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The Boys Halfway River Culvert (1888)

Welcome back, Monroe history lovers. This week’s history takes us to Stevenson, on Route 34, just a short distance west of the Lake Zoar Drive-In - home of the famous Zoar Burger. There, set back into the woods on the south side of the road, is a massive 26’ tall concrete culvert that looks like two huge nostrils built into the hillside. Anyone who travels through the area has seen it, and perhaps you’ve wondered now and again about its history. Let’s check it out.

Engraved into the keystone of the culvert’s arch on the Cottage Street side, we can just make out that the culvert was built in 1888 by William Kelley. Its purpose was simple, to allow the Boys Halfway River to flow down the hillside and beneath the newly opened railroad extension between Botsford and Derby. The first supporting Fred Sherman photograph c.1905 shows the culvert in its original arched form, the healthy flow of the river making its way down the steep slope into the foreground and onward to the Housatonic River behind Mr. Sherman. What a unique historic photo.

The second contemporary photo was taken from the same basic location. Some of you may shake your head in judgment of the culvert’s revised linear form. The squared off addition, with its central vertical brace, was grafted onto the culvert in 1910, hiding its original arch. This addition was required for structural support when a second track was added to the railroad extension above. These changes certainly detract from the charm of the now-hidden original arched design, but sometimes function, cost, and schedule must prevail.

Back when the railroad extension first opened, there were a number of photography clubs and reporters who travelled the line aboard exclusive single coach trains. In a newspaper article published in 1888, there was mention of the picturesque view from the train and the Boys Halfway River reaching the Housatonic “by a succession of very pretty waterfalls.” The formation of Lake Zoar in 1919 and the current Route 34 have obscured the path of the former falls, but what of the water that once created them? Today, we witness a very small volume of water flowing through the culvert. What happened to the once-healthy flow of the river, and why does the current sign label the river as a brook? Well, let me tell you!

We learn from the April 1917 edition of The Excavating Engineer journal, that just north of Cargill’s Pond in East Village, there was a massive project undertaken by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company. The project’s purpose was to divert the flow of the Boys Halfway River from its natural northerly path to a man-made canal that flowed to the south and converged with Means Brook. The result would direct as much water as possible from this region down to the Means Brook and Trap Falls Reservoirs in Shelton. Unfortunately, it also significantly diminished the water supply to the once picturesque waterfalls at the culvert, reducing the flow to that of a brook, hence the renaming.

I hope you enjoy this week’s historic spotlight on the Boys Halfway River Culvert in Stevenson and a bit of additional history on how the river was later diverted to the south just as America was entering WWI. I bet you learned something today. Please share this interesting railroad and hydraulic history with your family and friends, and as always, thank you for your continued support and interest in Monroe’s rich history. Until next time, is anyone out there suddenly hungry for a famous Zoar Burger? History and hamburgers, the perfect combination. Time for a trip up to Stevenson!


Kevin Daly
Historian, Monroe Historical Society
Our Past is Always Present

1 - Culvert Then Revised.jpg
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