The Arrival of the Railroad
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, in December of 1848, the first train came through Fairfield. Many of the town’s residents did not greet this event with enthusiasm since it threatened to change their quiet way of life.
In fact, the railroad’s impact was profound. Suddenly New York City was only a two hour and ten 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 arrival of the railroad also initiated a change in Fairfield’s identity, transforming its town center to a resort destination. 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.
Steamboat service from Bridgeport and Norwalk to New York also brought many visitors but was gradually reduced, as train travel, with its convenient local stops, became the norm.