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New Jersey Herald - June 1, 2003 issue

Railroad's History Intertwined with County's

Farmers used trains to transport goods to market; people could go anywhere they wanted

By David E. Rutan

Special to The Herald

Last Train to Newton, July 13, 1966
LAST TRAIN --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.

On December 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 horse’s approach.

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 was possible.
Newton, not blessed with natural water power, began it’s 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.

Economics brought 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 1940’s 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 Strader’s crossing in Lafayette was what kept the Sussex Railroad, by this time called the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna, in business.

The Branchville 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. Newton’s 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 empty.

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.

Dave Rutan 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,, walking tours of the Sussex Branch Trail and presentations to local historical societies. Dave resides in Franklin Borough with his wife and daughter.