Trians and Trolleys in Mansfield By Bruce Clouette

Historical Article Series April 26, 2020 > Trians and Trolleys in Mansfield By Bruce Clouette

From the Mansfield Historical Society Newsletter, Vol. 47, No. 1, March 2011

Rail service in Mansfield began in 1849, when the New London, Willimantic and Palmer Railroad completed its line along the Willimantic River as far as Stafford Springs.  In 1861, the company was reorganized as the New London Northern Railroad, and eventually, the company was taken over by the Central Vermont Railway, a subsidiary of Canadian National.  Today, the line provides freight service only and is operated by the New England Central Railroad.  

Train Map Mansfield
Details of the Coventry Lake Trolley and train lines through Mansfield Depot and the Mansfield training school.

There were three station stops in Mansfield along the route—Eagleville, Mansfield Depot, and Merrow—along with a fourth stop just across the river at South Coventry.  The South Coventry station is the only one still standing.  In addition to the main line, a mile-long spur ran between the Depot and the Mansfield Training School, called the “Colony Track.”  Portions of the coal trestle are still visible at the former Training School.  

A unique feature of the passenger trains along the Central Vermont was the company’s “New York Fast Freight” service.  At major points along the route, such as Willimantic, the train would take on express shipments bound for New York City.  The packages would be transferred to a Central Vermont steamship at New London and carried overnight to the city, where they could be picked up in the morning.  

In the early 20th century, it was possible to travel to Hartford via the Central Vermont:  the steam trains connected at Stafford Springs with New Haven Railroad electric cars that ran through Rockville to Hartford.  Passenger service along this portion of the Central Vermont ended in 1947.

Eagleville Train Depot
Train Depot in Eagleville. Cotton mill on left side of tracks. Photograph courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, University of Connecticut

For a while, a second railroad also ran through Mansfield, the so-called “Air Line” between New Haven and Boston.  The portion of the route between Willimantic and Putnam was completed by the Boston, Hartford, and Erie Railroad in 1872, becoming part of the New York & New England Railroad in 1875.  This was the line over which the famous New England Limited, known as the “White Train” or “Ghost Train,” sped nonstop from Boston to Willimantic.  Lesser trains stopped at small depots in Chaplin and North Windham.  Today, the railbed is part of a hiking/bicycling trail.  Curiously, the trail does not pass through present-day Mansfield.  That is because the southeast corner of Mansfield south of the Natchaug River was made part of Windham in 1885, to resolve a boundary dispute between Windham and Tolland counties.  Without this change, we’d have a Walmart in town!

Streetcars also ran through Mansfield at one time.  In 1909, Willimantic’s streetcar service, which ran along Main Street, was extended through the southwest corner of Mansfield to Coventry Lake, where there was a swimming and boating area and dance hall.  From Willimantic, one could connect to streetcars serving Norwich and even get all the way to Westerly, R. I., by changing in Franklin Square to the Norwich & Westerly electrified line.  Trolley service on all these routes ended in the 1920s.

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