Essex Junction-Burlington, VT (ESX)
The Essex Junction station, which also serves the nearby city of Burlington, was once part of a major crossroads served by six railroads.
29 Railroad Avenue
Essex Junction, VT 05452
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 11,070
- Facility Ownership: New England Central Railroad
- Parking Lot Ownership: New England Central Railroad
- Platform Ownership: New England Central Railroad
- Track Ownership: New England Central Railroad
The Essex Junction station, which also serves the city of Burlington, was once part of a major crossroads served by six railroads. The current facility, a single story contemporary building, was originally constructed in 1958 for the Central Vermont Railroad. Amtrak’s passengers today share the building with its owner, the New England Central Railroad, and a cellular station. While the building is functional, it is utilitarian in design, and appears to have been added onto over time, having several roof treatments on the single structure, from a decked roof with flat overhang to mansard-style eaves, clad in metal.
Local citizens have made a practice of picking up litter in the vicinity of the train tracks, weeding and planting flowers near the station and promoting the Vermonter with flyers. A weekly farmer’s market is held across the road from the station building as part of events celebrating Railroad Avenue and the village’s railroad heritage, which include special day trips on the Vermonter.
The station stands near an extremely busy intersection known as Five Corners, where main east-west roads from Burlington meet two major north-south roads—in addition to the at-grade rail nexus that intersects these roads. In recent years, efforts have been made to create a route that can circumnavigate the area and relieve traffic congestion, to the extent of applying for TIGER grant funding in 2010 for road-building. Transportation-oriented development of the area has been explored by a local real estate group, and such a development would likely include a new rail station. This project has not yet gone beyond the conceptual stage.
Burlington was part of the New Hampshire land grants made by Governor Benning Wentworth in 1763 to Samuel Wills and 63 others, but was not truly settled until after the end of the American Revolutionary War, and the town was organized around 1785. The village on the shore of Burlington bay looked across Lake Champlain, and soon developed an active wharf supporting both commercial and passenger traffic.
Not far away, across the Winooski River, which enters Lake Champlain just to the north of Burlington, Ira Allen, brother to the more famous Ethan Allen, constructed a dam at the bend of the river between what is now Essex Junction and Williston. Hubbell Falls, as it was called, became the site of early industry, beginning with a saw mill. Early in the 19th century a tavern and rest station were built there, conveniently close to the east-west road to Burlington. However, the village of Essex Junction truly began with the coming of the railroad through that area in 1849.
The Central Vermont Railroad (CVR) was chartered October 31, 1843 to build a line across the center of the state from Windsor on the Connecticut River, through Northfield (the railroad’s headquarters) up the valley of the Winooski River through Williston, Essex, and finally to Burlington. A second line, part of the Vermont & Canada Railroad, was to go from Essex through to St. Albans. In the late 1840s, a line was planned from Burlington to Montreal, through St. Albans and Essex, as were several others. The CVR finally ran into Burlington in December 1849, and the first depot was located at the intersection of St. Paul and Maple streets; two weeks prior, the Rutland and Burlington had arrived, and their station was within blocks of the CVR’s.
During the 1850s, the Rutland and Burlington took over 65 acres of land on the Burlington waterfront for use as a rail yard and marshy areas were filled in to make room for new tracks. By 1853, construction of the wharves and warehouses on the waterfront was complete, and by the mid-1860s, hundreds of ships were operating on Lake Champlain from the Burlington wharves. The lumber industry boomed along the waterfront from the mid-1850s through the 1870s. As the nation’s third-largest lumber port in 1873, Burlington’s lumberyards were so extensive that the paths between the lumber stacks were given street names.
The University of Vermont, located in Burlington, was the first college founded in the state. It was incorporated in 1791, the same year the Vermont joined the Union. Ira Allen is honored as its founder. Once its buildings had been constructed, the school graduated its first class in 1804. College buildings were occupied briefly by U.S. troops during the war of 1812, and their very first building burned in 1824, to be rebuilt by the city. The university was an early advocate of both women’s and African-Americans’ participation in higher education. In 1871, the university defied custom and admitted two women as students. Four years later, it was the first American university to admit women to full membership into Phi Beta Kappa, the country’s oldest collegiate academic honor society. Likewise, in 1877, it initiated the first African-American into the society.
In 1861, the Central Vermont Railroad constructed a Union Station at the foot of College Street in Burlington, close to the waterfront rail yards. Shared with the Rutland & Burlington, the station is recorded as having a large, sheltering train shed over double tracks, with four large brick peak-roofed towers at its corners and a number of tower peaks rising in its center. By 1906, local businessmen and residents realized that their Union Station was aging and required expansion. The citizens negotiated with the railroads for an expansion for several years. Finally, the city of Burlington donated land at the foot of College Street and contributed $15,000 to build the new depot and reroute the tracks. The Central Vermont paid $130,000 for the construction of the station which opened in 1915 and remained a center of activity for several decades. This three-story edifice, constructed in the Beaux Arts style of buff brick, possessed a large central waiting room with a high, elaborate coffered ceiling and an enclosed glass-sided elevated pedestrian concourse to the multiple tracks and platforms, which were reached by stairs.
Meantime, in Essex Township during the 1850s, a rail station was built to accommodate passengers and the area was formally named Painesville. However, conductors on trains pulling into the station would announce to passengers that they were approaching Essex Junction, to let them know this was the place to change trains; the name has stuck. Essex Junction prospered from this through-traffic, and was incorporated as a village in 1892.
The next incarnation of the village’s passenger station was built in 1862, with a large covered shed that sheltered three tracks and their passenger platforms. Horse-drawn trolleys also served the area, running between Winooski, Fort Ethan Allen, and the train depot in Essex Junction in the early twentieth century. This depot was torn down in 1958, and replaced with the current station. A small station at Essex Center, on the Burlington and Lamoille, which ran east from Essex Junction, is still standing but was abandoned when those rails were torn up in 1938. Today it has been renovated as a private residence.
The railroads passing through Essex Junction saw considerable prosperity in the latter quarter of the 19th century and the first of the 20th, which was when the precursor of the Vermonter had its inception. The Montrealer and Washingtonian were established in 1924, and became the flagships of the CVR’s passenger fleet. The southbound service was called the Washingtonian—nicknamed “Bootlegger” during Prohibition years—and the northbound the Montrealer. Amtrak’s continuation of the Montrealer also acquired something of a reputation as a party train, owing to the large number of skiers holidaying overnight on the train. The Vermonter replaced the Montrealer on April 1, 1995, to bring daytime service to Vermont, although the train no longer crosses the border into Canada and terminates in St. Albans.
Burlington’s Union Station and surrounds did not fare as well—initially. By the 1940s, the once bustling Burlington waterfront was showing signs of decay, and Green Mountain Power occupied most of Union Station as passenger rail traffic declined. A railroad strike, which severely affected the Rutland Railroad, ended passenger service in 1953, leaving those who desired to travel by rail to also travel the six miles east to Essex Junction. By the 1960s, the waterfront had become a decayed industrial wasteland, home to the station, rail yards, and oil tanks; the city controlled little of the waterfront and lacked connections to it as a whole.
In Burlington, various plans were proposed through the mid 1980s, but none realized until the city began a series of public interventions culminating in a community boathouse, bike path, and waterfront park. At that point, Main Street Landing organized to commit to private development of the waterfront area, which today includes 250,000 square feet of space, focusing on using sustainable building methods, to support the visual and performing arts and to provide incubator space for start-up businesses. Their properties include the Union Station facility, which now houses more than a dozen businesses and organizations as well as serving the Green Mountain Railroad’s Champlain Valley Flyer, a tourist excursion train. Between 2000 and 2003, the Champlain Flyer—a small commuter route funded by the state of Vermont—linked Burlington Union Station with nearby Charlotte, with an intermediate stop at Shelbourne. A seasonal warm weather ferry from Burlington to Amtrak’s station at Port Kent, N.Y., served by the Adirondack, also provides a rail connection for the city, which is now Vermont’s largest.
Main Street Landing funded a study in 2010 revealing that the arts in Vermont brought a minimum of $443 million per year in income to the state—and the study did not include food and beverage associated with art events—emphasizing that there are a variety of ways to approach re-using an existing station facility. On the skyline of Burlington Union Station, perhaps as a memento of its artistic tenants and its owner’s support of the arts in general, or perhaps as a reminder of the power of dreams, observers will notice several statues of flying monkeys leaping about its parapets. In the late 1980s these had been on the roof of a local store called “Emerald City,” which has long since closed. Somehow, the statues made their way to the roof of Union Station, where they have remained.
This is not the only establishment in Burlington that makes whimsy part of its business. Ben & Jerry’s, an American cultural icon and ice cream company, had its beginnings in a renovated gas station in Burlington in 1978, beginning with a $12,000 investment. Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, co-founders and lifelong friends, had taken a course on ice cream making from Pennsylvania State University’s Creamery, and went on to make history.
The New England Federal Credit Union sponsors an annual Giant Pumpkin Regatta and Festival on the Burlington waterfront. Various teams of people race in giant hollowed out pumpkins— more than 1,000 pounds each—on Lake Champlain. Sponsored by the regional chamber of commerce, this event and festival also donates funds raised to local youth charities.
Much of Essex Junction’s economy in the 20th century through today has been supported by IBM, which first established a new facility for its Data Processing Division in the village in 1957. The plant has since expanded to become IBM’s Microelectronics Division, the largest private employer in Vermont, with 7,000 employees and 3.3 million square feet of building space. IBM also serves as the hub of a growing network of technology consultants and software developers that fuels the regional and statewide economy.
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.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- 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
- Accessible waiting room
- No accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- Wheelchair available
- Wheelchair lift available
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