New Haven line) was opened to the steamboat pier in Stamford at Pine Island Steamboat Landing, furthering the hopes for prosperity by connecting the area to still another means of transportation. The steamships continued to be used extensively for transporting both people and freight to and from New York and other coastal areas.
As soon as the route of the New Canaan Railroad was established, enterprising men began discussing opening train service through to Ridgefield. The route favored would have started below the station at Springdale, crossing Hope Street just below the Emmanuel Chapel "across the Shino Plains" then carrying on a line northwesterly up and across Weed Hill Avenue, cutting through present Sterling Farms Golf Course and on north. The idea was to make as much farmland as possible accessible to markets. Fortunately for Springdale, this route never materialized. see 1874 Map >
Slow Progress and Depression
The Panic of 1873 engulfed the entire nation. Business confidence that was shattered by the failure of the great banking firm of J. Cooke and Company in 1873 was slow to return. During the next five years agriculture, the area's primary business, remained in serious trouble. It was called the dreadful decade of the '7Os, but moribund conditions did not last forever and by 1879, the evidence of returning prosperity was seen.
One of the victims of the times was the New Canaan Railroad. Ten years after its opening in 1868, the annual report of the Railroad Commissioners of the State of Connecticut revealed that of the eighteen operating railroads within their jurisdiction, New Canaan’s gross earnings per mile were the lowest.
New Canaan’s low earnings of 85 cents per mile as compared to the high of $2.28 per mile earned by the New Haven & Derby Railroad was accounted for by the comparison of freight to passengers carried. In 1877, the New Canaan Railroad owned one passenger car and two locomotives, powered by burning 334 tons of coal annually. The line had nine employees whose total earnings amounted to almost $4,800 or an average of $530 annually per employee. That same year, the railroad reported carrying 36,089 passengers, and 4,196 tons of freight.
In January 1878 the New Canaan Railroad received authorization from the state legislature to mortgage the road. The Railroad continued to fall farther into debt until December 1882, when the Railroad’s creditors foreclosed, and the company became known as The Stamford and New Canaan Railroad. The noteholders received the equivalent of their debts in capital stock of the new railroad, but the original stockholders (including the Town of New Canaan with a $25,000 share) lost their entire investment.
Soon after its formation, the directors of the new company leased the branch line to the New York, New Haven & Hartford, and in 1890, it was completely merged with that company. As a result of the depression following the panic of 1873, some farms in the area were foreclosed at great financial loss to their owners.
Nevertheless, the railroad continued to serve the area and became an important commuter link. The New Haven Railroad began running one electric motor car and two trailers between New Canaan & Stamford on Aug, 7, 1898.
The Branch Line - a long-term good investement
Judging by decades of escalating property values, the railroad investment in New Canaan has paid off. New York City-bound commuters vie for scarce parking at station lots. Commuters have purchased in-town residences so walking to the station is feasible. In Connecticut, New Canaan is unique in that it has regular train service, but does not have Interstate 95 slicing through its heart.
Today, New Canaan still draws weekend and summer visitors from New York City, but Metro-North service in New Canaan is primarily used by New York City bound commuters.
Springdale Remembered: 1640-1949 by Rosemary H. Burns
(see Credits page for further info)