White River Junction, VT (WRJ)
The town has been a crossing point for vital water, road and rail routes for two centuries. Atop the depot's cupola, a weathervane features a small engine and tender steaming into the wind.
102 Railroad Row
White River Junction, VT 05001
Annual Station Ridership (2016): 13,988
- Facility Ownership: State of Vermont
- Parking Lot Ownership: State of Vermont
- Platform Ownership: New England Central Railroad (NECR)
- Track Ownership: New England Central Railroad (NECR)
For information about Amtrak fares and schedules, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).
White River Junction sits on the south shore of its namesake watercourse where it joins the Connecticut River. One of five villages within the town of Hartford, White River Junction has lived up to its appellation as a crossing point for vital water, road, and rail routes in eastern Vermont for more than two centuries. The town’s long rail heritage continues today: it sits astride a busy freight corridor and is served daily by the Vermonter.
Opened in December 1937, the current passenger rail station follows in the steps of its three predecessors, all of which stood amidst the various rail lines that made White River Junction an important and busy transfer point for those traveling through greater New England. Built as a “union station” to serve the Central Vermont (CV) and Boston and Maine Railroads (B&M), the building was sited on a triangular parcel between two diverging rail lines, and was actually erected on the foundation of the former station that had burned down in 1911. The configuration allowed for two separate platforms to accommodate trains heading east or north on the B&M, or west on the CV. White River Junction was a primary stop for students heading to and from Dartmouth College a few miles north in Hanover, N.H. Holiday time and big football games produced rambunctious crowds bedecked in Dartmouth green.
Jens Frederick Larson, who had completed work on numerous collegiate buildings and campus plans across the country, drew up designs for the White River Junction station. The United States celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1926. The events of that year, including an exposition in Philadelphia, fostered a renewed interest in the high architecture and decorative arts of the colonial period. Derived largely from neoclassical precedents, Georgian Revival architecture was regarded as simple yet elegant, and especially suited for important civic structures such as town halls.
Larson’s design for the White River Junction station is a fine example of the Georgian Revival, and incorporates signature decorative elements such as cast stone wall panels, a prominent cornice line below the roof, and door surrounds with entablatures and triangular pediments. Constructed of red brick laid in a Flemish bond, the building can visually be divided into four parts to include a central, 2½ storey center block flanked by one storey wings, and a large freight house extending to the north. The south end of the station contained the main waiting room and a lunch counter while the north side was organized for the processing and storage of luggage, crates, and mail sacks that were wheeled to and from the trains through wide, tall doors on the north façade of the freight house.
The center block’s west elevation is highlighted by a two storey recessed archway that shelters the paired entrance doors and a large semicircular window above. Running between the first and second floors, a cast stone belt course wraps around the center block and continues out onto the wings and freight house where it forms the coping, therefore tying together all of the building components. Rising from the center block’s gabled roof is an octagonal cupola, crowned by a copper dome and finial sporting a customized metal weathervane. In addition to displaying the letters representing the cardinal points, it holds aloft a small reproduction engine and tender that steam valiantly ever into the wind.
White River Junction station remains a bustling downtown hub. In addition to Amtrak passengers, the building also serves the passengers of the Green Mountain Railroad, an excursion line that offers trips through the scenic upper Connecticut River Valley. During summer and fall, vintage diesel locomotives haul restored 1930s era passenger coaches between White River Junction and Thetford. All tourists are welcomed at the Vermont Visitors’ Center, located in the former freight house, while next door they can have a look at the exhibits of the New England Transportation Institute and Museum, an organization dedicated to the examination and recording of the region’s extensive transportation heritage. North of the station, a canopy covers a vintage 1892 4-4-0 steam locomotive built for the B&M. Restored by a railroad club for display at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, it was donated to the city in 1957.
When European explorers first visited what is now eastern 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, and until then the land was heavily disputed by New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. As early as the 1730s, hunters and traders explored the area, but settlement was not forthcoming. By the 1760s, Governor Benning Wentworth of New Hampshire began chartering numerous towns throughout Vermont, leading to complaints from the government of 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.
The town of Hartford received its charter in 1761 and the land was divided among 64 grantees. Many of the first settlers hailed from Connecticut, whose capital was at Hartford, thus inspiring the name of the new community. Surveying was completed within two years, and land was cleared and prepared for agriculture. New York gained clear title over Vermont in 1764, but disputes with the communities chartered by New Hampshire continued until the Revolutionary War. Vermont subsequently established itself as an independent republic, only joining the United States in 1791.
After building an agricultural base, grist and saw mills were developed to take advantage of abundant water power at Hartford Village along the White River and Quechee Mills on the nearby Ottauquechee River. By the first decades of the 19th century, those settlements had developed into industrial communities producing goods such as paper, textiles, and wood products, but the future site of White River Junction remained largely agricultural into the late 1840s and the arrival of the railroads.
Until then, transportation of people and goods in the region was limited to overland routes, often poorly maintained, or to the rivers, which experienced spring floods as well as winter ice flows that impeded the movement of flat bottomed boats. Nevertheless, Hartford was a busy stop on a turnpike, and in 1803, a bridge was constructed across the Connecticut River, providing easy access to New Hampshire. The river itself was a major north-south trade route, ultimately providing links with the Atlantic coast and its large cities. The new technology of the railroad appealed to many businessmen and state leaders who saw in it the ability to move goods at a fast and cheap rate.
Already a busy transportation hub, Hartford naturally figured into early railroad plans, and by 1848 the town was known far and wide as the location of the first rail journey in the state. On June 26th, a locomotive called the “Winooski” steamed 27 miles from White River Junction to Bethel over the newly laid tracks of the Vermont Central Railroad, which had been chartered to build a line from Lake Champlain to the Connecticut River. Amid the cheering crowds, a new way of life was inaugurated that would shortly transform the farmlands into one of New England’s most significant rail centers. An overland trip between Hartford and Boston had taken 6 days in 1840, but the railroads would cut that down to a relatively short 15 hours.
Between 1848 and 1865, five railroads laid tracks to or through the fields along the bend in the Connecticut River, and the junction was born. In addition to the Vermont Central, the lines included the Connecticut River Railroad to Springfield and Hartford, Connecticut; the Connecticut and Passumpsic Rivers Railroad to southern Quebec; the Northern New Hampshire Railroad to Concord, New Hampshire; and the Woodstock Railroad which ran southwest of White River Junction to a popular resort town. These lines linked up with others that ensured connections across the nation. Many of the smaller rail lines eventually fell under the control of the B&M, which through a calculated campaign of acquisition and consolidation became the dominant passenger and freight railroad in the far Northeast.
The first depot opened in 1849, and was later joined by car, machine, and locomotive shops as well as a foundry, woodsheds, a storehouse, and a barn — all constructed to service the rail yard. A massive 1861 fire destroyed the entire complex, foreshadowing the fate of future stations. The second depot succumbed to flames, as did its successor, whose demise in 1911 was recorded in a series of photographs that show its charred walls standing forlornly against the sullen sky. Highly regarded for its café, known for New England chicken pie and clam chowder, the third station was not replaced for 26 years, forcing passengers to use a hastily converted freight house until the present Union Station was completed.
The concentration of rail facilities at White River Junction set off a building boom. Colonel Samuel Nutt, who owned land in the vicinity, seized the opportunity construct a hotel. He actually purchased an existing structure in Enfield, New Hampshire, had it taken apart and shipped to White River Junction, and reassembled it across the tracks from the depot. Much like the various depots, the Junction House, as it became known, suffered fires over the years and was twice rebuilt. Visitors might have taken a side trip to view the Quechee Chasm, a mile long, 165 foot deep gorge located along the Qttauquechee River southwest of White River Junction. Formed by glacial activity more than 13,000 years ago, it is the deepest gorge in the state and has long been a popular tourist attraction. Rows of shops and residences helped White River Junction overtake the other villages to become the commercial and residential center of Hartford.
With the convergence of so many rail lines, White River Junction became an ideal wholesale distribution center, and warehouses were built along the tracks. One of the best known enterprises was Smith and Sons, which had moved to town in 1871 and specialized in crackers and confections. In 1889, it was claimed that the factory annually produced almost 20 million crackers as well as 400 varieties of candies and chocolates. The White River Paper Company was also established at the time, and continues to distribute paper products throughout the state.
The decline of the railroads after World War II hurt White River Junction’s economy, and new highways constructed in the 1960s took away from the wholesale business once centered on the town. In response, officials sought ways to revitalize the historic core while maintaining the community’s significant rail heritage, which is celebrated in early fall during the Glory Days Festival. Excursion train rides, food, live music, and crafts displays bring out families and railroad enthusiasts, rain or shine.
Today the streets close to the rail station are active with new shops and restaurants. Many buildings, such as the former Tip Top industrial bakery, have been converted into art studios. Every month during a first Friday event, artists working in diverse mediums open their doors to display their creations and converse with residents and visitors. Just down the street, the Center for Cartoon Studies offers a curriculum of art, graphic design, and literature to help budding cartoonists perfect their craft. 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, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.
- 8 Short Term Parking Spaces
- 8 Long Term Parking Spaces
- Accessible Platform
- Accessible Restrooms
- Accessible Waiting Room
- Accessible Water Fountain
- Dedicated Parking
- Enclosed Waiting Area
- Wheelchair Lift