Transportation in Cheshire During the Nineteenth Century by Richard DeLuca


The conversion of energy into motion is at the heart of all transportation. These entries regarding the major types of transportation available in Cheshire during the nineteenth century are grouped in three parts, each part related to the source of energy dominant at the time. The entries progress chronologically from the beginning of the century, when the use of animal horsepower on turnpikes and canals was first introduced, then on to the use of the steam engine and the railroad locomotive to travel overland beginning in the 1840s, and ending with interurban street railways (or trolleys) powered by electricity and the electric motor starting in the 1880s.


Fear of disunion and need for a regional economy

In the years following the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, the greatest challenge facing the new nation was its need to function as an economic whole so that individual states would not be tempted to dissolve the fragile union of former English colonies. To achieve economic independence the country needed to transform the crude network of dirt roads built in slapdash fashion during the colonial period into a network of well-built, well-maintained highways that could accommodate the transportation of people, goods and news within and among the thirteen states. With the national government using what revenue it had to pay down the nation’s war debt, and states without the money to take on the task, Connecticut and other states adopted the English system of turnpike toll roads to serve the purpose.

Turnpikes in Connecticut

In Connecticut, turnpike companies were private corporations chartered and regulated by the state to improve and maintain a particular section of roadway. Once sufficient shares of stock in the company were sold to raise the necessary capital, the road was improved either on its existing location or reconstructed on new alignment, or with a combination of the two. In return, the company was allowed to collect tolls for the use of the road—the amount of the toll and number of tollgates specified in the company charter—and share whatever profits it accrued in dividends to its shareholders. Along with banking and manufacturing companies, companies building turnpikes and toll bridges were among the first privately owned stock corporations created in the new nation.

Because of its many separate towns and the lack of a single major population center to attract commerce, Connecticut was soon crisscrossed with one of the densest turnpike networks of any state. From 1792 to 1836, the Connecticut legislature chartered 119 turnpike corporations, 100 of which went on to build a total of 1600 miles of turnpike roads in the state. Several of these toll highways were built in the vicinity of Cheshire, with only one turnpike passing directly through the town.

Cheshire Turnpike

The Cheshire Turnpike Corporation was chartered in May of 1800 to construct a toll road from Temple Street in New Haven, along the already existing Hartford & New Haven Turnpike as far as Eli Whitney’s Gun Factory in Hamden, then directly north a distance of 24 miles to the Southington-Farmington town line. To secure payment of damages to land owners whose property might be involved and insure that the road, once improved, was properly maintained, the company was required to post a bond of $15,000.

At first, citizens of Hamden opposed the project, leery of corporate power and unwilling to pay for the right to travel over what had been a free, though unimproved, public road. Unable to stop the project, the town circumvented the issue, literally, by building a new public road from the center of town to a point north of the turnpike’s tollgate in Mount Carmel, making it possible for residents to avoid the turnpike toll. To be sure everyone got the point, the town named the new street (Shepard Avenue) Shunpike Road.

Cheshire citizens were less antagonistic, and some even bought shares in the turnpike. The second of the road’s two tollgates was located between the center of Cheshire and the Southington town line. As stipulated in all turnpike charters, local travelers were exempt from paying a toll if they were on their way to church, a town meeting, militia training, or the gristmill, or were traveling less than one mile on farm business.

Using the lower portion of the Hartford & New Haven Turnpike without compensation proved to be a sore point between the two turnpike companies, so a law was enacted that required the Cheshire road to reimburse the Hartford road half the cost of maintaining the portion of the road common to both turnpikes from the day the Cheshire road opened, and to share the cost equally in the future. The Cheshire turnpike was still operating in 1856, when a legislative act allowed the company to split the Mount Carmel toll into two half gates, but when the road was returned to public use is not known.

Nearby turnpikes

In addition to the Cheshire Turnpike, residents of Cheshire had access to other turnpikes located nearby:

1. The Hartford & New Haven Turnpike (1798): access to this thoroughfare was along Turnpike Road in Wallingford (Route 150), from where the route continued along Broad Street through Meriden and on to Hartford.

2. The Middletown & Meriden Turnpike (1809): this east-west road passed through East Meriden and Middlefield, and served travel to Middletown.

3. The Southington & Waterbury Turnpike (1812): this road ran west from the Middletown and Meriden Turnpike in Meriden, through Southington and over the mountain to South Main Street in Waterbury, providing improved access to Meriden and Waterbury.

The stage line from Hartford to New Haven through Cheshire

In addition to personal travel by horse and buggy and the shipment of goods by horse-drawn wagons, turnpikes made possible the nation’s first means of mass transportation, the stagecoach. Travel by stagecoach began soon after the revolution, the stage replacing the post rider as the official carrier of the U. S. mail. Stagecoach service spread over the state along with the construction of turnpike roads, and reached its peak in the 1820s. The service took its name from the need to stop every twelve to eighteen miles to change horses and refresh passengers. The stop was typically located at a local tavern, where meals and overnight accommodations could be provided.

The Badger & Porter’s Stage Register, a pamphlet for travelers listing stagecoach and steamboat lines running in New York and New England in 1827, included 26 stage lines running in, into, or through Connecticut. One of these lines, the Hartford & New Haven stage, stopped in Cheshire. The stage operated on alternate routes between the two cities, running through Berlin, Meriden and Middletown one day, and through Farmington, Southington and Cheshire the next. In Cheshire, the stage stopped in the center of town at Beach’s Tavern. The full route covered some 40 miles and a one-way ticket for the entire trip cost $2. In New Haven, Cheshire residents could connect to steamboat service to New York City, with a one-way fare costing an additional $3.

Turnpikes not effective for long distance shipping

The turnpikes built by privately owned corporations during the early nineteenth century, and the stagecoach services that ran on these improved roads, made it possible for the new nation to establish itself economically. Even the small farming community of Cheshire (population 2300 in 1800) had regular access to the emerging commercial centers of New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury and Meriden, and to New York City via steamboat service on Long Island Sound.

But shipping heavy raw materials and bulky goods a considerable distance by horse-drawn wagon—even on an improved turnpike road—was slow and expensive. To solve the problem, many states soon chartered companies to build inland waterways, or canals, where the lower surface friction would allow a single horse to pull a packet boat loaded with many times the weight of a horse-drawn wagon traveling on a dirt road at the same speed of four miles per hour.

Canal Fever

The success of the Erie Canal in New York State in the early 1820s sparked a fever of canal building throughout the northeast and New England. Connecticut alone chartered six canal companies, though only two raised sufficient funds to build their projects: the Connecticut River Company, which built a six-mile-long canal around the dangerous rapids in the Connecticut River at Enfield; and the Farmington Canal Company, which built a canal from New Haven harbor, through Hamden and Cheshire, to the state line in Granby. From there, the Hampshire & Hampden Canal Company, a Massachusetts corporation, continued the route on to the Connecticut River at Northampton.

The Farmington Canal

At a total length of eighty miles and with a total of sixty locks, the Farmington Canal and its Massachusetts extension was the most ambitious canal project undertaken in New England. In Cheshire, the route of the canal ran through the western part of town, and included three locks, one at North Brooksvale Road (Lock 12), one at Cornwall Avenue (Lock 11) and a third between Cornwall and West Main Street, at what was the highest point of the canal in town, referred to as the Cheshire Summit (Lock 10).

From the start, raising funds for the project proved difficult. Estimated by engineers to cost $700,000, the final cost of the project reached nearly twice that figure. To help raise funds for construction, Connecticut allowed the incorporation of several canal banks in New Haven, a portion of whose assets were used to purchase stock in the canal company. But, as construction proceeded financial problems persisted, and payments to land owners for damages, and to the contractors and Irish immigrant workers who built the canal, were repeatedly late in coming.

The first portion of the canal from New Haven to Farmington opened to traffic in 1828. In her History of Hamden, Rachel M. Hartley notes that to mark the occasion a celebration was held at the Cheshire Summit in West Cheshire, and “with a bottle of pink liquid dropped into the water from the chimney top of Richard Beach’s store on the canal bank,” the area was christened Beachport.” Hartley continues: “Three boats and a canon were provided and at 3 o’clock, upon the firing of the signal gun, a red flannel petticoat was hoisted as a flag aboard the Fayette, and the boat started from the north end of section 63. As it passed the summit, three cheers were given and a Federal salute of twenty-four guns was fired. The ceremony was closed by the serving of plentiful refreshments to all the local men who had worked on the canal. The red petticoat was an unexplained mystery, except that Cheshire ladies were reported indignant about it.”

By 1830, the entire route in Connecticut was operational, and as apples, butter, cider and wood flowed south through the valley to New Haven, imports such as coffee, flour, hides, molasses, salt and sugar headed upstream. But continued funding difficulties delayed completion of the project through to the Connecticut River at Northampton for five more years. Heavily in debt, the two companies reorganized into one in 1835 and became the New Haven & Northampton Company at a loss of more than one million dollars to their original shareholders.

Impact of the Farmington Canal

Business on the canal increased steadily during the first years of full operation. Packet excursions were offered for the adventurous traveler, and goods were shipped freely in both directions, including barite ore from a mine on Jinny Hill Road in Cheshire. Towns and merchants along the route prospered as new businesses located near the canal. But shareholders in the new corporation did not. Ongoing damage to the canal from heavy rains and flooding streams became a significant and ongoing expense that exceeded the company’s toll revenues. Over its ten-year existence, the New Haven & Northampton Company recorded a profit in only one year, and lost a total of $300,000. Beginning in 1845, the company phased out service along the Connecticut portion of the canal, and had its charter amended to allow the company to build and operate, on the same right-of-way, the nineteenth century’s next and greatest transportation invention: the railroad.


General information on turnpikes, stagecoaches and canals is from Post Roads & Iron Horses: Transportation in Connecticut from Colonial Times to the Age of Steam by Richard DeLuca, Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

Additional sources: Private Acts of the State of Connecticut, vol. I: 1223; Turnpikes of New England by Frederick J. Wood, reprint edition of 1997, 350-51;
“Badger & Porter Stage Register” 1827;
Cheshire: A Handbook” by May M. Tierman, 1975, 6; “
Map of the Farmington Canal” by Carl E. Walter, Plainville Historical Society, 200
The History of Hamden Connecticut 1786-1959 by Rachel M. Hartley, 1959, 134, 193; “Reflections on the Canal in Cheshire” by Raimon L. Beard, Cheshire Historical Society, 1976, 36;
History of Cheshire, 1694-1840 by Joseph P. Beach, 1912, 272.


Steam power used first for transportation by water

The advent of the steam engine revolutionized nineteenth transportation, and together the steamboat and the steam locomotive made possible the growth of factory-based industry in Connecticut. By the 1820s, steamboats ran on Long Island Sound and the Connecticut River, providing service to New York City from population centers such as New Haven, Hartford and New London. Stagecoaches became feeder lines to steamboat ports, and stagecoach schedules were arranged to connect with New York bound steamers.

Steamboat service from New Haven was readily available to Cheshire residents via the Cheshire Turnpike and the Hartford to New Haven stagecoach. Cheshire was also home to a piece of steamboat history. For a moment in the 1830s, a steamboat appeared in Cheshire, and its story is an example of the ingenuity and inventiveness that was commonplace among Connecticut Yankees in the nineteenth century.

A steamboat runs in Cheshire

In the 1880s, Frederick J. Kingsbury, President of Citizen’s National Bank of Waterbury, recalled a vision from his youth that had haunted him for decades. At the age of ten or eleven, walking along the Farmington Canal, young Kingsbury came upon an abandoned boat. As he later wrote: “The boat was lying at the mouth of a little bay or creek, which opened into the basin at…the point of the canal railroad where Cheshire Station is now situated. This boat lay on the east side of the basin, a few rods north of the road leading to Cheshire Center…it having apparently been run into the creek for storage and to be out of the way.” What struck Kingsbury so vividly that fifty years later he could “remember perfectly the appearance of the boat,” was the vessel’s unusual appearance: there was a propeller in the shape of a corkscrew attached to the front of the boat.

What Kingsbury had stumbled on as a young boy was the remnant of a unique episode in the history of steam boating in Connecticut: a steam-powered boat designed and built by Cheshire native Benjamin Dutton Beecher to operate on the Farmington Canal. Benjamin Beecher (1791-1868) was educated at Cheshire Academy, where he was a classmate of Civil War hero-to-be Admiral Andrew Hull Foote. After graduation, Beecher learned the carpenter’s trade, and pursued his fascination with inventing. He received his first patent at twenty-five for a fanning mill to clean grain, said to be the first of its kind in the world.

In 1833, while living with his wife and family on Mountain Brook Road, Beecher built his first canal steamboat, hoping to harness the power of steam for use on large inland waterways like New York’s Erie Canal. With the wooden body of the boat completed, Beecher installed a second hand steam engine along with a corkscrew propeller he had designed and made himself. “The propeller was placed at the bow of the boat rather than the stern, with the idea that less injury would be done to the banks of the canal by the wash, which for a long time was a serious obstacle to the use of steam for canal navigation.” Beecher made a trial run with the steamboat along the canal from Beachport to Hitchcock’s Basin and back without incident, a round trip of about eight miles.

In 1840, Beecher, then living in Prospect, built a second boat equipped with a patented steam engine of his own design that he shipped in pieces to Troy, New York, the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal. This may have been done as a demonstration for potential investors, but we know nothing for certain of the reason or the result of this second attempt. Seven years later, Lieutenant Andrew Foote, then in command of the navy yard at Charlestown, Massachusetts, summoned Benjamin Beecher to Boston. The Navy had appropriated $300 for a study of Beecher’s design, and Foote wanted his childhood friend to conduct the experiments personally. Here again, we know nothing of the results, only that the trials ended when Foote was transferred to his next assignment.

Having gathered this information about Beecher’s screw-propelled steamboat, Kingsbury shared his findings with members of the New Haven Colony Historical Society. He found that the Society had in its collections a model of a boat that had come from the home of Admiral Foote, and was “an invention in which Admiral Foote was interested, but which failed to prove successful. It is without doubt the original model of the boat on which Inventor Beecher was at work in Boston harbor.” The model is still in the possession of the New Haven Museum and Historical Society.

Of the inventor’s life after his return from Boston, Kingsbury tells us only that Benjamin Dutton Beecher died in Southington, Connecticut on January 17, 1868, and was buried in Prospect. Meanwhile, Beecher’s first steamboat, which Kingsbury had seen as a young boy, “lay in the canal until it fell to pieces.”

The steam locomotive: steam-powered overland transport

It was the application of steam power to over land transportation that made the industrial revolution possible. Running iron wheels over iron rails reduced surface friction to the point where a steam locomotive could pull a trainload of raw materials, manufactured goods and people many times the weight of a canal boat. Operating at the unheard-of speed of thirty miles per hour or more, the railroad provided the low-cost, high-volume transportation necessary for the mass distribution of goods and long-distance travel. In Connecticut, railroad companies chartered by the legislature built and operated one thousand miles of railroad within the state’s borders by the end of the century.

Canal Line Railroad

 With construction of the New Haven & Hartford Railroad in the early 1840s, and its subsequent extension into Massachusetts and Vermont, the city of New Haven had the reliable route to upper New England it had hoped the Farmington Canal would be. To compete, the reorganized New Haven & Northampton Company in 1846 had its charter amended to allow it to build a railroad of its own along the right-of-way of the existing canal. Construction began soon after in New Haven, and the first section of the line was completed through West Cheshire to Plainville by December of the following year. By March of 1850, the railroad was operational as far north as Granby. Officially named the New Haven & Northampton Railroad, the road was more commonly known as the Canal Line. Like its namesake, the Canal Line was eventually extended to Northampton, but not until 1856, and only after much political wrangling with its competitor, the New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

To make initial construction easier, much of the Canal Line between New Haven and Hamden was built not on the canal’s right-of-way but adjacent to the Cheshire Turnpike. As might be imagined, this resulted in frequent accidents with horse-drawn vehicles using the turnpike and nearby streets that crossed the railroad at grade. Still, this portion of the Canal Line was not relocated to a separate right-of-way until 1880.

The Canal Line depot in West Cheshire served town residents and businesses well into the twentieth century, and like virtually all Connecticut railroads, it eventually came under the control of its original competitor, the New Haven Railroad.

It was in an effort to find a less expensive outlet for their metal goods that manufacturers and businessmen in Waterbury and Cheshire built the state’s only plank road turnpike, often referred to as a “poor man’s railroad.”

Waterbury-Cheshire Plank Road

Cheshire was the destination of the only plank road turnpike ever built in Connecticut. In 1852, William H. Scoville of Waterbury, Arad Welton of Cheshire (President of the Ball & Socket Company) among others obtained a charter for the Waterbury & Cheshire Plank Road Company to build a planked turnpike between those two towns. The route ran from the railroad depot in West Cheshire, along West Main Street to the Notch, and over the hill to the Rogers Brothers Silver Company in Waterbury. The company was capitalized at $20,000 to $40,000, with shares costing $50 each.

As for the turnpike’s design, the right-of-way was not to exceed four rods (sixty-four feet) in width, though for the purpose of making embankments and obtaining stone and gravel the company “may take as much more land as may be necessary for the proper construction and security of said road.” Town records indicate that fourteen parcels of land in Cheshire were conveyed to the company to accommodate the roadway, though long sections of the road, including the piece from the railroad depot to the Notch, utilized existing right-of-way and required no land purchases.

A typical plank road consisted of one planked travel lane, eight feet wide, adjacent to an un-planked earthen lane. In the event that two wagons met, the one with the lightest load would move to the dirt lane, while the heavier wagon continued past. Planks were usually laid crosswise with a jagged edge to make it easier for a wagon to climb on to the planked portion. On March 12, 1853, a notice appeared in the Hartford Courant for contractors to deliver their sealed bids for the seven-mile route to M.G. Elliot, company president, at his office in New Haven. The notice also specified that hemlock planks were to be used in constructing the road.

Once the turnpike was completed, two tollgates were erected along the seven-mile route: one at Wedge’s Corner in Waterbury, and a second in Cheshire. The Cheshire gate was to have been placed on West Main Street, but was moved to the intersection of Plank and Tucker roads once the company agreed at a town meeting that residents should not have to pay a toll to travel a section of the turnpike that used an existing roadway. In 1859, the Cheshire tollgate was moved to a spot near the Ten Mile River in Prospect.

Though plank road supporters promoted the longevity of the road’s wood surface, rain, snow and ice often combined to destroy the roadway sooner rather than later. By 1875, the Cheshire plank road turnpike had deteriorated to such a state that the towns involved petitioned the legislature to have the company’s charter repealed, and the road returned to public use. For a brief portion of its life in the 1860s, a stagecoach line run by Colonel Welton of Cheshire operated over the plank road. (500)

Waterbury, Meriden & Connecticut River Railroad

 This railroad was built in stages during the years from 1883 to 1888. It was begun by manufacturers in Meriden, whose only railroad outlet was the north-south line of the New Haven railroad between New Haven and Hartford. Wanting a transportation connection outside the control of the growing New Haven, Meriden manufacturers in 1881 obtained a charter for the Meriden & Cromwell Railroad, and by April of 1885, the line had been completed from Meriden to the Connecticut River at Cromwell, where connection was made to New York-bound steamboats and barges.

Even after the demise of the Waterbury & Cheshire Plank Road turnpike, a large number of four-horse teams continued to carry metal down the hill from Waterbury to Cheshire and Wallingford. Meriden railroad supporters proposed to extend their line to Waterbury. The idea was sweetened by the city of Waterbury, which agreed to buy $125,000 worth of stock in the proposed road. In 1887 a separate charter was obtained for the Meriden & Waterbury Railroad, and construction of the westward extension was begun. The line was completed the following year, at which time the two railroads were consolidated into the Meriden, Waterbury & Connecticut River Railroad. The road carried both passengers and freight, and made nine flag stops between Meriden and Waterbury. In Cheshire, the train might be stopped at Cheshire Street Station, Southington Road and West Cheshire Station, before climbing the hill to Waterbury.

The road officially opened July 4, 1888, but soon found itself in financial straits. Built as a less expensive competitor to the Naugatuck Railroad, the railroad incurred high costs to build the line, in part because of the difficult terrain, and in part because the Connecticut Railroad Commission insisted that all crossings be grade separated. To cover the cost of construction, the railroad had to borrow $700,000 in addition to the capital derived from stock purchases. In 1896, when bondholders foreclosed on the railroad, service on the entire line was suspended. The road was reorganized as the Middletown, Meriden & Waterbury Railroad and its operation leased to the New Haven Railroad. Service resumed in January of 1899.

From 1904, the New Haven Railroad initiated passenger service between New Haven and Waterbury using a combination of the Canal Line as far as Cheshire, and the Middletown, Meriden & Waterbury line for the remainder of the journey over the hill to Waterbury; but the service lasted only a few years. The entire line—with the exception of a small section of tract in Waterbury and another in Meriden—was finally abandoned in 1924.


General information on steamboats and railroads is from Post Roads & Iron Horses: Transportation in Connecticut from Colonial Times to the Age of Steam by Richard DeLuca, Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

Additional sources: “An Ericsson Propeller on the Farmington Canal,” Frederick J. Kingsbury, Connecticut Magazine, December 1902, 329-33; The Rail Lines of Southern New England by Ronald Karr; “Meriden, Waterbury & Connecticut River Railroad,” Glover Snow Transportation Bulletin #7, August 1953; article on Cheshire Plank Road, Cheshire Herald, May 14, 1987, 3; Notice for Cheshire Plank Road, Hartford Courant, March 12, 1853, 3; Repeal of Cheshire Plank Road charter in Legislative Summary, Hartford Courant, June 18, 1875, 1.


Electric power for transportation

With the advent of electricity, transportation had another new source of motive power, and another mode of travel: the electric streetcar or trolley. Between the late 1880s and the early 1920s, street railroad companies built a system of trolley lines in and between the major cities of the state that equaled Connecticut’s railroad network. By 1913, it was even possible to travel from New York to Boston by trolley, though the trip required a dozen different trolley lines and nearly twenty-four hours!

The Cheshire Street Railway Company

Despite its two railroads, by the turn of the century connections for Cheshire residents to the nearby centers of New Haven, Waterbury and Meriden were inconvenient at best. The Canal Line railroad stopped in West Cheshire, a mile from the center of town, and ran at inconvenient hours. The Waterbury, Meriden & Cromwell Railroad had only been back in service for a year, and ran two trains daily from Waterbury to Middletown, but had no depot in town, only two flag stops, one near Mixville and another where the line crossed the Canal road, about two miles north of the town center. As a result, the east-west road was little used by Cheshire residents with the exception of some sixty workmen who traveled to jobs in Waterbury each Monday and returned home each Saturday.

To remedy this situation, in April of 1901 four Cheshire businessmen—C. K. Alger, Jacob D. Walter, Alfred S. Bennet and Horace L. Hine—petitioned the state legislature for a charter to incorporate the Cheshire Street Railway Company to provide convenient electric trolley service from the center of town to New Haven, Waterbury and Meriden. Two lines were proposed: one to run from Milldale in Southington, through Cheshire, to Mount Carmel in Hamden, where it connected with the Fair Haven & Westville trolley to New Haven; another to run from the Waterbury Traction Company line at Silver Street in Waterbury to the Meriden Electric Railway at Hanover Park in Meriden. The company charter was granted that June with a capitalization of $50,000, despite opposition from the Meriden, Southington & Compounce Tramway Company of Southington, which had hoped to build the Milldale line itself.

The line from Milldale to New Haven was quickly completed and proved an immediate success. The challenge of the western hills that stood between Cheshire and Waterbury— and that had been conquered twice already by the plank road turnpike and the Waterbury, Meriden & Connecticut River Railroad—again proved difficult, but not impossible. The Waterbury line wound down the mountain from Wedge’s Corner, and along portions of plank road to the center of Cheshire, where it met the line to Mount Carmel and Milldale on Maple Avenue near the Waverly Inn. Both lines were in operation by 1903. However, the remainder of the line to Meriden was never constructed. It was to have run east to Hough’s Mill, then along the existing highway south of the Quinnipiac River to Meriden.

Power for at least a portion of the Cheshire Street Railway came from a substation built by CL&P at the intersection of what is today Route 10 and Country Club Road, originally named Powerhouse Road. (The substation building is today Masonic Temple Lodge 16.)

Soon after their two lines were operational, the directors of the Cheshire Street Railway sold the company to Connecticut Railway & Lighting, which in turn leased the lines to the Connecticut Company in 1906. Both companies were street railway subsidiaries of the New Haven Railroad. Cheshire’s two electric trolley lines operated until 1936, after which motorbuses were used.

Impact of transportation in nineteenth century

Cheshire residents and businesses benefited significantly from each of the transportation improvements that occurred in the nineteenth century. From the horsepower of turnpike, stagecoach and canal to steam railroads and electric trolleys, trade and travel to nearby towns and more distant cities improved significantly. However, while the population of Meriden and Waterbury grew dramatically, and New Haven became an industrial center of more than 100,000 persons, the town of Cheshire remained rural in character, with a population of barely 2000 persons in 1900, down several hundred from a century earlier.

Though the Farmington Canal and the Canal Line railroad provided access to New Haven and beyond that made industry such as the Ball & Socket Company and the town’s barite mining operations possible, the agricultural identity of the town itself did not change significantly. While urban dwellers in Connecticut in 1900 were living in crowded conditions of 6000 or more persons per square mile, Cheshire had barely 60 persons for each square mile of the town’s area. It would take another new source of power, the internal combustion engine, another type of transportation vehicle, the automobile, and a new century to change the character of Cheshire from a rural to a suburban community.


General information on electric street railways, industrial revolution, population growth is from Post Roads & Iron Horses: Transportation in Connecticut from Colonial Times to the Age of Steam by Richard DeLuca, Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

Additional sources: “Petition to the General Assembly, State of Connecticut, Committee on Railroads for a charter for an electric road from Milldale to Mount Carmel and from Hanover to Waterbury,” April 10, 1901; Special Acts of the Connecticut Legislature, charter of the Cheshire Street Railway Company, June 17, 1901; “Clues To The Past Can Be Found In Street Names,” John Rook, Cheshire Herald, July 18, 2013.

Richard DeLuca is a contributing writer to Cheshirepedia.