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Moving Branford Forward

by Richard H. Fletcher




            It is an understatement to say that transportation has undergone great change over the years of Branfordís existence.

            Carts or wagons once served to move people and their goods. The average individual traveled very little, except for Church services, and an occasional trip to a trading post or general store.

            The first public land transportation was provided by post riders and later by stage coaches. These operated over rough trails and later over post roads, which were built under the auspices of each town. Citizens were fined if they did not help build the roads. Tolls were collected and the funds were used for road maintenance. The road ran along the shore from New York to New Haven and on to Boston by three routes, each known as the Boston Post Road. Branford was served by the route that continued along the shore from New Haven to New London and beyond. The first mail in North America was dispatched from New York City on Jan.22, 1673; it arrived in Boston Feb.5. During the more than 300 years since the first post rider mounted his horse, the Boston Post Road has witnessed many changes in our life style.

            Travel by water in the townís early days was common. For many it was more convenient to go between shore points by boat than by land, due to the poor conditions of the roads; boats were in common use both on the Sound and on the rivers. There was ship building in Branford from the late 1700ís until the Civil War period. Schooners and sloops engaged in coastal trade and went to the West Indies. Schooners also came into the Branford River bringing molding sand from Long Island to the Malleable Iron Fittings foundry. Later steamboats served the larger cities on the Sound. In the 1880ís steamboats brought excursionist on day trips from New Haven to Pawson Park and other local shore resorts. There was also ferry boat service from the many Thimble islands summer residents.

            The first train to Branford left New Havenís Chapel Street Station on July 1, 1852. It brought passengers to Branford on its way to Saybrook. The first station was on Montowese Street and later moved to Meadow Street. By 1900, there were seven trains each way on weekdays serving Branford. There were also stations at Pine Orchard and Stony Creek.

            Passengers could hire a horse and carriage to reach local destinations. A few stage lines also served some sections of the Town and the resort hotels in season. As industry developed and business grew, people walked to work or rode a bicycle. A need existed for more convenient local and inter-town travel. When the trolley line came, people could live farther away from work, and from the center of town.

            Electric street railways were successful by the late 1880ís. New Havenís horse car lines were electrified, and were soon extended to the suburbs, including service to East Haven which began operation on July 1, 1894. At this time interest in having a trolley line developed in Branford. Alden M. Young, of Pine orchard and Waterbury was a major promoter. The Branford Electric Railway Company was chartered by Legislature on May 12, 1897.

            Trolley service from East Haven to Short Beach began on July 31, 1900. As construction was completed, service was extended, reaching the Branford Green in late August 1900. The trolley line ran from the East Haven Green through Short Beach, Double Beach, Branford Point, and to the Branford Green on both town roads and trolley right of ways. The trolleys were well patronized and were a great boon to local travel. Downtown New Haven was only an hour away! The horse drawn Beachís Stage took much longer. Before the trolley, the stage had made two trips per day to New Haven, but soon gave up operation as the trolley claimed its passengers.

            The trolley extension to Stony Creek was approved by the Legislature in 1905, having failed passage in 1903 due to local controversy over the route location. This construction was undertaken by the Connecticut Company, the successor to The Branford Electric Railway Company. The line ran down Montowese Street and Old Pine Orchard Road, across the meadows to Indian Neck, through Hotchkiss Grove and Pine Orchard, then across the meadows to Stony Creek, eventually terminating at the east end of Thimble Islands Road. Trolley cars began running on the extension on June 27, 1907. Another company, The Shore Electric Railway Company built at branch line from Guilford to Stony Creek. It connected with the Branford line near the east end of Thimble Islands Road. By changing cars, riders could continue eastward to Guilford and other towns along the shore. The Shore Line Electric cars began running on December 26, 1910. This service was short lived and was abandoned on July 31, 1919 as a result of labor strikes and financial loss.

            The roads between towns were slowly improved. The newspapers first mentioned automobiles in the early 1900ís, when a few were acquired by some of the affluent in town. As motor vehicles became more affordable, they became the main form of transportation. Horse drawn wagons became less common and gradually disappeared. Branch railroad lines lost so much revenue that they were eventually abandoned. Main line railroads also sustained loses; they had to reduce the service frequency and later discontinued local trains to Branford and other smaller towns.

            The Branford trolley line lost passengers to the point that it was necessary to substitute buses which were much less expensive to operate than the trolleys. Stony Creek trolley service was cut back to the Branford green on March 1, 1937. The remaining section of the trolley line, connecting Short Beach to the East Haven green, was the one which began on June 31, 1900.

            When this line was abandoned, it was taken over by the Branford Electric Railway Association, a non-profit historical and educational organization, which operates The Shore Line Trolley Museum. This trolley line is the oldest suburban trolley line in continuous operation in the United States.

            The four lane concrete road built in the late 1920ís between Branford and East Haven was thought to be the ultimate improvement The North Main Street by-pass was built to divert through traffic from the center of town. The Connecticut Turnpike, then a toll road, was opened to through traffic on Jan.2, 1958.

            In 1994 it is realized that even the Turnpike is inadequate to serve future motor vehicle traffic needs. The American love affair with the automobile persists.





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