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,
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
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
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
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
One passenger received bruises along his knees,
but no one else was hurt. The passengers were relocated to the
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
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