The Wood River Branch was a 6 mile shortline which ran from Wood River Junction to Hope Valley, RI. The railroad was founded in 1872 with ambitious goals but was finally abandoned in 1947. This small railroad served as the inspiration for the O scale layout. Below is a summarized history of the railroad.
The Wood River Branch Story
The Wood River Branch began as the Wood River Railroad in January of 1867. The line was incorporated to construct a railroad linking Richmond Switch, on the New York, Providence, and Boston (Stonington Road), and a final destination of Greene, RI, on the Hartford, Providence & Fishkill Railroad. The twenty mile route through Woodville and Hope Valley was authorized and $600,000 granted to be raised to begin construction of the line.
However, progress stalled and the Wood River Railroad line was never built. In May of 1872 a new corporation was formed to build an abbreviated section from Hope Valley to Richmond Switch. This line, the Wood River Branch Railroad Company, issued $60,000 of stock with $20,000 of the stock being purchased by the Stonington Road – effectively making the Wood branch Railroad a subsidiary of the Stonington Road.
The line was completed in on July 1, 1874 and the Railroad Commission’s Report from 1876 recounts the first train:
“This road was completed so that accommodation trains commenced running July 1st, (1874) and the day was made a day of rejoicing for the people living on the route, as the trains ran free during the day and were well patronised…(T)he terminus is at Locustville, distance five and forty eight one hundredths miles; passing through Woodville and Hope Valley. The bridge over Wood River is thoroughly and substantially built, and measures eighteen and a half feet in height in the clear…the whole cost of the road, including the rolling stock was $110,000. The rails are well laid and connected by fish joints rendering it very easy riding.”
Despite its small operations, the line managed to make money in the early years. A half dozen or so mills dotted along the Wood River Valley combined with passenger traffic, provided a steady stream of income for the railroad. The road’s original equipment consisted of one locomotive, one passenger coach, and one caboose. In 1879, a new locomotive was added to the roster, together with another passenger car. On average, the line carried about 50 passengers a day and 10,000 tons of freight a year.
Though the turn of the century, the railroad operated at a breakeven level. However, in 1924, the Wood River Branch could not make payments on $56,000 in first mortgage bonds. These bonds were wholly owned by the New Haven Railroad, which did not foreclose on the property because it did not want it. In late 1927, a flood washed out parts of the Wood River Branch line – including the bridge over the Wood River – and stranded the lines equipment and two foreign line freight cars at Hope Valley. Local shippers petitioned the New Haven to re-open the line which it did in 1928. However, passenger service was discontinued at the time.
In 1937, the New Haven sold the line to the owner of the feed mill at Hope Valley – Roy Rawlings. For a grand total of $301, he received $33,600 (par value) in stock and the $66,500 in first mortgage bonds. The road was operated until 1947 when the Rawlings mill burned and the railroad was abandoned.
“The Wood River Branch Railroad Company” Peirce, Merle K., Volume IV, Number 2, Narragansett Newsletter
“Wood River Branch” Karr, Ronald Dale, Chapter 20, The Rail Lines of Southern New England