You may have noticed it while stopping at the traffic light where Plumtrees Road, Walnut Hill Road, and Whittlesey Drive meet. It looms behind a stamped concrete guard rail designed to mimic stone masonry. Peeking over this modern simulation and almost hidden from sight is the genuine article, a towering stone bridge built with massive blocks of bluish-gray granite forming an arch that spans the glittering brook beneath it. Regardless of whether you are a native Bethelite, a relatively new arrival, or just a frequent passerby, you have probably wondered, “What is that thing?” If this mystifying symphony of stone sufficiently piqued your interest, you may have asked around. Most inquiries probably resulted in a response similar to: “Oh, that?” That’s an old railroad bridge.” If you pursued the matter further and asked, “What railroad?” The response most likely would have been, “I’ve heard they called it “The Old Shepaug.” After first uttering “The Old what?”, your heightened curiosity might have compelled you to blurt out: How old is it? Who built it? Where did the tracks lead? What happened to it? In all likelihood, this further line of questioning would result in nothing more than a grunt and a shoulder shrug.
This article is the first in a series designed to explain the history behind the building of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad’s Bethel branch line to the Shepaug Valley Railroad. These accounts will highlight the individuals and forces that created a railroad branch that essentially became Bethel’s own and significantly impacted the town for forty years. The story will be told with the help of accounts transcribed from the pages of contemporary newspapers, town records, and the Annual Reports of the Railroad Commissioners of the State of Connecticut. The general public has not seen this information for over one hundred and fifty years. All spelling, punctuation, and grammar usage is retained when quoting from the original sources.
On June 30, 1866, less than fifteen months after Lee’s surrender to Grant at Appomattox, the Connecticut General Assembly approved an act allowing for the incorporation of a new enterprise called the Shepaug Valley Railroad Company. The company was granted permission to “locate, construct, and finally complete” a railway from “some suitable point in the town of Litchfield through the towns of Morris, Washington, Roxbury, Bridgewater, New Milford, Southbury and Newtown, to connect with the Housatonic Railroad, at some convenient and feasible point between the centre of the towns of Newtown and New Milford.” The Hawleyville station in Newtown established by the Housatonic Railroad in 1840, would later be chosen as the “suitable point” for the line's southern terminus. When it became apparent that the new railroad company would not be able to meet the deadlines set forth in its charter owing to a general lack of progress, the General Assembly approved a second one on July 7, 1868. It would take over four years from its initial approval in 1866 to obtain the adequate funds, property, and materials needed to start construction. However, on Wednesday, October 12, 1870, work on the line began in Hawleyville. The 32.28-mile-long railroad would begin operation between Litchfield and Hawleyville depot on January 1, 1872.
Even before the Shepaug Valley Railroad’s route was completed, the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, open since 1852, sensed that they could benefit from the creation of the new road. In the early autumn of 1871, company representatives of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company quietly engaged in negotiations with the Shepaug Valley Railroad to discuss the possibility of building a connecting branch between the Danbury & Norwalk road and Hawleyville. As the talks began, one key point to be determined was where this extension line would branch off from the established route between Norwalk and Danbury. The stations at Bethel and Danbury were both possibilities. (The Ridgefield & New York Railroad, chartered in 1867 and then under development, was also interested, and there was a threat that it might secure a route.*) Then, a small group of prominent individuals from Bethel, working in tandem with the Board of Selectmen, decided to take the bull by the horns. They were determined to see that the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad executives chose Bethel to be the spot where a new route from the D&N line would travel northeast to connect with the Shepaug in Hawleyville.
(*The Ridgefield & New York Railroad line was never completed.)
Initially, the two railroads kept many of the conditions of the new contract they had hammered out under wraps, but later the specifics would emerge. Several essential points would come to light only when state approval of Bethel’s role in the scheme was discussed and debated by the Connecticut Assembly in June 1872. Based on information published in the press, the agreement included these particulars: A 5.95-mile-long extension line would be built between Bethel and Hawleyville by the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, who would own the 4.45-mile section of the line stretching from the Bethel depot up to the borderline of Bethel and Newtown. The Shepaug Valley Railroad would own the remaining 1.50-mile section from the Bethel border to the Hawleyville depot in Newtown. Most curiously, although the stretch of the proposed extension within Bethel would be the property of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, the trains traveling back and forth across it would be the property of the Shepaug Valley Railroad. The Shepaug line would also employ the workers aboard the trains running on the extension. It would rent the route for a nominal fee* and receive the revenue for transporting passengers and freight over the short stretch of tracks that initially took twenty minutes to traverse.
(*The 1896 Connecticut Railroad Commissioners’ Report recorded the nominal fee as $1.00.)
At first glance, this agreement seems like a sweetheart deal for the Shepaug. However, in reality, the Danbury & Norwalk Company was making a calculated move to ensure its own future. The new Bethel branch would connect with the Shepaug line at Hawleyville. The small hamlet in Newtown was also served by the Housatonic Railroad. This line ran north from Hawleyville towards the Massachusetts border, going through Brookfield, New Milford, Kent, and Cannan. South of Hawleyville, the Housatonic’s line made stops in Newtown, Botsford, Stepney, Trumbull, and finally reached Long Island Sound at Bridgeport. The Housatonic transported raw materials, agricultural produce, and passengers from Litchfield County to New York City with the assistance of ships leaving from its southernmost point in Bridgeport. On return trips, it took finished goods and usually wealthy passengers from New York City to the bucolic and relatively isolated areas in Connecticut’s northwest corner.
The Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company was taking a calculated risk in building the Bethel branch. It was betting that its construction cost would be more than offset by the increased revenue it would receive if it could offer freight rates and passenger fares comparable to or lower than its rival, the Housatonic Railroad. If successful, southbound riders and freight that now relied on the Houstonic’s line for transportation to Bridgeport might transfer at Hawleyville to trains heading to Bethel, and from there on to South Norwalk. Additionally, the financiers of the new undertaking had one more factor that they hoped would work to their advantage. The New York & New Haven Railroad allowed Danbury & Norwalk trains to share the use of its station in South Norwalk, which was linked with steamboats traversing Long Island Sound. This spot was in closer proximity to New York City than the Housatonic’s dock at Bridgeport and would therefore present a second attractive selling point to lure business away from the Housatonic line. In short, the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad’s board of directors would seek to portray their route as being both cheaper and faster and viewed the new branch line from Bethel to Hawleyville as the linchpin in creating an unbroken line stretching from Litchfield to New York City with the potential to augment both the company’s stature and earnings.
How had Bethel outdone Danbury and Ridgefield in the effort to obtain the new branch line? The plan devised by the town’s fathers was an ingenious one. As an inducement to the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company to pick Bethel over its competitors, they offered to donate the railroad right of way through the town for free. This move would eliminate the company’s cost of buying the numerous properties necessary to accommodate the path of the railroad tracks. Who would foot the bill? Six prominent Bethel businessmen agreed to put up the money to buy the parcels in the way of the proposed route. They signed a $6,000 bond promising to compensate the property owners for their losses, or “damages,” as they were called at the time. The Town of Bethel would reimburse these businessmen by issuing tax-free municipal bonds once the plan was approved by Bethel voters at a town meeting and legally sanctioned by the Connecticut Assembly.
As this inventive arrangement would involve town finances, it was imperative to start the ball rolling before the town of Danbury or the Ridgefield & New York Railroad could conceive their own inducements. For those reasons, the Bethel selectmen initiated their stratagem by calling a special town meeting duly warned (advertised) on September 29, 1871. (The meeting took place at the Bethel Town Hall, a building that today serves as the home of the Bethel Historical Society.)
The legal warning for the special town meeting recorded in Bethel’s Town Meeting Minutes reads as follows:
“The Legal Voters of the Town of Bethel are hereby warned to attend a Special Town Meeting, to be held in the Town Hall, on Tuesday October 3rd 1871, at 7 O'clock in the evening: For the purpose of getting an expression of the Citizens, in regard to giving the right of way to the Shepaug Valley Rail Road Company through the Town of Bethel, and vote, if thought best, to give said Company the right to construct a Rail Road through said Town, upon such terms as shall be deemed advisable, and to do any other business proper to be done at said Meeting.”
Bethel, September 29, 1871
The town clerk, Amos Woodman, recorded the following minutes on the night of the special town meeting.
“At a Special Town Meeting legally warned, and held in the Town Hall on Tuesday Oct. 3rd A.D. 1871, at 7 O’clock in the evening.
Horace E. Hickok Esq. Moderator.
The warning for said Meeting was read and accepted. Ethel T. Farnam, in behalf of a Committee of Citizens appointed at a previous informal Meeting, made a verbal report favorable to the object for which this Meeting was called, stating from Authority that the Rail-Road mentioned in the warning, would be constructed to run through the Village of Bethel, North of the Congregational Church.”
“Res. (Resolved) - That Ethel T. Farnam, Horace E. Hickok, George M. Cole & Nehemiah B. Corning, be and hereby are appointed a Committee of this Town, and are directed as such Committee to petition the next Session of the General Assembly of this state for such legislation as may be necessary to authorize this Town to pay for the Right of Way: Amount not to exceed Six Thousand Dollars.”
“Voted - That Horace E. Hickok, Ethel T. Farnum, Geo. M. Cole & Nehemiah B. Corning, be a committee to communicate the proceedings of this Meeting to the RailRoad Co. and to confer with them upon the subject.”
“Voted - That this meeting adjourn “Sine Die.”
A true Record of Proceedings -
Attest - Amos Woodman - Town Clerk
(Note: Sine Die is Latin for Without Date, meaning indefinitely. When built, the railroad would run South and not North of the Congregational Church.)
The affirmative vote meant that the shrewd initiative to build the branch line through Bethel had cleared its first hurdle. But only some were happy. A rather perturbed group of Bethel’s citizens felt they were being “railroaded” in the worst possible sense. They pointed to the fact that the committee representing the town’s interests before the state assembly had been “appointed at a previous informal meeting.” These critics accused the selectmen of holding secret “midnight meetings” that were not open to ordinary tax-paying voters. They also had other serious complaints, which will be presented later in this series.
For the most part, the area’s primary source of local information, the Danbury News, supported Bethel’s effort to secure the branch. However, some Danburians were miffed that their town had not been chosen as the extension’s connecting point. The following item appeared in the News two weeks after the Bethel town meeting.
DANBURY NEWS - OCTOBER 18, 1871
“Shepaug Railroad - The company of engineers surveying for a route for this company from Hawleyville to Bethel, arrived at the latter place yesterday. The encouragement this company receives along the line, and especially at Bethel, where a thousand dollars has been appropriated by the town, determine it to run the road to that place. At Bethel, it will connect to the Danbury & Norwalk railroad and thus run to New York. Here is Bethel’s opportunity. By properly considering this enterprise, that is by looking upon it as an enterprise demanding liberal assistance, it will secure to itself increased business activity. But if it is thought to be a chance for a half dozen men to make money of disposing of right of way at extravagant prices, Bethel can anticipate the result by cutting its municipal throat. The Danbury & Norwalk R.R. Company is without doubt well satisfied with this Bethel route for the Shepaug road. The Ridgefield & New York is correspondingly dissatisfied. It was proposed by the latter corporation to unite the Shepaug at this place, and thus form a continuous line with its own from Litchfield to New York city. This project suited Danbury - the route to Bethel does not.
The unavoidable conclusion to be deducted is, that Danbury has been euchred, and Bethel holds both bowers.”
(Note: Bethel’s appropriation was $6,000, not $1,000 as quoted here. The paper corrected this error in the next edition. Euchre is a card game similar to Whist. When you are said to “hold both bowers,” you have an advantage over your opponent. The Danbury News reporter responsible for this piece clearly bristled at seeing Danbury outfoxed by its smaller neighbor and was suspicious of Bethel’s true motives.)
DANBURY NEWS - OCTOBER 25, 1871
The Bethel correspondent for the Danbury News wrote under the nom-de-plume of John Henry. He corrected his paper regarding the amount of funding Bethel had pledged towards the railroad construction in a news piece that appeared in the following week’s edition.
“That article on the Shepaug Valley R.R. is not quite right. Now we are a peculiar (though small) people, and when we do a big thing, like to have it considered as big as any other men. Bethel is alive to her interest in this Railroad and did not stop on one thousand dollars, but the citizens pledged themselves to buy the right of way from Bethel depot to Hawleyville at a cost not exceeding six thousand dollars if the Railroad would come here.”
News of the plan to construct a Bethel branch line was beginning to spread. The Norwalk Gazette, which took a keen interest in anything impacting the welfare of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, began to cover the story.
NORWALK GAZETTE - NOVEMBER 7, 1871
“Litchfield, Norwalk & New York - It will be seen by referring to our advertising columns, that a meeting of the stockholders of the Danbury & Norwalk R.R. is called for Friday afternoon next, for the purpose of authorizing the building of an extension of said road from Bethel to Hawleyville, and to approve contract with the Shepaug Valley Railroad for joint business arrangements. We learn that a perpetual contract has been made between the Shepaug Valley, and the Danbury & Norwalk R.R. Co’s for a connection of the two lines at Hawleyville, thus forming a short and direct line of rail between Litchfield, Norwalk and New York. The extension from Bethel to Hawleyville which is to be completed in May next, is a little less than six miles, making the distance from Litchfield via Norwalk to New York one hundred miles, and which will be run in four hours time.”
The advertisement described by the Norwalk Gazette is presented below.
Five days after the meeting between the representatives of the two railroads in Norwalk, the following piece appeared.
THE NORWALK GAZETTE - NOVEMBER 11, 1871
“The Directors of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad, at their meeting on Friday evening executed their contract with the Shepaug Valley Railroad, and are to have their branch from Bethel to Hawleyville completed by May 1, 1872. The contract for this work is to be let on the 16th. John Camp, Engineer, and Contractor Cram both design putting in bids for the work and it will be an unlucky dog who gets under them.”
During the construction of the Bethel branch, the projected completion date would move from May 1st to June 1st and finally to July 1, 1872. Here, “gets under them” implies underbidding them by submitting a lower-priced construction proposal.
The Danbury & Norwalk Railroad wasted no time choosing the general contractor for the Bethel extension. The company’s choice was announced in print five days after the submission deadline.
THE NORWALK GAZETTE - NOVEMBER 21, 1871
“Mr. George W. Cram was awarded the contract for building the seven miles of branch road from Bethel to Hawleyville, and has given bonds for its completion by the 1st day of May, 1872. There were nineteen bids for the work, but Mr. Cram, just as we supposed he would, came out ahead. The route is quite feasible, and the grading generally light. It is understood the entire work may be done, ready for the rails, for a trifle short of $100,000. One thing is pretty certain, Cram will cram the work through on the double quick, and with Engineer Bacon to superintend it, it will be pretty surely well done.”
The Danbury News also announced the choice in their weekly edition published the day after the Norwalk Gazette’s account.
DANBURY NEWS - NOVEMBER 22, 1871
“A gentleman named Cram has taken the contract to build the section of the Shepaug railroad running from Hawleyville to Bethel, and will commence work at once. Mr. Cram built the Norwalk water works. He visited Bethel in company with Superintendent Bacon on Saturday.”
“The contract for the building of the section of the Shepaug road between Hawleyville and Bethel amounts to about $80,000. A number of carts have already arrived and ground will be broken tomorrow morning.”
(NOTE: “Engineer” and “Superintendent Bacon” as described in each of the articles was John Watson Bacon (1827-1907), who served as Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad. The Norwalk and Danbury papers presented different figures regarding the cost of the work. In either case, the figures would equate to between $2 million and 2.5 million if adjusted for inflation. Cram and Bacon visited Bethel on Saturday, November 18, 1871.)
George Washington Cram, the Norwalk general contractor who submitted the winning bid to build the Bethel branch, was born in East Boston, Massachusetts, on January 25, 1842. He was educated in Boston schools and worked as a civil engineer for a brief time. He then followed the tradition of his father and became a general contractor. In 1870, when he was awarded a contract to build a water works in Norwalk, he moved there with his family. This project was completed and opened with great fanfare on July 4, 1872. For a time, the contractor oversaw the Norwalk water project and the Bethel railroad line simultaneously and completed both endeavors within three days of one another. Cram is also credited with installing most of the original sewer systems in central Norwalk. He died at his home at 89 East Avenue in Norwalk on December 26, 1905, at age 63.
John Watson Bacon (1827-1907) served as the Superintendent and Chief Engineer of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad from 1859 to 1877 and oversaw the building of the Bethel extension. This photograph appeared in the newspaper of his alma mater, Trinity College in Hartford, CT, following his death. Bacon had been a member of Trinity’s graduating class of 1846. He began his professional career as a civil engineer and was responsible for laying out and constructing the New England Railroad from Hartford to Willimantic.
Thanks to the diligent reporting by the Danbury News, we know from its November 22, 1871, edition the precise moment that work began on the Bethel extension.
“Ground was broken for the Shepaug road, in Bethel, at 8 o’clock, a.m., Tuesday, November 21, 1871.”
A separate blurb in the columns of the News provides the exact location as well.
“The railroad commissioners were here today (Tuesday), and after hearing the objections to going through Main st., and viewing the other route, adjourned without date, and the shovel went into the bank back of Harry Seeley’s and the railroad was commenced, and after this we will report progress.”
(NOTE: The Tuesday referenced would have been November 21, 1871, a week prior. Harry Seeley (1806-1872) lived at 2 Chestnut Street. The “bank back of Harry Seeley’s” was located east of Prospect Street’s northern end. (Prospect Street was then called New Street.) The soil removed from the bank was, in all likelihood, used in creating the raised railroad bed that can still be seen stretching from the rear of 19 ½ Prospect Street on its western end to the back of 37 Milwaukee Avenue on its eastern end.)
Construction of the Bethel branch line began at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, November 21, 1871, on land behind this house at 2 Chestnut Street, which was then occupied by Harry Seeley (1806-1872). An article in the April 11, 1902 edition of the Newtown Bee stated that the house was vacant at that time and added, “In 1872 the Shepaug Railroad built the track within a few feet of the old house which made a once desirable home almost unfit for a dwelling place.” The truth of that statement seems eerily confirmed by the fact that the house’s owner died a little more than six weeks after the Bethel branch began operation. (Members of the Seeley family disagreed about the proper spelling of their surname. As will be seen from this article and those to come, some spelled their name, “Seeley”, while others preferred, “Seelye.”).
Harry Seeley (1806-1872) lived at 2 Chestnut Street when the Bethel extension began construction behind his house. Seeley was born blind, but his lack of sight did not prevent him from operating his home as a boarding house and maintaining a herd of dairy cattle. A Newtown Bee article recalled how every one of his cows “wore a bell with a different tone which enabled the blind milker to distinguish each animal in the yard.” Harry’s brother, Ransom Seeley (1808-1883), was also born blind and operated a small store adjoining the north side of 2 Chestnut Street. Before the coming of the railroad, Ransom moved to a store on nearby Maple Avenue and sold out to Charles H. Hawley. The railroad’s construction necessitated relocating Hawley’s store to the rear of the property. It served as a shed until being torn down in April 1902.
The small store that had formerly adjoined the north side of Harry Seeley’s house at 2 Chestnut Street was moved to the east and tucked neatly behind the home to accommodate the Bethel branch line. The old store later served as a shed until it was taken down in 1902. As demonstrated by the 1879 illustration, both structures sat perilously close to the tracks
The Trail Blazers
A month before the first shovel was thrust into the earth, inaugurating the branch line’s construction, a team of civil engineers employed by the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company arrived in Bethel. They would take on the challenging task of surveying the topography between the Bethel and Hawleyville depots to “locate” or lay out the optimal route for connecting the two points. The two engineers mentioned in contemporary newspaper accounts were identified as “A.K. Jacobs” and “L.P. Treadwell.” One can imagine the pair tramping the hills, hollows, and swamps of Bethel equipped with transit, tripod, rod, and compass to create the 5.95-mile serpentine route that would connect two railroads.
As previously noted, on October 18, 1871, the weekly edition of the Danbury News included both of these statements in its columns.“Shepaug Railroad - The company of engineers surveying for a route for this company from Hawleyville to Bethel, arrived at the latter place yesterday.” They later noted: “the surveyors continue to measure and lay out their work.”
In the same edition, under the previous week's date (Wednesday, October 11, 1871), it was reported: "The engineer corps of the Shepaug Valley railroad are surveying a route from Hawleyville to Bethel." It can be inferred from this that the Shepaug engineers had gotten a head start on their counterparts employed by the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad.
On January 10, 1872, the News included this snippet.
“L.P. Treadwell of New Fairfield has charge of the surveys on the Shepaug road between Hawleyville and Bethel.”
The paper would correct this statement in its next edition of January 17, 1872.
“A.K. Jacobs and not L.P. Treadwell as stated in the News, is engineer on the Shepaug. Mr. T is his assistant. We state this in justice to Mr. Jacobs and with due respect for Mr. Treadwell, as we know he is not one that would wish to soar at the expense of another’s feelings….”
The two civil engineers employed to determine the course by which the new branch would zigzag its way through the undulating countryside were both individuals of considerable ability and talent.
Abram Klotz Jacobs (1839-1919)
“A.K. Jacobs” is more wholly identified as Abram Klotz Jacobs, a then thirty-two-year-old civil engineer born on December 4, 1839, in Salem, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. He was the oldest of fourteen children. During his youth, his family lived on several different farms in Luzerne County near Hazleton, PA. At first, Jacobs pursued a career in teaching and is shown in the 1860 U.S. Census employed at a school in Hazleton. However, between 1862 and 1868, Jacobs left teaching and obtained a degree in engineering. On October 15, 1868, he married Mary G. Burrows in Lock Haven, Clinton County, PA. The couple would have one son, Charles, who was born two years later. By the time the U.S. Census was taken on July 9, 1870, Jacobs was a practicing civil engineer living at his in-laws' home in Lock Haven with his wife and four-month-old son. Fifteen months later, Jacobs headed up the team of engineers that arrived in Bethel on October 17, 1871.
After his work on the Bethel branch, Jacobs returned to Lock Haven, PA, and is shown living there in the 1880 Census, continuing work as a civil engineer. In 1884, he was listed in a Scranton, PA directory as being one-half of the civil engineering partnership of A.K. Jacobs and R.A. Flemming. By 1904 Jacobs moved to Jamaica, Queens, New York, and remained there for the next fifteen years. He died at his home at 5 Ray Street, on November 25, 1919, at age 79. He is buried in the Brandywine Cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware, the city where his son was living at the time. (It is worth noting that an 1862 diary kept by Jacobs in his youth has recently surfaced and has been advertised for sale by an online dealer in fine manuscripts.)
Levi Penfield Treadwell (1836-1913)
“L.P. Treadwell,” who was first mistakenly described by the Danbury News as “having charge of the surveys” and later correctly identified as the assistant engineer, possessed the full name Levi Penfield Treadwell. He was born and raised in New Fairfield, CT, on the family farm on Pembroke Road, just north of the Danbury line. Treadwell was thirty-five years old when he took on the position of assistant civil engineer for the Bethel branch. Like Jacobs, he began his life as a farmer’s son in a small rural town and once pursued a teaching career. However, at an early stage, it was apparent that Treadwell was a man who was going places. Perhaps his story can best be told by quoting from brief biographical summaries published during his lifetime. The first is from a record produced in 1873 by his alma mater, Yale.
“Levi Penfield Treadwell, son of Jabez and Lydia Treadwell was born September 2, 1836, at New Fairfield, Conn. Before entering college he studied a year each in the Fairfield (Conn.) Academy and the Broadway Collegiate Institute in New York, and was a member of the Class of 1861 during its Freshman year, reentering with the Class of 1862 at the beginning of its course.”
“After graduation he engaged in teaching and farming in his native town until 1870, and then spent two years in civil engineering and surveying, in 1871 removing to Danbury, Conn.”
1871 was the same year Treadwell began his position with the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company. His extended assignment on the branch line explains why he moved from New Fairfield to Danbury. After completing his work for the railroad, Treadwell ran unsuccessfully for the state legislature but then saw his circumstances rise rapidly. In 1873 he was elected Secretary and Treasurer of the Union Savings Bank in Danbury, a position he retained until 1897. He was twice elected Secretary of the Danbury Agricultural Society, the sponsor of the Danbury Fair. Beginning in 1880, Treadwell organized and served as president of the Wooster Fire Insurance Company headquartered at 228 Main Street. Danbury directories from the latter portion of the 19th century show him living at 135 Deer Hill Avenue and later at 50 West Wooster Street. He was a member of Danbury’s Congregational Church and was deeply involved in civic affairs. He served as Danbury’s Town Treasurer from 1878 to 1881 and as Town Warden from 1879 to 1881. (This was equivalent to being mayor in the years before Danbury became a city in 1889.) He acted as the President of the Young Men’s Christian Association and the Connecticut Temperance Union. In 1904 Treadwell moved to New York City and spent his summers on the shore in Branford, CT. He also spent two summers in Florida.
Of all the surviving accounts of his work on the Bethel branch, the best one was provided by Treadwell himself. Ten years after graduation, Yale requested that he submit a written summary of his life’s activities since last attending one of the college’s triennial reunions in 1865. The information gathered was to be included in a new biographical record of graduates. After telling of his marriage to Caroline C. Rogers in 1866 and the birth of his three daughters in rapid succession, Treadwell described his recent work experiences.
“I have diverted myself with farming the better part of the time; but in the spring of 1871 added civil engineering to it, and was employed as rodman on the New York and Mahopac Railroad during the summer. In the fall, I disposed of my farming business, and have been on the Shepaug extension of the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad from Bethel to Hawleyville. For two months or more, have had charge of the work of acting engineer. The road is now completed, and I am preparing for a new departure. In December last, my family removed to Danbury, where my address now is.”
This first-person account is significant for several reasons. Principally, it pinpoints when Treadwell began his work in civil engineering and lays out his prior experience. He stated that he had been employed as a rodman. A rodman is someone responsible for the transportation and set up of the instruments and equipment associated with surveying land and preparing the land for a survey.
Secondly, the narrative includes the statement: “For two months or more, have had charge of the work of acting engineer.” Here, Treadwell reveals that he had been placed in charge of the branch line’s construction for the final two months and was no longer the assistant engineer. The most logical explanation for this development may be connected to the line’s projected date of completion. At the outset of the undertaking, the branch was to be finished by May 1, 1872. Employees signing contracts with the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad Company in the autumn of 1871 may have been legally bound to their employer until that specific date. As work on the road progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the construction would not be completed until July 1. Abram K. Jacobs, who began serving as chief engineer the previous October, might have decided not to extend his contract for another two months beyond its stipulated expiration. It is likely that after being away from his wife and two-year-old son for over seven months, Jacobs was eager to return to his home in Pennsylvania. If this were indeed the case, Treadwell would have suddenly found himself as the acting engineer.
The final unique aspect of Treadwell’s letter to Yale is that it is dated July 3, 1872. This date was just two days after the Bethel branch made its first official run.
Levi Penfield Treadwell spent the last nine years of his life in New York City and died of pneumonia at 77 at his home at 503 West 147th Street on November 13, 1913. He is buried with his wife, Caroline, in the Wooster Cemetery in Danbury. As we will see, Treadwell would live long enough to see the line he helped create reach its point of obsolescence.
Epilogue to Part 1
We have now seen how the construction of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad’s branch line to the Shepaug Valley Railroad was conceived and set in motion by late November 1871. But parts of the project would soon prove more challenging than anticipated. Of all the numerous stories associated with the construction of the Bethel branch line, none are more fascinating and disturbing than those that describe the explosive demolition on Main Street and the cavalier manner in which the work was carried out. PART TWO of the series will chronicle how the building of the Bethel branch sometimes endangered the lives and property of downtown residents. The forthcoming installment will also explore more of the essential figures responsible for the line’s creation and how they overcame formidable obstacles to make the route a reality.
The tremendous cooperation and assistance extended by the following groups and individuals are gratefully acknowledged.
The Bethel Historical Society and Patricia Rist, President
The Bethel Town Clerk’s Office and especially, Town Clerk Lisa Bergh and Assistant Town Clerk Eileen Jelinski
The Staff of the Danbury Museum and Historical Society with a special thanks to Research Specialist, Patrick Wells and Brigid Guertin, Executive Director, and Danbury City Historian
L. Peter Cornwall (1987). In The Shore Line's Shadow, The Six Lives of the Danbury & Norwalk Railroad. Littleton, MA: Flying Yankee Enterprises.
Turner, G. M., & Jacobus, M. W. (1986). Connecticut Railroads...An Illustrated History: One Hundred Fifty Years Of Railroad History. Hartford, CT: Connecticut Historical Society
Annual Reports of the Railroad Commissioners of the State of Connecticut