I’m deep into the trenches of a report about rail passenger stations and freight depots, so it’s about the only subject on my mind, besides the preservation conference. In almost every place I’ve lived, I can hear the train, even if it’s only at night when the air is still and the world is quiet. In some of my houses, I’ve felt the entire house shake when the freight trains barreled through town. In other places, the train is a distant rumble and whistle. There’s something comforting about that sound, and something mysterious and so adventurous about the train.
Transport by train for passengers and freight isn’t what it used to be; cars and trucks have misplaced trains for the most part. Still, railroads were the interstates of their time – taking land wherever they wanted it, blasting through mountains, diving farmland, and creating new settlements along the way. And still, railroads replaced canals. Transportation continues to evolve and change our landscape with it (fortunately in a much more conscientious way today than 50, 100, or 150 years ago).
If you grew up around the railroad, you are probably familiar with railroad depots – for passengers and freight. Most historic depots are easily recognizable, just as schoolhouses of the 1920s/1930s are easily identified by their bank of windows. While some might be high style (see Waterbury above) or more vernacular (see Roxbury below) and are constructed throughout the mid to late 19th century, these rail depots all have a few key features in common: (1) Large overhanging eaves; (2) Eaves supported by large, brackets – often decorative; (3) A rectangular shape with the length along the tracks; (4) A ticket agent bay window. Not every building will have all of these features, but next time you see a building that looks like it might be a depot, you’re probably right.