The West River Railroad & Trail: A History


The West River Trail may well be Vermont’s oldest transportation path. Native Americans called the West River “Wantastiquet” or “waters of the lonely way,” and the Wantastiquet path was an important connection from the West River valley and Fort Dummer in Brattleboro over the Green Mountains to Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.

In 1879, this path was developed into the West River Railroad, originating in Brattleboro and terminating at the South Londonderry Depot. However, not long after the railroad opened, people began to call it “36 miles of trouble.” Its’ narrow gauge and winding route led to undependable, if not dangerous, service. A 1903 editorial called the trains “trydaily-they go down in the morning and try to get back at night.”

Today, 16 miles along the upper section of this valley route provide a safe and scenic alternative to Route 30 for hikers, walkers, skiers and bikers, linking the villages of South Londonderry and Jamaica and includes a section in Townshend as well, with 4,500 acres of public land, overseen by the Friends of the West River Trail. The lower 3 mile section, from the trailhead near the mouth of the West River to the trailhead at Rice Farm Road in Dummerston officially opened for public use in 2011 and has seen many improvements since.

Here is a short film that gives a feel for the trail…many thanks to IMRfilms.

The South Londonderry Depot
Constructed in 1870’s, the Depot originally served as the terminus for the West River Railroad. FWRT purchased the structure in 2000 with a Vermont Agency of Transportation enhancement grant. The Depot exterior has been restored to its appearance in the 1930s and the interior has been rehabilitated as space for exhibitions and public gatherings. The Depot serves as a trailhead facility for the West River Trail and a historical museum for the West River Railroad. The building’s redesign also incorporates rentable office space to offset ongoing maintenance and expenses. This project was completed in 2008.

The Newfane Railroad Station
In October, 2014, the Historical Society of Windham County acquired the Newfane Railroad Station in Newfane, Vermont. The property includes the old depot building and the water tank building, both of which were built in 1880 under the auspices of the Brattleboro – Whitehall Railroad (later called The West River Railroad.) The Windham County Historical Society has restored the Station as a Museum of the West River Railroad and as an annex to its County Museum in Newfane. The Railroad Station property is a short walk from the County Museum. Click through for more information  on the The Historical Society of Windham County website.

Photos on this page show, in order of appearance: The West Dummerston R.R. Bridge, around 1907, The South Londonderry Depot, constructed in the 1870’s, and, below, a Dummerston Quarry worker, and a Train Wreck along the West River.

A link to Vermont Quarries can be found here with information about the Black Mountain Granite Quarry.

Train Wreck