1966: Collections from 50 Years Ago on Display

At the Archives & Special Collections, we have been ramping up our interoperability.  What does that mean exactly?  Twinkling screens, chatter of audio recording and tactile interactions with materials on exhibition.  Currently, we are featuring collection materials from 50 years ago in the archives to help highlight the year 1966.  These selections contain personal correspondence and work from famous artists and activists like Ed Sanders, Allen Ginsberg, Diane Di Prima and Abbie Hoffman.  Popular culture and ephemera from comic books to Life magazine relating to the politics of War in Vietnam, LSD, the rise of Black Power and the battle against Communism.

Included in the exhibit are Alternative Press Collection materials documenting the War in Vietnam ranging from the scholarly to the ephemeral. The Poras Collection of Vietnam War Memorabilia contains posters, death cards, publications and satirical army culture objects demonstrating the antagonisms of war at home and abroad.  From a personal collection of Navy Corpsman Cal Robertson, his correspondence from Vietnam in 1966 while deployed over two tours as a medic attached to a marine platoon, detailing the daily grind and uncertainties of waiting in the jungle and relaying safety concerns to loved ones back home.  The Alternative Press also includes a trove of anti-war publications such as the Committee for Nonviolent Action.

CQo9zv4VEAAjShs.jpg largeThe physical exhibit in our reading room is but one element of our program to promote access to collections through outreach.  Media displays within the Archives Reading Room featuring additional photographs and videos demonstrate the interactive qualities of physical objects outside of a static display.  Currently, the newest arrival to the reading room is a large tablet-like touch table which has digital content loaded from our Omeka exhibit on1966 which will be unveiled in the coming month on the web.

For more information, follow us @UConnArchives on twitter and facebook where we1 promote exhibits like this one and events happening around the Archives.


Are trains faster today than they were 100 years ago?

New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad timetable, September 1914

Was train travel from New Haven, Connecticut, to New York City faster 100 years ago than it is today?  Here are two pages from the public timetable of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad from September 1914:

New Haven, Connecticut, to New York stops on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, September 2014

New Haven, Connecticut, to New York stops on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, September 2014If someone took the “Banker’s Express” from New Haven at 8:00a.m. he (and in that day and age it was always a “he”) would get to New York City at 9:44a.m.

How does that compare to today?

The Railroad of “Bankruptcy, Litigation, Fraud and Failure”

The "Hookset," built in 1842 at the Hinkley & Drury Shops for the Concord Railroad.  Was Locomotive #1 of the Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad in 1863, then the New York & New England Railroad's Locomotive #1 in 1871.  From the Frances D. Donovan Papers, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

The “Hookset,” built in 1842 at the Hinkley & Drury Shops for the Concord Railroad. Was Locomotive #1 of the Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad in 1863, then the New York & New England Railroad’s Locomotive #1 in 1871. From the Frances D. Donovan Papers, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

One hundred and fifty years ago, in June 1863, the Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad was incorporated with the goal of forming a gateway to western markets for New England goods and of bringing coal from Pennsylvania into New England by way of Newburgh, New York, to Waterbury, Connecticut, and beyond.  Its lofty goal disintegrated when it came under the control of “as ribald a bunch of crooks as railroad history has ever produced,” wrote D.W. McLaughlin in his article “Poughkeepsie Gateway,” for the October 1968 issue of the Bulletin of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society.  The railroad ran into a myriad of troubles, including the realization that building an east-west route across Connecticut would involve navigating the state’s ridge lines, the problem of aligning with the non-standard gauge of track on the Erie Railroad (the western line it would hook up with once the railroad cars crossed the Hudson River), and the lack of a bridge for which to travel over the river.  That apparently did not stop the railroad’s promoters from selling stock in the line, which they proceeded to mercilessly raid and pillage.  The legislature of the state of Massachusetts was persuaded to give $3,000,000 in grants, odd in that the bulk of the railroad didn’t actually travel in that state, as it went into Connecticut.  By the time the graft caught up with all the players, in 1870, the railroad was in bankruptcy with a mere $10.00 left in its accounts, Massachusetts was out all of the money it invested, and very little actual railroad track was ever laid.  The remaining assets were transferred to the receivers of the New York & New England Railroad, who rerouted the railroad line from New York City to Boston and eventually became part of the New Haven Railroad system.

May 11 is National Train Day!

The New England Limited, better known as the White Train, or Ghost Train, which traveled from New York to Boston on the Air Line Division (formerly the Boston & New York Air Line Railroad) of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in the early 1890s.  Leroy Roberts Railroad Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

The New England Limited, better known as the White Train, or Ghost Train, which traveled from New York to Boston on the Air Line Division (formerly the Boston & New York Air Line Railroad) of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad in the early 1890s. Leroy Roberts Railroad Collection, Archives & Special Collections, University of Connecticut Libraries.

Let’s get on board to celebrate National Train Day on Saturday, May 11!  Amtrak organizes this event to celebrate the ways trains connect us all and to learn how trains are an instrumental part of our American story.

We here in the Railroad History Archive in Archives & Special Collections are celebrating this day by enjoying the rich resources in the collection that document how the railroad was pivotal to the lives of the people of New England in the Golden Age of Railroads in the late 1800s.  This photograph shows the New England Limited on the Air Line Division, formerly the Boston & New York Air Line, which was built to provide a direct route diagonally across the state of Connecticut to connect the important financial centers of New York City and Boston.  At the time this photograph was taken, in the 1890s, the B&NYAL was taken over by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and then known as the Air Line Division.  The New England Limited reminds us of a time when luxurious trains were ridden by the Gilded Era’s captains of industry.

The Last Steam Trip on the New Haven Railroad, April 27, 1952

In the early 1950s the New Haven Railroad phased out use of its steam fleet in favor of its electric and diesel locomotives.  Shown here is a menu and photographs taken on an excursion trip from Boston’s South Station to New Haven, Connecticut, through the route of the old New York & New England Railroad with stops in Willimantic and New London, Connecticut.  The photographs were taken by Seth P. Holcombe and Ralph E. Wadleigh, both of whose photographs we hold in the Railroad History Archives.

Menu for New Haven Railroad's last steam trip, April 27, 1952. Donated by Frank Morrissey, University Railroad Collection, Archives & Special Collections of the University of Connecticut Libraries.

Menu for New Haven Railroad’s last steam trip, April 27, 1952. Donated by Frank Morrissey, University Railroad Collection, Archives & Special Collections of the University of Connecticut Libraries.

The Connecticut Company, and a devoted collector of its history

William B. Young was an avid fan, enthusiast and historian of the Connecticut Company, particularly its trolley cars, which controlled the street railroad system that provided public transportation in the state’s towns and cities from 1905 to 1948.  Mr. Young, born in 1942, spent much of his youth in Stamford and Roxbury, Connecticut, where he explored local trolley right-of-ways, collected railroad documents and memorabilia, took photographs, and rode the trains at every opportunity, not just in the state but across the country.  While earning a degree in history (focusing many of his term papers on transportation history) at Yale University he worked summers as a Conductor on the Chicago Transit Authority.  After he graduated in 1966 he was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Navy, serving as a Naval Aviator during the Vietnam War, and continued as a flight instructor after the war, when he left active duty in 1977.  After his service he became a database programmer and lived in North Carolina until his death in December 2010.

Mr. Young compiled an enormous and extraordinarily comprehensive collection of materials about the trolley system which includes publications, photographs, timetables, maps, postcards, manuals, and reports.  He corresponded with an extensive network of other knowledgeable railroad and trolley historians, where the minutiae of the cars and the broad history of the company were discussed and dissected with equal interest and regard.  His ultimate goal in amassing this information was the creation of a car roster database, which classified each car in the system by number, owner, purchase cost, weight, roof, type, builder, first year in service, accident history, motor type, compressor type, and controller.

In February 2011 Mr. Young’s sister, Mary Young, contacted the archives about donating the collection.  In the time between this initial contact and its ultimate donation in June 2012, Ms. Young and  her sister Lucy gathered the materials from Mr. Young’s home in North Carolina, separated those materials most appropriate for donation, boxed and organized the materials by format, created “finding guides” and other descriptions to ease discovery of the materials, and provided much of the written information about Mr. Young and the company that helped place it all in context. This comprehensive collection is now available for use by the general public, and its finding aid, which includes long descriptions of the life of Mr. Young and the Connecticut Company, is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/911.

The Connecticut Company, which by 1907 was controlled by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, operated most of the trolleys and buses in Connecticut, with fourteen divisions and, at its peak in the 1910s, a roster of over 2200 cars and nearly 800 miles of track that either ran in or connected twelve major Connecticut cities.  Ridership started to drop in the 1920s and systems were abandoned by the 1930s. The last trolley ran on September 25, 1948, in New Haven, as the post-war boom of personal ownership of the automobile became widespread.

Connecticut is lucky to have two trolley museums to preserve this important aspect of transportation, including the Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven (http://www.shorelinetrolley.com/) and the Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor (http://www.ct-trolley.org/).

The archive is deeply grateful to the family of William B. Young for this valuable collection that will serve as a vital resource for this corner of the state’s transportation history.

Laura Smith, Curator of Business, Railroad and Labor Collections

Connecticut Railroad Commissioner reports now online!


In our continuing efforts to make our collections available online we present to you a set of Railroad Commissioner Reports of the State of Connecticut, now available through the Internet Archive at http://archive.org/search.php?query=%22uconn%20libraries%22%20%20railroad%20%22annual%20report%22.  This is done courtesy of our cooperative relationship with the Boston Libraries Consortium and the Digital Programs and Preservation and Conservation staff here at the UConn Libraries.

The railroad commissioner reports are very rich documents, published yearly between the 1850s until 1911, and provide details about bridges, structures and track laid for each railroad in the state as well as the expenditures and income.  Many of the issues have details about train accidents and lists of the members of their board of directors, important information for any railroad researcher.

Many of these reports were donated by a long-time donor of railroad materials, Mr. Leroy Beaujon. Mr. Beaujon has a soft spot in his heart for the Central New England Railway, which ran in western Connecticut and eastern New York State until it was taken over by the New Haven Railroad in the early 1900s.  He grew up on Canaan, Connecticut, so his interest in the railroads of that area was formed early in his youth and has remained throughout his life.  We are pleased that we can make Mr. Beaujon’s gift of the railroad reports available not only to the researchers who visit us here at Archives & Special Collections but to anyone, anytime and anywhere.

Check out the reports online, and enjoy!

The end of the steam era in Connecticut — a new collection in the Railroad History Archives

“The 12:25 to Waterbury.” Engine 1338 of the New Haven Railroad in Newington, Connecticut, on July 10, 1946. Photograph by Seth P. Holcombe.

Seth P. Holcombe loved steam trains, and as a youth who grew up near the railroad station in Hartford, Connecticut, he particularly admired those of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (better known as the New Haven Railroad), the predominant railroad in southern New England from 1872 to 1969.  Mr. Holcombe was born in 1918 and lived his life in the Hartford area, graduating from Trinity College in 1941 and serving as registrar of the Morgan Horse Club (now known as the Connecticut Morgan Horse Association) as an adult.  He was also an avid photographer and took numerous photographs of the trains he loved.  His interest never wavered from the steam trains of the New Haven Railroad, so when the railroad switched to a diesel fleet in 1952 Mr. Holcombe’s interest in the railroad waned.

Seth Holcombe died in 2009 and his wife Lucy made a gracious gift of his photographs to the Railroad History Archive this year.  The collection shows trains in and around Hartford, as well as other railroad lines across New England when Mr. Holcombe would travel on excursions.  A finding aid to the collection is available at https://archivessearch.lib.uconn.edu/repositories/2/resources/908 and all are welcome to come to Archives & Special Collections to view this terrific set of photographs.

The Lyman Viaduct, a technological marvel

The Lyman Viaduct under construction, July 4, 1871

It’s hard to gauge just how high the Lyman Viaduct is until you click on the photograph to get a larger view and look closely at the bottom.  See the man and the horse (or maybe it’s a mule, it’s hard to tell)?  Then compare them to the enormity of the trestle, then under construction.  Amazing, isn’t it?
At 1100 feet long and 137 feet high, the Lyman Viaduct iron railroad trestle was built 1872-1873 to span the valley of Dickinson Creek near Colchester, Connecticut. Named after David Lyman, the man who built the New Haven, Middletown & Willimantic section of the Air Line Railroad, the trestle was a major link in a railroad line that was billed as the fastest route between Boston and New York City.
In 1912, as trains became heavier and the railroad became concerned about the stability of the trestle, the Lyman Viaduct was filled in with sand and gravel. It is now part of the Air Line State Park Trail, on the Rails-to-Trails network.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August 1986.
The Lyman Viaduct is a technological marvel, showing the great lengths Americans went to to take advantage of the most powerful mode of transportation of the time.  By the early 1900s almost every town in Connecticut had a railroad line easily accessible, enabling travel among the towns and cities as well as across the nation.

June 2011 Item of the Month: Railroad Men and their Magnificent Machines

1881, Housatonic Railroad locomotive and crew

Charles Dickens, in his 1842 book American Notes, wrote about an excursion he took by train from Boston to Lowell, Massachusetts.  He describes his trip in this way: “[The train] whirls headlong…clatters over frail arches, rumbles upon the heavy ground, shoots beneath a wooden bridge which intercepts the light for a second like a wink, suddenly awakens all the slumbering echoes in the main street of a large town, and dashes on haphazard, pell-mell, neck-or-nothing, down the middle of the road…there – on, on, on – tears the mad dragon of an engine with its train of cars; scattering in all directions a shower of burning sparks from its wood fire, screeching, hissing, yelling, panting; until at last the thirsty monster stops beneath a covered way to drink, the people cluster round, and you have time to breathe again.”

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

Railroads came on the scene in the United States in the early 1830s and immediately took hold of the national psyche, changing concepts of speed and time and providing limitless possibilities of the movement of agricultural products, goods of industry, and people to all points across the country.  The railroad was the means that brought the Industrial Revolution to the United States, ushering in the modern world we know today.  To the people of the 19th century, the railroad was a dream, a miracle, a danger, and the most marvelous thing they had ever seen.

The Railroad History Archive has many thousands of photographs.  Most focus on locomotives and scenes of the New Haven Railroad, the predominant railroad line in southern New England from 1872 to 1968.  We have photographs of railroad stations and other structures, railroad yards, passenger cars and dining cars.  We have photographs of railroad bridges, railroad tunnels, and railroad trestles.

But few photographs are as evocative as the one above, where railroad men pose with the nation’s new obsession.