Fairhaven Branch Railroad

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The Fairhaven Branch Railroad was a short-line railroad in Massachusetts. It ran from West Wareham on the Cape Cod main line of the Old Colony Railroad, southwest to Fairhaven, a town across the Acushnet River from New Bedford.


The Fairhaven Branch Railroad (FBRR) was incorporated in 1849, chartered in 1851, and built from 1852 to 1854. The New Bedford and Taunton Railroad bought the line in 1861, including its ferry terminals at New Bedford and Fairhaven, which afforded connections to Woods Hole and Marthas Vineyard. The railroad was merged into the Old Colony Railroad in 1883, four years after the Old Colony leased the Boston, Clinton, Fitchburg and New Bedford Railroad, the successor to the New Bedford and Taunton.

On March 1, 1893 the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad (better known as the "New Haven") leased the massive Old Colony system, which by then included the Boston and Providence Railroad and everything substantially east of it, as well as long branches northwest to Fitchburg and Lowell. Along with the lease of the New England Railroad in 1898, this gave the New Haven a virtual monopoly on rail transport in New England south of the Boston and Albany Railroad.

Beginning in the 1920s, automobiles and improved highways began to provide major competition to the New Haven. The company began cutback on operations of many branch lines. The New Haven's freight operations declined on the Fairhaven Branch. The railroad tried a couple of times in the 1940s to end service and abandon the Fairhaven Branch, but vocal shipper protested. Finally, in 1953, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) formally granted the abandonment.

A small portion of the line, from Tremont Jct. to a Sand Pit in Marion was used until 1973. The tracks on that portion of line remain intact.

Part of the old right-of-way is in use as the Phoenix Bike Trail.[1]

The Line[edit]

The Fairhaven Branch Railroad, about 15 miles long from Fairhaven to Wareham, ran through the center of Fairhaven, past the Atlas Tack Company, through East Fairhaven into Mattapoisett, where the tracks turned North, across the present day U.S. Route 6 and East again, parallel and just South of the current Interstate 195 (Rhode Island–Massachusetts). Part of the old rail bridge crossing the Sippican River can be seen from Interstate 195. The tracks ran through Marion and connected with the main line to Cape Cod at West Wareham/Tremont.

Railroad Customers[edit]

The Fairhaven Branch had several customers thruought its existence. Perhaps the largest and most well known customer of the line was the Atlas Tack Company, which had a total of three sidings that ran up to the North side of the building. From here, tacks and nails and other products made at the factory were shipped out by rail, and materials used in the making of these products were brought in to the factory until 1953.

Perhaps the second largest customer of the line was the Fairhaven Iron Works, which had a foundry on the corner of Union and Laurel Streets, in Fairhaven Center, near Atlas Tack. From here, iron products were shipped out, although it is uncertain the exact time period during which this took place. In 1893, the iron works burned to the ground, and they moved their operations to the wharf next to Railroad Wharf in Fairhaven. The rail spur which the iron works utilized is visible in a painting of the Fairhaven Center by Arthur Moniz in the Rogers Room of the Millicent Library in Fairhaven.

Several other smaller customers utilized the line to ship their goods, including a coal dealer in Mattapoisett, and a sand pit in Marion, who shipped out hoppers of sand until 1973. Some other small customers may have used the line to ship out their goods from the team track in Fairhaven Yard. Here, customers that wished to ship their goods by rail, but did not have a rail connection and/or were not near the railroad, could bring their goods to the freight house and have them shipped via rail.

Henry Huttleston Rogers[edit]

Main article: Henry H. Rogers

Notable among the early employees of the FBRR was Henry Huttleston Rogers. Born in 1840, he was the son of a former ship's captain and grocer in Fairhaven. After graduating from high school in 1857, "Hen" Rogers hired on with the Fairhaven Branch Railroad as an expressman and brakeman. He worked for three or four years, carefully saving what he could from his meager earnings. Eventually, Henry Rogers rose within the growing petroleum industry to become one of the three key men in John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil trust. One of the wealthiest persons in the United States, he had active interests in petroleum, natural gas, copper, and coal enterprises.

See also[edit]