Abandoned Vermont: Fair Haven Depot

Looking northeast on the tracks at the Fair Haven Depot.

A train depot is a type of structure that is easily recognizable by many people, partially because it is adjacent to railroad tracks and partially because of its form and massing. Tell tale features to look for include 1) a bay window or projection from the building that would offer a better line of sight, 2) a long, narrow building, usually with a gable  or hipped roof, 3) large freight doors on one end and pedestrian sized doors on another, and 4) infrastructure for signals on and near the building.

This depot in Fair Haven,VT was constructed c. 1890 in order to service the nearby slate quarries in addition to passenger traffic. It is a historically significant structure. The railroad owns the building and was an Amtrak stop (not station) until 2010, when Amtrak left Fair Haven in favor of Castleton, VT (located five miles east). Currently it sits abandoned and neglected. Well, I consider it abandoned because of the neglect. Officially, this building has an owner. The painted plywood windows and doors serve as a detraction from its neglect, but the building is suffering from masonry deterioration.

Quite the sunny, warm January day in Fair Haven.

Here you can see the bay window projection and freight doors at the end of the building. Also note the slate shingle detail in the gable above the bay projection and the beadboard beneath, used as siding.

The gable above the bay and the former location of the signal arms.

Extensive masonry deterioration on the south wall.

One of the largest piles of railroad ties that I have ever seen.

The gateway to the depot is a 1938 concrete bridge.

Aside from neglect, the good news is that the building appears secure (save for lots of critters). The bad news is that there are no plans by the railroad or by the town to do anything with the depot. (I could be mistaken, however, and I hope I am.) Train depots are iconic buildings that all people can connect to whether due to memories or movies or the lure of trains. If you have a train depot in your area, contact your local officials and potentially interested organizations – get your town geared up for a rehabilitation project! Need some success stories? Check out the Swanton Railroad Museum, the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe or the South Londonderry Depot. Find others here.

Transportation related structures benefit immensely from the Transportation Enhancements Grants program, which is severely at risk right now. Please tell your legislators how important TEs are to your community. Remember this post? The Importance of Transportation Enhancement Grants to Historic Preservation.

Preservation Photos #114

Standing on the platform of the restored Waterbury train station (a transportation enhancement grant project recipient), which is home to the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Cafe, and looking down the tracks. The freight building on the right is in the process of being dismantled and relocated.

The Iron Horse

Despite the unpopularity of long distance train travel, I love traveling by train. Maybe it’s how I get caught up in the American west. Maybe it’s because my dad always talks about living with the train tracks right behind his house in Queens, NY.  Maybe it’s those few times I traveled via train back and forth to Mary Washington.  Maybe it’s because Overhills had its own train station and to me it evokes visions of the wealthy 1920s travelers getting off at the passenger station marked Overhills with trunks in tow.  No matter the reason, it feels truly American to me (maybe it should feel European, but I’ve never been to Europe.)  Someday I want to travel cross-country by train. 

There is something classically romantic & nostalgic about train travel.  Maybe it’s because train travel traverses so many generations.  The Iron Horse recalls images of great American progress (also a complicated issue for another time) and the great American west and tales of Jesse James.  People took the train to escape to the ocean beaches and the countryside, to get out of the city for a while.  Movies set in the 1940s have done a clever job of portraying soldiers leaving and arriving from war.  A train ride served as more reliable than car travel and prior to planes.  Trains could be wonderful for mass transit and the environment, if done right.

After a recent work trip by train, I am happy to report another pleasant experience with Amtrak. Normally I fly or drive my own car.  However, a drive alone that extends beyond 4 hours leaves me tired and lonely, so driving was not an option.  If I want to fly, I still have to drive 75 minutes to the airport and then go through the whole process of flying and I’d still have to rent a car to get where I was going.  Instead, I chose to travel by Amtrak.  I could catch the train right in town and then ride up to Washington D.C. with the freedom of relaxing, reading, writing, doing whatever I needed to do on the train.  Granted, I still had to rent a car to get to Middleburg, but the peaceful train ride that didn’t require the use my own car for anything, was very nice.

Traveling by Amtrak is a new experience. I had done so before, but not in a few years.  I had been dying to take the train somewhere.  The benefits of Amtrak are clear: the seats are way more comfortable than a plane with lounging room and leg room. The train cars are not nearly as stuffy as planes and you can get up and walk around, go to the dining car, etc.   Depending on how close to your travel date, you book your train ticket, it can be more expensive. However, if it depends on flying with all of the added costs of gas, parking, etc vs. driving with the gas prices now vs. taking the train, the train is more affordable.  And depending on your destination, it may be a longer trek, but it’s a stress free, comfortable, longer trip. My only downside was spilling coffee on myself, but that was entirely my own fault, not the train’s fault.

Traveling by train is also very environmentally friendly.  I wish that the USA were designed for train travel.   It is also an excellent way to see a good slice of America.  Typically trains travel through towns, for obvious reasons.  Here in these southern towns, the train sometimes travels the middle of Main Street.  You’ll travel by farmland, quarries, industrial areas, and large sections of nothing but natural landscape.  Some towns still seem to value their train stop with pretty, maintained passenger stations.  Others have since gone by the wayside.  Main streets that face the train tracks show what the town was, whether thriving at some point or always a small, two-horse town.  Of course, passing these dying and defunct industries like mills and factories is a sad view of past American lifestyles. 

Take the train somewhere; I guarantee you’ll have an enjoyable ride and get lost in the view of America.