New Britain

City of New Britain

New Britain is a small city (1950 population ~74,000) located between Plainville (to the west) and Newington (to the east) on the Highland Line which runs between Hartford and Waterbury, CT. It was a heavily industrialized town, especially in regards to the hardware industry, giving the city its nicknames, "The Hardware City" or "The Hardware Capital of the World." In the era I'm modeling it produced somewhere around one-third of the world's hardware.

It's also a model railroader's dream, with 43 industries directly served in less than 5 miles of track. Naturally many of these industries are related to hardware manufacture, but others show how crucial the railroad was to everyday life of this small city. For example, there are no fewer than ten retail coal dealers being served by rail in this era.

To serve all of these industries, nearly the entire city is within yard limits. Two, formerly three, small yards provide room for the two locally assigned switchers to manage the freight traffic and switch out all of the industries. At its peak, six daily round-trip freights would drop off cars in the morning and pick up outbound cars in the afternoon/evening. Unlike much of the New Haven system, for which as much as 60% of outbound cars were empty, New Britain was a manufacturing center. Its thriving industries sent out many daily loads to destinations around the country.

Aerial of New Britain looking west down the Highland Line, May 27, 1930.

Thomas Airviews aerial photo, 1955 from roughly the same angle. Lots of changes if you look closely.

The Railroad in New Britain

My focus is on the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (NYNH&H), also known as the New Haven (NH). The New Haven operated through New Britain from 1898 to 1968. The early years of railroading consisted of many charters issued for potential lines. Acquisitions of these lines (built and unbuilt) were frequent, usually due to financial difficulties and ruthless competition. Post-New Haven the railroad in New Britain (and railroads in North America) changed due to mergers and then divestitures of branch lines. To date, twelve railroad companies have operated in/through New Britain, one renamed, and one chartered but not built.

New Haven Railroad Predecessors

New Haven Railroad Successors

The story of the railroad predates the incorporation of New Britain with the charter of the New York & Hartford Railroad in 1845. The intended route was from Brewster, NY through Danbury, Waterbury, and New Britain to Hartford. It was merged with the Hartford & Providence in 1849, becoming the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill. Service between Hartford and Bristol began June 1, 1850, the year of the incorporation of the Town of New Britain.

The year 1852 saw the charter of a second line, The New Britain & Middletown, a 2.5 mile line from New Britain to Berlin. Service began January 1865, and purchased by the Hartford & New Haven in 1868. Later known as the Berlin Line of the New Haven, and is still in use today.

Financial troubles resulted in the merger of the HP&F with several other built and unbuilt lines into the Boston, Hartford & Erie, chartered in 1863, although it continued to operate under HP&F from Willimantic to Waterbury. This too failed, being reorganized as the New York & New England in 1874. 

In 1887, Charles Peter Clark, the president of the NY&NE who had succeeded in leading the railroad out of its receivership, was ousted and became president of their rival, the New York, New Haven & Hartford, chartered in 1872 by the merger of the Hartford & New Haven with the New York & New Haven. J. Pierpont Morgan instructed Clark to cease interchange traffic with the NY&NE, which was forced into receivership again, emerging in 1895 as The New England Railroad, with Clark serving as president of both roads.

In 1898 the New York, New Haven & Hartford leased the New England. This was a typical tactic of Morgan - drive a competing road into bankruptcy and acquire it or lease it for 99 years, but not before acquiring a large amount of the near worthless stock at inflated prices. The line from Hartford to Waterbury via New Britain would come to be known as the Highland Line. The NER would be acquired by the NH in 1908.

The New Haven would enter bankruptcy twice. The first partially as a result of Morgan and Charles S. Mellon (as president of the New Haven from 1903 to 1913) purchasing or entering long-term leases on nearly every form of public transportation - railroads, trolleys, steamboats, etc. - in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and southern Massachusetts. Many of these were for operations that were simply shut down, generating insufficient revenue but locking in the New Haven to 99 years (or more) of lease payments, and this position became untenable with the onset of the Great Depression.

The second, starting in 1961, due to many factors including tax laws, an exodus of New England industry, growing competition with trucking and airlines (with generous government subsidies), the federal interstate system, and poor management decisions. With the forthcoming merger of the New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroads, combined with consistent losses in commuter passenger service, the ICC forced the acceptance of the New Haven into the new Penn Central Railroad in 1969.

Entering bankruptcy within a year, freight service passed to the newly formed Conrail in 1976, and the New Britain line was then sold to the Boston & Maine in 1982.

B&M was purchased by Guildford Rail System in 1983, which changed its name to Pan Am Railways in 2006. In both cases, predecessor reporting marks were used including B&M and Maine Central (MEC) among others.

In 2009 it became Pan Am Southern, a new company jointly owned by Norfolk Southern and CSX and operated by the Berkshire & Eastern Railroad.

Today, there are no industries served by rail in New Britain, but freight trains still run through from Berlin to Plainville for industries in Plainville, Southington, Bristol, and Watertown. This website primarily covers the New Haven Railroad during the postwar period from 1946-1954. 

New Haven Railroad

The end of WWII was the start of the decline and eventual end of most railroad service in New Britain. The railroad not only built a station, located between Main and Elm Streets, but the Railroad Arcade, a 'mall' along the platform and facing the tracks with businesses on the first floor and apartments on the second.

Passenger service was primarily between Hartford and Waterbury, but included service to Bridgeport (via Waterbury) and Boston (via Hartford). The passenger service included a significant amount of mail and express service. 

In 1935 the 20 daily weekday round-trips between New Britain and Berlin stations were replaced by buses.

New Britain Station was leveled in 1956, although trains continued to stop at the Railroad Arcade which also housed a ticket office until all passenger service ended between Hartford and Waterbury in 1960.

Distances to major cities are:

One local freight (HDX-5) from Hartford to New Hartford serviced New Britain with cars to/from Springfield. Later renumbered to NX-25, it started to originate from Cedar Hill c1960.

Through freights ran between Hartford and Maybrook (OA/AO freights) and New Haven and Holyoke (NY/YN freights), with the Maybrook service via the Highland ending in 1953.

The Layout

The layout runs from Stanley Works at Burritt Street to about East Main Street as seen in this crop of a NHRR New Britain Alignment Map.

The Berlin branch continues off the bottom of the map and includes Whiting Street Yard, where the freight house and bulk tracks (often called 'team tracks') were located, along with a track scale. The entire layout is within yard limits.

The Highland Line (formerly the Highland Subdivision of the Hartford Division) was fully double tracked between Hartford and Waterbury. In 1940, it was single tracked the section from the Canal Line junction in Plainville to Waterbury.

The Highland Line meets the Springfield Line at Newington Junction, but parallels it through Hartford, before diverging to the east between the station and Hartford Yard. East of Willimantic it is known as the Midland Line.

In summer of 1954 the Highland Line was reduced to single track from Newington Junction through New Britain to Plainville. During the early '50s the city began a lot of "urban renewal."

By the end of the '60s, the Landers, Frary & Clark Commercial Street Factory, the Stanley Rule & Level and even the Railroad Arcade (in two different sections) would all be gone. This was long before the 1970's routing of Rt 72, or the 1980's building of Rt 9 through New Britain.

The railroad tracks are easy to follow in the photo above, with the Highland Line running from the left side to the upper right corner. The Berlin Line runs off the lower right corner.

Note that today the eastern portion of the Highland Line from the station area toward Hartford is now a busway. There is a long railroad bridge that is still present over Route 9 (which doesn't exist in this picture but would be to the right of square #6). The remainder of the track is still in use, although it consists only of a single track main on the way to Plainville. There are no industries in New Britain served by rail today.

New Britain Yard (and Commercial Street itself) are gone. Most of the side and yard tracks are gone.

I've labeled several key locations. You can go to the original at the Connecticut State Library so you can zoom in on these locations.

The dark triangle just to the left of square #2 is Lockshop Pond.

Just east of the station is a junction with the single-track Berlin Line which turns (railroad) west to Berlin. The Berlin Line has a connection to the Springfield main line at the wye in Berlin. There is a steady 1% grade on the two-mile-long Berlin Branch from Berlin to New Britain.

Some NH documentation refers to it as the New Britain Branch.

1955 Thomas Airviews Aerial Photos

I don't know if other photos exist in this series but they are invaluable for modeling purposes.

Looking roughly west, the same angle as the photo at the top of the page.

Elm Street is running horizontally.

The street running by the two smokestacks is High St.

The stacks and all structures to the right are Russell & Erwin

Behind the stacks is Corbin Screw.

The parking lot was Lock Shop Pond.

Fafnir Bearing is on the other side of the tracks/Myrtle St.

Stanley Works in the upper left corner to the parking lot.

Embassy Diner in the lower right corner.

Looking roughly east. The large parking lot used to be Lockshop pond.

Streets from bottom to top:

List of Industries Served

These are the industries served directly by rail in the era that I'm modeling. I'll be building around two-thirds of them, the others do not fit. Over time I will update the pages for each individual industry as I work on the models.