State Needs Land from Newton for Park Trail
Former Sussex Mine railway path needed to
finish 21.4-mile route
By Fred J. Aun
In 1852, when Abram S. Hewitt first proposed extending
his Sussex Mine Railroad from Andover to Newton and beyond, the
locals were skeptical.
According to the history books, people in Newton
were willing to lend Hewitt money to run tracks to their growing
town. However, they were afraid the capitalist would take the dollars
and bypass Newton, choosing to instead lay rail straight to the
lucrative zinc mines of the Ogdensburg area.
The fears of the "suspicious Newtonians" proved
unwarranted. Hewitt's tracks came to town and eventually spread
all the way to Branchville as well as the zinc mines.
Now, 143 years later, the time has finally come
for the Sussex Mine Railroad to bypass the heart of Newton, and
state officials have been quietly negotiating with land owners to
buy a new route. [Note: The Sussex Mine Railroad only served
the iron mines in Andover. The railroad name was changed to Sussex
Railroad Company upon its rebuilding and extension into Newton.
Trains have not churned over the railroad right
of way through Newton since 1966 and the tracks have been gone for
about 20 years, so the bypass in question will have nothing to do
with speeding locomotives or zinc mines.
The state, which now owns most of the old Sussex
Mine Railroad route, has converted the right of way into the Sussex
Branch Trail. As part of the new Kittatinny Valley State Park, the
trail could become an uninterrupted 21.4-mile-long pathway for walking,
biking, horseback riding and skiing.
The obstacle to that plan is Newton.
Over the years, the right of way through the town
was paved and developed. The state never purchased the Newton property
and this has left a 1.3 mile gap in the trail, a section known as
the "Newton interruption."
John Garcia, chief of the capital planning and
programming for the state Division of Parks and Forestry, acknowledged
he has been negotiating with people who own land on the outskirts
of Newton. He is looking to buy a corridor between Newton-Sparta
Road and the north side of town, where the railbed heads into an
extensive marsh through Andover Township.
"We would hope to be successful (in buying the
land) by the end of this year," Garcia said.
To purchase the property, the state is using money
from a 1992 Green Acres bond, Garcia said. Another infusion of Green
Acres funds will be needed to build the trail, a job that will require
clearing trees, erecting some fences and laying some "boardwalk"
across wet areas, he added.
Since the Sussex Branch Trail intersects in Lafayette
with the 27.4-mile Paulinskill Valley Trail, which is on the former
New York, Susquehanna and Western right of way, completion of a
route around Newton will create a 56-mile, uninterrupted path, Garcia
He said the proposed Newton Bypass route is "still
relatively undeveloped," permitting the state to retain the open-space
concept of the corridor."
However, as it did when it proposed the Paulinskill
Valley Trail, the state has bumped into some concerned property
holders, Garcia said. Not everybody is keen on having a state trail
in their back yard.
"I think that's a standard situation almost
anywhere," he said. There are those that want horses, those that
do not. Those that want bicycles, those that do not. We do what
we can to minimize our impact on neighbors."
The unhappy landholders might find solace in the
fact that horses and mountain bikes are much quieter than the trains
that once steamed over the railroad. And people choosing the Sussex
Branch Trail for recreation may not realize they are trading on
some truly historic ground.
Abram Hewitt and Peter Cooper, principals in the
Trenton Iron Co. received a charter in 1848 to build a railroad
from the Andover iron mine south to Waterloo where they could load
the rich Andover ore onto Morris Canal boats and ship it to Phillipsburg,
according to the Tri-State Railway Historical Society.
The first section of the railroad was only seven
miles long. Having no locomotives, Hewitt and Cooper relied on mules
to pull the heavy cars on the tracks.
"The existence of the Sussex Mine Railroad was
so brief and remote, little is known about the technical aspects
of its operation," says a Railway Historical Society book.
The road eventually became the Sussex Railroad
and spread northward to Branchville by 1856. [1869 actually-DR]
As the iron ore business dwindled, the trains served area farmers
and the growing industries in Newton. Passenger service was also
In 1881, the line was bought by the Delaware, Lackawanna
and Western Railroad. The Lackawanna abandoned most of the route,
known as the Sussex Branch, in 1966, two years after its last commercial
customer, a creamery at Augusta, closed.
Conrail came to own the line and removed the tracks
in 1977. [The Lowenthal book LRR in
NW NJ states that the Sussex Branch was left in the hands of the
EL when Conrail was formed. The tracks from Andover-north were removed
in 1967, Andover-south in 1977 --DR]
The right of way was subsequently purchased
by the state. Conrail's disassembly not only removed rails but also
many bridge abutments.
Using money from a $1.8 million federal grant,
the state has hired engineers to study the entire Sussex Branch
Trail and design new bridges and other improvements, said Celeste
Tracy, a supervising planner with the Division of Parks and Forestry.