I was recently made aware of the fact the some of the Tyler City residents do not know the story of Tyler City and its beginnings in the 19th century and its ending in the 20th. From obscurity, a city rose from what was considered to be the best farm in Orange, the Bradley farm and adjacent to it, the Russell farm. Billed as the “Gateway to the West,” 2000 building lots became available for sale on July 2, 1872. So, who were these potential homeowners, businessmen, shopkeepers and retired railroad personnel?
There is a map listing some of the buyers and as the New Haven Register wrote there were “several gala days” with a flurry of buying. Forty eager buyers left the auction with high hopes of being landowners of 88 lots, each 150’ x 50’. The names of the streets were derived from members involved with the New Haven and Derby Railroad. Marble, Halliwell, Ferry and Quintard are still names along New Haven Avenue. Russell and Bradley were also used, but Bradley was changed to Race Brook Road as seen today. The name Tyler was named for the railroad president, Morris Tyler. The naming of the streets is an obvious way to ingratiate the railroad company and others to come on board with the envisioned metropolis of Samuel Halliwell, a proprietor of the Elm City Tea Store and Philander Ferry who operated a confectionary shop that made and sold baked goods.
Now, to the reason for this flurry of land buying. The New Haven and Derby railroad was undertaken after New Haven had refused an opportunity to become a part of the Naugatuck Valley system in 1845. Francis Harrison began to push for a railroad to facilitate public travel and transportation of the mail between New Haven and the valley. By the way, one of the streets was originally named for Harrison, but is no longer. Distinguished supporters of the project included Charles Atwater (another street no longer in use) who owned a large iron and hardware business in New Haven and Birmingham (Derby) and Morris Tyler who would soon become Connecticut’s lieutenant governor.
The road was commissioned in 1864 to be “built from some suitable point in the town of New Haven, through the town of Orange to some suitable point in the town of Derby.” Stock was issued starting in 1866 and the corporation was formed in 1867 with Henry Dawson, president, Morris Tyler, vice-president, Charles Atwater as treasurer and Francis Harrison, secretary. The first train, named the Branford ran on April 25th, 1871, going from Orange to Ansonia. The newspaper Palladium proudly announced the next day “The Derby road is done” as the last spike was driven in New Haven.
Lager beer from the famed Rock Brewery livened up an evening trip with the Branford, whose whistle was well-known, causing citizens to clap their hands and shout for joy carrying signs that said “On to Derby” and “Derby in 30 minutes.” The first regular service began August 9th with 40 passengers. One story to follow the history comes with passengers having to push the train up the grade at Turkey Hill. In another event, two miles from Orange, while a dummy engine was used to inspect the Little Derby, the locomotive turned a complete somersault without injuring anyone. The Little Derby brought elation to New Haven and fostered civic pride while serving the bustling industrial centers where it offered competition to roads many times its size, while catering to small-town interests with Orange, right in the middle of it all.
A station was needed in Orange and ground was broken in September of 1871 with completion by the end of the month in time for the Orange Agricultural Society’s Fair. Postmaster Sidney Oviatt moved the post office from his house to the station and took on the stationmaster’s role as well. Reduced fairs and extra late-night runs were enough to make the fair a rousing success. The Palladium, the newspaper of the time, took the opportunity to hawk the newly organized real estate “out there.” Thus we see that Tyler City was being marketed to the middle class for the advantages of suburban living and quick rail access to the nearby industrial centers.
Another station was built in Tyler City along New Haven Avenue. One can envision the station by looking toward Racebrook Road while in front of house #80. It was destroyed by fire long after the railroad ceased to be. Another anecdote of the line was the Blizzard of 1888 where the train, headed for Ansonia got stuck at the area known as Platt Valley (a section of Lambert Road near Tyler City Road). The train was marooned for 4 days with the 13 passengers being well-fed with the 600 pies, 300 lbs. of pork products, and 5 gallons of oysters. It took 100 men to clear the 20 ft. snowdrifts. In the 1880s timetables show six to eight trains daily, each way.
So now we have railroad crossings through town and Messrs.’ Halliwell and Ferry eyeing a financial opportunity to bring the urbanites to the suburbs, Orange. This is where the Bradley farm comes into the picture. Consisting of about 175 acres the two bought the land and some land adjacent to it owned by Ell Bradley. A few avenues were cut among the trees and foundations laid for two luxurious mansions. You guessed it…both for the two prospectors. Neither of the homes exist today.
To get the trains to stop in Tyler City, a fancy two-story station was built and one of the waiting rooms was used as a school until one could be built down the road, the 5th district school.* A well-attended public auction held in 1872 saw folks on foot, in carriages, in carts and by a full seven-car train leaving New Haven returning with another trainload of people to buy the wonderfully advertised home lots with the sale price of $250. Buyers were mostly buying two adjacent lots with as many as 7 for one buyer and 6 for an out of state party from New York. With no zoning restrictions the customers with one lot were allowed to live on half and rent or sell the other half.
Almost immediately the post office was established by Charles Amesbury across from the station with a grocery store downstairs and his home upstairs. The Sackett Manufacturing Company started there with the Peerless Buttonhole Attachment Company eventually taking over the factory. A creamery, where butter was made was established by Edward Russell and in 1897 a company that made tricycles and baby carriages took hold while near the station, a man started making plaster-of Paris centerpieces used to decorate ceilings. The layout consisted of 8 avenues north-south and New Haven Avenue east and west serving as Main Street. Each was 70 ft. in width and one mile in length.
Both the Little Derby railroad and the Tyler City boomtown couldn’t hold onto a future in Orange. The passenger service ceased in 1825, with commercial ending in 1941. With the lack of town services of public water and machine well drilling, the area did not invite future buyers and the houses that were built, deteriorated and Tyler City ceased to be. Ferry found some of Halliwell’s business dealings outside of Tyler City to be less than honest so he sold out to Halliwell and after Halliwell passed away in 1898, the property went to his widow Jane who then sold the lands south of New Haven Avenue to the Orange Hills Golf Club. The rest of the parcel was incorporated into the lots you see today in the once glorious town called Tyler City.