Oneglia Tract

Property Information

The Oneglia Tract

The 12 acres of the Oneglia tract lie next to the Sue Grossman Bike Path, between Harris Drive and Machuga Road, and kitty-corner to 2177 Winsted Road as you look north. 

The property, which is mostly wetlands, provides food and a habitat suitable for water-based wildlife.

Connecting Torrington and Winsted via Railway

The old Winsted-Torrington trolley line passed on the east side of the property. What follows is a short story of that entity.

The trolley was a symbol of its time when both Winsted and Torrington were booming in the 1890s. Winchester’s population rose from 6,183 to 7,763 in the ten years before 1900, and Torrington’s population doubled, from 6,048 to 12,453. The area was on the rise.

In November 1896 efforts were made in both towns to create an electric railway connecting the two communities. In Winsted a meeting resulted in much enthusiasm, all the more notable since earlier attempts at financing a horse-drawn railway had failed. Civil War veteran Col. S. B. Horne, a bit optimistically, even declared that “such a trolley would bring the trade of the surrounding towns to Winsted and that there were no records to show that such a road had ever been anything but a financial success.” A committee led by Henry Gay, a Winsted banker, was appointed to petition the Legislature for a charter.

A similar meeting was conducted in Torrington by Orsamus R. Fyler. Support was strong and a committee led by Fyler was appointed to co-ordinate with Winsted on the “procuring of a charter.” It is not known if Torrington ever contemplated a horse-drawn trolley.

The Torrington and Winchester Electric Railway Company

Before a charter could be granted, the question arose of the necessity of building another rail line so close to the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, an issue that was determined in court. A Winsted Judge, A. H. Fenn, decided in favor of the electric railway, and in March 1897, the Torrington and Winchester Electric Railway Company was incorporated, with a capital of $200,000. The directors were E. H. Hotchkiss of Torrington, S. A. Herman of Winsted, and Charles. A. Richardson of Worcester… Fyler and Gay each owned $25,000 in stock of the new company. The remaining $150,000 was owned by Richardson, W. B. Ferguson, and Nelson Sumner Myrick, who were officers in several electric railways in Massachusetts. It perhaps was no surprise then, that The Worcester Construction Company was awarded the contract to build the line.

A power plant and car barn were built just north of Greenwoods Road, about halfway between Torrington and Winsted, on land donated by John Burr. These buildings can still be seen today. The power plant had two 250 HP engines which supplied direct current to the overhead wires on the line.

According to Torrington land records, Burr sold a two-rod wide (33 feet) right of way to the trolley company. This was to be in effect only as long as the trolley line was in business, then it would revert to him.

The line ran from the Turner & Seymour plant on Plymouth Street (now South Main Street) in Torrington to Division Street in Winsted. There was also a one and a quarter mile long spur to Highland Lake’s third bay.

Railway Work Began in April 1897

Work began in April 1897 with two hundred Italian laborers who were brought to Burrville. From there, the line was built towards both towns simultaneously, and “so rapidly was the work pushed, that only three months elapsed between the moving of the first shovelful of earth and the running of the first car on the road.”

That the work was finished so quickly is even more remarkable when one considers that three bridges had to be built. The bridges included a 72-foot span in East Winsted, a 35-foot span over Roberts Brook, and a 230-foot long span over three abutting obstacles (the Still River, a public highway, and the train tracks).

The success was noted in the Street Railway Journal of March 1898, which called it “Among the most recent and best equipped lines in New England.”

The line opened on Thursday, July 1st, which probably was not that busy a day. However, the cars were quite busy on the following Sunday, the Fourth of July, when 5,500 fares were collected!

Trolley Fare Was 15 Cents

The fare from town to town was 15 cents, which may seem almost free today, but that is a matter of perspective. For example, “Antonio Gioia, an immigrant of the early 1900s, working for 75 cents a day in Collinsville, found it impossible to pay 15 cents each way for transportation on the trolley.”

The rail spur to third bay ended at Electric Park, a recreational get-away with a theater, pavilion, lake rides, and such. In that day, when travel around Highland Lake was still difficult, the trolley provided easy access to a day of relaxation. Electric Park attracted 553 fares the first Sunday it was opened in early August 1897, which is exactly what it was supposed to do- give people a reason to ride the trolley during the weekend.

In 1899, two years after the opening of the railway, the Massachusetts investors sold their shares to Torrington parties and improvements were made to eliminate curves. During the summer, cars ran between the two towns every thirty minutes, sixty minutes apart during winter.

The improvements made must have made the line an attractive investment again, for in 1906 the N.Y. N.H. & H. R.R. bought out the Torrington and Winchester Street Railway Company. This created some optimism about the future: “It was confidently expected that the line would now be extended to Thomaston, thus connecting Winsted with Waterbury. Enthusiasts predicted that Highland Lake would soon become a “Little Coney Island.”

It didn’t work out that way. Instead, ridership began to decline since auto ownership was on the rise, and costs now had to be cut. By 1920 the power plant was shut down, being replaced by cheaper electricity from the Winsted Gas Company. When in 1922 all of the two-man cars were eliminated in favor of one-man cars, everyone knew the writing was on the wall. In 1927 rumors began spreading that the line would soon shut down, and in December 1928 a petition was filed with the State Utilities Commission to suspend operation. The only complaints came from people on Torringford Street and the request to suspend was granted.

The Last Trolley Ride

“On Saturday night, January 5, 1929, at eleven o’clock, the last trolley car left Winsted for Burrville. There was quite a celebration; “torpedoes” were exploded on the tracks, and a number of people rode to Burrville just for the novelty of having the last ride. The party was met at the car barns by another crowd that had arrived from Torrington and a flashlight souvenir photograph of the group was made. Thus ended a mode of conveyance which had served Torrington and Winsted since June 1897.” Bus service began the next day. The trolley couldn’t even blame the Depression for its demise.

In a shorter period than would have seemed likely in 1897, the trolley went from being a symbol of a community on the rise to being just a nuisance as it slowed down traffic, made for uneven pavement and it wreaked havoc with AM radio reception.

But today, looking through the lens of nostalgia, we can think of trolleys as quaint, and they are another part of our local Heritage.

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