New Britain

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Streets from bottom to top: