Public transportation in Easton? Once upon a time – yes!

Development and growth in Easton had been severely hampered in the late nineteenth century due to the lack of rail service. A planned rail line that would have run through the Aspetuck Valley in Easton and Redding, connecting Westport to Newtown, never materialized. Easton was then isolated between major east-west rail lines to both the north and the south, with the only connections to other towns being by horse drawn wagons or stagecoach.

When the automobile came along in the early years of the twentieth century, Easton’s roads were anything but ready to accept motorized transportation. In 1913, the state laid out a system of six trunk line highways that began their efforts to connect the towns of Connecticut through a series of state-maintained highways and bridges. By 1922, the state had taken over the maintenance of many area roads and began numbering the routes. In Easton, those routes were: Sport Hill Road as far north as Sherwood Road – SR-306, Center Road – SR-193, and the Black Rock Turnpike – SR-124.

The big news in Easton on July 25, 1925 was the inaugural run of the White Line Bus Company’s first motor bus between Ruman’s Store – Greiser’s today – and the northern end of the trolley line at Stratfield. That meant for the first time in the town’s history that residents could find regularly scheduled motorized public transportation between the center of town and Bridgeport, where they could then make connections to practically anywhere in the nation.

The bus company’s driver was 25-year old Frank DeCerbo, and the five round trips he made each day weren’t always routine. On Christmas Eve of 1925, the Bridgeport Telegram reported: “The state road between Tammany’s Corner and Easton Center is in such a muddy condition that the driver of the Easton bus is unable to make his daily trips to the Center, much to the inconvenience of his patrons. It is the second time he has been obliged to discontinue his trips over that road.”

Prior to 1959, Easton paid to send their high-school aged children to Bridgeport to continue their education after the eighth grade. In 1925, the town contracted with William J. Bush of Bridgeport to provide bus transportation between Easton and Bridgeport. This was in addition to the regular bus service provided by the White Line Bus Company.

The original letter signed by thirteen high school students in February of 1932 complaining about the unsafe and crowded conditions on the bus the town contracted to take them to school in Bridgeport.

By 1932, Easton had 43 students enrolled in high school in Bridgeport. At least 38 of those students were being transported on a single bus operated by Mr. Bush that year. The issue was the seating capacity of that bus was only 26. In an unusual move by students of that era, Bush’s young riders got together and wrote a letter to the Easton School Board asking the board to supply an additional bus. That letter was signed by 13 students. Whether their plea for safety was heard we may never know, but a photo accompanying this article shows a brand new, smaller bus sitting at the intersection of Center and Morehouse in either 1933 or 1934. That bus was in addition to the larger one Bush already owned and operated.

c.1934. New Studebaker bus. Taken at the intersection of Center and Morehouse Roads looking south on Morehouse. The original Staples Elementary school can be seen through the bus windows in the background. The town hall wouldn’t be built until 1937.

In 1937, the Connecticut Railway and Lighting Company began serving Easton along the same route that the White Line Bus Company had previously run. Service was increased to seven round trips per day on weekdays. Instead of running only as far as Stratfield, the new route ran all the way to the Bridgeport Railroad Station. Stopping at several intersections along the way, passengers could easily change buses and then ride to anywhere the CR&L line serviced in the greater Bridgeport area. This would be a real boon to Easton residents working in one of the many defense plants during World War II. Additional buses were added during the war years when gasoline rationing made it almost impossible for workers in businesses deemed non-essential by the government to obtain enough fuel to commute from places such as Easton. “A” ration stickers only earned the car owner three gallons per week, hardly enough to make a week’s worth of six to ten-mile round trips.

1942 photo of the CR&L Easton bus delivering passengers along Center Road after a workday in Bridgeport during World War II.

Easton grew quickly after the war and into the 1950’s. CR&L went back to the seven trips per day schedule but ridership fell as families began buying two automobiles instead of the one that most folks had struggled to own during the Great Depression. The bus company consistently lost money on the Easton route and towards the end of the decade their lack of interest showed as the company put their oldest and most dilapidated units on the Easton run. By 1959, being stuck behind a smoke belching CR&L bus lumbering its way up Sport Hill Road surely added an additional five or ten minutes to the average car commuter’s trip home.

The last generation of CR&L buses to serve Easton in 1960

By January of 1960, CR&L petitioned the Connecticut State Public Utilities Commission to grant them permission to abandon the Easton route. On Thursday, January the 28th, more than one hundred Easton residents attended a meeting hosted by the PUC at the Burroughs Library on Main Street in Bridgeport. The meeting lasted three hours with town residents pleading their case for the continuation of the route. The company presented evidence of only $92.80 having been collected on the Bridgeport to Easton run over the previous six-day run, and only a $68.60 tally for the inbound runs over the same time span. The fare to Bridgeport from Easton in 1960 was sixty cents in each direction. The company claimed an annual loss that exceeded $10,000 on the Easton run.

In the end, the PUC granted the bus company its request, and the last bus to Easton was run on March 31, 1960.

In a footnote to this article, in a subsequent effort to provide bus service to Easton, in June of 1960, the PUC granted Stephen Toth a temporary ninety-day permit to run a shuttle operation to between Easton and Fairfield. The bus would run between Greiser’s store, along Center Road and then south on Sport Hill Road as far as Short Woods Road in Fairfield. Toth’s operation used school buses in its attempt to test the feasibility of this venture, but eventually, it too proved to be unprofitable and the venture was abandoned.

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By Bruce Nelson

Director of Research for the Historical Society of Easton Town Co-Historian for the Town of Redding, Connecticut Author/Publisher at Sport Hill Books