New Haven Depot moves on down the road

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New Haven Depot moves on down the road

Fri, 01/21/2022 - 6:03pm -- tim

At a cost of about $1 million and over three days, the solid-brick New Haven Depot was moved through a mile and a half of fields between the junction and New Haven village, culminating in its arrival at the municipal building, on North Street, Thursday afternoon. photos by C.B. Hall

by C.B. Hall, Vermont Business Magazine The depot that has stood beside the railroad tracks in New Haven Junction since the mid-1800s has a new home – almost.

At the cost of about $1 million, a contractor has moved the handsome Italianate structure to the parking lot of New Haven's municipal building.

It will remain there until springtime – and the requisite additional funding – allow for building a foundation atop which the 200 tons of depot will take up permanent residence on land adjacent to the parking lot.

Over three days, the contractor, East Montpelier's Messier House Moving & Construction, hauled the brick structure across the mile and a half of fields intervening between the junction and New Haven village, culminating in its arrival at the municipal building, on North Street, Thursday afternoon.

Jason Messier used a joy-stick and a console the size of a laptop computer to pilot the 32-foot high behemoth — the shell of the building, a lot of reinforcing steel and wooden beams, and 10 powered dollies with a total of 80 wheels.

He told VBM that the power just sufficed to get through the fields.

"It's been a little bit more complicated than some people thought," he said, alluding to the unexpected challenges that such a unique undertaking is bound to entail.

Still, Matt Young of Stockbridge-based Ascent Consulting, who has overseen the project for the town, said the move went "really like clockwork."

The depot in fact arrived on the street – closed for the occasion – a couple of hours ahead of schedule. While the antique structure sat on its dollies, occupying the full width of the street, workers set about moving utility lines out of the way to allow it into the municipal building's parking lot.

Messier hadn't kept precise count, he said, but the expedition across the frozen fields involved about ten stops to raise or temporarily cut utility lines. Young said that that task would have been far more problematical, however, if the depot had traveled along the obvious route from the junction – Route 17 – since the Vermont Electric Cooperative had said getting it past utility lines there would cost $100,000.

So the alternative was chosen to take the building through five or six different properties to the north of Route 17, and that in turn delayed the project until a hard freeze allowed the fields to support the massive load.

In all VBM counted about 35 workers busying around the depot on North Street, braving a chill wind as the process proceeded.

By 5 pm, however, Messier and his colleagues had maneuvered the structure into the municipal building's parking lot and left it there, on wooden cribbing, to weather the elements for the next few months.

One brick reportedly came loose from the antique building, but its journey apparently occasioned no other damage.

Readying the structure for its move consumed more than two months. Floorboards, floor joists, wainscoting, all the depot's windows and its two chimneys were removed prior to its departure from the junction, where it sat just a few feet from the tracks at their crossing of Route 7. Those materials are now in a storage container at the municipal building, awaiting their use in the project's next phase, the building's restoration.

The town, which in December purchased the depot from the state's Division for Historic Preservation for one dollar, has not yet obtained all the funding required to complete the project; at the moment, $900,000 – almost all of it in public monies – has been secured. Young anticipated that the costs of the undertaking would eventually total about $1.5 million.

The state insisted on the building's removal from its former site as a prerequisite to the extension of Amtrak's Ethan Allen Express service from Rutland to Burlington later this year: The structure's proximity to the tracks would have blocked the sight of the engineer on the southbound train as it approached the busy highway crossing.

The alternative of slowing the train down from its 59 mph cruising speed to 40 mph – the speed at which the Vermont Rail System's freight trains rumble through – would have added a minute or two to the southbound train's schedule – discouraging ridership, in the estimation of the Agency of Transportation, which subsidizes Vermont's Amtrak service.

Amtrak, however, never recommended or demanded that the structure be removed.

Generally, New Haven's townspeople appeared pleased that the depot has been preserved.

The community expects ultimately to turn it over to some civic use, which will likely include a historical museum.

"It's very cool," resident Patty Lewis said of the spectacle of 200 tons of history moving across the landscape. "It's fascinating to watch them use a joy stick to maneuver. I'm so happy that the building is staying in the community ... keeping old Vermont alive into the future."

Historic and interior photos courtesy of VTrans. 

Building Owner, Division for Historic Preservation (1975, leased 1986-2021) Land Owner, Agency of Transportation (1964). Built 1869.