Yup, There are Hobos Here
Manchester Land Cons. Trust Trails (MLCT): Cheney Rail
1.2 miles one way, December 2016
This is one of those pages that I always thought would be some quickie throwaway page. Walk along the railbed a bit, take a few pictures, write it up, publish it, forget about it.
Just another checked box on my way to total Manchester completion.
Then I read a bit about the old rail road and learned that there’s a bit more than meets the eye going on here. I’ll just tell you up front:
The Cheney Rail Trail follows the rail bed of the former South Manchester Railroad. The old South Manchester Railroad, as the Cheney’s called it, connected Cheney Brothers silk mills to northern Manchester. Built in 1869 with Cheney family funds, the railroad linked the silk mills to the main line, at that time known as the “Providence, Hartford, and Fishkill Railroad,” which ran through the North End.
Okay. So? That’s not remotely exciting.
At 2.25 miles, it was the shortest freight-and-passenger railroad in the United States…
Hm. Yeah, that’s cool. That zings! I love superlatives – even historic ones like this, and –
but [the railroad was ALSO] the longest private railroad.
Whoa. Hold on. Slam the air brakes. I need a moment to wrap my head around this Westworld-like riddle. The Cheneys, who pretty much owned Manchester and are well represented on CTMQ, built a short little railroad to connect their mills to the main rail road branch through town.
In doing so, they created the shortest rail line that carried both freight and passengers which also happened to be the longer rail line built by a private entity?
Got it. And now you can see why these things always make me laugh. We have no idea how true either claim is, but we’re going to go with it. Because it’s great.
Better than this trail anyway. Which, if you know how much I love weird superlatives, isn’t really a knock on the trail.
I took Damian for a walk along it on a miserable mid-December day. This trail is all about its history, as I assure you, you’re not getting any beautiful vistas here at all.
It is, after all, an old rail line through the heart of Manchester. If you start at the southern end (as it stands now, more or less) at Center Springs Park, you’re starting at the nicest place on the trail. The bridge over Bigelow Brook is lovely.
If you choose to walk south from here, you will walk behind barren cement walls of businesses only to dead end at the trestle at Center Street. (Plans call for the trail to extend to the East Coast Greenway along I-384, but the official brochure says this will happen “somehow” so I’m not too confident.
This southern stretch of the trail is owned by the town of Manchester, whereas the northern 2/3 or so is MLCT land.
Oh, and a few homeless people live along the trail in this stretch as well. We’ll call them hobos.
Heading back north, the rail trail crosses a few roads and walks behind a bunch of houses. The trail’s maintainers have done a great job; there are benches and signs, and historic rail road markers. The trail is way cleaner than you would imagine and it’s pretty neat to think about the Cheney mill workers getting this little ride home back in the day.
Then the trail just sort of ends behind Farr’s on North Main Street when it hits the existing railway. This is also near Time Machine Toy & Hobby on Hilliard Street, so if you’re there during a Model RR Sunday, that’s always cool. (A CTMQ visit.)
Oh, the MLCT plans/hopes to connect the trail to the Hop River rail trail to the northeast someday. Who knows.
That was fun.