History

THE CANAL 

Encouraged by the success of the Erie Canal and looking for ways to more effectively compete with the Connecticut River port of Hartford, a group of New Haven businessmen met in January 1822 to discuss the idea of a canal route from New Haven through the Farmington River Valley to the Massachusetts border. At about the same time, the Hampshire and Hampden Canal Company was formed in Massachusetts to extend the canal from the Connecticut border to the Connecticut River in Northampton, MA.

In 1828 the first commercial canal boat, the James Hillhouse, left New Haven bound for Simsbury.  In 1835, the canal was finally completed from New Haven to Northampton, a distance of 84 miles. During its heyday the canal carried a variety of cargo through the Farmington Valley, but was never able to turn a profit.  Bowing to the inevitable, the shareholders of the Farmington Canal Co. petitioned the legislature for authority to build a railroad.  In 1848 commercial operations on the Canal ceased. For more information on the history and operation of the Farmington Canal, visit: fvgreenway.org

THE RAILROAD

While many factors led to the demise of the Farmington Canal, none was more important than the invention of the steam engine.  By the mid-1800's, more than one hundred separate railroad companies operated in Connecticut.  The New Haven and Northampton Railroad Co., known as the “Canal Line”, was chartered in 1846.  The first section from New Haven to Plainville was completed in 1847.  By 1850 the line had been completed from there to the Massachusetts border with branches out to Tariffville, Unionville and Collinsville.  

In 1869 another railroad broke ground in Winsted, CT.  The Central New England Railroad, as it came to be known, ran generally east to west.  For more information on the history of these rail lines, visit: fvgreenway.org

 RAILS TO TRAILS

Just as surely as the locomotive replaced the canal boat, trucks and automobiles increasingly took over freight and passenger service and rail service over most of the Canal Line and Central New England ended by the late 1980s. As rail lines around the country fell into disrepair groups of creative individuals explored the idea of converting abandoned rail beds and canal towpaths into recreational trails and the “rails-to-trails” movement was born. In 1984, trail advocates began to get more organized, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy was formed.

 In 1987, the Interstate Commerce Commission was ready to permit abandonment and sale of the old CanalLine to private developers, when a group of individuals from Hamden and Cheshire successfully petitioned to allow the right-of-way to be rebuilt as a recreational trail. The Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association (FCRTTA) was born from this core of volunteers.

 The first six miles of trail were opened in 1996. In a few areas, the imprint of the original canal can still be seen, along with retaining walls, canal locks and other features. In Cheshire, the only restored lock along the original canal has been incorporated into the Lock 12 Historical park, which comprises a small museum, as well as blacksmith and carpenter shops, lockkeepers house, and a picnic area.

 In 1992, the Farmington Valley Trails Council (FVTC) was founded primarily to increase public support and awareness of rails-to-trails projects and to work with town governments to facilitate their completion.

 Since its founding, the FCRTTA has grown to nearly 500 members. Each new member gives the association a stronger voice before state, federal and municipal boards and commissions in its efforts to complete and maintain the trails. If you are not already a member of FCRTTA, please consider lending your support by contacting us on that tab of this webpage.

THE TRAIL SYSTEM

The 84 miles of the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail (FCHT) from New Haven to Northampton, and the 18 miles of the Farmington River Trail (FRT) loop, constitute one of the most picturesque and historic greenways in New England. The maps included on this website cover the 54 miles of the Connecticut section of the FCHT from New Haven to Suffield. The FRT loop trail runs from Unionville along the beautiful Farmington Rive, reconnecting with the FCHT in Simsbury.

 

 

 

 

Contact Us

The Farmington Canal Rail-To-Trail Association
940 Whitney Avenue, Hamden, CT-06517

4Biz Group