CHESTER, Mass. (WWLP) – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service (NPS) has approved the Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges and Chester Factory Village Depot as National Historic Landmarks (NHL).
According to the NPS, the location received the designation after meeting the criteria for NHL significance:
• The Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges and Chester Factory Village Depot are nationally significant under NHL Criterion 1 as surviving components of the Western Railroad, which connected Worcester, Massachusetts, with Albany, New York. When completed in 1841, the Western was the longest railroad constructed and operated in the United States by a single corporation and was one of the first four interregional railroads in the country. The innovative management hierarchy of the Western Railroad’s
corporate structure set a new standard that was subsequently copied by many American corporations.
• The railroad segment and bridges are nationally significant under NHL Criterion 2 as the best representative works and highest achievement of George Washington Whistler (1800–1849), one of the country’s leading practitioners of civil engineering in the early nineteenth century and a pioneering designer of railroads.
• The railroad segment and bridges are nationally significant as an intact segment of the first railroad in the United States—perhaps the world—to demonstrate the feasibility of moving trains across a mountain range using only traction, or the friction between the wheels of the train and the tracks, for propulsion and braking. To accomplish the mountain ascent, the Western Railroad, with Whistler as its lead engineer, built a group of ten large masonry arch bridges and made extensive cuts and fills to accommodate the roadbed within a winding three-mile section of the Westfield River Valley. As surviving components of that section of railroad, the Western Railroad Stone Arch Bridges, and the segment of Western Railroad Roadbed that connects them, exemplify the engineering accomplishment of the mountain crossing and are therefore eligible under NHL Criterion 4.
• The Chester Factory Village Depot meets Criterion Exception 2 since it was moved only a short distance to the east side of the tracks in 1990 to save it from demolition. It retains significance and integrity as one of few remaining examples of a pre-Civil War, post-and beam Western Railroad depot, and is the only extant depot on the difficult segment of the line through the mountains of western Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Department of Fish & Game is the owner of the Stone Arch Bridges and Railbed, and the Chester Foundation, Inc. owns the Chester Railroad Station. The property encompasses 4.53 acres and is located within the towns of Becket, Middlefield, and Chester, Massachusetts.
An invitation only ceremony is scheduled to be held at the Chester Railway Station on Saturday, September 25, 2021.