The Essex Steam Train conductor called "all aboard" and the "Adventure Kids" aka Debra C. Argen and Edward F. Nesta were off on another adventure. Essex, Connecticut is beautiful anytime of the year but especially so during the fall when the foliage attracts visitors from around the world to experience its beauty. Over the course of our narrated 2 ½ hour journey, we experienced this annual phenomenon by train and by riverboat, as part of the Essex Steam Train and Riverboat experience.
After our stay at the luxurious Saybrook Point Inn & Spa in nearby Old Saybrook, Connecticut (a 15-minute drive) we took advantage of our proximity to Essex and on a beautiful day in late October 2015, we drove to the historic 1892 Essex Station where we boarded a vintage 1920s first class car to experience the Fall Foliage Tour on the Essex Steam Train. From the comfort of the velvet swivel chairs positioned by the windows, we were able to leave the driving to someone else and feast our eyes on nature's bountiful banquet of beauty as the train slowly made its journey through the charming New England towns of Essex, Deep River and Chester, past marshes, the Goodspeed Opera House, Gillette Castle and the East Haddam Swing Bring.
Essex Steam Train
Fired by 3,000 tons of coal and 6,000 gallons of water turned into steam, the Essex Steam Train is a marvel from bygone days when the pace was slower, and it was a perfect way to experience the beauty of the area. The fall foliage was stunning as was watching the birds soaring against a bright blue sky and watching a heron enjoying his "dinner" along the edge of the Connecticut River.
Fireman connecting engine to cars
The first class car had water, soft drinks, tea, coffee, spirits, cocktails, wine, champagne and beer available for purchase and as the train rolled along the tracks, its steam billowing in the wind, and the whistle blowing as we made our way through the pretty towns, we slipped into the spirit of the roaring 1920s sipping champagne while enjoying the views.
Debra C. Argen and Edward F. Nesta
The next leg in our journey was at Deep River Landing where we left the train to board the Becky Thatcher, a triple-deck Mississippi-style riverboat, for a 1¼ hour narrated boat cruise. Experiencing fall foliage by riverboat was like looking through nature's kaleidoscope, a plethora of red, deep orange, gold, yellow, and green leaves contrasted with the rocky coast of the Connecticut River and bright blue mid-Autumn sky, a stunning mélange that visually stimulated and excited the senses with the continually changing views.
View of marsh land from train
Along with the stunning views we also learned a little abut the area and the fact that the Connecticut River is 407 miles long and is 100 miles longer than the Hudson River. We also had the opportunity to have a closer look at Gillette Castle from the upper deck of the boat. This large fortress-like structure located in East Haddam built in 1919 on the top of the southernmost hills known as the Seven Sisters was once the home of the actor William Gillette. It is now owned by the State Parks and is seasonally open to the public, and is on our "next adventure to-visit" list.
Another interesting sight was the East Haddam Swing Bridge, built in 1913, and later rebuilt in 1999, which is 881 feet in length, has a width of 24.6 feet, and is considered to be the longest bridge of its kind in the world that swings open to let large boats pass through rather than the more traditional lift bridge.
Foliage along coast - view from Becky Thatcher
After the boat cruise we boarded the steam train again for the return trip back to Essex Station filled with wonderful memories of a very special experience.
History of the Essex Steam Train
Debra C. Argen and Conductor
"Unlike many railroad museums and excursions, the Valley Railroad Company has been in existence in one form or the other since 1868. In some ways, the history of this little railroad is as exciting as a ride on the railroad today, and reflects the ups and downs of the American rail system from the early days of steam to the present. In the 1830's the first growth of railroads began in New England. After one failed attempt to start, the Valley Railroad Company, headed by the President of the Charter Oak Life Insurance Company (James C. Walkeley), obtained the state charter to build and form the company on July 17, 1868.
Fireman stoking the steam engine
"Hard times fell on the New Haven Railroad itself and in 1961 it fell into bankruptcy. With a major reduction on spending money to maintain its branch lines, the Valley Railroad soon fell into disrepair, finding only two slow moving freight trains a week using the rusted rails. Business failed along the Valley Railroad line and the New Haven also failed. In 1968 the New Haven was no longer a railroad with the last train run over the Valley in March 1968."
Debra C. Argen enjoying her train ride
"Concerned volunteers got together to keep the railroad from being torn up by the new owners, Penn Central. This group managed to obtain a temporary lease from Penn Central in 1969 and on August 15, 1969, the Penn Central turned over this branch line to the State of Connecticut."
Engineer getting ready for the run
"The State of Connecticut granted a formal lease to the Valley Railroad Company on June 1, 1970. This lease authorized the company to use the 22.67 miles of track for freight and passenger service; and on July 29, 1971 (100 years to the day of the first ceremonial run), after thousands of hours of mostly volunteer effort, the first train of the new Valley Railroad steamed from Essex to Deep River and has been steaming ever since."
Edward F. Nesta "Walking the Line"
Essex Steam Train and Riverboat Schedule: Spring Season: May - mid-June, Summer Season: late June through the end of August, Fall Season: month of September, Foliage Season: Most of October. Please visit their website for complete schedule of dates, times, and ticket pricing.
East Haddam Swing Bridge
Parking and Pricing: There is free parking, and all prices include tax. Families with five or more paying passengers enjoy a 10% discount on Steam Train/Steam Train & Riverboat tickets. Seniors: receive a 10% discount every day and a 20% discount on Mondays, on Steam Train/Steam Train & Riverboat tickets. Groups of 20 or more, contact our office for discounted prices. Note: Discounts apply to Steam Train / Steam Train & Riverboat excursions only, and do not apply to special event trains (Day Out with Thomas, Circus Train, Santa Special, North Pole Express, etc.)
Special Events for 2015: Eagle Flyer, Hand on the Throttle, the kid-friendly Day Out with Thomas, Essex Clipper Dinner Train, Saybrook Special, Caboose Weekends, Celebrate the Roaring 20s, Circus Train, North Pole Express, and Santa Special. Check their website for all events and dates. www.EssexSteamTrain.com
Approximate Driving Times
Boston: 2 hours, 15 minutes
Springfield: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Worcester: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Bridgeport: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Danbury: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Greenwich: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Hartford: 45 minutes
New Haven: 45 minutes
Stamford: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Waterbury: 1 hour
New York City: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Providence: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Please visit their website, www.EssexSteamTrain.com for more information on special packages and upcoming events.
The Valley Railroad Company
One Railroad Avenue
Essex, Connecticut 06426
Toll-Free Telephone: +1-800-377-3987
Official Hashtag: #essexsteamtrain
Read more about Essex, Connecticut and Old Saybrook and the surrounding area in the Destinations, Hotels and Resorts, Restaurants, Chefs' Recipes, and Spas sections.
Come Experience Fall Foliage From the
Essex Steam Train
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