Wallingford, CT (WFD)
Wallingford is a sought-after residential community whose older neighborhoods are filled with houses in diverse architectural styles. Nearby Sleeping Giant State Park offers hiking and nature trails, as well as stream fishing and camping grounds.
343 North Cherry St.
Wallingford, CT 06492
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 5,164
- Facility Ownership: Connecticut DOT
- Parking Lot Ownership: Connecticut DOT
- Platform Ownership: Connecticut DOT
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
Wallingford’s new brick passenger station opened to Amtrak customers in November 2017 and was the first station to open as part of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Project, a partnership between the state of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), as well as the states of Massachusetts and Vermont. This multi-year effort has aimed at creating new commuter and enhanced intercity passenger rail services benefiting the cities along the New Haven-Springfield rail line. Construction on the new facility, designed by Michael Baker Engineering, began in December 2014 and cost approximately $21 million.
Located about one mile north of the town’s historic depot fronting the Railroad Green, the station includes high-level, accessible platforms, an overhead pedestrian bridge with elevators, canopies to shelter customers from inclement weather, automatic snow melting systems and a passenger information display system. Easily accessed on foot, it also offers electric vehicle charging, bicycle racks and ample parking.
In addition to Amtrak, the station is served by CTrail Hartford Line commuter trains between New Haven and Springfield. The latter service launched in June 2018 and was made possible through the NHHS Rail Project. CTrail Hartford Line trains complement Amtrak service to offer travelers greater flexibility and choice. The Wallingford station also has connections to local CTtransit buses.
Overall, the NHHS Rail Project has included improvements to track and signal systems, upgrades to bridges, culverts and at-grade crossings, installation of a second track, and renovation or construction of stations. As of early 2018, the estimated $1.2 billion program had received $564 million in state funding and $205 million through federal sources, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Connecticut intends to seek additional federal and state funding for future program phases.
Officially authorized by colonial Connecticut’s General Assembly in 1667, Wallingford was settled three years later by New Haven Puritans who moved a dozen miles up the Quinnipiac River. The initial settlement party consisted of 38 heads of families, and each one was given six acres, most of it distributed along what is now Main Street on a ridge overlooking the waterway. Meadow and woodland on the edge of the community was also apportioned.
Although first called “New Haven village,” within a year the site was known as Wallingford after a town in Berkshire, England, that had been the birthplace of an early resident. One of the oldest buildings in town is the Nehemiah Royce House; parts of the wooden structure date to 1672, although it has been through numerous renovations. As in many frontier villages, settlers took advantage of fast flowing streams to construct grist and saw mills.
Within half a century, Wallingford boasted a population of more than 1,000, and was a prosperous agricultural town highly regarded for its peach, pear, cherry and apple orchards. This way of life, centered on the products of the land, continued into the early 19th century when the region was swept up in the Industrial Revolution. Rivers provided ample waterpower to fuel new methods of producing goods by machine rather than by hand.
In the first decade of the century, Charles Yale purchased the grist and fulling mills to the northwest of the town center. A new dam built across the Quinnipiac produced greater water power, allowing Yale to expand his business interests to include tinware, and eventually pewter and Britannia ware goods. The latter products set the foundation for Wallingford’s economic success well into the 20th century.
Britannia ware, a superfine grade of spun pewter, helped revive interest in that metal. It was rolled out and stamped to create everyday household goods such as spoons and teapots that were hard and durable, yet lightweight. By the mid-1820s, improved manufacturing methods allowed for the mass production of Britannia ware. Yale was joined by a handful of competitors all striving to grab a piece of a fast-growing market sparked by the innovations coming out of his factories.
In the next generation, the electroplating process was improved, and Britannia ware was recognized as a fine base material. At the same time that this new industry was being set up in Wallingford, entrepreneur Robert Wallace purchased a recipe for “German Silver,” or nickel silver. A copper alloy with nickel and zinc, it approximated the shine and coloring of more expensive sterling silver. Nickel silver became a popular alternative to sterling, and was also a good base for silver plating.
Britannia ware and nickel silver, as well as the silver plating process, were developed at a time when increased wealth allowed the Victorian consumer to purchase non-utilitarian goods for the decoration of the home. These items were also used to highlight the purchaser’s status within society, and were often proudly displayed within the home for all to see. Silver plate products—tea sets, candlesticks, eating utensils—soon poured out of Wallingford factories, and the town, along with Meriden to the north, gained a reputation as the center of the nation’s silverware industry.
In 1898, fourteen Connecticut silver companies, including one in Wallingford, came together to create the International Silver Company, headquartered in nearby Meriden. The next year, two additional Wallingford businesses joined. Although the individual factories continued to produce unique lines, they cooperated on marketing and distribution, and dominated the American silverware industry for decades.
One of Wallingford’s more unique silver producers was the Oneida community that established itself near Community Lake. In the 1850s, believers in Perfectionism—the idea that Earth was heaven and thus the faithful should strive to become as selfless and perfect as Jesus Christ—gathered in Wallingford at the invitation of a local farmer who encouraged the movement’s leader to form a commune on his land west of downtown. Members shared all property, extending this idea to include children, who were raised by the community. They pursued agriculture, but eventually turned to industry, constructing a dam across the river to power a silver factory. Although successful, the members decided to move to Oneida, N.Y., in 1881 to join the mother community. There they continued their popular silver work under the Oneida brand, which remains sought after by collectors.
In part, the achievements of these various companies were encouraged by the ease of shipping via the railroad. Wallingford’s silver goods could be sent to important national markets, or dispatched overseas via the major international ports of Boston and New York. The first railroad to break ground in the city was the Hartford and New Haven (H&NH), chartered in 1833 to link the state’s two capitals.
Despite delays caused by the financial panic of 1837, the line from New Haven to Meriden via Wallingford opened in 1838, and the next year the full route to Hartford was in operation. That December, the line bore the first steam locomotive in the state and ushered in a new era in transportation. At New Haven, passengers could transfer to steamships to reach New York City. Wallingford’s initial passenger depot was to the northeast of the current structure. Described as a simple frame building, it also served as the home of the station agent.
Many of Connecticut’s early railroads 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.”
The New Haven quickly 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. In the first decade of the 20th century, a group of investors headed by J.P. Morgan gained control of the New Haven, and went on a buying spree to acquire steamship lines and trolley companies in an effort to monopolize regional transportation. Electrification of the main line between New York and New Haven also took place since it was busy with both thru and commuter trains. By the 1920s, the New Haven had more than 2,000 miles in its portfolio and it was estimated that it carried 10 percent of American passenger rail traffic.
Standing near the center of town where it acts as a navigational marker for those arriving on foot and by car, the historic Wallingford station opened to the public in 1871. The building is very close in appearance to its counterpart in Windsor, and with good reason. When the latter was completed in 1870, the H&NH was so pleased with the structure that it chose to use many of the same design elements at Wallingford.
Dressed in then-fashionable French Second Empire garb, the symmetrical two-story brick station is divided into three components to include a central waiting room flanked by projecting pavilions at the north and south ends. To draw attention to the building’s grandeur and solidity, the corners of the pavilions are emphasized by large, dark colored stone quoins; for continuity of color and material palette, the stone is also used in the lintels and sills. A canopy supported by metal brackets runs around the entire structure.
The station’s mansard roof was originally clad in hexagonal shingles of durable Pennsylvania slate. The Victorian love of polychromy showed through in the red and green slates that were arranged to create decorative rosettes. Curvilinear dormers punctuate the attic level at regular intervals. Visually, their weight is borne by pairs of fancy scrolled brackets positioned under the roof’s overhang; smaller versions of these brackets are also found on the dormers.
On the east and west facades of the waiting room, the architect included three-sided canted bays with windows on all elevations. Trackside, the bay corresponds with the interior placement of the ticket office, thus giving the station master unobstructed views down the line. The lower portion of the waiting room walls was originally finished with bead-board wainscoting that was sturdy and easy to clean. Gas chandeliers hung from ornate, cast plaster ceiling medallions and wood molding was used to trim the windows and doors. Finishing the upper end of the walls was a stenciled frieze in a lush foliate pattern.
The pavilion to the south held a baggage room and office while the northern one was occupied by the Adams Express Company, a freight and cargo transport business that used the national rail network to ship items across the country. The station also had a second floor in the large attic, but the space was infrequently used. From the basement, a tunnel once led to a freight house located on the other side of the tracks. Similar in design to the depot, it was erected in 1875 and stood until it was demolished in the 1920s. Its replacement still stands along the tracks a few hundred feet to the north.
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. As passenger traffic fell, stations were sold off. In 1964, Wallingford purchased the station and adjacent railroad property from the New Haven for $46,500. A few years later, the city discussed demolition. In response, a grassroots effort to save the depot was organized by local railroader David Peters. More than 1,400 residents signed a petition against the project, and ideas for renovation and reuse were floated.
Peters and the town contacted Yale University’s School of Architecture, whose students were engaged in 1972 to redesign the interior space to accommodate meeting rooms and senior and youth centers. The team also participated in the construction process. During this project, the second floor was made functional, but original decorative elements from the waiting room, such as the ceiling medallions and the wainscoting, were removed or destroyed. Two decades later, the station underwent an exterior restoration. Federal and state grants totaling approximately $400,000 were used to replace deteriorated masonry, doors and windows, the gutter system and the canopy. The slate had also come to the end of its useful life and was replaced, but the rosettes were replicated.
Until all passenger functions shifted to the new CTrail Hartford Line station in 2017, Amtrak customers waited for trains on the platform adjacent to the historic depot. Although its life as an active passenger station has passed, the building continues to serve as a hub of town life. The Wallingford Adult Education center occupies the ground floor and second level while the New Haven Society of Model Engineers Railroad Club uses the basement. Founded in 1932, it is one of the oldest clubs of its kind in the United States, and meets on a weekly basis to work on its model railroad layouts.
In the fall, the station is the centerpiece of the “Celebrate Wallingford” festival. Many of the events, including the Taste of Wallingford, a juried arts and crafts show, children’s activities, apple pie contest, and a car show take place at the park in front of the depot. Today, David Peters runs the Peters Rail Road Museum, a not-for-profit institution dedicated to the history and collection of railroad memorabilia. Exhibits include a model railroad and a ticket agent’s office complete with the proper papers and stamps.
Wallingford began to diversify its economy away from silver production in the mid-20th century and entered into the arenas of high technology, medicine and healthcare. Not far from New Haven, the town is a sought-after residential community whose older neighborhoods are filled with well-constructed houses in diverse architectural styles. The nearby Sleeping Giant State Park is also a big draw, especially its stone lookout tower atop Mt. Carmel. On clear days, glimpses of Long Island Sound can be had from the castle-like structure. The rock outcropping from which the park takes its name is said to resemble a reposing figure, and its peaks are often referred to as the thigh, head, and so on. The more than 1,400 acres offer hiking and nature trails, as well as stream fishing and camping grounds.
Service between Greenfield, Mass., Springfield, Mass., and New Haven, Conn., is financed primarily through funds made available by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. The Vermonter is financed primarily through funds made available by the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
Image courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
Platform with Shelter
- Quik-Trak kiosks not available
- No ticket sales office
- Amtrak Express shipping not available
- No checked baggage service
- No checked baggage storage
- Bike boxes not available
- No baggage carts
- Ski bags not available
- Bag storage not available
- Shipping boxes not available
- No baggage assistance
- Same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible platform
- No restrooms
- No accessible ticket office
- No accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- High platform
- No wheelchair
- No wheelchair lift