A Walpole landmark, once well known to area residents but of
late obscured by Kendall's plant, a vast growth of brush, and
time, will be 85 years old next week. The landmark in question is
the New Haven Railroad passenger station located off West Street
Although our first rail line (the present Franklin-Boston route) came in 1849 and was joined by the Mansfield and Framingham line in 1870, separate stations had been the rule for both the Old Colony and the New York and New England Railroads. Much discussion had been carried on pro and con on whether or not to build a common terminal in Walpole. Finally in 1881-82, hearings were held and plans were drawn up.
The Walpole Star of July 7, 1883, carries a full account of the events leading up to and actual construction of this "union" station.
The building is divided into two large waiting rooms with a ticket office between them. "An awning or piazza roof to the width of eight feet runs entirely around the buildings, and the best of eastern spruce was used for the frame and the entire roof is slated." Interior areas were done in shellac, oil, and varnish, sashes being painted in imitation of cherry and the best double thick German glass was utilized. In the cellar of the depot was (is?) the well. It was also the location for a gas machine to illuminate the station, and a furnace or boiler.
The New York and New England Railroad boasted of the conveniences which the station provided including the fact that "the water closets are the celebrated Hillyard system or pattern!"
Basically, the depot consists of a three-story tower with wings running from it parallel to each track in the shape of an obtuse angle. While the upper story served as a signal tower, the lower section housed the ticket and telegraph offices. In the late 90's, a separate signal tower was constructed across the Old Colony tracks along the Midland route. This was possibly due to the fire which burned the tower and during rebuilding, the tower was left off.
As stories go, Tim Delaney (of the Walpole Delaneys), was the first operator to work the tower. In 1946, the building was torn down, and a new interlocking switch machine was installed in the present ticket office location.
The approach of trains was announced a mile away by means of electric annunciators and the signal operator would throw switches on either road at the same time throwing the appropriate signals.
Through the years, a variety of rail lines has served the station - The Boston, Hartford and Eric, the New York and New England, the Boston, Clinton & Fitchburg & New Bedford, the Old Colony, and the New Haven.
At one time, both routes through Walpole Center were double tracked, but first the Old Colony in the early 30's followed by the Midland in 1941 became single-tracked. Old time[r]s reminiscing of the old days recall the sleepers which Walpole residents boarded in Walpole and rode straight through to New York.
Passenger service on the Mansfield and Framingham line ended in 1933, and through service on the Franklin line to Hartford and Waterbury was discontinued in 1955 when floods knocked out a bridge in Putnam, Conn.
Since July 1965, our passenger service has been operated by virtue of a subsidy from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. Were it not for this subsidy, Walpole would have no rail passenger service, since the New Haven has permission to discontinue this operation when public support ends.
Years have spread a mantle of quiet over the Walpole depot. It has seen the Great Wars, discovery of television, rockets and the automobile, population increases from 63 to 180 million, the start of Federal income taxes and social security, and yes, the decline of the railroads. The station was even the main subject of a feature article in a recent issue of Model Railroader Magazine.
What's in the future? At this time, a definite answer seems to be known only by the Penn Central which will eventually take over the New Haven. Whether or not rail passenger service and the ticket office will survive are for conjecture.
Some persons have mentioned the possibility of turning the depot into a home for the Walpole Historical Society, which is looking for a permanent location in which to house its collections of local historical interest. In any event, the railroad station is now 85 years young - may it survive another 85!
Last updated 30 October 2000