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Susquehanna Reflector - April 1956
Now and Then

(Memories of the

Warbasse Farm)

by Harold Coriell

In the Dec. 22 issue of the Herald, in the "Out of the Past" section, was shown our picture of the famous Old Sussex Railroad engine, the "John I. Blair". In the description of this photo we said the engineer was Elmer Decker, which was true, but Miss Olive Baker, of Sparta, writes that her father, known as "Billy Baker", was the first engineer of the "John I. Blair" and his fireman was Elmer Decker. Mr. Decker was later engineer of this noted fast locomotive himself. Miss Baker also questioned whether this engine was a wood-burner, as we stated. It is believed to have been a converted wood-burner, and was using coal as fuel when the picture was taken at Branchville.

Miss Emma Warbasse of the well-known Warbasse homestead farm near Branchville Junction, tells us that as a little girl she remembers seeing the "John I. Blair" on the woodyard siding at the Junction. Wood for all the Sussex Railroad engines was in those days supplied from the sawmill and woodyard at Branchville Junction. Miss Warbasse, who has managed the homestead farm and its dairy herd in a most able manner, since the death of her father, Samuel Warbasse over 20 years ago, has always taken a keen interest in the railroad. The original Warbasse farm, in the family since 1800, comprised 235 acres, but was reduced by 65 acres when parts of it were sold to the Sussex Railroad for its Branchville line in 1868, and for its Franklin line about the same time. Acreage was also sold to the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad which built through the farm around 1882 on its way to Stroudsburg, Pa.

Thus the Warbasse farm was a real railroad center for many decades, and back around the era of the First World War, as many as 30 trains a day would pass through the property. Railroading was then in its heyday, with lots of passengers riding the rails of the Lackawanna system, which absorbed the old Sussex Railroad back in the eighties. Branchville then had about six passenger trains each way daily, with the Franklin line having as many more, while the Susquehanna ran four passenger trains daily each way between New York and Stroudsburg. In addition, there were many freight, ore and limestone trains over the pikes, all passing through the Warbasse farm. The Branchville Junction and Warbasse stations, both located on what was formerly Warbasse farm land, did a thriving business, and for many years there were at Warbasse station a store, post office, coal yard and a creamery. Where the Susquehanna crossed the Lackawanna's Franklin branch, there was a signal tower, employing two men, to control the trains on each line. This also was on the edge of the Warbasse farm.

In the big blizzard of 1888, several trains were stalled on this farm for several days and about 24 railroaders, comprising the crews of the snowbound trains, were fed bounteously in the commodious and hospitable Warbasse homestead. There was plenty of fuel at the Branchville junction wood and coal yard, so steam was kept up in the engines until rescue crews arrived to shovel out the stalled trains. The crews did not mind their enforced imprisonment on the Warbasse farm because of the tasty meals they enjoyed.

In those days, Miss Warbasse recalls, farm folk did not get to the town stores very often and the farmhouses were well stocked with provisions of all kinds, often enough to last for several weeks. The only food item they ran out of, as Miss Warbasse remembers, was bread, and for this they substituted buckwheat pancakes which made a big hit with the railroaders.

Back in the early nineties, the Lackawanna's famous Boston Flyer would roll through Sussex County each evening, its beautiful chime whistle reverberating through the pastoral valleys and wooded hills, its many brightly-lit windows giving forth an enticing glow and the lure of distant horizons. How did this noted train get to Boston from Sussex County? After roaring into Branchville Junction from Hoboken, it then passed over the Franklin Branch into the famous old mining town, then rolled over the Lehigh & Hudson to Maybrook, N.Y., where it was switched to the former Central New England Railroad (now the New Haven).