The Sussex Branch Trail
By Larry Krumenaker
Herald Special Correspondent
The Sussex Branch Trail is North Jersey's secret
park. A linear part, no more than 100 feet wide, it contains most
of the last-used portions of the Sussex Railroad of the Erie-Lackawanna.
Railroads are no longer a major transportation
factor in Sussex County but the pathways they carved are a recyclable
legacy, as rail-to-trail parks. The Sussex Railroad was a short-haul
carrier. Born as the Sussex Mine Railroad in 1851, it began crawling,
powered by mules and gravity, between Andover and the Morris Canal.
At 3 years old, the renamed Sussex Railroad traveled by its own
steam power between iron mines and Waterloo Junction.
Maturing, the line aspired to growth as far as
Branchville and Franklin though it never reached its goal of a through
route to New York and points north.
It also moved to a new home, starting from Netcong
via the 1901 Stanhope Cutoff instead of Waterloo.
In mid-life it changed jobs, from iron to coal
then milk products and passengers and shrank with age by selling
off track. It was retired after 115 years and left out to pasture
by the Erie-Lackawanna.
The Division of Parks and Forestry purchased parts
of the line for recreational purposes in 1979 and 1982.
Rail trails are easy to travel on. To ease the
strain of pulling heavy freight cars, landscapes would be modified.
An abandoned track is an unnaturally smooth, too-straight-to-be-real
path through woods or fields. Cuts are blasted through rocks, and
low dips are filled in to provide miles of near-level grade.
Dark cinder ballast lies on or near the surface.
Parallel mounds of stone or dirt border the tracks and provide runoff
gullies. Rail debris--fallen telephone poles and cast-aside rotting
ties--makes a rail trail interesting to travelers.
The cinder powder makes for easy walking but 10-speed
bicycles sink in and skid like skiers in slush. Mountain bikes travel
better. Motorized bikes are prohibited. Evidence for horse use is
more extensive north of Andover. Dog sleds and cross-country skiing
The trail, which extends 21.2 miles from Netcong
to Branchville, is open during daylight hours only. Alcoholic beverages
are also prohibited.
Those using the trail are cautioned that all surrounding
land is privately owned, and are asked to respect private property.
Waterloo to Cranberry
The Ore Carrier
The state-owned part of the railbed of the Sussex
Branch Trail begins at Waterloo Road about 1 Mile west of Route
206 in Byram.
The Department of Environmental Protection has
cleared a gravel parking lot on Waterloo Road across from Continental
To the north is the Sussex Branch Trail, which
has been somewhat cleaned of brush and trash in this section.
Sites along the way include the junction between
the Stanhope Cutoff and the Waterloo Branch, 500 feet north of the
Between Jefferson Lake, created for an ice manufacturing
company, and Cranberry Lake, once the site of a railroad-sponsored
resort, are remnants of the railroad's days as an iron ore carrier.
The half-as-wide Sussex Mine Railway track bed,
covered in velvety green grass and small trees zigs and zags across
the cinders. It is best seen by Jefferson Lake across the little
creek and in two sections near two rock cuts.
The noise you hear is not the ghost of an iron
horse but Cascade Falls, a pleasant apparition in a dark grotto
near the abandoned Cascade Mine.
to Andover Junction
Because the trail condition between Cranberry Lake
and Whitehall is wet and deteriorated, it is best to start midway,
in Andover Borough, and hike either direction and back.
South of Andover Borough is one of railroading's
most impressive engineering feats, the Lackawanna Cutoff. Built
in 1911 to shorten and straighten the Lackawanna's path to the Delaware,
the Cutoff is a massive, 28-mile-long, man-made ridge of rocky fill
10 stories high and level to 1/2 degree over it's length. The Sussex
Branch runs through it's only tunnel at the cutoff.
When the southbound Sussex exits the tunnel in
the woods it edges towards Route 206. At Whitehall it passes over
its own Cutoff. the "Hole in the Wall" at Whitehall Road.
North of Andover, lies Andover Junction where the
Sussex and the Lehigh and Hudson River crossed their tracks. Unfortunately,
30 years of illegal dumping is mixed in with the signals and other
Signal light towers are still in place on the Lehigh
line, as well as track ties. The foundations of its station and
the depressed clearings of its freight and coal houses show.
A quarter circle interchange track runs between
the Sussex line and Route 206. The original line went to the Andover
mines east of town. Now only a flat section of bed exists of the
spur, at the corner of Limecrest and Old Creamery roads.
Andover to Newton
The section from the Sussex's crossing north of
Andover to Drake's Pond at Newton is the only part of the trail
that has been graded and cleared of brush and trash. It is the easiest
section to walk and, while not filled with history, is the most
peaceful. It is also the most used.
The southern end passes White's Pond. This was
farm land with various small quarries along the way.
A major passage blasted through the Slate Cut often
filled with with snow and had to be dug out before trains could
Drake's Pond was the site of the original end of
the line when the Sussex expanded to Newton. It is now the site
of The Wharf, a nautically designed center anchored by Go Fish!
with boating and fishing.
Beyond is a 1-mile gap in the trail from Hicks
Avenue to the Newton Meadows. Much of the line has been obliterated
The Newton Railyards can be found by taking Newton-Sparta
Road towards town, turning right at Diller Avenue. The wide curved
asphalt area you cross once were the rails and sidings of the Newton
The only remaining railroad building is the cement
and wood feed station, the 1906 replacement for the original Sussex
freight station, on the north edge of the yard at Newton-Sparta
Road and Spring Street.
Newton to Lafayette
Back in Time
Park in the railyard-cum-commuter lot. The Newton
Cutoff continues over Spring Street and crosses Trinity, diving
into the woods despoiled by a runoff gully.
The trail runs along a man-made cliff alongside
this remnant of a glacial runoff stream, one of the headwaters of
Newton Meadows is a cattail swamp. A missing wooden
bridge poses no problem in fording the creek. Eventually you emerge
from the marsh to meet Hicks Avenue, which changes its name in Andover
Township to Branchville Junction Road and in Lafayette to Warbasse
Three miles north of Newton, just before the trail
crosses the road, lies Branchville Junction. This was the fork in
the Sussex where trains went either northwest to Branchville or
northeast to Franklin. The station itself burned in 1911. [and
was immediately replaced by April of 1912-DR]
After the trail crosses the road, it intersects
the cinder path of the New York, Susquehanna and Western Railroad,
the focus of 7 years of contention between those who favor it as
another rail park and property owners who oppose it.
At the edge of Lafayette, the foundation of the
original passenger station emerges on the left. [Actually
it's the creamery/icehouse foundation-DR]
The auto-parts store was once part of a creamery
and still has its deserted railroad loading dock.
Lafayette to Branchville
In these parts, the trains stopped at creameries,
not stations. When the last creamery folded in 1964 it forced the
demise of the Sussex's bottom line.
The only passable section is from Lafayette, downhill
past Mudcut Road to the missing bridge at Snover and Decker Roads.
Beyond this several more missing trestles over the now swift and
deep Paulinskill make the trail impassable.
At the traffic light at Route 628 is the Catholic
church, Our Lady Queen of Peace. In the back corner of its well
kept grassy lawn is a wet-floored wooded "V" that marks the sides
of the Branchville turntable. [Wye track, actually-DR]
The official trail ends past the church under the
Route 206 overpass.
In the borough, the real end of the line is at
Broad Street and Railroad Avenue. The last few feet pass between
Bio Tech Labs, once a creamery, and the new Volunteer Hose Co. building,
the site of the passenger station.
The depot itself, ramshackle in Lackawanna Blue
[?], looks and is out of place. It has been moved back from
its site by its purchaser, businessman Dick Roy, who intends to
retort it as a professional center.
LACKAWANNA CUTOFF - The Sussex Branch Trail - from
Netcong to Branchville - goes under the Lackawanna Cutoff in Andover
CASCADE FALLS - Falls are near the abandoned Cascade
Mine. You hear them before you see them.
BEAVER POND - White's Pond in Andover Township
has beavers and a beaver lodge in an idyllic setting
PLEASANT AFTERNOON - A couple on horseback ride
along the southern portion of the trail.
HISTORY REVISITED - Sussex Branch Trail goes past
Lafayette Mill Market in Lafayette. These buildings used to be a
feed mill and a coal store. Nearby are the foundations of the original
passenger station, a large two section building with a patio-like
extension, and an auto-parts store that was once part of a railroad-served