Rail History Collections

The history of Vermont’s railroads can be found around the state. Among the major repositories for information and artifacts are those that follow.

Vermont Historical Society

Anyone researching or generally interested in Vermont’s railroad history should visit the Vermont Historical Society. At the Montpelier museum visit the exhibit Freedom and Unity: One Ideal: Many Stories to see the section devoted to the coming of the railroad and its impact on the state. At the Vermont History Center in Barre, the library has a rich collection of original papers, broadsides, photographs, maps, ephemera, and books on railroads in the state. Coincidentally the library has in its collection the records of the Vermont Railroad Association dating from 1940 to 1961. Two large collections with a wealth of railroad history extending beyond Vermont’s borders are the papers of Vermonters J. Gregory Smith and Thomas Canfield. To see the VHS’s exhibit on-line or to learn more about the library and museum visit the Society’s website at vermonthistory.org. or (802) 828-2291.

Vermont Department of Libraries

The Vermont State Law and Documents Library at 109 State Street, Montpelier, (802) 828-3261, provides an on-line catalogue of its collection. Use the HTML link above with the search term, “railroads Vermont”.

Middlebury College Main Library

The Middlebury College Main Library at 110 Storrs Avenue, Middlebury, (802) 443-2000, has a significant collection of railroad history catalogued on-line at the following Internet links:

The MIDCAT (Middlebury College Online Catalog)

Rutland Railroad Archives (at Middlebury College)

Guide to the Vermont Collection

University of Vermont

The Special Collections Department of the University of Vermont Libraries owns a very large amount of material that documents the history of Vermont Railroads. Its published items include hundreds of books and periodicals dating back to the late 1820s, which include histories, annual reports of rail corporations, government documents, promotional material, schedules and more. Another valuable resource are broadsides and ephemera advertising various services and special excursions. Our visual collections include photographs, postcards, and stereographs and document accidents, train cars, railroad bridges, and the humans who interacted with trains as employers, employees, and passengers.

We have a large number of manuscript collections and items. A few highlights are:

Central Vermont Railroad Papers: This collection spans the period from 1847 to 1995, with the bulk of the materials from 1890 to 1955. The papers are mostly from the railway treasurer's vault and the engineering offices, both of which were located in St. Albans, Vermont. They are for the most part reports to various governmental agencies, documents associated with the ownership of assets and the transfer of those assets.

Stearns Jenkins Collection of Vermont Railroad History Collection of original document, photocopies, maps, publications, and other materials relating to railroads and the central Vermont/ Vermont Central Railroad, and many smaller lines and subsidies.

Elijah Cleveland business records, 1824-1902: Mostly papers (1845-1882) concerning the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad Company, including ballots and votes for the director of the railroad, subscription books for stocks, vouchers and salaries (ca. 1850-58), and partial inventories (1857) of railroad equipment. Elijah Cleveland was a businessman in Coventry, Vt. He served as secretary for the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad.

Hayward Merriam Severance Papers, 1846-1971: Collection includes personal correspondence (1958-71); typescripts and notes for Severance’s history of the Rutland Railroad, and printed matter and newspaper clippings relating to the railroad; articles and other notes; Central Vermont Railway timetables; bulletins and newsletters from Railroad and Locomotive Historical Society, Vermont Historical Society, and Appalachian Trail societies; and other papers.

Local Libraries

Many local libraries also have books and ephemera of railroad history because of the many small shortline passenger, freight and industrial railroads that once existed throughout Vermont. The Aldrich Library in Barre, for example, has Vermont railroad titles in its collection which can be accessed, along with other libraries on line through the Vermont Department of Libraries Vermont Automated Libraries System on-line catalog.

St. Albans Historical Museum and Society

A permanent exhibit of rail artifacts and ephemera awaits in St. Albans’ “Northeast Room” dedicated to the story of the Central Vermont Railway. A nearly century-old waiting room from a country depot includes the representation of Agent’s and Telegrapher’s offices with a lively recording of a dispatcher at work and a telegraph instrument set up for the public to try. Also off the waiting room is the larger room which would represent the station platform where one would board the train to their destination anywhere in the United States and Canada. The collection includes a model of a 1923 roundhouse, railroad lanterns, bells, locks, keys, and other interesting paraphernalia. Great photographs show the evolution of the railroad facility and locomotives. St. Albans Historical Museum, Church Street, St Albans, (802) 527-7933.

Here's what you can do to stay safe around trains...

Never trespass on any railroad property or right of way!
Doing so is illegal and risks serious injury or death.

Cross only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings!
Look for a train moving from either direction -- and then look for a second train from either direction.

Always expect a train!
Trains do not have set schedules and can approach from either direction at any time of day or night.
Trains do not take holidays.

Don't stand next to tracks!
Trains can overhang the tracks by three feet on either side, and straps and tiedowns can extend even further.

Never try to beat a train!
Because of their size, you cannot judge a train's speed or distance. Trains cannot make sudden stops. Remember that a locomotive weighs 200 tons. An automobile being hit by a train is equivalent to a soda can being hit by an automobile.