26 Depot Avenue Windsor, VT 05089
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Parking Lot Ownership||N.L. Wilson Railways, LLC|
|Platform Ownership||New England Central Railroad (NECR)|
|Track Ownership||New England Central Railroad (NECR)|
|Accessible Payphones||Long Term Parking Spaces||Short Term Parking Spaces|
(202) 906-3918 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- Town of Windsor, VT
- Old Constitution House State Historic Site
- American Precision Museum
- Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site
The town of Windsor stretches along the Connecticut River’s western shore under the gaze of Mt. Ascutney, whose forested slopes have long inspired artists and played host to winter sports enthusiasts. The Windsor station is conveniently located just east of the intersection of Main and State Streets, the town’s principal thoroughfares that are lined with commercial and civic structures dating from the late 18th century to the present. Passengers await the Vermonter, which runs between St. Albans, Vermont and Washington, D.C. via New York and other major East Coast cities, on a platform adjacent to the historic depot which has been converted into commercial space.
When European explorers first visited what is now southeastern Vermont, it was primarily inhabited by the Abenaki American Indians who belonged to the Algonquian language family. Unlike portions of the New England coast, Vermont was difficult to access due to mountain ranges and thick forests. Many scholars believe that it was not densely settled and was instead used as a seasonal hunting ground by various tribes. Vermont remained beyond the sphere of European colonists well into the mid-18th century and acted as a buffer zone between the French towns of southern Canada and the English settlements of coastal New England. The region only became attractive to a greater number of English colonists after the British defeated the French in 1760 and gained permanent control of Canada.
Vermont did not come into existence as a separate entity until 1777, because the land was heavily disputed by New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. As early as the 1730s, Massachusetts claimed all of present-day Vermont, but settlement was not forthcoming. A generation later, Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire began chartering numerous towns throughout Vermont, leading to complaints from the New York colony. Wentworth was especially interested in the region due to its stands of timber which could be used in boat building, a lucrative industry on the New Hampshire coast. Trees such as white pines were highly valued for ship components such as masts. Wentworth granted a charter for Windsor in 1761, but the first permanent settlers did not move to the area until after the end of the French and Indian War.
Early residents came from Connecticut, and they worked diligently to clear the land and prepare it for agriculture. By the close of 1765, about 16 families had moved into the village, building rough log cabins for shelter. Sitting the town along the Connecticut River gave access to an important north-south transportation route at a time when overland roads were scarce and in generally poor condition. Mill Brook on the south side of the village provided water power to run grist and saw mills; these were essential enterprises for any frontier town, as they respectively produced refined grains and finished wood for building construction.
By the mid-1760s, New York’s governor became fed up with the growing number of “New Hampshire grants” west of the Connecticut River, and asked the royal authorities to better define the boundaries between the two colonies. In 1764, New York gained control over the territory, but many of the original settlers were opposed to the change, particularly due to the costs that would be incurred to transfer and regain title to the land under New York law. Over the next decade, forces within Vermont began to advocate for the establishment of a new political entity separate from both New Hampshire and New York, and in January 1777, a delegation from the grant communities gathered at Westminster to declare the independence of “New Connecticut.”
In June, 72 delegates of the new state met at the Windsor tavern of Elijah West to discuss statehood and the drafting of a constitution. By July, the document had been written and approved by the gathering. Groundbreaking for its time, it prohibited slavery, mandated universal manhood suffrage without restrictions, and established a public school system. Vermont existed as an independent republic until 1791 when it became the fourteenth state colonies. The term “Vermont” was also born of the constitutional meetings. Through letters, Thomas Young, a Philadelphia doctor, advised the delegation and recommended the name change to honor the region’s prominent natural feature, the “vert mont” or “green mountain.” The white clapboard tavern, which went through a number of uses over the next 100 years, was restored and opened to the public in the early 20th century. Known as the Constitution House, it still welcomes visitors with furnished period rooms and exhibits that convey the exciting early history of Vermont.
Windsor remained the part-time capital of Vermont until 1808, and also served as the county seat. Therefore, the small town attracted a large contingent of lawyers and other officials to run both governments, and the settlement expanded. Shops and hotels such as the Windsor House catered to travelers. In the 1830s, the dam across Mill Brook was replaced with a masonry version to better regulate the flow of water for the mills lining the shores. Between then and the outbreak of the Civil War, the stream hosted factories producing water pumps, firearms, and cotton and wool textiles.
One of the best known mills was erected by the Robbins and Lawrence Company in 1846. Firearms were important to a growing nation which was still spreading westward into unfamiliar territory. Robbins and Lawrence made a reputation for itself by designing rifles with interchangeable parts, a feature made possible by mechanization since the parts had to be exactly alike. Designers created profiling and milling machines that were widely copied by other firearms makers. In 1851, the rifles were displayed at the famed Crystal Palace Exhibition in London where they won a prize.
Suddenly, the business found itself receiving orders from both the British and American governments, and the owners had to quickly expand to meet demand. Unfortunately, some of the orders did not come through, and the company closed under a crush of debt and other obligations. Although the company did not survive, it is credited with giving birth to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company and the Smith and Wesson Company, two enterprises whose firearms became closely associated with the settlement of the American West.
As manufacturing opportunities expanded, so to did the options for moving goods across the region and nation. Although the Connecticut River flowed to Long Island Sound where ferries took goods and people to cities such as Boston and New York, the waters were not constant, for spring floods and winter icing disrupted shipping. State leaders began to explore other options, and meetings in the 1840s roused interest in the railroad. In 1843, the legislature chartered the Vermont Central Railroad (VC) to traverse the state from Burlington to Windsor via the capital, and initial construction began in 1845.
The track along the Connecticut River from Hartford to Windsor was opened to traffic in February 1849, with the full line in operation by the end of the year. Another line, the Sullivan County Railroad, ran south from Windsor to Bellows Falls, a major industrial center. As the rail network rapidly expanded, Windsor residents and shippers could easily access the major towns of New England and southern Canada. Depot Street was opened from Main Street to allow access to the station and to the new businesses that wanted to establish themselves close to the rail line.
A reorganization of the VC in 1872 created the Central Vermont Railway. It built the present Windsor depot in 1901 after its predecessor suffered extensive damage in a fire. The one-storey, buff brick structure is topped by a steep hipped roof. Its wide overhang, supported by large curved brackets, was designed to protect passengers from inclement weather as they waited on the platform for the arrival of the train. On the principal facades, projecting bays with gables break through the roofline and effectively lighten the roof’s visual weight. The trackside bay, canted with windows on all three elevations, gave the station master an unobstructed view down the right-of-way so that he could monitor traffic on the rails. To the north, a wide canopy extended from the station along the platform to shelter workers as they transferred baggage and parcels from the trains to the freight room.
The depot displays a mix of architectural styles: the rounded-arch windows point to the Italianate; the fancy fretwork and sunburst motif woodwork in the gables is more characteristic of later Queen Anne tastes; and the overall massing is indicative of a vernacular version of the Romanesque Revival, especially popular in New England. Tying together the numerous arched windows and doors is a belt course. Highlighted through the use of a darker brown brick, it encircles the building at the base of the arches. Barre granite from Vermont was used for trim such as the window sills. Built to a standard design costing $10,000, the rectangular depot featured separate waiting rooms for men and women that reflected Victorian sensibilities about the mixing of the sexes in public places. Birch veneer seating and electric lights completed the thoroughly modern interior. The station was restored in the late 1970s and later converted into a restaurant.
Local industry experienced some revival after the Civil War when New England became the nation’s textile manufacturing center. Other businesses included the Windsor Manufacturing Company which gained fame for diverse products such as fine machine tools, sewing machines, and sawmills. Prosperity lasted into the first decades of the 20th century when the American South began to dominate the textile business. With manufacturing fading, the bucolic landscapes and small, quiet villages of Vermont and New Hampshire began to attract a new crowd of artists looking to escape the cacophony of city life.
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a highly respected sculptor of the American Renaissance, first came to the area in the 1880s at the invitation of Charles Cotesworth Beaman, Jr., a New York lawyer and patron of the arts. While staying on Beaman’s property across the river in Cornish, New Hampshire, Saint-Gaudens worked on his commissions. Informally, other friends—including sculptors, painters, writers, dramatists, landscape gardeners, and architects—followed suit and took up residence in the adjacent towns of Cornish and Plainfield. Windsor, directly across the river and connected to the opposite shore by a covered wooden bridge, was the arrival point for the great majority of those who came from New York City and Boston by train.
Many of Saint-Gaudens’ friends and associates came for the cool New England summers and camaraderie, but a few eventually settled in for year-round living. Saint-Gaudens died in 1907, but his legacy of artistic endeavor, teaching, and discussion lived on for another three decades in the form of the “Cornish Colony,” which included the likes of Daniel Chester French, Paul Manship, Maxfield Parrish, and Charles Platt; even President Woodrow Wilson spent a few summers at the colony, as his wife was a painter. The informality of the gathering at Cornish resulted in diverse works that reflect the many personalities drawn there.
The colony’s legacy and spirit remains alive at the Cornish Colony Museum in Windsor. The institution holds artworks by colony members, develops educational programs to explore the colony’s lasting impacts on American art, and also exhibits works by contemporary artists from the region. Across the river, Saint-Gaudens’ house and studio is now owned by the National Park Service and open to the public for tours. In addition to examining some of his sculptures up-close, visitors can interact with artists-in-residence and walk around the property on one of the many nature paths.
Aside from its historic architecture and landscapes, Windsor is also home to the American Precision Museum, housed in the old Robbins and Lawrence building. The large collection of machine tools—including spindle lathes, planers, and shapers—as well as displays of firearms, measuring devices, typewriters, and sewing machines, provide insights into the industrial development of the United States and the diversity of manufactured goods produced by the factories and mills of the Connecticut River Valley. Those looking for a little holiday cheer amid the snowy hills of Vermont head to Windsor in early December for the annual Winter Wonderland celebration. Residents and visitors can greet Santa Claus, sing carols, attend a tree lighting, view artwork by local students, and warm-up with a cup of hot chocolate.
Amtrak does not provide ticketing or baggage services at this station which is served by two daily trains. The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation.