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Here are some recent pictures of Wilson Point on the layout.
1: The Freight Transfer station's gangplanks; 2: The roundhouse, assembled and painted red; 3: Roundhouse wall with 'grout' painted in; 4: Neil and Tom both working trains in Wilson Point.
5: A set of coal gons and the new Crane model. 6: Tom re-rails an errant car in Wilson Point's yard. 7: the ashpit and coal bin at Wilson Point.
8: Freight train arrives in Wilson Point; 9: Ray Louis shows off the new roundhouse under construction; 10: Roundhouse tracks being laid at Wilson Point; 11: Ted uses the turntable.
12: A carfloat docked at the Wilson Point pier; 13: Tom Callan works the carfloat; 14: The Wilson Point passenger station under construction; 15: Some of the switch machines and wiring under Wilson Point.
16: The ashpit adjacent to the turntable; 17: One of the float bridges at the Wilson Point pier; 18: Laying rails on the pier (note the water); 19: Dave Ramos works on planking the pier early on.
Here are a number of photos, some provided by my good friend Jeff Ward, showing quite a bit more detail than we previously had available. The later photos help to reconcile the nautical maps (see below) but it becomes apparent as you study them that the maps aren't quite to scale, or even particularly accurate. Click on these small images to see a larger picture.
This photo is of the wharf at Wilson Point sometime prior to 1888 and the Housatonic years. In the foreground is the picturesque windmill, and in the background you can see the freight house and passenger station. In the years to come, there would be considerable expansion of the facility including ferry slips with railroad-tracked float bridges. But the passenger station and freight house would continue until the facility was well in the hands of the New Haven RR.
This photo shows Wilson Point, probably in the Housatonic years after considerable improvements had been made, early 1890's. Near the center of the photo you can see the passenger station, with the freight house just to its left. Better information recently provided by my friend Jeff Ward indicated the dark, windowless building at the front edge of the wharf was a transit shed, where various cargoes were unloaded from railcars and marshaled before loading onto steamers bound for New York City, Brooklyn and other destinations. Thank Jeff for the captions all over this photo. The Roundhouse should be visible to the left of the station building but it is somehow obscured.
This photo, an extension of the one above, shows the covered loading shed that extended out into the sound past the passenger station. It took up about half the end of the wharf, and the maps show that a track extended down to the end on the far side of the uncovered wharf. If you look through the middle of the covered wharf, you can see the steel or iron float bridge that was used to move railcars on and off the railcar ferries that came to call here. (There is a close-up photo shown below.) The maps show two slips served by rail, but as far as I can see there is only one float bridge. Hard to decide how to model it... Part of the transit shed can be seen in this photo too.
This close-up photo shows a neat detail of the wharf. Note the jib crane mounted at the edge of the wharf. It's purpose, in nearly every photo I have seen of it, is to take bulk cargo -- particularly coal -- from ships and barges moored to the wharf and place it into waiting coal gondolas. The pair of small structures to the right of it had me puzzled for some time, until I remembered the era -- the shed houses a stationary steam engine, which powers the crane. The small building next to the shed is probably a coal bin, used to power the steam engine in the adjacent building.
The long straight structure behind the crane and steam engine appears to be a tall fence erected along the middle of the wharf to hide the freight handling from the passengers that were moved out and back to the station from dry land. We are not sure of this, but we can't imagine what else it might be.
This photo, taken at a different angle, obscures the crane but shows the steam engine shed better. A coal scow, according to Jeff, is being unloaded by the crane, and I think he's right. Note the many coal gondolas on the wharf. There is a windmill in the background of this picture but it does not match the windmill from the pre-1888 photo above -- is it the same one? I don't know. This photo is also a little confusing when it comes to the fence -- it appears to be farther back here than it should. Note the haystacks on the hill behind the railroads' property at the left top of the photo. Much of the rest of Wilson Point in this era was used for cattle grazing.
This 'close-up' shows the float bridges behind the covered loading shed at the end of the wharf. Well, it doesn't show them very well, but you can see a light-colored steel truss bridge behind the shed, with a pair of light colored pilings that appear to bracket the end of it side to side. To the right of that looks like what could be a timber hoist for the second float bridge, but it looks awfully low for a railcar or locomotive to move under it. So it may well be something else. The end of the steel float bridge likely rests on a floating pontoon, and the height of the bridge was likely adjusted manually by block and tackle attached to those pilings mentioned earlier.
This is the roundhouse that was built at Wilson Point in 1888 or 1889 after the Housatonic took over. Wilson Point became a huge terminal for the railroad which shifted most of their southwest bound traffic (and a considerable part of the NY&NE's southwest bound traffic) through Wilson Point and down to Brooklyn, NY or Oyster Bay, NY (long Island). The roundhouse was built to turn the arriving southbound locomotives for the trips back north. Some light repairs and maintenance was probably done here too, but the Railroad's major shops were located in Amesville, CT. As you see it here in 1914 it has been idle for more than two decades.
The Cape Charles was originally built for another railroad, and served with the New York & New England RR for only about a year, 1891 to July 1892. This boat carried the Long Island and Eastern States Express train which ran from NYC to Boston via Oyster Bay, Long Island and Wilson Point.
Here are some particulars about the Cape Charles:
|Length Overall: 259 feet, 6 inches|
|Length on 6 foot waterline: 252 feet|
|Beam, Moulded: 36 feet|
|Beam Overall: 63 feet, 6 inches|
|Displacement: 791 tons|
Thanks to an article by John Teichmoller in the Transfer (Journal of the Rail-Marine Interest Group) and a more in-depth article in the Pennsylvania RR Historical Society's magazine, we were able to locate several more pictures, as well as plan and elevation drawings of the Cape Charles, and a model will soon be underway. Score one for the good guys!
Another transfer steamer named the Express was used in the Wilson Point to Brooklyn transfer run. Recently, a fellow named Chet Hicks turned me on to a photo of the express (sometime after the New Haven inherited her) and may be able to send another better photo soon. Here's a shot of the ship docked at a rail terminal in New York City sometime around the turn of the century:
Here's a little data on the Express, also from Chet:
|Built by Harlan & Hollingsworth in 1889, Wilmington, DE|
|Home Port - Bridgeport, CT|
|Length - 272 feet|
|Beam - 44.1 feet|
|Draft - 12.6 feet|
|Propulsion - Twin-screws powered by two 1250 horsepower compound steam engines|
Chet is a antique clock dealer, he came across this information when he got possession of the Clock from the Express. You can see Chet's Clocks website here: www.HicksAntiqueClocks.com. Thanks Chet!
At least a handful or more car floats were owned and used by the New England Terminal Company, which was the nautical arm of the Housatonic and the New York & New England. I don't have any pictures but since these floats were used in the NY City area they must have been compatible with car floats used by other NY City railroads as well. I'd like to find pictures of some transfer car floats that date back to this period.
We are trying to find out if there were any other ferries, barges or car floats besides these that served Wilson Point. If you know of any literary or photographic evidence that shows this, please be sure to let me know.
Here are images of the newly discovered Wilson Point maps.
is an excerpt from the 1888 nautical map. It represents Wilson's Point in
the Danbury & Norwalk era. Note the tracks separate as they come into
the point, the western track skirts the edge of the water and is in fact
supported on a series of pilings. The eastern tracks open out into a set
of four mostly parallel tracks with two stub-end tracks that reach out towards
the station located at the end of the wharf (the dark-bordered sloppy
triangle). It's easy to see how the passenger trains and the occasional
freight car would have been used and/or spotted on these tracks. The two
large triangular areas between the eastern and western tracks appear to be marsh
or wetland between dry land on the eastern side and the pilings on the western
side. To the north of here there is a single track connection to the
station at South Norwalk, CT. This did not change during the lifespan of
This is an excerpt from the 1896 nautical map showing Wilson's Point in the Housatonic era. You can see there was some considerable development that took place during the five years that the Housatonic operated the property. The wharf south of the station has been extended to reach out to deeper water, and railcars can be brought out to the end of the wharf. A completely new wharf and ferry slip complex has been built to the east of the station, with two slips and three tracks reaching out to it.
Curiously missing is the roundhouse and turntable near the waters' edge known to have been built in the late 1880's after the Housatonic took over. It appears in the 1909 map below, and should sit about where the aprons of the ferry slips are. It's failure to be reproduced here casts doubt on the accuracy of the map, though the parts that stick out into the water are likely to be accurately drawn on a nautical map.
This suggests the part of the map farther away from the water may not accurately represent improvements made by the Housatonic, particularly after the fire which damaged the piers. After the fire Wilson Point was said to have been quickly rebuilt and it's tracks had a capacity of over 500 cars. The terminal as drawn would not appear to be able to absorb half that number, though the arrangement on the 1909 map below might.
One friend (a local expert on Wilson Point history) believes that track arrangement after the fire of 1889 may well have been closer to what's seen in the 1909 map, with the facility more like a large yard than the D&N arrangement. He may be right -- but I choose to model it as you see it here, with the addition of the roundhouse and turntable. The 1909 configuration doesn't show the station, the transfer sheds, the open-air shed at the end of the extended pier -- which we can plainly see in the photographs. The truth for 1892 is probably somewhere between these two maps, but I choose to model the 1896 map configuration because it is more interesting operationally and much more attractive.
Note also how the area around the piers has been dredged to allow larger boats to use the facilities. Until this map surfaced I had no idea these piers even existed (though I suspected they did from the depth soundings in the 1909 map, which is shown below.
This is an excerpt from the 1909 nautical map, and shows Wilson's Point 17 years past the New Haven takeover of the Housatonic. While the trackage is not well drawn and is obviously not completely accurate, it does tell us a lot about what has happened during this period. The station and most of the structures are gone, as are most of the piers built during the Housatonic period. Part of the marshland and the piers that existed between the western track and the mainland have been filled, and a series of yard tracks without a yard lead have been laid. The roundhouse, only some 20 years old but long abandoned by this time, sits near the waters edge.
It's my opinion that by this time, Wilson's Point was being used as a car storage yard, probably for tank cars waiting to be filled at the Standard Oil facility between here and South Norwalk, and probably for other cars on standby for loading nearby or out of season (like coal hoppers in the spring). It would have fed Dock yard at South Norwalk, located only a couple of miles to the North, as well as provided empty cars for the Berkshire Division of the New Haven as well.
As you can see, these maps provide an important insight into what was -- and was not -- happening around Wilson's Point during it's brief but exciting lifetime as a transportation hub. And yet, while they provide a desperately needed glimpse of what the place was like, we cannot be too trusting in them because we know important elements are missing. So we are much closer now, but still unsure of what it was actually like in the last days of the Housatonic.
You can see the full maps online at the UCONN website:
University of Connecticut Map and Geographic Information Center
Click on the "Historical Map Collection" menu at the top of the page, or just poke around.
Prototype: Originally built by the Danbury & Norwalk RR about 1882, It was the jewel in the crown for the Housatonic RR when they leased the D&N in 1887. Wilson's Point provided the Housatonic and it's associated partner railroads a marine route to New York City for both passengers and goods that the New Haven couldn't interfere with. It quickly grew in strategic importance as competition cut off other routes into New York. Within five years passenger and freight ferries came and went at a furious pace, and shipments of bulk commodities from elsewhere (coal, oil products and lumber among them) on the east coast were handled at this small port. The frenzied work of the facility was abruptly halted on July 1, 1892 when the New Haven leased the Housatonic Railroad and cut off the last independent rail (marine) route into New York from the North. Within 10 years the New Haven controlled all routes in New England between New York and Boston.
On the Model: Wilson Point will be modeled as is existed on the day before the New Haven takeover -- June 30. 1892. New information that came to light in 2003 shows where the wharfs and ferry slips were located, allowing me to finally model the scene with some degree of accuracy. See the maps above for more information. The roundhouse, missing from the primary map, has been added to enhance the operation of the facility and enhance the accuracy of the model.
I've tried to keep the plan as accurate as possible while trying to balance that against operability. The phase one portion of the layout will be somewhat rectangular, covering a space 4 feet wide by some 17 feet long.
Operation: (For phase one) Will consist primarily of freight moving to and from New York City in the Southwest to points North in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Both the Housatonic Railroad and the New York & New England railroads used Wilson Point extensively to move freight and passengers to New York City, since there was no other way to get there (The New Haven controlled all river crossings up to Poughkeepsie, NY). The wharf itself will also be a source of many bulk commodity loads, allowing for empties in / loads out opportunities. And Wilson Point was also an origin and destination for many passenger trains in the era. These three types of traffic should provide for plenty of movements, enough to keep a crew of two to four busy for a few hours.
We now have a good feel for how the facility at Wilson Point gets worked. referring to the track diagram above, going from bottom to top: The two tracks down closest to the water which we call the bulk tracks -- We know the far end of these tracks served a trans-loading building where weather-sensitive cargoes from ships were moved to boxcars and vice-versa.. Closer to shore both tracks were also used for bulk loading, mostly coal but also lumber or other weather-insensitive commodities also that came in by barge or ship. These loads were handled by the jib crane on the wharf or by cranes on the boats themselves. I think that helps explain the need for some open space between the edge of the wharf and the first track, the stevedores need someplace to stand!
Moving inward, the first track on land coming off the lead is pretty much a dedicated running track that directly serves the passenger terminal, but is also used for runaround moves by the freight department. The runner leads to the Pier track where passenger trains are often laying over between runs, or freight cars can be spotted there for loading off ships by the covered platform.
The two tracks in the center of the yard are holding one and holding two, and are used when a train with cars to be sent by carfloat arrives to store them until they can be loaded. The yard switcher will often take the cars off the float first and then swap a cut of outbounds for a cut of inbounds on the holding track until the transfer of cars is complete. Then the inbound cars will be taken north to Dock Yard. No classification switching is done at Wilson Point because there is no room for it.
The fourth track is the float lead as well as the inbound and outbound track for the roundhouse. Both car float bridges are accessible from this track which makes it critical during period when a float gets docked. Normally the yard switcher has the absolute right of this track for working carfloats, but it must share it from time to time with other locomotives that must be watered, coaled and turned around to head back north. The float lead is also the track used to access the services track where goldolas of coal are placed, and other gondolas are filled with ashes and taken away from time to time. The tail of the services track also acts as a caboose track most of the time.
The pier track that extends out to the covered dock can also be used for a second yard lead, if necessary.
Staging: the car floats and ferries used to bring and take away cars from Wilson Point will act as a type of 'Cassette Staging' for the south end of the railroad. Eventually there will be a small fleet of these cassettes, stored on a rolling cabinet that will serve the piers of the railroad. Until that time, we will recycle the existing car floats by removing and restoring the cars on it.Physical Plant: To my surprise, the maps indicate less yard trackage and more 'industrial' switching than I expected in 1892, but as I mentioned above the maps may not be completely accurate. It looks like what had been a couple of layover and runaround tracks for the passenger trains in the D&N era have been forced to do double and maybe triple duty in the Housatonic era. The tracks that lead out to the ferry / car float slips extend from these short double-ended yard tracks, and look to be very necessary for the sorting and shuffling of cars moving onto and off of the ferries. The passenger trains must also use them from time to time, as all locomotives that end up here have to be turned at the roundhouse for the return trip. These tracks will constantly be in demand.
The waterside wharf tracks will also be a challenge, since it will probably need regular attention during a session. Assuming one or two schooners, scows or barges loading or unloading along its length at any given time, cars will have to be re-spotted every few hours, exchanging loads for empties and possibly vice versa. The limiting factor here is the reach of the loading boom on the wharf and any aboard the ships, meaning only 2-3 cars can probably be reached at a time. That's good for adding play value. The second track plays into this nicely as car storage for this operation. Right now we don't have enough gondolas to serve the operation properly, but we are working on enlarging the fleet.
Beyond the jib crane, the transfer shed has spots between the two tracks that run behind it for up to 10 or 11 cars, so that will need attention too. And the track next to the open shed at the far end of the pier will also readily hold up to ten cars for loading or unloading of cargoes.
Once operation gets going it will be fun to include some historically accurate train movements that went through Wilson's Point. The Long Island and Eastern States Line, a New York City to Boston high-speed train ( jointly operated train run by the Long Island Railroad, The Housatonic, and the New York & New England Ry.) will arrive and depart to and from Long Island via ferry at this port. The LI&ESL was a patchwork effort for the member roads to compete with the New Haven, who had the only land line into and out of New York City.
We began construction of this module in December 2003, and it is was substantially completed by early 2005. You can see how things progressed by visiting the early volumes of the Construction Journal. I welcome your comments and suggestions on how it might be improved, or if you think I've missed something. As always, anyone with information about Wilson Point in the late 19th and early 20th Century is asked to please contact me, we can always use more data.
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