Old Bergen

Chapter XXXIV.

Daniel Van Winkle

Published 1902

Web version, edited by GET NJ
Copyright 2002

UP to 1832 the only means of rapid communication between New York and Philadelphia was by boat from New York to Amboy, and thence by rail, via Bordentown and Camden, to Philadelphia, with a spur from Bordentown to Trenton. Intercourse in this part of the state was carried on by means of stage lines, of which at that time there were twenty crossing Bergen territory for different points. But after that date the growth of the country and the demand for easy communication with the capital of the state required increased facilities.

March 17, 1832

The New Jersey Railroad and Transportation Company was incorporated, being designed to provide the then new facilities of railway travel between Trenton and New York, "and to restore the old Colonial and Revolutionary route over New Jersey, through Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway and New Brunswick, to Princeton and Trenton." Work was commenced, and the road laid out and completed, with the exception of the cut through Bergen Hill and the filling east of the "Point of Rocks" (Now the site of the Penn. R. R. Round House on Railroad Avenue, author's note).

It must be remembered that there were at this time no steam drills or other modern appliances for the removal of rock, and the excavation was a great undertaking. In order to lessen the work, and, as stated to the stockholders by John P. Jackson, the then president of the road, to save an expense of $100,000, the curve at the eastern end of the cut was adopted. It followed an old ravine or water-course, the direction of which may be seen from the Summit Avenue bridge. Before the roadbed was straightened by the Penn. R. R., about 1878, the road reached in a straight line from the ferry along the line of Railroad Avenue to just west of the "Point of Rocks", and thence turning sharply to the north, followed a graceful, S-like curve to a point near Marion. When the road was built, much difficulty was experienced in crossing the old Mill Creek, by reason of the nature of the marsh. So treacherous was the foundation it afforded, that although the roadbed was filled up to grade several times, all would sink and entirely disappear in a single night. While this tedious work was going on, cars were drawn by horses from Marion over the hill, malting a trip each way every hour and a half during the day, and three trips during the night.

It is evident that the railroad magnates of the early days not only performed their own clerical work, but supervised very closely all matters connected with the conduct of the company's affairs, as the following extracts will show. These are taken from letters in their own handwriting, folded and seeded with wafers in the olden style, with superscription on back. They likewise indicate some of the difficulties connected with early railroading.

January 22, 1836.

When the train cars pass through Newark, they are to stop 5 minutes as advertised. The agents will regulate the time. In case, however, they have more than 5 minutes before the time advertised for their passing through Newark, they must hold over until that hour arrives.
What a relief it would be to some of our dilatory suburbanites were this comfortable, easy-going system to prevail at the present time.

February 3, 1836.

I enquire why our train stopped at Newark without going through. I hope you will pay attention to this, and as much as possible be there when the trains pass through, to see that things go right.
In the early organization of the road and the irregularities naturally caused by its unfinished state, annoyances were continually arising from the want of a settled code of discipline. It must be remembered that at this time horse power was used to propel the cars over Bergen Hill.

February 5, 1836.

As regards the trains to Rahway, you observe that the arrangement is made for the future, and that as soon as we run a locomotive to Bergen Hill, they have no more to do with Newark than with Elizabethtown. . . . For the present, I am desirous to have you see to their getting on properly, changing horses, etc. (Another difficulty seems to have been in properly distributing the cars, author's note.)
There is but one car here to go out at 11:30 o'clock. Please remember that the cars must not get all at one end, and that the two train cars must not go except in their trains. As there is but little business doing, why not have a portion of the cars at Jersey City? At this time wood was used exclusively as fuel, and was brought by vessel and unloaded on the unfinished wharf.

February, 1836.

We have two loads of wood at Jersey City, one pile on the end of our bulkhead, and the other on the south ferry dock. If the ice is firm enough to have it carried ashore, it had better be done now.
December 2, 1836.
has sent word that he wishes to clean his pumps on Sunday. Please find out if it is absolutely necessary to stop, and if so, send the mail by sleigh.
As showing the tremendous development of railroad traffic in this section alone, in a little over sixty years, the following advertisement, taken from the Jersey City Gazette of 1835, is of interest:
The Public is respectfully informed, that the N. J. R. R. is now open for public use between Newark and New York, and cars will commence running to-morrow, 8 trips each way daily, fare 37 1/2 cents, ferry to New York, 6 1/4 cents. New York and Easton Stages: Passengers will cross the river from foot of Cortlandt St. to Jersey City, then take Post coaches through Springfield, Chatham, Morristown, Mendham, etc., and arrive in Easton, same evening. Morristown stage will leave Newark, every day at half-past one o'clock, so that the passengers who leave New York in the morning, by the Hoboken Stages, the steamboat Newark at io o'clock, or the Rail-Road cars at half-past eleven, will be in time to dine at Newark, and take the stage for Morristown.
Contrast this with the fact that from the Penn. Central R. R. Depot in Jersey City alone, above three hundred regular passenger trains arrive and depart every twenty-four hours, to which must be added freights and specials; while the Erie, Lackawanna and New Jersey Central roads each control a very large traffic.

The whole road from Philadelphia was finished, and engines operated the entire length, Januaary 1, 1839. At Marion the Paterson and Hudson R.R. terminated, and after the completion of the N. J. R. R., reached Jersey City by connecting with it at this point. The Paterson and Hudson was incorporated January 21, 1831, and went into operation in June, 1832. The rolling stock consisted of "three splendid and commodious cars, each capable of accommodating thirty passengers, drawn by fleet and gentle horses; a rapid and delightful mode of travelling." It was first operated by horse power, and when a change was made to steam, it must have been with many misgivings, for it was advertised that "The steam and horse cars are so intermixed that passengers may make their selection, and the timid can avail themselves of the latter twice a day." The old Grasshopper Engine, with its walking beam, loping along like its predecessor -- the running Indian -- was in strong contrast with the present smooth-running, swiftly moving, intelligent iron steed.

This road was afterward absorbed by the Erie, and was the route by which that road reached tidewater at Jersey City, until the completion of the Erie Tunnel in 1861.

This enterprise was a formidable undertaking, owing to the length of the cutting and the hardness of the trap rock through which it was bored. During the tunnel's construction considerable trouble was experienced with the workmen, which culminated in a serious strike and riot, necessitating the calling out of the militia.

It is stated that when the building of the New Jersey Railroad commenced in 1833, Cornelius Van Vorst was so incensed that he offered to sell the whole of his possessions for $1,000. (His. Soc. Proceedings.)

We can scarcely realize in this era of trolley development, that but little more than forty years ago, the one-horse stage of old Peter Earle met all the demands for local travel in Bergen. But he combined within himself motorman, conductor, superintendent, yes, and directors too, for he "scooped" all the dividends.

He made one trip each way daily, to accommodate his regular passengers, of whom there were four, J. J Franks, F. P. Vidal, George Gifford and Prof. House. In case any other service was needed, or the ladies wished to visit the bargain counters of the day, notice had to be sent him the night previous. Passengers were required to be in readiness at io o'clock in the morning, when he would call for them, with the understanding that they would be at the ferry at 3 o'clock in the afternoon to return home, so that he might have time to go back for his regulars, at 5 o'clock.

After a time, two more emigrants settled in Bergen, which necessitated the procurement of a two-horse stage, with seats for eight. With these vehicles, Earle was able to accommodate the travelling public until Jacob M. Merseles -- to whose foresight and energy the town owed much of its development-anticipating the rapid approach of a demand for more and better conveniences for travelling, purchased the Pioneers, and started his omnibus line, which ran from the stables at Montgomery and Orchard Streets and followed the route of the Newark Avenue line of cars to the ferry. Shortly after, one Hallock started another line, but after a few weeks of fruitless opposition, sold out to Merseles, who incorporated the Bergen Stage and Plank Road Co. He found the roads at certain seasons of the year almost impassable, and wisely united the Stage and Plank Road Companies, so that the stages could have the benefit of the road without extra cost. The plank road was laid along Bergen Avenue from Communipaw to Newark Avenues, and a toll-gate was maintained at the Summit Avenue bridge.

This stage line was afterward merged into the Jersey City and Bergen Horse Car Co. The first cars operated on this road were in the shape of the old omnibus body, fastened on the truck by a pivot in the center, and drawn by one horse. They were most convenient for swinging around at the end of the route, or in case of meeting between switches, but required constant watchfulness on a descending grade, lest inadvertently the car should get before the horse. A few years ago electricity was applied as a motive power, and the original line swallowed up by that electrical octopus, The North Jersey Traction Co.