UNIQUE PROGRAMS JOIN OLD FAVORITES DURING ESSEX STEAM TRAIN & RIVERBOAT’S 40TH ANNIVERSARY YEAR
Typically, trains and boats are used as a means to an end; commuting to the office, traveling to see an old friend.
But tucked away in the lower Connecticut River Valley, the two modes of transportation have enabled visitors to experience both the history and nature of the region by rail and water for four decades.
The Essex Steam Train & Riverboat is marking its 40th anniversary in July, a year marked by several new programs and special events, and the return of some favorite pastimes.
The original 2½-hour train and boat ride begins at the 1892 Essex Station and takes a 12-mile trip through Deep River and Chester. Passengers then disembark at Deep River Landing and continue on to a 75-minute cruise along the Connecticut River, which offers clear views of coves, marshes, wildlife and the shoreline.
“The Connecticut River Valley is so unspoiled,” says Susan Dee, marketing manager. “Families really appreciate it.”
Operated by The Valley Railroad Company, the train and boat ride hails from humble beginnings. In July 1871, the first ceremonial train ran from Saybrook Point to Hartford. Several years later, after falling on hard times, the company was taken over.
With the 1930s came the automobile, and 30 years later, bankruptcy of the parent company. Around that time, a group of historians and preservationists dreamed of building a railroad museum. Joseph Gill, the state’s resources commissioner, saw the idea as a great way to pair the group’s mission with the state’s purchase of undeveloped land along the riverbank.
In 1969, The Valley Railroad Company was chartered and granted operating rights by the state. Two years later, the 100th anniversary of the first train route, marked the inaugural run of Essex Steam Train from Essex to Deep River.
Today, it holds bragging rights as the only steam train and riverboat connection in the U.S. But the company refused to play it safe, instead opting to take full advantage of its vintage coaches.
On Fridays in July and August, passengers can ride in a dining car and participate in the Murder Mystery program or reserve the Ralph Gibson caboose for a children’s birthday party. Halloween enthusiasts can ride the Fright Train and watch as a love story unfolds around the theme of a 1925 train wreck.
Dee is hoping that the newly created Valley Railroad Circus Train & Big Top Show becomes an instant hit with passengers. A ringmaster welcomes riders aboard a genuine circus train ride that travels from off-site parking to the event grounds at Essex Steam Train.
Clowns, a petting zoo, amusement rides, acrobats and puppet show round out the experience.
“It’s very unique. That’s why we’re launching it,” Dee explains. “Our big-