Main Index
History Index
Modeling Index

Trail Index



This is a very long article, but I'll try to add a bit more with every upload. --DR
Last updated: 1 September 2003

Bug Dave to work on this here

Sussex County Independent - August 3, 1950

The Railroad Story In Sussex County

by Harold N. Coriell

To people living in Sussex County today and under about thirty years of age, the railroads, locally at least, mean just a series of freight trains glimpsed now and then on various pikes around the county. However, to folks who grew up in the [eighteen] Nineties or the first two decades or so of the Nineteen hundreds, the railroad was the King of the transportation agencies. When you traveled anywhere beyond the few miles that people usually walked, or went by horse and buggy, you boarded a passenger train at the nearest station. Such trains were plentiful on the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna connecting Newark, Paterson and New York with Sussex County communities on that pike, while the Susquehanna, the Lehigh & Hudson and the Lehigh & New England roads ran passenger trains and made money on them.

On the Susquehanna, as I recall, there were three daily trains running through the county between Jersey City and Wilkes-Barre, Pa., each way, while the Lehigh & Hudson ran about the same number daily between Easton, Pa., and Warwick and Greycourt, N.Y. There were some local runs also on the Lehigh & New England between Maybrook, NY, and Hazelton and Bethlehem, Pa.

Everybody was "railroad" conscious in those days; the whole fascinating atmosphere of the iron rails was a potent factor in the life of the County. At the stations and on the trains were the meeting places where old friends and acquaintances renewed their social relations and discussed mutual friends. And if you lived in Newton or Branchville or Franklin, or any other community of any size, you walked to the depot to take or meet the train, whether you walked a mile or several. No jumping into an automobile every time you wanted to go a block or two.

The sight of whole families walking to and from the stations or depots, in all kinds of weather, winter or summer, was a common one. Folks thought nothing of it. Nobody was in a hurry then on the streets, or in a hectic rush to get to some other community. Life was leisurely and far more tranquil. Sometimes it took two hours to travel fourteen miles, where two railroads were involved, as in traveling from Newton to Blairstown. One left Newton, for instance, on the 10:30 morning train that went up to Franklin; but if Blairstown bound, you got off at Branchville Junction and then walked a quarter mile down the track to the adjacent Warbasse Station on the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad.

After a wait there of perhaps half an hour, during which you visited with the agent, who also ran the post office and little store next to the station, or went across the track to watch operations at the creamery which was then located there, the Susquehanna train came rolling in from Sparta way, its 4-4-0 locomotive pulling two or three passenger coaches, several milk cars, and a baggage and express car, with maybe 60 to 100 passengers on board. After giving your ticket to the conductor and passing the time of day with him, for he knew most everybody along the line, you relaxed on the cushioned seats and watched the countryside slide by. The speed was probably about 35-40 miles per hour. Halsey and Swartswood stations were passed in order, with brief stops; then came Stillwater where the train halted perhaps ten minutes to unload milk cans at the creamery; then on to Blairstown which was reached about 12:20. If your visit there was a social one, your friends had walked to the station to meet you and you all strolled leisurely back to their home. You could walk either on the side walks or in the streets, as the latter were used only be a few scattered and unhurried horse-drawn vehicles. Well, after a good dinner and nice visit, you and your friends walked to the station about 4 p.m. and took the eastbound Wilkes-Barre to Jersey City train, and after a ride to Warbasse Junction, marked by several stops at several creameries and stations, you hit the grit up the Lackawanna track to Branchville Junction where you waited about an hour, reading or loafing, until the evening milk and passenger train came down from Branchville and Lafayette, picked up passengers from the Susquehanna and from the Franklin Branch , and then rolled on to Newton which was reached about 6:30. There perhaps 40 or 50 passengers would get off and walk to their various destinations, whether that was a half-mile or 3 miles distant. Of course if you were headed for the Cochran House or Hotel Newton to spend the night, you climbed into the respective horse-drawn buses which met all trains from these hostelries. In the winter they ran big open sleds with seat running lengthwise, and plenty of straw on the floor to help keep your feet warm.

These were the years when the Railroad was the King of transportation agencies throughout the nation and most small boys went through the period when they wanted to become locomotive engineers. Even as late as 1926 passenger trains on the country's railroads were heavily patronized -- and it was that way in Sussex County. Newton enjoyed six daily trains each way between this community and Newark and New York, and the Susquehanna and Lehigh & Hudson River lines were still running passenger trains. The Franklin Branch was still operating four passenger trains each way daily between Franklin and Newton, continuing to do so, in fact, up to about 1932.

However, the automobile, the new factor in transportation, was growing steadily in use as each year passed, and soon began to cut into the "short haul" railroad business.

Little by little, the "Rails" began to curtail their passenger service; the Susquehanna and the Lehigh & Hudson giving it up entirely in the early Thirties. The Lackawanna has continued much of its service from Newton to New York, but has dropped some trains and discontinued the Franklin Branch altogether about 1936, while Branchville now has but two trains each way daily. Local freight business has also decreased a lot on all the Sussex County lines, while milk shipments by rail have ceased except on the Lackawanna which still hauls considerable of this commodity from creameries at Ross' Corners and at Branchville. But in their heyday, the Rails hauled milk from a host of creameries scattered throughout the County, such as at Andover, Newton, Warbasse, Monroe, Ackerson, Swartswood Station, Stillwater, Augusta, Sparta, Baleville, Vernon, etc.

Now, though long freights pass through Sussex County daily on its various railroads, it is Western freight, or New England commodities, or coal from Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Most of the freight that Rails carry today originating from within the County, comprises zinc ore shipment from Franklin and Ogdensburg, and limestone shipments from Limecrest, with some humus from Warbasse, some factory products from Newton, and the milk shipments mentioned heretofore.

Many youngsters of Sussex County today have never ridden on a railroad train--perish the thought--while we even encountered one Newton lad who didn't know where the station was. Shades of John I. Blair, Jim Hill, and Commodore Vanderbuilt! What a contrast was the picture thirty years ago when most any ten-year-old lad of Newton could reel off the names of the engineers, conductors and other trainmen of all the trains in and out of town and knew the exact time of their arrival and departure as well as the number and type of locomotive pulling each train. In those days, and earlier ones, when Johnny did not show up at home about an hour or so after school was out, it was a safe bet that he was hanging around the railroad yard, and maybe having the privilege of riding in the cab of the Yard switcher, or "goat" as it was termed.

It is now a far cry to the wild enthusiasm for railroads that prevailed back in 1854 when the first railroad line in Sussex County was constructed from Waterloo on the Morris Canal, a busy shipping point in those days, to the Andover iron mine and on into Newton which was reached in November of 1854. Cooper& Hewitt, of Newark, who had gotten control of the Andover mine, and who had been hauling ore to the canal at Waterloo by a mule railroad, decided to construct a real steam road. It was called the Andover Mine Railroad. Newton people raised $100,000 in bonds to have the railroad continued on to Newton, and the name was then changed to the Sussex Railroad. The first locomotive pulled into the Newton station on December 11, 1854, where a big crowd, estimated at about 700 people, gathered to shoot off the canon, and hear congratulatory speeches by various notables.
With the arrival of the railroad, the little town of Newton became active and progressive. Within two or three years the old rookeries that lines its few streets had been replaced with substantial and valuable buildings and a number of new streets such as Trinity and Hamilton, which had scarcely a building on them in 1854, became lines with substantial residences. Newton became the shipping center of the County, and in December of 1856 a news story commented that for many months a continuous stream of farm wagons had rolled into Newton, laden with pork, beef, butter and other farm products, to be shipped from the freight station. On some days there was a continuous line of wagons waiting to unload, extending from the depot all the way up Spring street to the Court House. For the size of its population, Newton was at that time said to be one of the busiest towns in the entire country. For about seventeen years, the Sussex Railroad was the only rail line in the County, but it was extended beyond its original terminus at Newton in 1869 and 1870, reaching out to Lafayette and Branchville as well as to Franklin, Hamburg and McAfee. Shipments of iron ore and limestone from the three latter places gave the new railroad much business.

For many years the Sussex Railroad operated as an independent line with main offices in Newton, using the upper floor of the station for this purpose. In the late Nineties the road was acquired by the Lackawanna and around 1902 the new owner constructed the Netcong Cut-off which left the old line below Jefferson Pond and swung south to meet the Lackawanna's main stem at Netcong; the old Waterloo terminal being abandoned. This new construction marked the commencement of the running of through trains between Newton and Newark and New York, instead of having to change cars at Waterloo as had been necessary heretofore. At the turn of the century Newton enjoyed six trains daily to New York and six returning from the city, in addition to a number of local runs between Newton and Franklin and Branchville. Freight traffic was steady and lucrative, consisting of ore and limestone from Franklin; milk from a dozen or more creameries along the line in Sussex County and a lot of other agricultural as well as many industrial commodities.

Following the extension of the Sussex Railroad to Branchville and Franklin around 1870, its reign as the only rail line in the County drew to a close, About that time several previously planned railroads combined to form the New Jersey Midland, and construction was begun at Deckertown, now Sussex, on a line to Hamburg, Franklin Paterson and Jersey City. It was also to be extended to Unionville. On July 4, 1871, a big celebration was held at Deckertown to mark the first train from Unionville to Franklin. Later that year, the line reached Newfoundland, and in the next year or so it was extended to Jersey City.

Enthusiasm for the new and quicker form of transportation, the Railroad, was now running high throughout the County. As an evidence of how much the people of Newton valued the services of the Sussex Railroad was the fact that in the big snowstorm of January 24, 1857, when the line was blocked by huge snow drifts, some eighty-odd men of the community gathered at the local station and began the task of clearing the track; working southward to below Drake's Pond, where they met the railroad gang working up from Andover. Imagine the men of Newton doing this in 1950!

Several railroad lines had been planned for construction through Sussex and Warren Counties, from the Hudson to the Delaware, even before the Sussex built into Newton, and a charter was secured for this purpose way back in 1832. However, nothing was done until about 1880 when the Lehigh & Hudson River Ry. was constructed from Belvidere to a connection with the Erie at Greycourt, N.Y. This road has since become one of the more important short lines in the railroad field, serving as a bridge route for much freight traffic between the New England States and the West; also carrying much coal from the Pennsylvania mines. All the ore shipments from the Franklin and Ogdensburg mines of the New Jersey Zinc. Company are made over the Lehigh & Hudson to the Zinc Company's smelting plant in Palmerton, Pa.

Another railroad was constructed through Sussex and Warren Counties around 1882 when the New Jersey Midland, now known as the New York, Susquehanna & Western, built a branch or extension from Beaver Lake on the old line, through Sparta, Warbasse, Halsey, Stillwater and Blairstown, to Stroudsburg, Pa. This line was later extended to Wilkes Barre, Pa., in order to get a share of the rich coal traffic.

The Lehigh and New England Railroad Company, which operates in Eastern Pennsylvania, Northern New Jersey and Southeastern New York State, though little known to the average railroad traveler, is a very important bridge route for freight destined to New England. It is one of the country major anthracite and cement originating railroads. Other originating commodities consist principally of zinc products, steel, slate and alfalfa.

This railroad's main line extends from Hauto, Pa., in the heart of the anthracite region, northeasterly to Campbell Hall, N.Y., a distance of 127 miles, including 35 miles of trackage rights over the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad.
Its branch lines to Nesquehoning, Summit Hill, Palmerton; Catasqua, Allentown, Bethlehem, Martins Creek and Bangor, all in Pennsylvania, and to Sussex, N. J., total 59 miles, giving the L. & N. E. a total of 272 miles of track owned.

As far as Sussex County is concerned, this railroad was first known as the Pennsylvania, Poughkeepsie and Boston RR Company. This line, with its five predecessor companies, and the Campbell Hall Connecting R, R., built a railroad form Slatington Junction, N. J. It had originally planned to build its own line through Warren and Sussex Counties to Campbell Hall and Maybrook in New York but instead secured trackage rights over the New York, Susquehanna & Western from Hainesville Junction in Warren County to Swartswood Junction in Sussex County. From this latter point the L. & N. Y. has its own line through to Maybrook, N. Y., where it connects with the New York, New Haven & Hartford R. R., formerly the Central New England. The L. N. & E. was completed 1890 as per the route just given. At that time it was known as the P. P. & B., and facetiously termed the Pickles, Pork, and Beans railroad by the folks of Sussex and Warren Counties. Although entirely a freight carrier now, and largely so since its inception, the L. N. & E. did maintain limited passenger services in the Nineties and early Nineteen Hundreds from Swartswood Junction, N. J., to Goshen and Campbell Hall in New York State. This was in the days when creameries were in operation along the line and such trains were operated as mixed milk and passenger trains.

The Lehigh & New England Railroad is mainly a single track line of substantial construction, and well equipped. The grades are light on the main line except in a few places. A rather heavy grade at Balesville in Sussex County, was eliminated some thirty-odd years ago by changing the line through that village. The old line with its abandoned embankments and foundations still exists near the revised route. The construction standards of the line are good and well suited to the character and volume of traffic. Rail in the main line is 130 pound, 115 pound, or 112 pound in weight, per yard. All ties in all tracks are creosote-treated. Both the roadway and equipment are well maintained and are in excellent condition.

The motive power was dieselized within the past five years, in line with the trend throughout the country. A distinct loss to rail fans has resulted in the disappearance of beautiful chime whistles that the steam locomotives used to pour forth as the former “Pacifics” roared up or down the Paulinskill Valley towing long “drags” of coal, cement and other valuable freight. These chime whistles could be heard often as far as ten miles from the L. N. & E. line in Sussex County, and were a distinct addition to the lure and charm of the old-time railroad atmosphere.

The L. N. & E. reaches many industries in the busy manufacturing centers in the Lehigh Valley – at Bethlehem, the home of the Bethlehem Steel Company, the large silk mills at Allentown, and the large zinc production plants of the New Jersey Zinc Company at Palmerton.

A large tonnage of bituminous coal moves from the West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania fields to New England States via the L. N. & E. and the Poughkeepsie Bridge route, and through the Hainesburg Jct. route to the Northern New Jersey and Southeastern industrial areas. This tonnage is received from the Central R. R. of Pennsylvania at Bethlehem, and from the Reading Company at Catasauqua.

The Lehigh & New England Railroad this combines the functions of an important originator or traffic and an important “bridge” line for its connections on the southwest and northeast, principally for traffic to or from New England through the Maybrook, N. Y. gateway and connection there with the big New York, New Haven, & Hartford Railroad.

The post-war years, particularly 1948 and 1949, have wrought a revolution in railroad motive power throughout the country and Sussex County shows no exception to the trend. Ever since Stephenson invented the first locomotive, steam has been the dramatic power that has turned the wheels; now the diesel locomotive is on the scene and is rapidly displacing steam from its throne. Already the Lackawanna has dieselized its New York to Buffalo and Chicago trains, and its “hot-shot” freights, although still using steam locomotives on it Sussex Branch. The Lehigh & New England has gone “diesel” for its long coal “drags,” and recently the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway was trying out on of the Baldwin Locomotive Works big diesels on Maybrook to Port Morris freight runs. The Susquehanna went “diesel” some years ago, being one of the first so to do.

How will dieselization affect Sussex County’s railroad passenger service? The County’s oft-expressed desire for faster and cleaner train service to and from Newark and New York, may be realized if the Lackawanna can be persuaded to offer such service. That is a matter for the local Chambers of Commerce and like organizations to seriously consider.