way to go:  peter marteka

In Search Of Our Railroad Past

Bridge

Bridge over the river. (PETER MARTEKA / HARTFORD COURANT)

I saw a movie star in Haddam.

No, Julia Roberts wasn't heading over the swing bridge to perform at the Goodspeed Opera House. I'm talking about the Shailerville Bridge along Route 154 near the old Shad Shack. And after driving through a stone arch tunnel (Vernon Tunnel) and walking through a massive stone arch tunnel in Portland over the past few months, this trestle bridge along the old tracks once known as the "Valley Road" is the next stop in my search for our abandoned railroad past.

The 44-mile Valley Railroad once ran along the banks of the Connecticut River from the intersection of State and Commerce streets in Hartford to the Fenwick section of Old Saybrook and Long Island Sound. Trains ran from the summer of 1871 to 1968 when the tracks were abandoned. Today, a section of the rails from Essex to Haddam still operate as the Essex Steam Train a popular tourist attraction for train lovers. But the Shailerville Bridge, crossing Mill Creek along the abandoned section of the railroad from Haddam to Middletown, was a popular place to be during the filming of the 1959 Doris Day film, "It Happened to Jane." The film, also known as "Twinkle and Shine," was filmed in the locales of Chester and Haddam. The bridge is featured in a few scenes as a train (actually a prop made of wood) crossed back and forth.

Day plays Jane Osgood, who is trying to support her two young children by running a lobster business. After one of her shipments is ruined by inattention at the railroad station, Jane decides to take on Harry Foster Malone, director of the line and the "meanest man in the world." Check it out on Netflix and grab some popcorn.

The original trestle, built in 1870, consisted of a Howe Truss bridge similar to the Comstock covered bridge across the Salmon River in East Hampton. The bridge also comes with a real-life story of Jack Mack who was sleeping off a few bottles of whiskey on the original covered bridge. Sometime on July 27, 1885, Mack was struck and killed by train No. 7 as he slept.

By 1894, the wooden bridge was no longer strong enough to hold the newer trains and had to be replaced since the trains were becoming bigger and heavier and the bridges just couldn't support that kind of weight. An article in the local newspaper "The New Era" told the story of a worker who narrowly escaped death while constructing the new iron trestle in May 1894.

"He caught his fingers in the derrick, and drawing them out quickly fell backward from the car on which he stood, first striking the bridge and then falling into the creek, a distance of nearly 50 feet. He was not seriously injured, being able to walk to the doctors and have his hand dressed."

Today, the bridge provides a spectacular view of an inlet along the Connecticut River created by the flow of Mill Creek which was named after a grist mill that once stood on her banks. So check out this 116-year-old movie prop that also helped bring thousands from the big cities to the beaches of Long Island Sound.

For more Way To Go columns go to www.courant.com/waytogo.

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