Commuting to New York is part of the daily lives of many Fairfield residents, and during the holidays families enjoy taking the train to see the tree in Rockefeller Center and the windows at some of the world’s best department stores. But that trek was much more complicated until 168 years ago. Back on December 27, 1848, the first train passed through

Fairfield, coming from New Haven on its way to New York.

In 1844, the Connecticut General Assembly approved the charter for the New York and New Haven Railroad Company to begin construction of a rail line. Four years later, the first train arrived. Many of the town’s residents did not greet this event with enthusiasm, since it threatened to change their quiet way of life.

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1848

The year the first train passed through Fairfield, coming from New Haven on its way to New York.

In fact, the railroad’s impact was profound. Suddenly New York City was only a 2-hour and 10-minute ride away. Fairfield men could work in New York City and return the same day if they chose. The new mobility also affected women, who gained the freedom to visit friends and family in the city much more frequently. People who had previously grumbled about the construction of a railroad soon saw its advantages, including the economic benefits to the town. The Southport Station (pictured here) was built in 1848, and the images accompanying this article are from 1873 and 1874.

The arrival of the trains also opened up access to Connecticut and to its coastline for recreation. After the trains started coming through Fairfield, many city dwellers began building cottages and homes in the Fairfield Beach area. Well-to-do city dwellers found respite in the peaceful setting with its ocean breezes, and some built lavish summer homes in the town.

Others stayed at the fashionable and imposing new hotel, Fairfield House, situated near the town green. Construction of the hotel in 1848, the town’s first, coincided with the new railroad. The hotel stood on the northeast corner of Main Street (Old Post Road) and Center Street (Beach Road), and was said to be the largest of its kind in the state, boasting more than one hundred rooms. It also featured a ballroom, dining room, and spacious verandas where summer visitors could enjoy the setting and fresh air. In 1889 the name was changed to Hotel St. Marc’s, and a large annex was constructed, the only portion that remains today on the property.

The history of the development of the Fairfield coastline is documented in a current exhibition at the Fairfield Museum, “Rising Tides, Fairfield’s Coast: Past to Future.” The exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and runs through Feb. 28.

And if you love trains, the Holiday Express Train Show has its final moments this weekend, running from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Plus, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. this weekend, visitors can see a model steam train. Watch real steam rise from a model train that travels around an elevated track. Collector Harvey Campbell will share his knowledge and enthusiasm about how these unique trains work.

The Fairfield Museum and History Center is at 370 Beach Road. Learn more about the history and culture of Fairfield, view rotating exhibitions and purchase Fairfield-themed gifts at the Museum. For more information, visit Fairfieldhistory.org or call 203-259-1598. The Museum and Museum Shop are open daily, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.