When Rails Met the Sea: The Central Vermont Railway Pier was the Forerunner of the Connecticut State Pier

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1909 map of New London showing the Central Vermont Railway

yard and pier, with track running north along the Thames

Any account of the history of the State and CV Piers must include the impact of the railroads, growing at a rapid clip after the Baltimore & Ohio began operations in 1830, a mere fifteen years after the 1815 treaty ending the War of 1812. The first railroad operating to and from New London was the New London, Willimantic & Palmer, starting near Winthrop Cove and running up the west bank of the Thames to Norwich, thence to Willimantic and over the Massachusetts line to Palmer where it intersected with a new east-west railroad.

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The company was not profitable, but demand for a railroad was high and it was soon reborn as the New London Northern. With improved bridges and tracks, new locomotives, and its steamboat wharf enlarged, the railroad was a success.

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New London Northern locomotive at the

New London roundhouse

Below: The wharf was enlarged in 1876 by the Central Vermont Railway, successor to the New London Northern, and is shown here in 1912 with ships docked on both sides and tracks full of box cars.  

A Groton-New London ferry crosses in the distance

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Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library - Harold Cone Collection

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Below: The rails of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad met the Gulf of Mexico at these two piers in Pensacola, Florida, in 1910, shortly before New London's new State Pier joined the Central Vermont Pier to form a similar rail-to-sea shipping center.  

(Where Rails Meet the Sea, p. 99)

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Historic American Engineering Record photograph, 1985 

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The State Pier approaches were built on land owned by the Central Vermont Railway and had a pair of CV tracks running into the warehouse to facilitate cargo transfer to or from ships. 

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Below: In this aerial view from the 1950s the CV rail yard is at center right, with multiple tracks on the Pier and the curved trestle over Winthrop Cove linking the CV with the New York, New Haven & Hartford. The main line of the New Haven curves around toward the Thames River bridge. 

Note: Details of this view may be seen by enlarging: Click on the image, then click again on the small image. Reverse the procedure to return to the exhibition.

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Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

A subsidiary of the Canadian National Railway, the Central Vermont linked Montreal and New London with high hopes for profitability in a growing economy. The CV Pier was central to the railroad's New London operations for over a century.  

--Connecticut Railroads - An Illustrated History: "Fever in New London," 68-76

The Central Vermont was still active in the 1970s and for several years after. Until 1946, cargo from its trains was transferred to its own boats bound for New York City and ports on the Sound. As train frequency declined with competition from trucks, the CV Pier slowly turned into a silent survivor of the once-bustling railroad operations that had prompted its construction a century before.

Below: An aerial photograph, ca. 1945, shows the large extent of Central Vermont trackage in the area. The CV roundhouse is barely visible below the new Gold Star Bridge, and four blocks of East New London remain near the State Pier.

Aerial of CV layout

The CV Pier was sold to the State of Connecticut in 2001, and in 2004 was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a symbol of “the important role that rail-water interchange played in the state’s 19th-century transportation history.” The application also cited its “earth-filled masonry perimeter walls” as an example of 19th century civil engineering practice, thought to be the last such in Connecticut.

Below: Leaving New London, the train is crossing a trestle at Riverside Park in 1951.

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Frank L. McGuire Maritime Library

Harold Cone Collection

When Rails Met the Sea: The Central Vermont Railway Pier was the Forerunner of the Connecticut State Pier