If you’re looking for family fun before the summer ends, consider visiting one of Connecticut’s many museums celebrating our state’s rail heritage.
— Darienite.com editor’s notes on current museum days of operation are in italics and within brackets below.
The Shore Line Trolley Museum in East Haven was founded in 1945 and now boasts more than 100 trolley cars in its collection. It’s on the National Registry and is the oldest continuously operating trolley line in the U.S., still running excursion trolleys for three miles on tracks once used by the Connecticut Co. for its “F Line” from New Haven to Branford.
You can also walk through the car barns and watch volunteers painstakingly restoring the old cars. There’s also a small museum exhibit and gift shop.
[ “In September, the museum returns to weekend operations,” according to the museum’s website. “From October through December, the museum is open weekends for Halloween and Holiday special events (please see schedule for details).”]
The Connecticut Trolley Museum in East Windsor began in 1940, making it the oldest trolley museum in the country. It too was started on an existing right-of-way, the Rockville branch of the Hartford & Springfield Street Railway Co.
You can ride a couple of different trolleys a few miles into the woods and back, perhaps disembarking to tour their collection of streetcars, elevated and inter-urbans in the museum’s sheds and barns.
[The museum is open weekends through Oct. 1, then on select days in October, according to the website.]
If you’re looking for a day-trip, especially for kids, I highly recommend either trolley museum. But if you’re looking for real trains, you’re also in luck.
The Danbury Railroad Museum is walking distance from the Metro-North station in the Hat City, making this potentially a full-day, all-rail adventure.
They are open five days a week [closed Mondays and Tuesdays through May 31, when they’re open seven days a week, according to the museum website.] and offer train rides on weekends.
For a premium, you can even ride in the caboose or the engine. They have a great collection of old rail cars and a well-stocked gift shop.
For nostalgia fans, The Essex Steam Train offers daily rides on a classic steam train as well as connecting riverboat rides up to the vicinity of Gillette Castle and back. In addition to coach seating, you can ride on an open-air car or in a plush first-class coach. There’s also a great dinner-train, The Essex Clipper, which offers a 2½ hour, four-course meal and a cash bar.
[Open mostly weekends in September and October, including leaf-peeping trips, but see the website for details.]
In downtown South Norwalk, you can visit what once was a busy railroad switch tower, now the SoNo Switch Tower Museum. Admission is free (donations welcome). The museum is open weekends from noon to 5 p.m.
The Connecticut Eastern Railroad Museum in Willimantic is also only open on weekends. In addition to guided tours, visitors can operate a replica 1850’s-style pump car along a section of rail that once was part of the New Haven Railroad’s “Air Line.”
The Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston offers rail trips on Saturdays, Sundays and Tuesdays [and some other days in October] along the scenic Naugatuck River in addition to a large collection of restored engines and passenger cars, including a last-of-its-kind 1929 New Haven Railroad first class “smoker,” complete with leather bucket seats.
All of these museums are run by volunteers who will appreciate your patronage and support. They love working to preserve our state’s great railroad heritage and will tell you why if you express even the slightest interest in their passion. Bring your kids and let them see railroading history come alive.
More of Jim Cameron’s Columns
- Cruising — Dreamy Boats & Garbage Dumping (Jan. 6)
- Testifying on a Bill in Hartford: ‘Not Any More. It’s a Waste of Time.’ (Feb. 16)
- Less Driving, More Walking — Better Downtown Economies (March 16)
- The Enormous, Beautiful, Amazing George Washington Bridge (March 23)
- State Should Regulate Uber, Lyft, Limo Services & Taxis Uniformly (March 31)
- The Great 10-Hour, New York-to-Chicago Railroad That Never Was (April 21)
- Cramming Passengers on Planes Is Not Just Uncomfortable, It’s Also Unsafe (May 19)
- Connecticut: Getting There and Back for Ages: Cameron on Transportation (July 14)
Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM and as program director for Darien TV79. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com
Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.