Local rail enthusiasts hear success story from guest speaker
By Jennifer Coe - ReminderNews
Windsor Locks - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
Windsor Locks residents are no strangers to railroad station preservation, thanks to the ongoing project of obtaining and restoring their own historic station. So the story that speaker David Pierce of Chester, Mass., shared at the Windsor Locks Library with local rail enthusiasts Oct. 17 was a familiar one.
“We’ve had different variations of success,” Pierce said of the Chester project, which includes part of the Western Railroad line, a roundhouse, a station and the famous Keystone Arches. At one point, he said, the town’s selectman had decided to tear the station down, but it was saved by the quick-thinking rairoad devotee who mortgaged her home to secure its future. Pierce and others in his preservation organization decided that the only way to whip up the support they needed was to communicate the tremendous historic significance of the property to those around them. “The historical significance of the keystone arches cannot be overstated,” Pierce told his listeners. “They are archeological wonders.”
The Western Railroad, built by Major George Washington Whistler, reaches from Western Massachusetts to New York. It is the first mountain railroad in the world and includes bridges with the famous stone arches. It was a railroad that many said couldn’t be built because it had to cross Muddy Pond, a silty, sloping stretch of water. They had to bring load after load of moved dirt to the area to create a roadbed, twice. The first time it slipped back into the pond overnight.
During his time working on the railway, Maj. Whistler developed many new techniques and according to Pierce, “it remains the best way to build a bridge today.”
The route to preservation has been up and down. In 1996, Pierce’s organization was awarded a $1 million grant by the state of Massachusetts, only to see it diverted into the “Big Dig” project. Although it was later restored, it has never been paid out to the group.
In addition, since the railway is no longer in use, the track and the arches began to fall into disrepair. Due to vandalism and overgrown vegetation, the 10 bridges so masterfully created by Irish and Scottish immigrants in the late 1800’s were at serious risk of falling apart; something Pierce and his partners couldn’t allow. At one point, Pierce and other volunteers even went down to the bridges themselves, painstakingly hoisting massive stones out of the waters where teen vandals had dumped them. “Every stone lost is a tragedy,” he said.
Today, the track and bridges are accessible via a hiking trail. The Chester Railroad Station Museum is also open to welcome visitors and even host overnight stays in their on-site caboose. For more information, go to www.keystonearches.com.
Pierce offered advice to those in the room who have been part of the Windsor Locks Railroad State project. “Think big and then look around for people with the talent,” he said.