New Jersey Herald - June 1, 2003 issue
Railroad's History Intertwined
Farmers used trains to transport goods to market;
people could go anywhere they wanted
Special to The
--This seldom-seen photo shows the last train pulling into Newton
on July 13, 1966. The rail line got off to a grand start on Dec.
11, 1854, when citizens cheered the sound of the steam whistle
as the train chugged into the station. On this day, nostalgic
passengers drove to Netcong to board the train and take its last
ride, then returned to Netcong by bus to retrieve their cars.
11, 1854 the Sussex Railroad officially opened, bringing Newton,
and Sussex County generally its first rail link to the outside world.
County citizens gathered at the barn-like depot, still under construction
and cheered as the sound of the steam whistle echoed at the iron horses
The town cannon,
brought to the site for the occasion, answered the whistle with welcoming
reports. Everyone believed the railroad, built by Abram S. Hewitt, would
bring prosperity into their midst. Speeches were made to mark the event.
After the engine had been turned on the turntable and hooked back up
to the coaches, the train chuffed off to Waterloo.
The railroad had
an immediate and profound effect on the town. Where once wagons laboriously
transported the people and products of the land over narrow, rutted,
and often muddy roads, now expedient travel to markets outside the county
Newton, not blessed with natural water power, began its climb
to industry via coal-fired steam power for textile mills and factories.
Spring street became routinely lined with wagons bringing pigs and cows
to the depot on lower Spring Street, destined for such faraway markets
as Morristown and New York City.
At this time, Newton
was the terminus of the railroad. A decade and a half later, extensions
were built to bring zinc and iron ore down from Franklin and agricultural
produce and milk from Branchville. The wealth of the county trundled
through Newton past the newly constructed brick passenger station.
In the eighteen
seventies, eighties, and nineties, three other railroads were built
through Sussex county. These each supplied valuable freight and passenger
connections with the Sussex Railroad in their early years, giving the
citizens of our area a superb mass transit network which enabled them
to travel in any desired direction. It is unfortunate that the advent
of the automobile, which gave rise to improved roads, helped bring an
end to these conveniences.
changes. The connection at Waterloo was abandoned as a new and better
line was built connecting the railroad to Netcong. This connection allowed
trains to run through to Hoboken directly instead of the inconvenient
change of trains at Waterloo.
The Great Depression
and the opening of more accessible iron mines in the Midwest brought
a death knell to the line to Franklin. Iron shipments fell off and the
zinc was being hauled away by the other two railroads in town. In the
1930s the line was abandoned and the rails removed from Franklin to
Branchville Junction, in Lafayette.
By the 1940s
passenger traffic had been cut to the point where it was more convenient
for returning servicemen to hitchhike than take the train home. Milk
from the Sussex Milk & Cream in Branchville and Henry Becker &
Son at Straders crossing in Lafayette was what kept the Sussex
Railroad, by this time called the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna, in
creamery suffered a boiler explosion and fire in 1962 which caused it
to permanently close. The Becker creamery in Lafayette closed its doors
in 1964. The remaining dairy farms in the area either switched to bulk
milk shipment by truck, or closed down.
1966 saw the end
of all trains on the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna. The last train
to and from Branchville ran on July 10, 1966. Newtons
final passenger train ran 3 days later. Most of the passengers who
disembarked from it had driven down to Netcong just for the ride up.
They took a bus back to Netcong to retrieve their cars. The train returned
Many do not realize
that Andover borough was actually the last town in Sussex County to
enjoy passenger service. Due to abandonment procedures, service to the
entire line could not be discontinued all at once. Passenger trains
continued to serve Andover until October 1966, when the last train brought
a crowd of sentimental folks to their automobiles at Netcong.
The rails were
removed from Andover to Newton a year later. The rest, ten years after
that. Cinder paths which once saw great steamers and colorful diesel
engines lay dormant until the state of New Jersey purchased the right
of way. Now the first railroad in Sussex County is the Sussex Branch
Trail, a hiking and biking trail where all can traverse the history
of our county.
is a native son of Sussex County, New Jersey and a local railroad
historian who specializes in the history of the Sussex Branch of the
Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad. He shares his research
through his Internet web site,http://DLW-SussexBranch.com,
walking tours of the Sussex Branch Trail and presentations to local
historical societies. Dave resides in Franklin Borough with his wife