History of the Raritan River Railroad in New Brunswick
The Raritan River Railroad had a large Terminal Complex built in New Brunswick at Sandford Street, Remsen Ave, and Throop Street in 1899-1900. This complex would include a brick passenger station, brick five bay freight station, express station, water tank, and over 5000 ft of sidings. Numerous companies would occupy property in the yard, near the wye, and around the Commercial Ave and George Street areas. This was a bustling little place back in the day.
Before 1900, the Raritan River Railroad’s end of line terminated at Commercial Ave. In this area, they had a small passenger station, freight station, large loading crane, and even a small turntable.
The following page will document the history of the railroad as they attempted to get into New Brunswick, the first end of line at Commercial Ave, the final terminus at Sandford Street. I will attempt to list all the industries served by the railroad, and all the sidings in the area, until Conrail came in and abandoned and sold the property.
Planning for New Brunswick
After numerous issues and delays (which can be read about in the History of the Raritan River Railroad - Construction – 1889 Section), the railroad finally purchased its last piece of property leading up to Georges Road in July of 1889.
It would take many more months before tracks were actually laid. This small piece of property may have been only about 1/10 of a mile long, but officially the RRRR was in New Brunswick.
From the above map we can see that the RRRR bought the property up to Georges Rd in July of 1889.
This section of property was in the area known as the Second Ward.
The above map shows the area that the RRRR would eventually occupy within the Second Ward.
After purchasing the property in late July 1889, by August the Raritan River Railroad was building near Georges Road.
Its interesting to note that according to the article, this would be the end of the line per Nelson’s building contract. At this point the actual path the railroad would take through New Brunswick to get to Bound Brook was not yet finalized. There are reports of meetings and surveyors in and around Bound Brook, but the actual location of the line was never officially laid out.
Delevan Street Rumors – or Not?
There were plenty of rumors and speculation, though, of where the railroad would cross through New Brunswick.
The article above talks about a rumor that the railroad was going to use Delevan Street to cross New Brunswick. This is very interesting because Delevan Street is the only Double-Wide street in New Brunswick.
The above picture shows Delevan Street highlighted in the blue box. The final terminal complex off of Sandford Street is boxed in red.
Its interesting to note that Delevan street is only one block away from Sandford Street which is where the Raritan River would actually terminate its line many years later.
Delevan Street is clearly wide enough to be used for a railroad. One has to wonder why it was mapped out this way in the 1870s or 1880s when it was planned and built.
Could it have something to do with the 1881 stock subscription? (See Early History Section)
What was Delevan Street’s disposition before 1881?
Delevan Street crosses New Brunswick from south to the north, and if used, would have put the railroad out right near the Mile Run Creek. This is the creek the railroad would have followed through New Brunswick to get to the Raritan River near the Landing Lane Bridge. This is the general area that the railroad had hoped to reach to cross the Raritan River.
Fall of 1889
In the fall of 1889, no more progress would be completed in New Brunswick as the Raritan River Railroad would continue to be building the line out from South River and also be plagued with Nelson’s unpaid employees fighting and suing for their wages.
See the 1889 Construction Section for more details.
The above article from September 1889 hints at a planned depot being on Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick. This makes complete sense, for if the RRRR was to cross New Brunswick on its way to Bound Brook, Livingston Ave would be the likely choice for a depot as it was the main road out of New Brunswick.
Of course, roads back then were not paved yet, and being this far from the city center, were always on poor condition.
A few days after the first mention of a depot on Livingston Ave, this next article mentions that the sale for the property on Livingston Ave was not completed.
Where was ex-Alderman John Barbour’s house on Livingston Ave in 1889?
Apparently, a group of Railroad workers had a bar fight with a bunch of locals. Its interesting to note that they were in the Sandford – Remsen street area, where many years later the RRRR would build its final terminal.
Many issues and delays
Even though the Raritan River purchased the land in July and started some grading work in August into New Brunswick, they were nowhere near ready to start running trains into New Brunswick in the near future.
Here is a brief list of some of the issues that plagued the little Raritan River Railroad in the Fall of 1889.
In September, the RRRR was still working on Main Street over pass in South River, while the other overpass over the Old Bridge Turnpike collapsed in a storm, and had to be rebuilt.
In September, the RRRR settled the case of trespass with Furman (see the Sayreville Riot section in Construction 1889) in the amount of $6000. (about $150,000 in 2016 dollars)
In settling this case, the railroad company received permission to cross his land. This would allow the RRRR to finally complete the tracks into South River.
While the case against the railroad company was settled, the case against the men was not. In late September, indictments were made against Col Hobart (VP), Hendrickson (Passenger and Freight Agent), Hussey (Foreman of Construction), and Wm F. Fisher (adjacent Land Owner).
Hendricks and Hussey were indicted for murder, and also with Hobart and Fisher for trespass.
They were all arrested, plead not guilty, and released on bail. Hendricks and Hussey’s bail was $10,000. (about $260,000 in 2016 dollars).
Also in September 1889, Nelson stopped work and his men claim they were not paid. When they asked him for their money, they say Nelson said he had not been paid by the railroad. Nelson said as soon as he got paid, he would pay his men.
The workers, not accepting this answer, went to the Officers of the railroad, who told them that Nelson was indeed paid.
Col Hobart (VP of RRRR) takes over construction. One of Neslon’s employees, the time keeper, gets accosted in New Brunswick in early October.
Also in October, the workers went to court, and the constable tried to confiscate and sell Nelson’s assets, including his cattle, but was blocked when it was discovered that his cattle was already owned by someone else. The constable did get a levy on Nelson’s steam shovel, located at Tanners Corner and still being used in the construction of the culvert getting out of South River up to Milltown.
The steam shovel, worth $6000, was sold at auction, and purchased by the Railroad Company itself, for only $150. Work then continued in that cut until at least December.
In October, work is still being completed on the Milltown Trestle, so even if the tracks get out of South River, they still can’t reach New Brunswick yet.
On the lower end of the line, South Amboy sues the RRRR in October for a poor and dangerous bridge over Boardentown Avenue.
Construction also started on the Sayreville Branch in October.
So, while trains started running from Van Deventers (east side of the South River) to South Amboy in April 1889, New Brunswick would need to wait more then a year for the line to get finished.
Trains to Milltown
By the spring of 1890, the trains are getting closer to New Brunswick. With the condemnations completed in Milltown in the fall of 1889, the railroad had the rights to continue building the line from South River into Milltown and finally New Brunswick. The large trestle in Milltown over the Lawrence Brook would also get finished in the Winter 1889 – Spring of 1890.
This article from February of 1890 has a number of interesting points. The first, sadly, being the first wreck of a RRRR train in Sayreville. The quoted 75 people on the train is a large amount, and probably required two, if not three, coaches.
The factory in Washington, the old name for South River, would be the Hermann Ackermann silk factory, which was a big shipper and employer on the line.
It was also noted that the train could not reach Milltown until the next evening. That would also imply that Milltown had some type of rail access by this point, February 1890, but no station yet.
First Station in New Brunswick
By the late Spring 1890, with the Milltown Trestle being completed, it is expected that the railroad had tracks laid into New Brunswick, if only up to Georges Rd.
The above map show that the property between Georges Rd and Commercial Ave was purchased in May of 1890. It should also be noted that it was not purchased by the railroad itself, but personally by an officer (Ed Ripley) of the RRRR.
Buy June 1890, the RRRR was ready to get things finished in New Brunswick.
The above article highlights the railroad’s request to cross Georges Rd to reach Commercial Ave and to build the first Depot for the purpose of handling the expected Shore Traffic.
The depot would have been at the corner of Commercial Ave and Lawrence Street.
They expect the station to be open and ready by July 4th, 1890, and to run three trains per day.
It would seem that permission was granted very quickly.
By July 3rd, the newspaper reported that the temporary depot will be erected, and that trains will leave New Brunswick for the shore on July 4th.
It is expected that a temporary platform, with a simple shelter, was built to accommodate the patrons. A larger, more permanent, wooden frame station would be completed at this location sometime later in 1890-1891.
And so, it is my strong belief, that the first official Raritan River Railroad train to leave New Brunswick did so on July 4th, 1890.
By August, the timetables were officially changed, probably to reflect the addition of the new New Brunswick stop!
Very quickly, the Raritan River Railroad started to run special trains from South Amboy to New Brunswick for the shows at the Opera House. These trains were well patronized and much appreciated by the local residents.
Another Opera House special from South Amboy. This article is from the very next week. Once has to wonder if they ran Opera Specials maybe once per week?
The Rutgers Glee Club chartered a special train, from New Brunswick to South Amboy, in November 1890.
Another RRRR Special from South Amboy to New Brunswick.
The New Brunswick Gas and Lamp Committee was authorized to have a new gasoline lamp placed near the Commercial Ave depot to help light up the area in December 1890.
Each night, the RRRR had an Opera House special train!
Another RRRR Special run from South Amboy to New Brunswick.
According to the Annual Report of the State Board of Assessors of the State of New Jersey, the railroad was still not classified as “finished” in January 1892.
Bound Brook extension
When the Raritan River Railroad was incorporated in 1888, the plan was always to go from South Amboy, through New Brunswick, to get to Bound Brook.
Not much was written about why the Railroad never made it to Bound Brook, other then to say the plan was quietly dropped.
My research has found some good possible reasons why this extension was never completed.
First, a bit of pre-history.
Bound Brook was a major railroad hub at the time. The Reading, Lehigh Valley, and Central RR of NJ all had a major presence in the area. Most of these roads headed North East, towards Jersey City, for New York destinations.
Railroads in general were always looking for a Tidewater port. This would be a water based port where shipments of coal (and other freight) could be loaded on barges and boats for destinations all up and down the coast. The Reading, having Tidewater access in Philadelpha, was exploring options to get near or into the New York area.
The expectations of the builders of the Raritan River Railroad was that if they could connect Bound Brook with South Amboy (a tidewater port), they could sell or lease their new railroad to any of the larger three in Bound Brook who would want that access. Plus, South Amboy was a shortcut to the New Jersey Shore, which was turning into quite popular vacation spot.
So the plan was clear. Build a railroad from Bound Brook to South Amboy, and then sell out to the largest bidder. But that is not how things happened.
The 1881 Stock Subscription (referenced here) with the list of New Brunswick investors makes me believe that the first time this Bound Brook – South Amboy line was proposed, possibly they planned to start building in Bound Brook, or maybe start in New Brunswick. And in that, they would have run into many of the same issues in 1890 that they did in 1881.
So here we are in 1890. The Raritan River Railroad is built 1/10 of a mile into New Brunswick. They have a small station on Commercial Ave, and run only 4 trains per day.
The first sign of a problem was that the last piece of property needed to get into New Brunswick was not purchased by the Raritan River Railroad, but was purchased by Ed Ripley, an officer of the line.
My expectation from that sale was that the Railroad Company was broke, and could not afford to buy any more property, that’s why the officer had to buy the property. With all the condemnation proceedings, lawsuits, trials, and extra costs, I can easily believe they had no more money.
Building across New Brunswick was going to be expensive. The property values were higher then they were in the lower end of the line, plus there was a really big obstacle: The Pennsylvania Railroad. The PRR cut right down the middle of New Brunswick. By now, the PRR was one of the biggest or most profitable railroads, and they would not have cared what the little RRRR needed.
The RRRR was going to need to cross the PRR to get across New Brunswick. The Raritan River Railroad would have needed to build a bridge over the PRR, but this too, is complicated. Apparently, in 1890 the PRR was in the middle of making plans to elevate the PRR in New Brunswick. This implies that if the RRRR was to build a bridge, it would have to be twice as high, as to rise above a raised PRR. If that was even possible, as the grades required to do that may not have been possible.
By September 1890, the Reading Railroad had announced that they were going to just build their own line from Bound Brook close to Perth Amboy tidewater. In the article, they outline the massive infrastructure they were going to build. Two large shipping piers, large freight and storage yards, with 24 tracks. They specifically state that this was going to be used to get their coal to the port without running over any other roads.
It became very clear to me when I found the above article that the Reading, by building its own route to Perth Amboy, would not need the Raritan River Railroad’s future connection to Bound Brook anymore.
Shortly after the last article, the New Brunswick Board of Trade put a small committee together to figure out how to encourage and support the RRRR in getting to Bound Brook. Apparently they realized the same thing I did, that if the Reading builds their own line to Bound Brook, the RRRR would not need to go there.
This article from January 1891 is great! It actually mentions the fact that the RRRR probably can’t get to Bound Brook until the issue of elevating the PRR line in New Brunswick is resolved.
Also in January 1891, the New Brunswick Board of Trade’s Special Committee is still working hard to secure the RRRR’s rapid extension to Bound Brook.
The above September 1891 article mentions that the cost to get to Bound Brook was only $70,000. A very low estimate in my opinion. Here is a list of what I consider to be the largest costs:
1. Buying all the property in New Brunswick
2. Building a bridge\crossing the PRR
3. Building a very large bridge over the Raritan River near the Landing Lane Bridge.
December 1891 commentary supporting the increase in trade, if the RRRR can get a line to Bound Brook.
By December 16, 1891, the Reading Railroad is having issues trying to build their line across the PRR between Metuchen and Menlo Park. Apparently, as the Reading work crew was working to cross over the PRR’s tracks, the PRR crew drove a work train through the construction site.
So, as 1891 closed out, the RRRR made no progress getting the line to Bound Brook. While New Brunswick was very vocal on their support of the plan, there seemed to be little done to facilitate the work. The Reading Railroad, on the other hand, made great progress getting their line out of Bound Brook towards Perth Amboy. In fact, they had already bumped up against the PRR, who were not making things easy for them.
It should be noted, that had the RRRR attempted to cross the PRR, the same would probably have happened.
In the mean time, the RRRR was busy finishing the line and building some stations.
In February 1892 a joke was published about how long it would take for the Raritan River Railroad to build its extension to Bound Brook.
By March 1892, the Raritan River Railroad officially announces that it had abandoned its plans to extend the line to Bound Brook.
By December 1892, the Reading reports that the line to Port Reading would be finished soon.
One can only wonder what would have happened to the South Amboy \ Sayreville area had the Reading assisted the Raritan River Railroad in building the line from Bound Brook to New Brunswick.
I speculate that very quickly after its completion, the Reading would have just leased the little Raritan River Railroad, and left them as a very small footnote in the history of all the other lines the Reading leased or owned.
I also assume that that the same magnitude of tracks, piers, and stations that were built in Port Reading would have been built somewhere in the South Amboy\Sayreville area, where the PRR also had a big terminal complex for coal. I would have expected the Reading to fill up the Sayreville area with the storage tracks and yards it would have needed.
But, thankfully, due to the Raritan River Railroad’s stall in getting through New Brunswick, we instead had a 92 year independent history of the little RRRR.