Main Index
History Index
Modeling Index

Trail Index


The Township Journal - April 26, 2001 issue
The Sparta Independent - April 26, 2001 issue
A Walk Through History

Tour Provides a Glimpse of the Area's Mesmerizing and Tragic Past

By J. Harrington

The morning of January 28, 1870 started out as any other for the 25 passengers of the Sussex Railroad locomotive.

Likewise, on the morning of April 21, 2001, a tour of the Sussex Branch Trail started out as just another hike through the woods. Little did I know that my "hike through the woods" would alter my view of Andover forever.

Andover became more than just a small town; the muddy trail that runs along Rt. 206 became more than just a path for outdoor enthusiasts. The trail, to me, became a window to the past and to all the excitement and tragedy that surrounded the old Sussex Railroad.

On that cool, winter morning in 1870, a number of noted citizens boarded the Sussex Railroad morning train, destination Newton.

Among its passengers, listed in local newspaper accounts was old Mr. Fox, the well-known pedlar (sic), and his son, visiting from New York; V.M. Drake, of Newton; Miss Martha Coursen, daughter of the late William Coursen, of Andover; and the Honorable H.C. Clark and William M. Iliff, Esq., both of Andover.

The journey was routine; the train schedule included two daily runs between Waterloo and Newton, one leaving at 8:16 a.m., the other at 10:45 a.m.

As the Franklin, the ill-fated locomotive, neared the junction of Old Mine Road, about a half mile north of Andover, disaster struck.

The passenger car became disengaged from the rest of the train as it sped along the curve of the road. The car, and all 25-30 passengers aboard, tumbled down the side of a 20-foot embankment.

It is believed that a number of defective railway ties spread the rails under the pressure and weight of the heavy locomotive, causing a space of about 18 inches between the connecting bars.

According to newspapers accounts, the passenger car landed upside down, nearly 50 feet from the center of Old Mine Road. The locomotive continued another 150 feet along the railroad until it came to rest.

For the first few moments after the crash, there was a silence in the air "fearful as death." The passengers had been thrown from their seats amid the woodwork, lamps, glass, cushions, and other debris until they were "completely bewildered and stunned."

The passengers in the back of the car were the most critically injured, having been "thrown violently forward into one indescribable mass among the wounded."

"The screams of the wounded and terror-stricken for help soon filled the saloon, and the work of disengaging them from the ruin commenced," wrote the New Jersey Herald reporter covering the incident.

A local resident, Mr. George Youngs, opened his home to quarter the wounded until a doctor from Newton could be summoned. Fortunately, no one was killed in the wreck although many were seriously injured and were transported to Newton for treatment. Among the more seriously injured was the son of Mr. Fox the pedlar, and Miss Coursen, who remained in a "precurious (sic) condition" days after the crash.

It was reported that Old Mr. Fox, dripping with blood from head to toe from a severe cut above his eye was heard to exclaim, "G*d D*mn the Sussex Railroad to H*ll!"

Only three years later, on April 17, 1873, the noon mail train from Waterloo encountered a broken rail near Andover and caused the passenger train to derail.

According to reports, the car jumped the track and went jolting along, much to the discomfort of the frightened passengers.

One passenger received bruises along his knees, but no one else was hurt. The passengers were relocated to the smoking car, and the damaged car was removed from the rails in time for the passage of the 1:35 p.m. train.

For most of its long history, the Sussex Railroad was not a sight of devastation and damnation, however.

It was, in fact, a relief to the many area residents who at one time spent three to four days traveling the muddy roads to get from one part of the county to the next.

Its history began long before the first Sussex Railroad company train arrived in Newton on November 27, 1854, but only after two long years of planning by Andover Mine owners Peter Cooper and Abram S. Hewitt.

Based on facts collected by local historians Dave Rutan and Kevin Wright, who guided the Saturday morning tour, the Sussex Mine Railroad (as it was then known) was built in 1851 to transport Iron Ore between Andover and Waterloo. Two to three hundred tons of ore were dragged by mule teams each day.

On January 26, 1853, the Sussex Mine Railroad changed its name to the Sussex Railroad Company and began plans to extend passenger service to the Delaware River.

Ground breaking occurred on May 5, 1853, when 700 men began the excavation and grading of a route between Newton and Waterloo.

After the completion of the first passenger service, the company added a Hackettstown extension in 1855, and Branchville and Franklin extensions on July 4, 1869.

Service between Branchville and Andover ended on July 13, 1966. By 1973 all lines had been abandoned.

Of course, the site of the old railroad is not without its legends and myths. According to Rutan and Wright, part of the railway was actually built over the Andover Mine cemetery, although no reports of hauntings have surfaced as of yet.


There are, however, reports of a ghost, known as the "Hookerman," that haunts the cut-off tunnel in Andover.

For the most part, the tour is just a look back on a very important part of the areas history. A glimpse of an old relay circuit box and a telegraph pole are reminders of a time that has long since past, but will hopefully never be forgotten.

For more information about the Sussex Branch Trail history, Dave Rutan can be contacted at, or at his website:

[Not a bad article really-DR]

[Top][Report Broken Link]