A Bit about Railroad Depots

Waterbury, VT

Waterbury, VT

Vergennes, VT

Vergennes, VT

Randolph, VT

Randolph, VT: two depots in one shot! 

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.

Ludlow, VT

Ludlow, VT

South Londonderry, VT

South Londonderry, VT

Roxbury, VT

Roxbury, VT

Do you have examples in your town? Any buildings you can think of that are probably rail buildings? Want to see a few more? Vergennes, Wallingford, Fair Haven, Swanton.

A Train Station and a Fire Station

The fire station in Wallingford, Vermont is located in a the former train station, which is still located adjacent to the tracks. It’s quite the unique adaptive reuse. Take a look (those photographs were night shots, hence the blurry quality).

Note the station agent's bay on the left side, and the tracks in the bottom left corner of the photo.

Note the station agent’s bay on the left side, and the tracks in the bottom left corner of the photo.

The brackets are visible under the roof, a classic sign of railroad stations.

The brackets are visible under the roof, a classic sign of railroad stations.

Ramp access added. See the clear view of the station agent's window and the brackets.

Ramp access added. See the clear view of the station agent’s window and the brackets.

This photograph shows the most alterations in the conversion from train station to fire station. The walls were extended (see how the brackets are enclosed). The truck bays were added, and an addition for bays is at the end.

This photograph shows the most alterations in the conversion from train station to fire station. The walls were extended (see how the brackets are enclosed). The truck bays were added, and an addition for bays is at the end.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across a non-traditional building turned fire station. Remember the Cavendish Queen Anne house that became a fire station with truck bays on the first floor?

What do you think of this one? The station remains in its historic setting and is still legible as a train station, though altered. The fire station is located in town. Residents know it was the train station and are glad to have both in town. Two simple improvements I’d suggest are (1) move the soda machine and (2) expose the brackets above the original door and transom. But, otherwise, it’s nice to see a town working with what it has to the best of its ability, and appreciating its history. It wouldn’t be eligible for a historic preservation tax credit, but that’s not always the point. Or is its integrity too far gone? Your thoughts?