Connecticut enjoyed a great railroad building era from the 1840s to the turn of the 20th century. This trail which began as the Hartford, Providence and Fishkill line from Hartford to Willimantic via Manchester was completed in 1849. Six years later in 1855 it was the longest the east-west line in the state. By 1884 the line had become the Eastern Division of the New York and New Haven Railroad and a ticket would get you from Hartford to Willimantic in 65 minutes.
Hand labor, big time initiative, and bigger dreams led to the statewide pattern of rail beds that all but crisscrossed Connecticut. But with the increased proliferation of the automobile in the early 1910s and the increased personal mobility and growing road infrastructure that it brought, rails soon peaked with passenger flow, maintained themselves for a while with the freight trade and by the 1960s saw the end of what had been a vast rail based transportation era.
Today: As the railroad that once connected Hartford to Manchester, Vernon, Bolton, Andover and Willimantic became abandoned, weedy growth took over from lack of use. And as with so many rail lines, the war efforts demanded the steel of the rails and they were removed for scrap value. Fortunately for today’s trail users the rail beds are much more difficult to erase from the landscape than the rails and ties, and conservation efforts through the years have yielded the many rail-trail systems we have today.
The 20 plus miles of the Hop River Trail, like many trails of this length, passes through or abuts many preserved open areas. This is especially true for the western sections of the trail where development has put more pressure on the land and preservation efforts have maintained precious open space. Thus, in Vernon for a mile and a half the trail abuts the Belding Wildlife Area and passes through Valley Falls Park, and in Bolton the trail passes through both Bolton Notch and Hop River state parks along with some municipal open space for an additional mile and a half.
East of these towns, in Andover and Columbia, the trail is more remote passing through woodlands, along the edges of fields and crossing and abutting the Hop River. Add to these attributes the workmanship of the stone cuts, the low land “fills” and the remaining stone work of water crossings, and for a quiet, scenic and historic outing, the Hop River State Park Trail is hard to beat.