A Brief History of the Danbury Railway Museum

Text and organization by Bill Guider

Photographs by
Ed, Chris, and Tom Blackman
Dan Foley
Ron Freitag
Bill Guider
Peter McLachlan
Rick Simpson
Bob Westerfield
and courtesy of
Collection of the Danbury Scott-Fanton Museum

 

Danbury Station  in 1919The story of the Danbury Railway Museum begins when the railroad industry was at its height, prior to 1920. Danbury Union Station opened July 13, 1903, to serve the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. In this April 1919 view, we see the people of Danbury welcoming home troops from World War I. It gives us a good overview of Danbury's railroad facilities. We see not only the station, but a yard full of freight cars, with the freight house at top center. In the distance on the right is the engine house. In the lower left corner is a car of the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway, eastbound on White Street. Film buffs will be interested to learn that several scenes in Alfred Hitchcock's 1951 film Strangers on a Train were shot in and around Danbury Union Station.

Yard in 1959Through the 1950s and into the 1960s, Danbury was an important city on the New Haven Railroad. This May 1959 view looks west from near the engine house toward the station and shows a yard full of activity. But by this time money was tight. The facilities were beginning to deteriorate and when something broke, it stayed broken.

The backbone of Danbury's economy was hat making. Dozens of hat making facilities were spread throughout the city. But as men's hats fell out of style they closed, leaving the city with no hat related industry by 1987.

New England's largest enclosed shopping mall opened three miles west of downtown in 1986 . . . making this a common sight on Main Street.

Shortsighted policies of New Haven Railroad managers lead to the cessation of electric service to Danbury from Grand Central Terminal in New York. Economical electric motors such as these shown in Danbury in March, 1958, no longer traveled the Danbury branch after 1961.

The engine house burned in 1965 and was torn down. The freight house was torn down in 1989.

Decrepit trains carried commuters to Stamford and New York from an increasingly forlorn Danbury Union Station.

Inside, the building was falling down around employees and passengers. Finally, in May 1993, Metro-North abandoned the station in favor of a trailer set 100 yards to the south. About the same time the freight yard was closed.

Not content to hold office while the city deteriorated around him, Danbury Mayor Gene Eriquez actively pursued ideas that would bring life back to downtown Danbury. Among those was the conversion of the unused railroad facilities to a museum to bring tourist traffic to Danbury.

The Railroad Museum of New England had outgrown their facilities in Essex, Connecticut, and were looking for a new home. They had tried but failed to moved their collection to Willamantic, Connecticut. Danbury seemed like the ideal place for the RMNE. Here we see some RMNE pieces on display at Union Station in 1993.

Unfortunately, negotiations broke down and the RMNE moved on. But Mayor Eriquez was not about to give up. He asked local citizens with an interest in railroading to try to form a new group, and in February 1994 the Danbury Railway Museum was born.

A $1.5 million grant was obtained for the restoration of the station, shown here in May 1995 after work had begun on the roof.

The interior was gutted and returned to its 1903 appearance.

The canopies for waiting passengers, so important to the looks of the building, were restored.

In early October 1995 the building was almost ready

 Finally, on October 29, 1995, Mayor Eriquez and other important officials spoke, and over 1000 people toured a restored Danbury Union Station.

On to page two


DRM Home