A History of the West River Railroad

The West River Trail may 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.

The public is invited to join the Dummerston Historical Society for a program on the History of the West River Railroad via Zoom on Thursday, July 21 at 7 pm.

Following a brief business meeting, Glenn Annis, a resident of Dummerston, who is considered the foremost authority on the West River Railroad, will share his research that began close to four decades ago.

Have you viewed the big stone bridge piers beside Route 30 near the Covered Bridge? Have you wondered why they are where they are? Those towers are about all that is left of the West River Railroad, a 36 mile narrow gauge line, that began in 1878 until the railroad went out of business in 1934. Glenn will talk about the history of the railroad, how it was built, the cause of its demise, and will show photographs of the railroad and the depots along the way.

If interested in attending, join The Dummerston Historical Society by Zoom:
Meeting ID: 839 5931 2783
Passcode: 102413
Questions:  Gail at gailsvt@gmail.com

The West River Railroad Museum

This is one very cool little museum, beautifully restored with fun displays and knowledgeable docents. A hidden gem (just behind the General Store) in Newfane Village. The West River Railroad Museum is open to visitors Saturdays and Sundays from Noon to 5 pm from Memorial Day through Columbus Day Weekend. The Museum is also open by appointment. Click on the Historical Society of Windham County website for more info. Well worth a visit!

The West River Railroad Museum

Interested in a little history about the West River Railroad? The beautifully restored Railroad Station in Newfane, Vermont will soon be opening for the summer season. The West River Railroad Museum has an extensive collection of artifacts, manuscripts, photographs and documents on exhibit.

The Historical Society of Windham County announced the Grand Opening of the West River Railroad Museum in October, 2017. Since the purchase of the Station in 2014, The Windham County Historical Society has been restoring the Depot Building and its associated Water Tank House in Newfane, Vermont. Click HERE for the BCTV (Brattleboro Community TV) video of the grand opening.

The Museum of the Historical Society of Windham County is on the east side of Route 30 in the Historic Village of Newfane, diagonally across from the County Courthouse and the Newfane Common. The Museum is open from Memorial Day weekend in May through Columbus Day weekend in October, and is located on the main street (Rt.30) in Newfane, VT. For hours and information click HERE.

The West River Railroad

The West River Railroad is featured in the current (Winter 2016/2017) issue of Vermont Magazine. Ghost Train – a fond look back at the West River Railroad, written by Glenn Annis, with historic black and white photos from the author’s personal collection – is a wonderful glimpse of the history behind the current West River Trail.

Windham County Historical Society 2nd Annual Soup Fest and Silent Auction


West River Railroad Depot, Newfane, Vermont

The Windham County Historical Society is going to 36 miles of trouble to hold their 2nd Annual Soup Fest and Silent Auction on Sunday, March 20, 2016.  Doors open at 4:00PM with a $5.00 admission at the NewBrook Fire Station (Route 30 in Newfane, VT).  The event will help raise funds for the Windham County Historical Society’s restoration of the 1880 Newfane Railroad Station as a Museum of the West River Railroad and annex to the Windham County Museum in Newfane.

You won’t have to ride the West River Railroad’s “36 Miles of Trouble” to enjoy a variety of soups from Brattleboro to South Londonderry. Ten restaurants from the 10 Depot towns along the old West River Railroad are bringing them to you: Whetstone Station (Brattleboro), Top of the Hill Grill (Dummerston), The Eatery (Williamsville), Rick’s Tavern (Newfane), Harmonyville Store (Townshend), Dam Diner (West Townshend), Bitter Sweet Memories Cafe (Wardsboro), D&J Jamaica Grocery (Jamaica), Whiskey Dicks (Winhall), The New American Grill (South Londonderry).

Silent Auction bidding and the 50/50 raffle begin at 4:00. Soup, bread and fixings will be served at 5:00 PM, followed by desserts. Silent auction bids and the 50/50 raffle will close at 5:30 PM. The Society welcomes items for the silent auction (goods and/or services) to help make this year’s event another success. If you have items you are willing to donate, please contact Jane Robinson at 896-6102 or Sally Topitzer at 365-7698.

An exhibit of the West River Railroad’s “36 Miles of Trouble” will be on display including the Newfane Railroad Station diorama (built by model craftsman of international renown Bill Banta, and on loan from Doug Cox), along with vintage photographs of the West River Railroad.

Brattleboro History Podcast – West River Railroad

A bit of local history captured beautifully in this podcast! The Brattleboro Historical Society Presents: This Week in Brattleboro History Podcast – West River Railroad and Robert Burns. BHS trustee, Joe Rivers, and his band of young historians at the Brattleboro Area Middle School examine the West River Railroad and Robert Burns.

West River Trail in the News

West River Trail in the News

West River Trail Summer - 1West River Trail moves forward. Organization works on plans to improve the area, including trail design and river access By Wendy M. Levy.
Reprinted courtesy of The Commons

DUMMERSTON—Just like the former West River Railroad that once traveled from Brattleboro to its terminus at the South Londonderry Depot, the recreational trail that now lies on its railbed has seen its share of challenges. But, unlike the ill-fated railroad, progress on the trail keeps chugging along.

The West River Trail, developed and maintained by the Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT), is a publicly accessible system of paths meant for “educational, recreational, and alternative transportation purposes,” according to the FWRT’s website.

Off-limits to cars, the trail is used year-round by hikers, bicyclists, picnickers, joggers, cross-country skiers, and snowshoers. It begins near the Marina Restaurant in Brattleboro and ends in South Londonderry.

Along its 36-mile journey, the trail is broken by Route 30, buildings, and some sections where the FWRT is still working on construction and securing access.

At the July 22 Dummerston regular Selectboard meeting, some members of the FWRT presented the board with an update on the group’s progress building the trail. Alex Wilson told the board the FWRT “has worked with the Vermont Nature Conservancy (VNC) to reroute the trail away from neighbors’ backyards.” He said the FWRT is currently working with the VNC on a Memorandum of Understanding to “finalize plans to improve the area, including trail design and river access.” The portion of the trail the FWRT is working on lies along Dummerston’s Rice Farm Road near the old Presby-Leland Quarry. The ownership of this stretch is a current point of contention between the FWRT and a few of the neighbors whose land abuts the railbed. The issue lies at the intersection of property rights, conflicting documents, and what happens when public utilities and resources obtain a right-of-way but then cease to exist and change ownership.

Jason Cooper, also with the FWRT, told The Commons the story of the West River Railroad and how it relates to the current challenges in developing the trail system. In the 1880s, the Vermont legislature approved the railroad that would later be known as “36 miles of trouble.” After a number of false starts and large and small debacles, the final owner who had worked hard with his wife to maintain the rails finally gave up. The railroad went bankrupt in 1936, and the assets were returned to the state.
But, the owners of the quarry in Dummerston needed the railroad to ship their granite to Brattleboro, so it could be sent “all over the world,” said Cooper. So, the quarry owners bought the railroad from “just north of the quarry to the center of Brattleboro,” Cooper said.

In 1938, a hurricane destroyed the bridge spanning the West River, and “the quarry gave up,” Cooper said. They sold the entire railroad to a New York salvage company. This included the rails, bridges, rolling stock, switches, and spikes — everything metal — which the salvage company stripped and sold into the lucrative steel market. The salvage company also took ownership of the railbed itself, including the rights-of-way that allowed the old railroad to pass through private property.

As the warranty deed for the property of one of the trail’s abutters says, “The premises are conveyed subject to such rights of way and easements as may exist upon or across the premises, of record or in fact, including but not limited to public utility easements, such rights, if any, as may be held by Vermont White Granite Quarries, Inc. or its successors, an [sic] the rights of the public in Town Highway #62.”

In early 2011, Cooper contacted the Salzburg Company, the salvage company that, at that time, owned the railroad that was once owned by the quarry. On May 16, 2011, Cooper bought the railroad from the company, and then transferred the deed to the FWRT.

Sigrid Pickering, one of the neighbors whose property crosses the old railbed, told the Selectboard at the July 22 meeting she had been “assured” by an unnamed “top official” that in 1936, the railbed right-of-way on her property reverted “to her.” She told the board she “questions what Jason Cooper purchased.”
(Pickering cancelled a scheduled interview with The Commons and declined further interviews.)

Wilson told the Dummerston Selectboard that the FWRT hired Eric Morse, of Morse Land Surveying, “to define ownership of the railbed.” Morse’s findings, in a letter dated Jan. 8, 2015, state the FWRT has the right to use the trail. As soon as the VNC gives the FWRT the go-ahead, clearing and maintaining the portion of the Rice Farm Road trail can begin.

Although a few neighbors seem displeased, Cooper said most of them “love it,” and he added some have donated land and money to help the FWRT’s efforts. None of the Friends have collected a dime for their work, Cooper said, noting some have spent upwards of $5,000 of their own funds to further the goal of establishing and maintaining a recreational and alternative-transportation trail along the West River.
Of the FWRT, Cooper said, “We’re just a group of volunteers who feel this is an incredible resource to the community.”

Originally published in The Commons issue #320 (Wednesday, August 26, 2015). This story appeared on page D1.
If you’d like to share this story on your website, please feel free to do so with credit to The Commons and a link back to commonsnews.org.


West River Trail Update & Annual Meeting Report

West River Trail Update & Annual Meeting Report

WRT at MarinaThe West River Trail is open. Please be aware that there are intersections between construction access and the trail path, and users should exercise extreme caution at these intersections. As an additional safety precaution, users of the West River Trail are reminded to keep pets on a leash in this area. Trail users should be aware that snow removal operations on I-91 may cause snow to fall on the trail.

The next Trail Talk will be held on February 21. Check the I-91 bridge construction website for details.

Friends of the West River Trail (FWRT) in the news. Story published in The Commons issue #292 (Wednesday, February 11, 2015), page B2. Written by Sarah Buckingham.

LONDONDERRY—Work is about to begin to restore the former Newfane depot for use as a railroad museum. The Friends of The West River Trail (FWRT) learned more about this project, and others, when the group held its annual meeting at the former South Londonderry depot last month.

Laura Wallingford-Bacon, president of the Windham County Historical Society in Newfane, said her organization purchased the 1880 building for $42,000 from the children of Fannie and Bill Mantel last fall. It had been in the Mantel family for around 50 years. The railroad went out of business in the 1930s. The purchase price includes historical artifacts in the station. The historical society plans to restore the building and incorporate a collection of artifacts from the West River Railroad that currently resides at the county history museum. South Londonderry and Newfane are the only two of the 10 original depots from the West River Railroad that still sit at their original sites. Other surviving depots that were later relocated can be found in West Dummerston and Williamsville. Wallingford-Bacon said the historical society hopes to raise funds to offset the purchase price and to restore the property and they have received an “encouraging response” to that campaign. The restoration will take place in six phases, with an estimated total cost of around $50,000. The first, and most urgent, phase — addressing drainage and replacing the roof — is expected to cost $16,000.

At the annual meeting, FWRT board members Lester Humphreys and Paul Cameron gave a presentation on the Riverstone Preserve, a 23-acre parcel which the group acquired in 2013. The land sits one mile north of the Marina restaurant in Brattleboro, between the West River Trail and the river itself. The southern section subcommittee purchased the land for $97,000. One-third of the purchase price was raised in donations and the rest came from a grant from the Vermont Housing Conservation Board. The Vermont Land Trust holds a conservation easement on the property.
Cameron gave an overview of the plant communities in the Riverstone Preserve, which include a sugar maple ostrich fern flood plain community; a river shore grassland that is home to several rare plants such as the great lobelia; and a river cobbleshore, where the FWRT are working to control invasive Japanese knotweed, the worst of several invasive plant species in the preserve. Cameron also reported that last spring a volunteer group formed to develop a management plan for the preserve. So far the group has completed a drainage project, built a trail connector with a board walk, removed an old shed, and continues to work removing invasive species. More volunteers are needed for projects happening this summer. FWRT would like to build stone steps, picnic table, a pavilion or shelter of some type, and an information kiosk.

The FWRT board of directors elected Greg Meulemans as board president and treasurer. Humphreys was voted in as vice president of the board and assistant treasurer for the trail’s lower section subcommittee, and Sharon Crossman the assistant treasurer of upper section.

Meulemans reported that FWRT has received a grant for mile markers which will be modeled after railroad markers and be installed along the trail this summer.


Reception and Celebration of the Old Newfane Railroad Station & the New West River Railroad Museum

Reception and Celebration of the Old Newfane Railroad Station & the New West River Railroad Museum

Dear Friends of the West River Trail,
Please join us to celebrate another West River Trail/Railroad milestone!
The Historical Society of Windham County cordially invites you to a reception and celebration of its purchase of the Old Newfane Railroad Station and the creation of the New West River Railroad Museum. A special reception with beverages and light food provided and musical interlude by Gene Morrison, will be followed by a slide presentation on the History of The West River Railroad (WRRR) by Glenn Annis. Glenn Annis is considered the foremost authority on the West River Railroad. Since his last public presentation over a decade and a half ago, Glenn has continued to research the WRRR. This presentation includes photographs and findings on the WRRR not previously shared publicly.

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014
Place: NewBrook Fire Station, Route 30, Newfane, VT
Time: 6:00 Special Reception; 6:45 Music by Gene Morrison; 7:00 Presentation: The History of the West River Railroad by Glenn Annis