Future in doubt for New Haven train depot
NEW HAVEN — Metaphorically speaking, the New Haven Train Depot at the junction of Route 7 and Route 17 is between a rock and a hard place.
Physically speaking, the 19th-century building is wedged between railroad tracks and protected wetlands, and it’s gotta go, say Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) officials.
“(VTrans) is intent on having the train station removed ... or torn down,” said Scott Reiss, project manager for the building’s tenant, Roundtree Construction. Reiss has been posting regular updates about the situation on social media.
Part of the problem is the depot, which is owned by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, sits too close to the tracks.
Vermont has been working for the past five years to bring AMTRAK service to Burlington, and the depot has been identified as a “safety risk” along the tracks, VTrans Special Projects Manager Trini Brassard said at the Jan. 19 New Haven selectboard meeting. VTrans needs to plan for possible derailments, since AMTRAK trains will be cruising through New Haven Junction at 59 miles per hour.
The news has been on the horizon for a few years, but became official earlier this month when Roundtree, which has called the train depot home for more than 30 years, received a notice from VTrans it would have to move out in June, and that the building would have to be moved this fall.
Roundtree and other train depot supporters had hoped it would be possible to move the building a few feet to the south and east, to get it out of the way, but nearby wetlands would make that challenging and VTrans says that in its proposed location, the building would interfere with transportation sight lines.
Picking up and moving the building a few feet onsite — the best-case scenario — could cost several hundred thousand dollars, Roundtree Construction co-owner Ric Santa Maria estimated, and finding a completely new home for the building would be far more expensive. Land would need to be purchased, a new foundation would have to be built and utilities would need to be secured, he noted.
At the Jan. 19 meeting, Brassard offered to help New Haven find a new spot for the train depot — and figure out a way to pay for it.
Santa Maria isn’t convinced the building needs to leave the site, he told the Independent last week, but he has limited time and resources to push back. Santa Maria, who’s been with Roundtree for 35 years, is in the process of assuming leadership of the company after purchasing if from founder Dan Morris.
And now he’s looking for new offices.
“We can’t stay here,” he said. “I’m looking for a different location to do business out of. We would be happy, with our connections and expertise, to help with the building in any way we can, but physically moving a building on this short timeline becomes an overwhelming proposal for someone just taking over a business.”
The folks at Roundtree are by no means alone in wanting to find a way to preserve the depot.
“(Addison County) Regional Planning is on board, plus all of our representatives and senators are on board, and the selectboard supports saving the building, so we’re going to save it one way or another,” New Haven selectboard chair Steve Dupoise told the Independent on Monday. “I’ve got a phone call in to the governor, but I haven’t heard back yet.”
Whether it’s moved onsite or farther away, the town would expect VTrans to offer significant support, Dupoise said.
“Moving it would be too big an undertaking for the town.”
Ideally, Dupoise said, he’d like to see Roundtree return to the building after it’s relocated, and perhaps even purchase it.
“But there are a lot of ifs right now.”
Vermont Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, has offered to help in any way he can.
“But we’re going to have to somehow get some horsepower behind the movement,” Smith told the New Haven selectboard on Jan. 12.
The station is a historic monument, Smith said, and it’s hard to imagine it anywhere else but by the tracks.
“I think if we polled the members of the town, most of them would be in favor of keeping it someplace by the tracks.”
Dupoise said the selectboard is eager to get back to negotiating with VTrans, but at the moment they’re waiting for the agency to complete a survey of the area, which could be done in a few weeks.
Though the exact date is unknown, the depot was built not long after the 1849 completion of the Rutland and Burlington Railroad. Architectural historian Charles Ashton, in his 1978 nomination of the building for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, noted the building was probably built in 1852-53.
Part of the building’s architectural significance, Ashton wrote, was that “the Rutland and Burlington usually built its stations of wood; the depots at New Haven and Brandon were the only two brick stations between the two larger cities.”
At the time, much of the shipping at New Haven Junction was agricultural, wrote historian Harold Farnsworth in “A History of New Haven in Vermont, 1761-1983.”
In came grain, out went milk to Boston.
In the late 1880s, “Percival W. Clement, the principal stockholder of the Rutland Railroad, agreed to finance a Bristol branch” of the railroad, Farnsworth wrote. “Some 195 Italian immigrants camped out in a New Haven pasture while they built the Bristol Railroad in summer and fall of 1891. The first train ran on Jan. 5, 1892.”
At that time, the fare from New Haven Junction to the town of New Haven was 25 cents, Farnsworth said. To ride all the way to Bristol would cost you an extra quarter.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the Bristol and Vergennes basketball teams would travel by train to play each other, said New Haven resident and former town clerk Bev Landon, who heard the story from her mother. After the final buzzer, visiting players would have to stay overnight with home-team families, because there was no return train until the following morning.
According to the Valley Voice newspaper, the New Haven train depot was renovated in 1979, just months after its inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was restored by the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation in 1985, according to the book “Historic Architecture of Addison County.”
That same decade, the depot became home to Roundtree Construction.
In 2016 the Vermont Division of Historic Preservation determined the building needed a new roof and brick work.
And a year later, VTrans notified Historic Preservation the building would someday need to be moved to accommodate AMTRAK.
Reach Christopher Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.