Heritage Trail Guide
Stop #3 - The Stepney Depot (c.1850)
You can almost hear the stationmaster shouting “All aboard!” as you drive by the Stepney Depot located at 54 Maple Drive and owned by Joseph Cavoto, Jr. the third stop along the Stepney trail.
One of the most important events in Monroe’s history was the opening in 1840 of the Housatonic Railroad through Stepney. This new mode of transportation changed the community radically.
The Housatonic Railroad carried passengers and freight between Bridgeport and New Milford at speeds previously unimaginable. It took around half an hour to travel by train from Bridgeport to Monroe, a fraction of the time required to make the same trip via the turnpike. Train fare from Bridgeport to Monroe was 37 cents, as compared to 10 cents or more in tolls to drive a horse and wagon along the turnpike.
The railroad was the wave of the future. Before 1850 the Housatonic Railroad built its first depot in Monroe at Lower Stepney, then known as Leavenworth Mills when Capt. Andrew Leavenworth owned the depot and the surrounds mills. This proved a major shot in the arm for the surrounding neighborhood. The Stepney Depot became the key terminal in Stepney for the delivery of raw materials and labor to the region. Local businesses, including saw, grain, and plaster mills, and the manufacture of carriages and shirts, flourished as rail access made it easier to secure supplies and get finished products to market. In 1849 Stepney got its own post office and a new name: Stepney Depot.
When generations of cultivation left Monroe’s land depleted, farmers could turn their acres into pasture for dairy cattle, because the train quickly transported milk to markets in cities such as Bridgeport. Local residents could take the train to Bridgeport or even New York to shop or on business. At the same time, urbanites seeking relief from the heat and grit of the city increasingly rode the train to rural Monroe. These city dwellers spent part of their summers as boarders in the homes of local farmers, who welcomed the extra income.
The Stephen French store and post office at 39 Maple Street was the location for decades of the Stepney Depot post office and of the Housatonic Railroad station agent. This area around the depot and store was nicknamed “Times Square” after the famous intersection in New York City.
The Andrew Barnum Curtiss House at 27 Maple Street was one of the largest residences in town; supposedly it was purchased from Sears-Roebuck and shipped to the Stepney Depot in pieces.
The railroad was the key component of transportation in Monroe for nearly a century. By the mid-1940s, the automobile rendered train travel obsolete.
Today the Stepney Depot is used for a private commercial venture, and hopefully with the completion of the rails-to-trails path, will serve as a historical landmark and a reminder of a mode of transportation that brought great change and economic growth to Monroe.
The Stepney Depot is a single story vernacular structure with a pyramidal hipped roof. The roof has a wide overhang and exposed brackets that would have help to provide shelter from the elements while passengers awaited the arrival of the train. The large modern garage door on the west side of the building was added to accommodate commercial vehicles with the train tracks located along the backside of the depot. The windows are of two sizes — the larger being 2/2 double hung sash and the smaller of the two being rectangular casements divided into three window lites. The Stepney depot is sheathed in clapboards painted a vintage barn red. The Town of Monroe Public Works Department’s equipment depot abuts the Stepney Depot. The railroad tracks ran between the depot and the public works property and connecting to the entrance of Great Hollow Lake Park.
As you travel along Maple Drive, take a look at one of Stepney’s remaining transportation landmarks.