Known for its elaborate French Second Empire details, this historic depot now serves painters, sculptors and other artists in addition to rail passengers.
41 Central Street Windsor, CT 06095
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||Town of Windsor|
|Parking Lot Ownership||Town of Windsor|
|15 Long Term Parking Spaces||15 Short Term Parking Spaces|
- Northeast Regional
(301) 564-5760 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- Town of Windsor, CT
- New Haven-Harford-Springfield Rail Project
- Connecticut Transit buses
- Windsor Art Center
- Windsor Historical Society
Windsor station, erected in 1870, stands about one block east of the Broad Street Green, which has served as the commercial heart of the town since the mid 19th century. Located on the Amtrak Springfield Line a dozen miles north of Hartford, the city is well connected to the spine of the busy Northeast Corridor that runs between Washington, D.C. and Boston. In addition, local Connecticut Transit buses serve the station. Rail passengers use the platform adjacent to the depot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
After standing vacant for a number of years, the depot was leased in 2013 to the Windsor Art Center (WAC), an organization that highlights the creative endeavors of local artists, artisans, actors and musicians. In 2008, the non-profit arts group moved into a former freight house across the tracks where it holds exhibitions and other events. By leasing the depot—now known as the Windsor Art Center Studios—it can offer art studios for rent, as well as a large classroom available for various courses. WAC oversaw renovations that included the addition of interior walls and doors; installation of carpeting, color-corrected lighting and signage; upgrades to the fire and security systems; and painting.
Riding along the Springfield Line, one might notice that the Windsor station is very close in appearance to its counterpart in Wallingford. Constructed by the Hartford and New Haven Railroad (H&NH), the design of the Windsor station proved so popular when it opened in 1870 that Wallingford residents began to advocate for new depot built to the same high standards. Dressed in then-fashionable French Second Empire garb, the two-story brick station has a slate mansard roof punctuated by segmented arch dormers. The roof’s wide eaves are supported by pairs of elaborate wood brackets carved in high relief. A porch wraps around all but the north elevation, and its roof is propped up by metal brackets whose ends terminate in fancy scrollwork. Trackside, the porch is raised a few feet off the ground and therefore includes a wood balustrade with sturdy, carved spindles; corner posts also bear some of the roof’s weight.
The original interior layout was typical of many smaller depots found across the United States. Across the width of the building, a ticket office and staircase to the upper story acted as a divider between separate waiting rooms for men and women. The need for two spaces gives some idea about Victorian attitudes towards the proper mixing of the sexes in public places. Small details such as the plaster ceiling medallions revealed the different users intended for each room. In the ladies’ waiting room, the ornate medallion featured delicate floral patterns; although the same piece was used in the men’s area, a band of leaves was added around the perimeter to give it a more masculine appearance.
The lower portions of the walls were finished with bead board wainscoting while the upper areas had simple coats of plaster. In an age when public health and hygiene were becoming major concerns, the wainscoting would have been easy to wipe down and keep clean. Baggage and parcel express rooms were located at the southern end of the depot and opened directly onto the porch. The attic remained unfinished, but was well lighted by the sunlight streaming through the dormers.
Across the tracks and a bit to the southeast, the H&NH erected a brick freight house in conjunction with the passenger station. The utilitarian two story structure has stylized pilasters that impose a regular rhythm of bays upon the long facades. Along the ridge of the gabled roof, three cupolas give the building a distinct outline that makes it recognizable from a distance. Wide double doors could be slid open to allow carts laden with crates and parcels to be wheeled directly from the trains and into the building where the items were sorted for distribution.
Post-World War II, federal transportation priorities shifted to new modes such as personal automobiles and jet planes. Battered by the Great Depression and then the stresses of the war years, American railroads were in poor financial health, and faced a mounting backlog of maintenance and improvement projects. By the late 1960s, major northeastern railroads were facing bankruptcy; during this tumultuous period, the Windsor station was shuttered and passengers used a small shelter installed on the platform. A decade later, historic photographs show the station in great disrepair: the porch was gone, numerous slate shingles were missing from the roof, plaster had fallen off the ceilings and walls, and windows were broken. The neighboring freight house had fared no better, and at some point its distinctive cupolas were removed.
In the 1980s, the town, along with the Greater Hartford Transit District and Amtrak, undertook a full restoration of the station and freight house. Eighty percent of the approximately $1.3 million project was funded through a grant provided by the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (now the Federal Transit Administration) with the town, state, and a private developer contributing the remainder. Plans drawn up by Ambrose Associates of Hartford originally called for the station to have retail and office space in addition to an area for rail and bus passengers. The building was rededicated in October 1988, and soon thereafter the project garnered awards in recognition of the adaptive reuse of the historic structure. Unfortunately, the shops proved not to be financially viable and closed within a few years. The freight house’s cupolas were also restored and the interior was converted into office space.
Windsor is a projected stop on the route of the proposed New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Project, a partnership between the state of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration, as well as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. At an estimated total cost of approximately $650 million, this multi-year effort is aimed at creating new commuter and enhanced intercity passenger rail services benefiting the cities along the Springfield Line. This 62-mile corridor is also considered essential to future plans for high-speed rail service in greater New England.
As of summer 2012, the NHHS project had received almost $191 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and other funding programs in order to double-track and upgrade portions of the route. The state of Connecticut has also approved the use of up to $286 million in state bond proceeds for other NHHS improvements. An assessment of the project’s environmental impacts was released in May 2012, and the commuter service is expected to launch in 2016. Towns such as Windsor have already begun to consider possible enhancements to the areas around their rail stations to encourage the creation of mixed-use neighborhoods that would allow residents to work, shop, and live without the need for an automobile.
The first Europeans to explore the shores of the Connecticut River were Dutch sailors and traders led by navigator Adriaen Block, who worked to map much of the New England coast. In 1614, he and Cornelius Hendricksen sailed from New Amsterdam (present day New York), and made their way up the Connecticut to the present site of Hartford where a decade later, the Dutch established a fort and trading post called “Goede Hoop,” or “Good Hope.” Although the Dutch wanted to control the fur trade with the Pequot American Indians and other local tribes, their plans were soon thwarted by groups of English settlers moving west from coastal Massachusetts.
The first wave of English colonists arrived from Plymouth. According to early histories, they had been asked to settle in the area by American Indian tribes that had recently come under the control of the Pequots, a powerful group that had moved into southern New England from the north. In the fall of 1633, a band of settlers led by William Holmes traveled up river, passed the Fort of Goede Hoop, and staked a claim to land where the Farmington River empties into the Connecticut. Their intention to stay in the area was evident from the wood frame house that was quickly built on the site using components parts prepared in Plymouth.
Within two years, these first settlers were joined by a large party of Puritans that had arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England in 1630. Led by the Reverend John Wareham, they believed that royal actions had made it impossible for them to “purify” the Church of England of its remaining Roman Catholic influences, and thus decided to set out for the New World to build a community grounded in their religious beliefs. Prior to leaving, they had formed their own congregation which they eventually transferred to Connecticut; it is considered the oldest in the state. Arriving in Massachusetts Bay, which was headquartered at Cambridge, Wareham and his followers established a village called Dorchester which is now a neighborhood within Boston. In the fall of 1635, the community headed overland to join the Plymouth settlers, but a harsh winter sent many back in search of shelter and food, only to return in better weather the following year.
The third and final group of settlers to make its way to the Windsor area was sponsored by Sir Richard Saltonstall, an assistant to John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Saltonstall helped found Watertown, Massachusetts in 1630. The next year, he returned to England but remained involved with colonial affairs from a distance. The settlement at the confluence of the two rivers was first known by its American Indian name, Matianuck, then Dorchester, and finally Windsor, chosen in 1637 to honor the Berkshire town where the royal family maintained a castle of the same name. Windsor actually occupied a fair amount of land on both sides of the Connecticut River, but as time went by, new towns formed and broke away.
Within a few years, Windsor was joined by the nearby settlements at Hartford and Wethersfield. Known as the “River Towns,” they were under the control of Massachusetts Bay until 1637 when they came together to form their own system of government, partly in response to the need for common security. In 1639, the towns—now known as the Connecticut Colony—adopted the Fundamental Orders that governed the colony until 1662. As the English communities expanded, the Dutch presence in the region waned and by 1654 Fort Goede Hoop was abandoned.
The banks of the Connecticut were prone to spring flooding that left behind deposits of rich soil. To avoid inundation, the settlers chose a ridge north of the Farmington on which to build their village. It was fortified with a stockade, thus bestowing upon the hill a name that has stuck: Palisado Green. The hill’s importance within town life was further assured when Wareham and his fellow believers built their meeting house—the center of religious and civic activities—on the southern edge of the green. The mouth of the Farmington River developed as an important port where ships set sail to trade with downstream communities. Towards the end of the 18th century, ships were even making it as far south as British possessions in the Caribbean where New England agricultural goods and animals were exchanged for sugar, molasses, and rum.
During the 18th century, agricultural pursuits dominated the economy, and surprisingly, tobacco became a major product. Usually associated with more southern colonies such as Maryland and Virginia, the leafy plant was introduced to Connecticut in 1640 and continues to be cultivated today. At the beginning of the 20th century, Windsor farmers experimented with growing their tobacco in tents made from cheesecloth. By enclosing the fields, an insect-free, semi-shaded, more humid environment was created that replicated the tropical climate of Indonesia, whose tobacco had become quite popular for its flavor. The aromatic leaves grown within the tents were favored for the outer wrappings of cigars and helped Windsor farmers regain their market.
As in most frontier communities, local streams and rivers were tapped for water power to drive grist and saw mills. Within a few years of settlement, Windsor was linked to Hartford in the south and Springfield, Mass. to the north. By the mid-18th century, the major overland route between Boston and New York passed through the region.
Due to its abundant and fast flowing rivers, New England was the first region of the young United States to industrialize starting in the 1790s. The need to move products quickly gave rise to the early railroads. One of those was the Hartford and New Haven (H&NH), chartered in 1833 to link its namesake cities. Despite delays caused by the financial panic of 1837, the line was in full operation by 1839. That December, it bore the first steam locomotive in the state, ushering in a new era in transportation.
Five years later, Windsor was connected to Hartford via the six mile long Hartford and Springfield Railroad, thus allowing passengers to transfer to the H&NH and continue southward. In 1847, the two lines merged but kept the H&NH name—their combined right-of-way forms the base of the Amtrak Springfield Line. A depot was erected to accommodate rail passengers, but little information about it remains; it was replaced by the current station. In 1867, the H&NH completed an elegant sandstone bridge across the Farmington River, whose waters reflect its graceful arches. Considered one of the state’s best examples of civil engineering from that era, it has become a local landmark and is still used by Amtrak and freight rail providers.
Many of Connecticut’s early railroads, such as the H&NH, were oriented north-south due to the undulating coastline which was marked by numerous streams and rivers that would have to be bridged. The challenge was not undertaken until the New York and New Haven Railroad (NY&NH) was chartered in 1844; by 1849, the line had opened between the two named endpoints, with access over the New York and Harlem Railroad into Manhattan. Realizing the value in helping one another and shutting out rivals, the H&NH and the NY&NH agreed to merge in 1872, resulting in the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad, or the “New Haven.” Over the next few decades, the New Haven became the dominant freight and passenger line in southern New England, absorbing smaller railroads in order to control the route linking Boston and New York City. By the 1920s, it had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that the New Haven carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic.
The arrival of the railroad and the positioning of the depot south of the Farmington River shifted the heart of town from the Palisado Green to its equivalent along Broad Street, which became the primary commercial area and soon boasted important governmental institutions such as the post office. Easily accessible by rail from Hartford, Connecticut’s capital and financial center, Windsor experienced a wave of suburban development in the late 19th century that endowed it with large homes on spacious lots. In 1895, Hartford’s trolley system was extended to Windsor, further adding to its attractiveness as a commuter suburb.
Factories and warehouses developed along the tracks east of the downtown core and also to the northwest in Poquonock. Much like Berlin to the south, Windsor became known for its brickworks, which numbered about 40 by the mid-19th century. Manufacturers were highly regarded for their water struck brick, produced by soaking the wooden molds in water before filling them with clay. This method created bricks with a very fine exterior finish that made them popular for use in building facades. Many structures at Yale University were constructed with Windsor water struck brick.
Windsor’s rich history as the oldest town in the state is on display at the Oliver Ellsworth Homestead, a house museum run by the Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution. Its namesake was a lawyer who served as one of the Connecticut Colony’s delegates to the Continental Congress and then to the Constitutional Convention. It has since been opened to the public as a museum devoted to the legacy of Oliver Ellsworth and the history of Windsor.
For centuries, the transition from spring to summer has been marked by the migration of American shad up the Connecticut River in search of spawning grounds. Decades ago, a local fishing and hunting club began to celebrate the natural event, but in time their small get-together turned into a city wide celebration known as the Shad Derby Festival. Charitable organizations organize various parties and activities to raise funds for their causes so that the festival now includes a parade, race, arts and crafts show, and dance. The most highly anticipated event remains the Coronation Ball where the Shad Derby Queen receives her sparkling tiara.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station, which is served by 12 daily trains.