Mystic, CT (MYS)
The current depot is the third to stand in the general vicinity. The charming shingle-style building includes Georgian Revival elements such as Palladian windows.
Annual Station Ridership (FY 2020): 14,623
- Facility Ownership: N/A
- Parking Lot Ownership: Amtrak
- Platform Ownership: Amtrak
- Track Ownership: Amtrak
As Northeast Regional trains approach the Mystic station from the east or the west, they cross the waters of the Mystic River, which has long shaped the town’s economic and cultural life as a seaside community. The historic depot is located southeast of downtown along Route 1, a state highway that follows the undulating Connecticut coast. In 2016 the building was renovated and now houses a cafe.
Although it casually appears on maps as its own independent entity, Mystic is actually composed of two villages that are part of separate towns. The portion of Mystic located on the east side of the river is part of Stonington, while the west side belongs to Groton. Mystic as it is known today only came into existence in 1890 when the Post Office Department combined the two villages for its own organizational and distribution purposes.
Passengers at Mystic use the platform adjacent to the historic depot erected in 1905 by the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad – commonly referred to as the “New Haven.” The current structure is the third depot to stand in the general vicinity. It features Georgian Revival elements such as Palladian windows on the east and west facades. The one story building has a base of brown brick above which rise wood shingled walls. The transition between the two surfaces is marked by a water table and is further emphasized by the flaring of the shingled wall’s bottom edge.
Through the work of architects such as McKim, Mead, and White, shingled walls had come into vogue in New England toward the end of the 19th century. Shingles harkened back to early colonial structures at a time when interest in the nation’s origins was growing. Not uniform in size or length, they also recalled handcrafted traditions that were being challenged by mass produced building supplies. Since they were usually cut in elongated units, shingles could be employed to reinforce the horizontality of buildings such as the depot. Shingles also created interesting patterns, especially as the sun raked across them, casting shadows on their uneven surfaces. Painted in white, the Mystic depot’s shingled surfaces are accented by brown trim around the windows and doors, as well as at the water table and the cornice line.
Trackside, the hipped roof gives way to the remainder of a gabled canopy that originally stretched out beyond the building to protect passengers from inclement weather as they waited for the train. The two arms stood until September 1938 when they were destroyed in that year’s hurricane, which is still considered one of New England’s greatest natural disasters. While repairs were made to the station, the canopy was not rebuilt.
The eastern end of the building was devoted to passenger uses, as demonstrated by the large double hung sash windows that provided the waiting room with ample sunlight. On the platform, a projecting three sided bay was constructed for use as a ticketing window, and the three parts of a Palladian window were angled to conform to its walls. The western side of the depot was devoted to a baggage room which was instantly recognizable by its pair of tall and wide doors that facilitated easy access from the platform or the street. Handcarts were used to wheel parcels and packages into the space where they were stored for sorting and distribution. Few windows, save the transoms above the doors, gave onto the baggage room, thereby enhancing the security of the goods kept within its walls.
Due to almost seven decades of wear and tear, the station was in a state of disrepair by the late 1960s. After World War II, federal transportation funding shifted to infrastructure projects that supported travel by personal automobile and airplane. Railroads struggled to maintain service, let alone keep up properties such as stations. In 1969, the Mystic depot passed out of the hands of the New Haven and into those of the newly formed Penn Central Railroad (PC). A year later, PC was bankrupt, and to preserve vital passenger rail service, Amtrak was created by an act of Congress. Amid this confusion, title to the station remained uncertain, although Amtrak claimed ownership.
During this period, the station was generally closed. Fearing for its future, a group of concerned citizens led by local merchant Dorothea Macbeth gathered in 1976—the year of the nation’s bicentennial—to discuss how to save the building. The following year, a committee was formed to plan for a renovation, and the estimated cost came to $70,000, as the depot needed a restroom, telephone, and other basic amenities, as well as a parking lot and a roof. Soon known as Mystic Depot, Inc., the group approached Amtrak for a $40,000 grant, part of a larger sum that the new company had set aside to renovate existing stations, particularly in the Northeast Corridor.
Amtrak committed the funds, and volunteers then started a campaign to raise the remaining money. Fundraising activities included selling engineers’ caps and buttons, and the team eventually surpassed its goal and gathered $36,000. Work began on the building in the fall of 1977, but like many restoration and construction projects, unexpected tasks pushed the project past deadline and over budget. The state of Connecticut then stepped in with a $15,000 grant to cover the deficit, and the refreshed depot reopened to the public in April 1978. As spring gave over to summer, the Mystic Garden Club, with financial assistance from the local Bodenwein Foundation, designed the surrounding landscape and planted trees, shrubs, and flowers. In one of the gardens is a pedestal mounted with a bell from the New Haven’s steam locomotive 3249, which plied the route along the coast from the late 1910s to the 1940s.
In 1614, Dutch navigator Adriaen Block was one of the first Europeans to view and explore the Connecticut coast, but the area remained free of European settlement for another generation. In 1637, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered at Boston, successfully fought against the Pequot American Indians in what is now eastern Connecticut, and subsequently considered the land to be its territory. To solidify control over the area, a settlement at what is now New London was authorized under John Winthrop, Jr., eldest son of the colony’s first governor.
Villages developed on the Thames and Pawcatuck Rivers to the west and east of what is now Mystic, as the Mystic River—really an estuary—is only a few miles long and provides no access to the New England interior. Its strong tidal flow also precluded the construction of mills and other industries dependent on waterpower. In fact, Mystic is derived from the Algonquian term “missi-tuk,” meaning “a great river whose waters are driven by waves.”
Many of the first settlers were men who had participated in the war against the Pequot, and their surnames are still attached to the natural features of the landscape. For most of the 18th century, the lands bordering the Mystic River remained largely rural and only held about two dozen homes. Although the rocky soil was not ideal, farmers managed to produce crops of corn and potatoes as well as fruits. At the headwaters stood a small village named Mystic (now Old Mystic), which was also on the Boston Post Road that ran between Boston and New York. In the early 19th century, Old Mystic was joined by two other communities at a narrow point in the river where a bridge was constructed in 1819. Those two settlements—Portersville (later known as Mystic River) on the west side of the waterway and Lower Mystic (later known as Mystic Bridge) on the east, came to form the core of the town currently known as Mystic.
Mystic came into its own in the first half of the 19th century as it developed into an important shipbuilding, fishing, and whaling center. The virgin banks of the river provided ample opportunities for ambitious merchants and financiers to construct facilities to their specifications. Shipyards were established on both sides of the river, and they were quickly joined by related businesses such as sail makers and coopers. Vessels for use in the whaling industry were the most important product of the shipyards in the 1830s and 1840s.
Whales were prized for their blubber, refined to produce oil for illumination; bones, heated and softened to form various items; and ambergris, used in expensive perfumes. Whaling journeys—which could last months or even years—were often financed by multiple investors, thus reducing the risk but also spreading the profits. Between 1832 and 1862, Mystic businessmen supported 28 ships that completed more than 100 voyages. The collective value of the cargoes was in the millions, and profits were lavished on stylish homes and refined consumer goods. Civic minded residents and native sons, such as Captain Elihu Spicer, bequeathed impressive public buildings to the townspeople. Spicer funded a library outfitted in fine woods, marbles, and Italian mosaics that was restored and expanded in the 1990s.
Whaling wound down by mid-century as experienced men headed to California in search of gold, ships were damaged during the Civil War, and the nascent petroleum industry expanded. Shipbuilders then turned to the construction of sleek and fast clipper ships that came to dominate the trade routes from the East Coast to California round Cape Horn. In 1859-1860, the Mystic-built clipper ship the Andrew Jackson broke all previous records by completing the New York City to San Francisco run in just 89 days.
Waterborne industry was vital to Mystic’s growth, but by the mid-19th century local leaders had also recognized the importance of being part of a good overland transportation network, particularly that established by the railroads. An east-west route along the Connecticut coast proved a challenge to rail investors, for any trackage would have to cross numerous rivers and take into account the undulating shoreline. In 1848, the New Haven and New London Railroad (NH&NL) was chartered to build a line between its namesake cities, and it opened in the summer of 1852. At New Haven, travelers could transfer to trains bound for New York City.
On the other side of the Thames River, the New London and Stonington Railroad was chartered in 1852 to link those endpoints. Stonington was also the terminus of the New York, Providence, and Boston Railroad (NYP&B). Five years later, the New London and Stonington Railroad merged with the NH&NL to form the New Haven, New London, and Stonington Railroad (NHNL&S); the long awaited connection with the NYP&B was made in December 1858, and through service between Boston and New York began the next year.
In the last quarter of the 19th century, all of these lines were absorbed into the New Haven Railroad, which quickly became the dominant freight and passenger line in southern New England, controlling the prime inland and coastal routes between Boston and New York City. 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. The right-of-way along the Connecticut coast was known as the “Shore Line” to distinguish it from the main line that passed through Springfield, Massachusetts.
The decline in the shipbuilding, whaling, and fishing industries was partially offset by the expansion of textile and machinery manufacturers. The first textile factory had opened near the head of the river in 1807, and others were established near Portersville and Lower Mystic. Most produced woolen goods, but in the last two decades of the 19th century, there were joined by velvets and worsted textiles. Within sight of the Mystic depot, Captain Daniel Packer constructed a manufacturing facility in 1906 for his famous tar soap. Known for its soothing properties, the fragrant brown soap was made with pine tar obtained from southern forests.
By the turn of the century, Mystic had begun to transition to a tourism-based economy. Similar to other coastal towns, it attracted summer vacationers, many of whom stayed at local inns or rented homes for weeks or months. Although not a recognized art colony such as Lyme, the town did attract painters who sought to capture the special qualities of the surrounding landscape and the riverfront. Their spirit lives on in the popular Mystic Outdoor Art Festival, which has taken place every summer since 1957. The tourist market was greatly enhanced by the creation of the Mystic Seaport Museum in 1929 on the site of the former Greenman Shipyards.
Established to preserve and promote Mystic’s—and New England’s—maritime heritage, the museum is housed in original buildings from the Greenman era that hold exhibits about ship building, shipping, and life at sea. Historic ships line the piers, including the Charles W. Morgan, the nation’s last surviving wooden whaleship; the L.A. Dunton, an engineless fishing schooner that once plied the famed fishing grounds off Newfoundland and Cape Cod in the early 20th century; and the Sabino, a wooden, coal-fired steamboat constructed in 1908. All three ships have been declared National Historic Landmarks due to their rarity and physical integrity. They have undergone repair at Mystic Seaport’s Preservation Shipyard, where visitors can watch trained professionals restore vintage vessels through traditional methods. In the warmer months, the Sabino still offers cruises down the Mystic River, leaving a gentle wake to mark its path.
Station Building (with waiting room)
- Quik-Trak kiosks
- 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
- Accessible water fountain
- Accessible same-day parking is available; fees may apply
- Accessible overnight parking is available; fees may apply
- No high platform
- No wheelchair
- Wheelchair lift available
|Mon||07:00 am - 05:00 pm|
|Tue||07:00 am - 05:00 pm|
|Wed||07:00 am - 05:00 pm|
|Thu||07:00 am - 05:00 pm|
|Fri||07:00 am - 05:00 pm|
|Sat||07:00 am - 03:00 pm|
|Sun||07:00 am - 03:00 pm|