Delaware, Lackawanna & Western's Sussex Branch
by Robert Mohowski
with permission from the author and publisher)
Model Craftsman - October 1990, Vol. 59 Number 5
The Sussex Mine
A vein of iron
ore and a determined entrepreneur named Abram S. Hewitt were the moving
forces for a railroad in rural Sussex County, New Jersey. Hewitt was
in the iron manufacturing business and decided that an earlier worked
deposit of iron ore in Andover, New Jersey, would be a good source of
supply for his works at Phillipsburg and Trenton. This mine was only
seven miles from the Morris canal port of Waterloo, and in spite of
the fact that railroads were still considered somewhat visionary, Hewitt
decided on that form of transportation to bring the ore to the canal.
A charter was obtained from the state of New Jersey, and Sussex county's
first railroad, The Sussex Mine Railroad, came into existence.
Although its primary
purpose was to haul iron ore, the charter contained limits on charges
that the railroad could place upon both freight and passengers. This
can be explained by the fact that Hewitt hoped for the new line to have
public appeal and that public subscription would carry some of the cost
of construction. There was little, if any of this support, so Hewitt
and his partners in the ironworks, Peter and Edward Cooper, had to fund
the line on their own.
work took a little more than one year, and the line was ready for service
in the summer of 1851. It was a 40" narrow-gauge, mule-drawn operation
with the possibility of some helpful gravity momentum down a hill at
about the mid-point on the line. A dock arrangement at Waterloo had
the ore cars dumping the loads into canal boats, which were drawn by
mules to Phillipsburg on the Delaware River. There the ore could be
processed at the Cooper-Hewitt works or continue on to Trenton via the
connecting Delaware Canal that paralleled the river.
Within this same
time frame, other parties were pushing for the extension of the Morris
& Essex Railroad through the southeast corner of Sussex County The
M&E was one of New Jersey's earliest railroads and connected Newark
with Morristown and Dover. Its westward push was intended to tap the
agricultural, mineral and commercial possibilities of northwestern New
Jersey and more importantly perhaps, the anthracite mines of Pennsylvania.
M&E connected with and became a part of the Delaware, Lackawanna
& Western. If the Sussex Mine Railroad could make a connection with
the M&E, it might become a part of that line or at least make a
connection that would allow for an all-rail route to the iron furnaces.
This would be faster than the canal routing and avoid the annual winter
shutdown of he waterway and the lack of canal service on Sundays.
had hoped to see he operation of his railroad taken over by another
company once he got the line in place. However, he found himself saddled
with the railroad for a good many more years before that would happen.
The Sussex Railroad
Along with hopes
for the southern connection at or near Waterloo, the line had planned
to extend northward to the county seat of Newton. Around 1853, local
interest in the Sussex Mine Railroad had been sufficiently aroused so
that enough securities could be sold to lay track in that direction.
In addition to new trackage, it was also decided to substantially realign
the route so that only two miles of the original road were used.
In the same year,
the name of the company was shortened to the Sussex Railroad and the
charter amended to allow the expansion to Newton and beyond. Thomas
Hewitt, Abram's older brother, was elected president of the "new" company
before the line's completion into Newton. The older Hewitt is credited
with providing the final push that got the extension completed. This
involved a confrontation with the grading crew in which the elder Hewitt,
pistol in one hand and cane in the other, refused to yield to their
The first passenger
train entered the Newton terminal on December 11, 1854. The line had,
of course, been relayed to standard gauge and given up the use of mule
power with the purchase of two used locomotives from the New York &
Lake Erie Railroad.
The physical connection
with the M&E at Waterloo was also made within a month of the arrival
at Newton. Ore continued to go on to Phillipsburg via the canal until
the M&E was completed to that point in 1865. Despite the connection,
all Sussex Railroad trains terminated at Waterloo until 1901. Passenger
and freight service in and out of Sussex County by rail was now a reality.
During the remainder
of the 1850s, Hewitt considered a number of ideas and proposals including
additions to the charter for extensions in a number of directions. In
the end, no new trackage was laid and Hewitt's last effort to make the
Sussex Railroad a financial success ended. The year 1858 saw the line
sold to a local syndicate with Hewitt taking a loss in the sale.
times did not come to the new owners in the early 1860s, but they brought
a promise of better times to come. The agricultural potential of the
county was slowly becoming a reality as far as the railroad was concerned.
Livestock, grain, vegetables, milk and butter were moving southward
to the M&E connection in increasing quantities.
John I. Blair,
an individual active on both the state and national railroad fronts,
gained control of the road in 1864. An experienced railroad promoter
and operator, Blair revived and pushed through the decade or longer
effort of extending the line to Branchville. This involved the building
of some nine miles of railroad northward from a point called Newton
Junction which was about a mile below the established Newton terminal.
Both county residents and railroad men did not believe that the Sussex
Railroad would end at Branchville. The line was now 22 miles long and
it was expected that it would soon reach the Delaware River and a connection
with the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania.
was accomplished in this same year of 1869 with the completion of the
nine-mile Franklin Furnace Branch. Zinc, iron ore, limestone and the
iron furnace itself, promised heavy and profitable business for the
railroad. By 1873, the town of Franklin, New Jersey, boasted 500 inhabitants
and the Franklin Iron Co. had one of the largest blast furnaces in the
nation at the time. It was capable of producing 50,000 tons of pig iron
annually. For this reason, it was this extension that was considered
a continuation of the mainline rather than the route to agrarian Branchville.
The Franklin and
Branchville routes diverged at a location known as Branchville Junction,
slightly more than three miles above Newton. Consideration was also
given to building into Sparta at this time, but nothing happened.
The Franklin Furnace
and its nearby ore deposits had acted as a magnet for rail schemes long
before the arrival of the Sussex Railroad. In 1872, the New Jersey Midland,
later to become the New York, Susquehanna & Western, also opened
a route through Franklin. It was a link in the "Great Midland Route",
a trunk line running from Jersey City to Oswego on Lake Ontario. At
Franklin Furnace, the two roads joined in a cooperative effort which
included a shared station and trackage rights agreements for both roads
to push northward.
The Sussex Railroad
under Blair, was looking to establish a route to the New York State
Line and perhaps beyond. The Midland aided the plan by granting Blair's
road rights on its track from Franklin Furnace to Hamburg. From this
point, the Sussex graded and laid track on their own right- of-way to
McAfee where there were additional deposits of ore. This 1871 addition
was called the South Vernon Branch. With the exception of a small line
change at Newton this was the high water mark for Sussex Railroad mileage.
The earlier extension
to Branchville Junction had left Newton at the end of a short stub.
A mile and one-half extension in a northerly direction from the Newton
station connected the town with the mainline in that direction and presented
an alternate route to Branchville for several years. The older line,
between Newton Jct. and the northern connection was not abandoned until
1890. Newton also became the main shop facility for the railroad. Repair,
machine and blacksmith shops were moved northward from the Waterloo
mule drawn, iron ore carting operation grew into a 35 mile transportation
system with six locomotives and over 100 employees. By no means, however,
were the stock holders reaping a golden reward on their railroad investment
but their mines, farms, and commercial enterprises required the line
to maintain and improve their financial health.
Enter the DL&W
In l880, two other
railroads acted upon the Sussex in a way that brought it up to full
main line standards and out of the role of a small local carrier. Grinnell
Burt was an Orange County, New York, businessman who was intent on pushing
through a rail route that would connect the Erie at Greycourt, New York,
with a railroad at Belvidere, New Jersey. The Sussex Railroad's disconnected
four-mile line between McAfee and Vernon, the South Vernon Branch, was
on his proposed route. Not only that, but he was interested in the mainline
of the Sussex between Franklin Furnace and Andover. South from that
point, Burt would again have to build his own roadbed.
Burt, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western, already active in the
affairs of the Sussex, did not like the idea of possible competition
with this proposed route and gained full control of the Sussex in 1881
via its subsidiary, the M&E. Burt was allowed to buy the four mile
McAfee to Vernon section that same year, but nothing more. He eventually
built a better route between Franklin Furnace and Andover and went on
to complete the line route that became the Lehigh & Hudson River
While the DL&W
might have had little to fear of a north-south line like the L&HR,
they did not want to see any Sussex County traffic diverted onto this
new road. Not apparent at that time was the fact that the L&HR and
DL&W would be future partners in a very lucrative and competitive
bridge traffic between New England and the rest of the nation.
With the DL&W
takeover, the Sussex Railroad became the Sussex Branch of the Lackawanna
and underwent changes and modernization. A train called the Boston Flyer
was introduced to the Sussex Branch in the 1890s on a route that connected
Hoboken and Boston. This was primarily a mail and express train that
served inland areas and took twice as long as New Haven trains using
the shoreline route between New York and Boston. An awkward engine turning
and run-around move at Waterloo certainly did not enhance the schedule.
was finally corrected in 1901 with the building of the "Stanhope connection."
This was a great improvement since it allowed Sussex Branch trains to
run through to Hoboken for the first time. The connection required the
building of some two miles of new line and did cut the running time
of freight and passenger trains significantly. The juncture of this
new connection with the old M&E main at Netcong was called Sussex
Branch Jct. This improvement tied in nicely with the beginning of the
branch's best years, which occurred between 1900 and the early 1920s.
The major contribution
to those years occurred in 1905. Arrangements were made whereby the
L&HR was given trackage rights over the DL&W between Andover
Jct. and Port Morris yard, a distance of approximately eight miles.
This agreement allowed the L&HR to bring trains of westbound traffic
from the New Haven's Maybrook yards to the Port Morris Yard. Here the
DL&W would integrate this tonnage into fast westbound trains for
connections at Buffalo. This routing called for tight operations since
the two roads were competing with the Erie, Leigh Valley, and the New
York, Ontario & Western.
heading for Port Morris faced two tough grades on the Sussex Branch.
The Lackawanna usually had a helper waiting at Andover Jct. to couple
onto the head end and assist the train into Port Morris yard. There
was a hollow called "Possum Dip" south of Cranberry Lake where a train
might bog down if it didn't have the momentum to crest the north edge
of the bowl. Two trains in each direction, Nos. 30 through 33, were
generally adequate for this business.
It is interesting
to note that both roads had alternate routes for the same traffic. The
L&HR was part of the Central States Dispatch route which~h handled
New England-bound traffic from Allentown off the CNJ, Reading, WM, B&O,
(parts of the "Alphabet Route') and their connections. The DL&W
fed New England traffic to the NYO&W at Cayuga Jct. near Scranton,
Pennsylvania. While the latter two routings were longer, they both gave
the L&HR/ DL&W route a good run for the money over the years.
on the Sussex Branch
As a result of
the DL&W/L&HR relationship, some of the finest and most impressive
steam locomotives in the state rolled over the Sussex Branch. Lackawanna
Americans, Ten Wheelers, Consolidations, Pacifics, massive 2100 series
Mikes, Mountains and Poconos (4-8-4) served the branch in their turn.
Eight-drivered power was generally used in conjunction with the L&HR
trains and made only rare appearances north of Andover Jct. Consolidations
were generally adequate for freight traffic beyond that distance.
Most of the freight
power could call the Port Morris Yard and engine facility home. This
was located only a few miles east of Sussex Branch Jct. As the power
increased in length and weight, turning facilities at Newton and Branchville
three modern, magnificent 4-8-2's could often be found swinging around
the connecting track at Andover Jct. Built in 1944, they were decades
younger than most of the Lackawanna power with which they mingled. When
they were busy elsewhere, massive 2-8-O's or more modest appearing 2-8-2's
would make the Port Morris runs.
In the closing
decades of the 1800s and into the 20th Century, many railroads and interurban
lines built or aided in the development of amusement parks and lakeside
excursion parks that created a need for transportation service. These
parks were usually at such a distance as to require the use of the parent
to reach the location. This of course was before the auto and electronic
home entertainment era. With the acquisition of the Sussex Branch, the
Lackawanna probably could select from several beautiful settings. It
chose to develop Cranberry Lake, 53 miles from Hoboken, in 1902.
The railroad leased
30 acres on a peninsula, which it reached by a suspension bridge connected
to the station area. A newspaper account of the period stated that,
"Stairways, platforms and rustic arbors have been built along the shore
of the lake and throughout the grove..." In addition, a hotel, dance
pavilion, boating facilities and a miniature steam railroad served to
attract crowds of excursionists that came independently or with church,
fraternal and civic outings. The public truly came from near and far
and a good day saw up to 6,000 passengers arrive in as many as 100 coaches.
The Cranberry Lake
resort had a meteoric rise and decline. It did not last even a decade
and by 1910 it was abandoned. That didn't mean the end of summer tourist
traffic however. The lakes and rural retreats of northwest New Jersey
attracted vacationers and sportsmen before and well after the Cranberry
Lake years. Individual bungalows and hotels drew suburban families well
into the auto age. This writer can remember commuting vacationers still
using the final remnant of the Branchville service in the Erie Lackawanna
days of the 1960s with a former DL&W GP-7 powering the train.
The Diesel Years
Diesels came to
the Sussex Branch in the early 1950s. Along with the "torpedo boat"
GP-7's (so called because of four, long roof mounted air tanks) came
FM Train Masters and the smaller H1644's, F3's and RS3's.
One could sit back
in a dreamy reverie and imagine a colorful Train Master with a southbound
milk train rattling the diamond at Augusta Jct. while Maybrook bound
Lehigh & New England Alco's sat at the home signal. A few miles
further south and our Lackawanna Train Master might in turn be held
at Andover Jct. while an L&HR eastbound headed for Warwick with
a pooled CNJ Train Master on the point. Inside the yellow and green
operators' cabin, telegrapher Stan Pierce would OS both trains to their
Milk was one of
the earliest sources of revenue for the Sussex Railroad and virtually
the last for the Erie-Lackawanna, which operated the branch during its
final years. The early development of the Sussex Railroad roughly coincided
with the refusal of city dwellers to accept city milk from cows fed
on distillery waste and spent brewery grain.
The farmers in
nearby Orange county, New York, had learned how to cool country milk
before shipping, thus allowing it to keep fresh for the short rail trip
to New York. Sussex County farmers were quick to follow and creameries
were established in almost all the communities that were served by the
Sussex Railroad. Sussex County milk earned a reputation for high quality.
control, the milk business was developed to a high degree with an interesting
variety in the style and number of cars assigned to the service. Among
them were some six-axle, 52-foot cars that so far as is known, were
the only six-axle milk cars in use. Most of its cars, however, were
the more typical four-axle style with a wooden superstructure. Several
styles of bulk tank cars also saw service on the branch, and it is believed
that the last use of the Bordens "butterdish" style took place on the
Sussex Branch. (For more information on milk cars and milk traffic see
the February and March, 1986, and the May, 1988, issues of RMC).
In addition to
the L&HR, the Sussex Branch was connected with or crossed two other
Railroads. The first was the NYS&W at Franklin Furnace (shortened
to Franklin in 1913 with the closing of the furnace), and two other
locations near Branchville Jct.
The Franklin Furnace
junction was actually an interchange between the two roads and probably
served as one until the Lackawanna abandoned the branch. Franklin Furnace
was on the Susquehanna's original main line and as such should have
seen some degree of through traffic. It is certainly probable that loads
of mineral ores were interchanged here. This line was later referred
to as the Hanford Branch, and was abandoned by the Susquehanna in 1958.
"new line", constructed at a later date to reach Pennsylvania, crossed
both the Franklin and Branchville lines of the Sussex in the immediate
vicinity of Branchville Jct.
on the Susquehanna would first cross the Franklin Furnace Branch. It
appears that the name of this crossing disappeared with the branch itself
in 1934. Within a mile, came the second crossing, this one being the
Branchville line. Sussex trains had the right of way at this crossing
with NYS&W trains having to stop and manually operate the signals
would give them
permission to cross. Wooden smashboards blocked the NYS&W track
when they did not have clearance. Sussex Branch trains were protected
by semaphore signals.
referred to this crossing as Warbasse Junction and the Lackawanna named
it NYS&W crossing which went back to the days when passengers would
make connections be between the two roads. There were no in interchange
facilities at either of these two places, or at least in the final years
of both routes.
After the Franklin
Branch abandonment interchange between these two roads was limited to
a connection at Secaucus via the Erie. The second road to meet the Sussex
Branch was the mainline of the Lehigh & New England (see "Between
the Lehigh and New England" in the July and August, 1987, issues of
RMC), which crossed the Sussex line at Augusta. This location, Augusta
Jct., was just two miles south of the branch terminus at Branchville.
This junction was controlled by a signal tower at one time, but it was
eventually supplanted by automatic signals. Although some cars were
interchanged here, the quantity was not very great for the most part.
The two roads had a much closer work relationship in Pennsylvania where
they both served cement mills and slate quarries in Northampton County.
In 1939, an interesting
little episode took place concerning the LNE. The Borden's Company had
a creamery in Sussex at the end of the LNE's branch into that town.
Since the LNE was freight only by this time and that being mainly cement
and coal tonnage, the creamery could not count on them for scheduled
service. The Lackawanna stepped in and made the nine mile run from Augusta
Jct. to Sussex to pick up and place milk cars. Bordens later moved to
Branchville and received direct service from the Lackawanna at the affiliated,
Sussex Milk and Cream plant.
Except for the
original connection at Waterloo and the South Vernon Branch, the old
Sussex Railroad was intact well into this century. The first major track
reduction came in 1934 when the nine miles between Branchville Jct.
and Franklin were abandoned. There were several reasons for the abandonment.
The L&HR and the Susquehanna were in a better position to handle
the zinc ore traffic. Iron ore sources near Lake Superior were both
cheaper to mine and transport to major steel centers, which pushed New
Jersey out of the market. Improved roads allowed for consolidation of
creameries with several small local plants being bought out or closed
down. All L&HR interchange could be handled at Andover Jct. and
apparently there was not enough done with the Susquehanna to keep the
passenger traffic diminished following the national pattern from the
mid-1940s on. Eventually it saw the demise of the Sussex County Limited,
a commuter train that had the glamour of an illuminated drumhead tailsign.
Unlike most branch lines, however, passenger service would remain until
The greatest negative
impact on the line occurred with the 1960 merger of the Erie and the
Lackawanna. A premerger study indicated that the combined company could
benefit by routing New England traffic over the Erie route via Port
Jervis and Campbell Hall. This change took place almost immediately
after the merger was accomplished and meant a drastic slash in tonnage
over both the Sussex Branch and the L&HR. Primarily, it meant that
the EL got a larger part of the through haul and didn't have to share
revenue with the L&HR.
to deteriorate. The year 1961 saw the LNE abandoning all rail service
in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Although interchange at Augusta
Jct. was light, it still gave the EL some reason to maintain the branch.
In 1962, the NYS&W stopped all service west of Sparta Jct. and no
longer crossed at NYS&W Crossing . All block signals north of Andover
Jct. also came out that year. Henry Becker closed the Straders plant
in 1964 and all milk would now be shipped out of the county via tank
north of Andover ended in mid-1966 with the rails pulled up shortly
thereafter. Before the year ended, the south end of the branch lost
the remaining passenger service as well. Before the decade ended, all
remaining service north of Sussex Branch Jct. was terminated.
Although the final
years were marked by a depressing number of abandonment proceedings,
some remarkable plans were afoot that were in direct opposition to that
trend. One proposal involved passenger service to the Playboy Resort
at Vernon. A demonstration run was well in the planning stages before
the idea was terminated by the EL management. This proposal would have
had passenger trains operating via Andover Jct. and the L&HR.
A second plan actually
called for an extension of the branch beyond Branchville to reach a
proposed federal recreation area to be built on the Delaware River.
One can imagine state and federal officials airing out the old charter
and finding the amendment that gave the old Sussex Railroad the right
to do just that.
Strong public pressure
put a halt on the federal project, though, and there was nothing immediately
ahead on which planners, railroaders or politicians could hang the line's
future. It is unfortunate that neither these agencies nor the public
could see to a more distant time. Sussex County is rapidly approaching
the point when local highways will be inadequate for the steady influx
of new residents. An extension of passenger service from the present
terminus at old Sussex Branch Jct. might have been an excellent transportation
alternative. However, hindsight is always 20/20.