Sue, the grandkids and I took an hour-long ride on the Essex Steam Train the other day. It runs up the Connecticut River valley from Essex to East Haddam and most of the trip is right along the river. With the steam whistle blowing and the bell ringing and the wind coming through the open windows of the vintage coaches, it is just the thing for a summer morning in the Northeast.
There was plenty to see and do along the way. Waving at the cars that had to stop at the crossings was fun, and we spotted a nesting osprey on a piling in the Deep River Marina. A game played by the announcer, a sort of cross between a Scavenger Hunt and I Spy, was a hit with the kids, keeping them looking out the window for what the loudspeaker told them to spot along the tracks.
If you’ve lots of energy you can make a whole day of it by getting off at Ferry Road for the walk down to the Chester-Hadlyme ferry for transport across the river to tour Gillette Castle and disembarking at the Deep River Landing for a one-hour boat ride.
We kept it to just the train however, and it coincided nicely with the youngsters’ attention spans and our elderly energy levels. Free whistles for the girls for participating in the spotting game and lunch at Micky D’s on the way home capped things off nicely.
We were in a state park the whole way, as I found out later. The story goes back to the 1870s, when The Valley Railroad Company started running passenger and freight service the 44 miles between Old Saybrook and Hartford.
Over the decades, problems common to short line railroads all over the country– economic depressions, mergers, buyouts, and the loss of passengers and freight to automobiles and trucks—took over. The last passenger boarded in 1933 and the freight stopped in 1968.
Penn Central, which owned the line then, planned to tear up the tracks and dissolve the railroad, but fortunately preservation-minded folks got involved and by 1970 the State of Connecticut owned the right-of-way, calling it the Connecticut Valley Railroad State Park, a mostly linear, 136-acre property.
The modern-day Valley Railroad Company leases the park from the state and offers a nice 19th century railroad experience, including an 1892 rail road station, steam locomotives, and vintage trains of historic cars. Just sitting in the shade at the station looking at the old Pullmans, dining cars, engines and cabooses is pleasant.
And a funny coincidence here: Note that the number on the engine in the photo above is 3025. I owned a Lionel train with a similar looking engine back in the 1950s. The number of that engine was just one digit off: 2025