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Francis D. Donovan Papers

Identifier: 2006-0195

Scope and Content

The Francis D. Donovan Papers consist of Mr. Donovan's writings and research files about the railroads, particularly those of New England; photographic images of stations, engines, and railroad scenes; maps, scrapbooks, postcards and timetables.


  • undated, 1829-1997


The collection is open and available for research.

Restrictions on Use

Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.


Francis D. Donovan was born in Norfolk, Massachusetts, on June 29, 1917. His love of railroads was fostered by his father, Daniel F. Donovan, a section foreman on the Wrentham branch of the Old Colony Division of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad (better known as the New Haven Railroad). Although Daniel Donovan ended his employment with the railroad to become a policeman or security guard soon after his son was born, he retained his own interest in the railroad and friendships with railroad personnel, particularly with the legendary Gene Potter, engineer of the famous Ghost Train of the New York & New England Railroad.

Mr. Francis D. Donovan began working for the New Haven Railroad when he was fourteen, sweeping the floors of Switch Tower 232 in Walpole, Massachusetts. He became a tower operator when he turned eighteen and worked there until his left for his service in the United States Army during World War II. He was a tank sergeant in Europe and was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic actions for gallantry under fire. When he came home in 1945 he decided that railroading was on its way out and became a sales representative for an industrial firm selling metal castings. In 1970, he became the Medway, Massachusetts, town clerk, retiring in 1990.

Mr. Donovan was an avid and lifelong collector, photographer and historian of the railroads of southern New England, particularly the New York & New England Railroad, a predecessor railroad line of the New Haven Railroad. He wrote several articles, including "Big Gene and the Ghost Train," in Yankees Under Steam (published in 1970 by Yankee Magazine) and "The East Thompson Train Wreck" in Danger, Disaster and Horrid Deeds (published in 1974 by Yankee Magazine). He was a national director of the Locomotive & Railway Historical Society and a member of many railroad societies, including the New Haven Railroad Historical and Technical Association.

Mr. Donovan had many other areas of interest and activity. As town clerk of Medway, Massachusetts, he resurrected the town historical society and wrote extensively about the town’s history. He served as the official Medway area climatologist and weather observer for the United States Weather Bureau. He was an amateur radio operator and an avid stamp collector. He had a passionate interest in the works of Samuel Johnson and amassed an extensive collection of Johnson’s writings. He repaired old clocks.

Francis D. Donovan married Mary Dowd in 1942 and they became residents of Medway, Massachusetts, in 1947. They had two children, Sheila and Kevin. He died at his home on December 9, 2005, at the age of 88.


80 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Francis D. Donovan (1917-2005) was a resident of Medway, Massachusetts, and an avid railroad photograph and memorabilia collector and researcher, particularly of materials associated with the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad and its predecessor lines. His papers consist of his writings and research files about the railroad; photographs of stations, engines, and railroad scenes; maps, scrapbooks, postcards and timetables.

Acquisition Information

The papers were donated by Mrs. Mary Donovan in the Spring of 2006.

Existence and Location of Copies

Digital reproductions of materials in this collection may also be found in the Archives & Special Collections digital repository

Related Material

Archives & Special Collections has a substantial collection of materials pertaining to the railroads of southern New England, particularly the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad. For detailed information on these collections please ask at the Reading Room desk.

Francis D. Donovan Papers
Archives & Special Collections staff
2009 September
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Archives and Special Collections, University of Connecticut Library Repository

University of Connecticut Library
405 Babbidge Road Unit 1205
Storrs Connecticut 06269-1205 USA US