Vermont Rail Trails

History – Lamoille Valley Rail Trail

Lamoille Valley Rail Trail

Discover quintessential Vermont Along New England's longest rail trail.

Lamoille Valley Rail Trail in the winter, covered in snow
People nordic skiing on the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail

History

The LVRT has changed significantly from its original development in 1877 as an operational railroad transporting freight and passengers to the trail today that connects with local communities.

The Lamoille Valley Rail Trail occupies the former railroad corridor from St. Johnsbury to Swanton. The initial development of the railroad was championed by Horace Fairbanks, one of Vermont’s wealthiest residents, who developed an interest in railroads and proposed the line as an attempt to capitalize on commercial development that neighboring railways were bringing into the area. Contracts were secured by December of 1869 and construction was completed by June 1877. The line was originally known as the Vermont Division of the Portland & Ogdensburg Railroad that connected Portland, Maine, with Ogdensburg, New York, and points west, and it also connected to Burlington along the Burlington and Lamoille railroad at Cambridge Junction. Through the years, the railroad operated under various management and names. In 1880, the railroad faced financial struggles, and the line was reorganized as the St. Johnsbury and Lake Champlain Railroad (St. J & L.C.). In 1892, a spur line called the Granite Branch was extended from Hardwick to Woodbury to serve the granite industry.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, freight and local passenger service sustained the rail line. Freight included asbestos, limestone, gravel, grain feed, lumber, and Christmas trees. Refrigerated rail cars transported milk and other dairy products, though that was not sufficient to make the line profitable. In the early 1900s, the line also transported passengers including summer vacationers who traveled to their summer camps and the railroad hotels along the route.

With the invention of automobiles, motor traffic became a more economical transportation mode for freight and passengers, and many railroads including the St. J & L.C. began to lose business. As the rail line was attempting to reorganize in an attempt to divest of unprofitable operations, the flood of 1927 caused significant damage throughout the state as well as along the rail line. The flood caused more than 160 washouts and destroyed more than 2,000 feet of bridges and trestles, mostly along the more profitable 30-mile segment between Cambridge Junction and Hardwick. The rail was repaired through a grant from the state legislature, and it resumed operations until 1944 when it was unable to pay off its bonded indebtedness and filed for bankruptcy.

In 1944, the railroad was reorganized as the St. Johnsbury and Lamoille County Railroad. At this time, the conversion from steam to diesel required significant improvements to the track and bridges to support heavier locomotives. In the three decades that followed, the line struggled with declining business, aging equipment, deteriorating railbed, and a speed limit of ten miles per hour. In 1956, the U.S. Postal Service terminated a profitable mail contract, and by 1961, milk trains had been replaced by trucks. In the 1970s, important businesses along the rail line closed, including a talc plant in Johnson and feed plants in St. Johnsbury and Swanton. In 1973, the State of Vermont purchased the railroad, renaming it the Lamoille Valley Railroad (LVRR). By 1984, the line was transporting only tourists, but the track was not maintained. The LVRR ceased operation in 1994. Read more about the history of the rail line here.

Notable Landmarks

Historic Fisher Bridge

Fisher Bridge is the only remaining covered railroad bridge in Vermont and one of only a handful left in the entire country. Built in 1908, it has some unusual features, including an architecturally attractive double Town Lattice truss and a full-length cupola to allow locomotive steam to escape from the bridge, a safety feature that reduced fire hazard along the 103-foot bridge. Upgrades to bridge support in 1968 included pier installation and four steel girders to support bridge load. The Fisher Bridge is located over the Lamoille River between Wolcott and Hardwick.

Wolcott, Vermont - Fisher Covered Bridge

Notable Landmarks

Bridge 68

Bridge 68 – crossing the Lamoille River just north of Jeffersonville – was severely destroyed by a flood in 1927 and replaced by a steel truss bridge. In 1968, the covered bridge span was removed to support heavier diesel engines. During the past 50 years, the entire structure deteriorated so much that it was at risk of collapse and replaced with a new two-span recreational path bridge in 2017. Some of the original character was preserved in the center pier and abutments.

Bridge 68

Notable Landmarks

LVRT Memorial

In 1949, three railway workers were killed in a tragic accident on the old rail line. They are memorialized on this plaque located along the LVRT near Jeffersonville. In 2016, a remembrance plaque was installed to note this event.

LVRT Memorial
Vermont Rail Trails*** May 9, 2023