Sunday, December 25, 2011

Mystery Train


Merry Christmas to all!

I have a reprint copy of the June 1893 Travelers' Official Guide of the Railway and Steam Navigation Lines in the United States and Canada.

Here is the main page for the New York and New England Railroad, showing trains on the main line from Boston to Hartford to Fishkill, and part of a second page featuring the company's two trains with "Elegant" and "Superb" accommodations.

Running southbound, the 1201 train from Boston gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Hartford, and the 1500 train from Boston, the famous White Train or New England Limited, gives cars to the New Haven Railroad at Willimantic, using the Air Line route from there to New Haven. The same two services run northbound arriving Boston at 1830 and 2040. The New England Limited also has cars to and from Waterbury on the NY&NE as we can see from the first table.

What catches my eye though is the other express train— the one that runs between Boston and Hopewell Junction, leaving Boston at 1800 and arriving at 0820. It does not have a special table, but it has even fewer stops than the two trains just mentioned. What is this train?

I knew that there was around this time a through train between Boston and New York on the NY&NE and the New York and Northern, later known as the Putnam Division. Here's the NY&N through schedule from the same Official Guide.

While this does show two NY&NE connections, neither is the express train. One is a Brewster-Hartford local and the other is a Fishkill-Boston local.

The other run I know about is the railfan favorite Poughkeepsie Bridge train between Boston and Philadelphia that was run around this time. From Boston, it ran on the Boston and Maine's former Central Massachusetts to Northampton, the New Haven's former New Haven and Northampton to Simsbury, and then the Reading system.

In the early decades of the Official Guide, railroads were remarkably silent about many interline through services. The bridge train is a typical example. Below are tables of the Boston and Maine, New Haven, and Reading system.

Southbound. On the B&M it's the train leaving Boston at 1750, arriving Northampton 2040, with limited stops. On the New Haven, read up, it's the train leaving Northampton at 2045 and arriving Simsbury at 2145. On the Reading system, it originates from Hartford at 2110 and picks up the cars from Boston at Simsbury, leaving there at 2152, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0101 and Philadelphia at 0740.

Northbound. The train leaves Philadelphia on the Reading system at 1900, reaching Poughkeepsie at 0054 and Simsbury at 0400, arriving Hartford at 0435. On the New Haven, the through cars leave Simsbury at 0405— shown only in a note at the bottom of the table! The cars take probably the same one hour to reach Northampton, and at any rate on the B&M they leave there at 0510 and arrive Boston at 0820.

The interesting bit is the Poughkeepsie times. 0101 southbound, 0054 northbound. The NY&NE express train arrives Hopewell Junction at 0030 southbound and departs 0130 northbound. It's interesting because the distance from Hopewell Junction to Poughkeepsie was only 13 miles by rail, on the Dutchess County Railroad. That short line was part of the Reading system, and here is its timetable.

Trains 60 and 61 connect well with NY&NE trains at Hopewell ; trains 63 and 70 connect well with Reading trains at Poughkeepsie. But none connect anywhere near the express NY&NE trains.

I find it very tempting to think that the NY&NE ran through cars to the Poughkeepsie Bridge train. I need only believe that the cars could pass over the 13 miles of the Dutchess County Railroad in under an hour. The limited-stop NY&NE train between Hopewell Junction and Boston just seems pointless otherwise, and its times at Hopewell are wonderfully coordinated with the bridge trains.

But amazingly the two nonstop trains shown on the Dutchess County timetable take 65 minutes to travel 13 miles. That's a blazing 12 miles per hour. Was the track that bad, or the engines that weak? Does this rule out NY&NE trains running at least ten minutes faster?

I'll make the case against.

First, the Reading timetable does list a NY&NE connection for the southbound train, but it's the 1530 train running local from Norwood Central to Hartford. If you could leave Boston on the NY&NE two and a half hours later, why not show it? And no northbound NY&NE connection is shown.

Second, the NY&NE took care to show the two trains with through cars to New York. Wouldn't they also provide notice of through cars to Philadelphia? (Side note: the NY&NE map does not even show a bridge at Poughkeepsie, five years after it opened!)

Third, why wouldn't the little Dutchess County timetable show the two trains?

So, I don't think so. But it's still quite a coincidence.

I observe that the train spends one hour at Hopewell Junction, for a round trip leaving Boston 1800 and returning 0820. That's 14 hours and 20 minutes including a one-hour rest. It exceeds the federal hours of service law, but the law was not enacted until 1907. Did the NY&NE actually have a single crew work that train?

Now, two words: mail train. Back in those days, when people communicated on paper and when all long distance mail went by train, there was so much volume that railroads operated some trains primarily for mail. Since they ran at passenger train speeds and stopped at major cities, mail trains often carried passenger coaches too. You can usually spot the mail trains in timetables because they tended to run overnight. The mystery train has the hallmarks of a mail train.

And let me make one leap of speculation. Is there any chance the Dutchess County Railroad made a midnight run carrying only mail cars, connecting the Reading at Poughkeepsie and the NY&NE at Hopewell Junction, running at a breakneck speed of as much as 25 miles per hour? It would be amazing to think mail made the journey to and from Boston a few hours faster than passengers, but there could be reasons. One would be to keep the passengers on Reading rails as far as possible, to maximize ticket income to the Reading.

Who knows?

Mystery train.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Federal Express


The Danbury research (see the last two weeks) led me to the Wikipedia page for the Federal Express train, which needed some corrections and additions. And who better to do it?

The Federal was the overnight Boston-Washington train that ran around New York, not through it, before the opening of the Hell Gate span in 1917.

I didn't know that the train went all the way back to 1876, but come to think of it, I should have guessed that. The Centennial Fair in Philadelphia inspired numerous special train routings and even new rail lines. The alternate New York-Philadelphia corridor via West Trenton opened that year and vied with the Pennsylvania Railroad route for decades.

The overnight train wasn't actually called the Federal Express for a while. I have a reprint June 1893 Official Guide, and the train still ran then under generic names like Boston-Washington Express. But it had the name by 1903. I couldn't narrow that gap without spending more time researching it. But it was substantially the same train.

Originally the train left Boston on the New York and New England Railroad and came into the New Haven system at Hartford. The New Haven did not control its own line to Boston until 1893. The NY&NE was the shortest route although it had the disadvantage of missing all cities (Willimantic was the largest place on the line!). The Boston and Albany Railroad route via Springfield was the other lead contender. In 1888 the New Haven completed a long high bridge at New London, and for the first time the shore route to the Boston and Providence Railroad, now the Northeast Corridor, became competitive with the other two. Once the New Haven acquired that B&P line in 1893 it became the favored route, and I think it may have been then that the Federal was shifted to what would become its permanent routing.

At New York a trip on the Federal involved a ride past Manhattan on the special steamship Maryland. I do mean that the rail cars themselves rode on the ship. During the hour on board, you could leave the cars and enjoy the breezes, or stay in your Pullman sleeper and... sleep. The north transfer was the New Haven Railroad's Harlem River station, in (what is now) the Bronx near the Third Avenue Bridge, and the south transfer was Harsimus Cove, a few blocks north of the Pennsylvania's Jersey City terminal at Exchange Place.

I could mention that Maryland was so named because its original job was carrying the Pennsylvania's trains across the Susquehanna River at Havre de Grace. Once a bridge was completed there, the unusual ship was out of work for about a decade. It was partly rebuilt in 1876 for the New York service. Here is a photograph of it on April 4, 1876, run aground at Martha's Vineyard, probably on its way to New York.

Maryland could carry six passenger rail cars or twelve (shorter) freight cars. It looks like a ferry, but in a lawsuit in 1877, the railroad succeeded in having it defined as not a ferry, to avoid regulation by the City of New York, whose officials objected to it. Maybe they didn't like seeing passengers go right past New York.

This Maryland burned in 1888, and was replaced by a new Maryland. The name had become so attached to the service that it could hardly be called anything else. I found a report from 1903 that businesses often specified freight routing "via the Maryland" rather than "via Harlem River station". In fact a railroad man admitted many shippers did not even know the name of Harlem River station, and did not know that there was a second boat in service, Exchange, usually used for freight but sometimes for passenger services as a backup for Maryland.

But none of this relates to Danbury. Here is what does.

The Pennsylvania began service to New York Penn Station in 1911, and all of the long-distance trains were rerouted there instead of Jersey City except the Federal and the Colonial. They continued to ride on Maryland for almost a year more. In October 1912 the Colonial Express was split in two, and passengers were provided a special bus service between Penn Station and Grand Central. The Federal could not be treated that way because it passed through New York in the middle of the night.

Instead the Federal was sent the long way round: via Poughkeepsie.

Running southbound, the Federal left the corridor south of New Haven and ran over the New Haven Railroad's Maybrook Line, the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad, and the Pennsylvania's Belvidere Delaware Branch, finally returning to the corridor at Trenton. The all-rail route was not faster. It just allowed retiring Maryland and the special equipment and staff involved.

The Maybrook Line is where Danbury comes in. This was the freight route that the New Haven put together from 1908 to 1911, using the former New Haven and Derby, and parts of the former Housatonic, New York and New England, and Central New England. Notice the dates. It looks like the Maybrook Line was just getting into full operation when Penn Station opened in 1911. Maybe there was uncertainty about using it for a passenger train, even an overnight one that could run closer to slow freight speeds than most.

This lasted less than four years. The reason stated was capacity on the Maybrook Line. The freight trains "congested" the line and made the passenger schedule unreliable. I wonder how bad it got before they gave up.

After about a year without overnight service, the Federal came back in April 1917 when the Hell Gate Span opened and through routing via Penn Station became possible. The Federal and Colonial were revived. But for decades the New Haven continued to run almost all of its trains to Grand Central. It was not until the Amtrak era that through service became the standard.

It's too bad there was no daylight service. The view from Poughkeepsie Bridge is said to be spectacular. It has been open as a public walkway since 2009. But the ride along the Delaware River and through the New Jersey Highlands, the Dutchess County farm country, and the Connecticut hills would be very scenic as well. Admittedly there was limited population along the entire diversion, Phillipsburg, Poughkeepsie, Danbury, and Derby being the largest towns en route. I can see why the routing was not viewed as a potential moneymaker. But it would have been fun to ride just once.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

Danbury Railways revised


Last week we had an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut, and I said, why not?

This week I say: Why not do it better?

Sometimes I can't let go of something when I know I didn't quite finish it. So I blew another 12 hours or so crossing the I's and dotting the T's.

First of all, the jpg map was awful. Here are much better ones, a big PDF with the topo map background and a smaller clean JPG without.

Besides an improved appearance, these maps also have various corrections and additions. Most notably, I added a strip on the west side where I had just barely cut off the interesting area around Brewster, and I added two more partially constructed railways.

Secondly, I rewrote the Historical Sketch section into better English style, and added more details. I can write good. Or write well. Whichever.

The result so far is semi permanently enshrined at

I was especially surprised to learn that there were three partially constructed railways in the area. I had the New York, Housatonic and Northern last week, but now I've added the Ridgefield and New York and the Danbury and Harlem Traction line. These more than pipe dreams. All three companies purchased and graded many miles of property, leaving traces that can still be seen today.

As I mentioned last time, the NYH&N actually opened the small portion from Danbury to Brookfield Junction, which is still in operation today, and the company also graded another 23 miles (!) that was never operated, far into Westchester County. The Ridgefield and New York similarly graded all or most of its route down to East Port Chester (across the boundary river from Port Chester NY). The trolley line D&HT not only graded part of its route but actually laid about five miles of track and made a test run with a trolley borrowed from the Danbury and Bethel Street Railway.

Local railfans and history buffs have discussed the grades— here is a good one about the D&HT grade, although read carefully because it also references the R&NY grade and mentions the NYH&N.

I made two real finds at the U Conn MAGIC web site, the library's wonderful acronym for the Map and Geographical Information Center. They have a 1934 aerial photography set of the entire state that shows the Danbury and Harlem Traction grade very clearly. They also have almost all of the New Haven railroad valuation maps of 1915, providing enormous detail on the railroad's property and structures at that time, which was about its maximum extent.

The valuation maps, amazingly, include the entire Ridgefield and New York line from Danbury to East Port Chester, even though it was never completed. Notations show that the property from Ridgefield south was sold to the New Haven in 1906. The Ridgefield to Danbury section, which was added to the proposed road some time in the 1880s, is carefully detailed, but why is unclear, because the notes emphasize that the New Haven did not own the property.

Last time Charlie Warren commented that the New York, Westchester and Boston project included a proposed line to Danbury. I know that it was to have continued north from White Plains along a route very similar to that of the unbuilt New York, Housatonic and Northern. I haven't shown it since no work was done. However the New Haven's strange acquisition of the Ridgefield and New York property makes me wonder whether there was any idea of extending the NYW&B from its Port Chester terminal by that route to Danbury. It was already graded after all, although it would probably have needed extensive rebuilding to eliminate grade crossings and live up to the NYW&B standard.

I came across this amusing article about a property for sale in northwestern Greenwich, left over from the New York, Housatonic and Northern project. From the street you see a narrow lot (by local standards) 100 feet wide with a modest house on it, but... the property goes back almost half a mile! Type 56 locust road greenwich ct on Google maps.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Danbury Railways


This week: an historical map of railways around Danbury, Connecticut. Why not?


My Topo

Connecticut Railroads by Gregg M Turner and Melancthon W Jacobus. Hartford CT: The Connecticut Historical Society, 1989.

Lost Railroads of New England by Ronald Dake Karr, third edition. Pepperel MA: Branch Line Press, 2010.

Tyler City Station Danbury Page

"Motor Trips" New England and Eastern New York for The New England Federation of Automobile Clubs. Hartford CT: The Guyde Publishing Co, 1923.

Atlas of New York and Vicinity by F W Beers. New York: F W Beers et al, 1868. Seen at David Rumsey Map Collection.

History of Public Bus Service in Danbury,

Official Guide of the Railways, for June 1893 and January 1910.


The base map is a mosaic of four USGS 15-minute sheets dated from 1892 to 1904, from the My Topo web site. I drew the railroads and stations and notes using the other sources listed. Eight hours.

Historical Sketch

The first railway in the area was the Housatonic Railroad, which eventually ran from Bridgeport to Pittsfield MA on a generally north-south line. The first section completed, from Bridgeport to New Milford opened in 1840, including a rock tunnel in Newtown, usually called the Hawleyville Tunnel. The railroad investors in Bridgeport wanted to connect their town to quarries, iron mines and foundries, potteries, and other industries in northwest Connecticut. Over the next fifty years, connecting and through services were operated by the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad between Bridgeport and New York.

A railway to Danbury, an inland market town with a popular annual fair, had been proposed just as early, but it did not happen until 1852 when the Danbury and Norwalk Railroad opened a line between its namesake cities. Once again the New Haven Railroad provided the important connection to New York and other points, at Norwalk. The D&N ended at Danbury Main Street, with no connection to the Housatonic.

The New York, Housatonic and Northern Railroad was intended to connect the Housatonic Railroad to New York without relying on the New Haven Railroad. The first section built was also the only section opened, namely that from Brookfield Junction to Danbury, 1868. For a few months it ran to the D&N's Main Street station, but in 1869 it opened its own station at White Street and removed the rail connection to the D&N. This segment was operated by the Housatonic from 1872.

The uncompleted route of the NYH&N curved around the west side of Danbury to about the Fair Grounds and then set off as straight as possible toward New York via White Plains, passing through Ridgefield and then on into New York State. The company purchased and graded 23 more miles of route before it failed and sold off all its assets in 1875.

At the same time the Danbury and Norwalk quickly built its own branch line to Ridgefield in 1870. The former Ridgefield Station, where the branch joined the main line, was renamed Branchville, a name it still retains. Passenger service on the Ridgefield Branch ran only until 1925, and it was abandoned in 1964.

A short line called the Shepaug Railroad opened in 1872 from Hawleyville (on the Housatonic) north to Litchfield over a very twisty route. The Danbury and Norwalk again built a branch to take traffic from the Housatonic, from Bethel. It opened the same year and was operated by the Shepaug. The D&N link, which had no stations, was one of the earliest abandonments in Connecticut, 1911. From 1908 the Shepaug's trains ran to Danbury instead via the NY&NE route.

Danbury got its first through trains in 1881 when the New York and New England Railroad opened the last portion of its main line, from Waterbury to Beacon, passing east and west through the area. The NY&NE followed a route something like Interstate 84, from Boston through northeastern Connecticut, Willimantic, Hartford, Waterbury, Danbury, and Brewster.

Entering the area from the east, the NY&NE came alongside the Housatonic near the tunnel in Newtown, where the NY&NE built its own tunnel. South of Brookfield Junction the NY&NE curved over to the Housatonic's Brookfield branch line, and built directly alongside it to Danbury. The NY&NE crossed over to the north side and ran into its own White Street station next to the Housatonic's station. But then west of Danbury the NY&NE route opened new ground, running to Brewster and then north and west.

The age of consolidation began. The Housatonic acquired the Danbury and Norwalk in 1886, renaming it the Danbury Branch. The New Haven acquired the Housatonic and the Shepaug in 1892, and the New York and New England in 1895. This brought all of the Danbury area railways into one system.

The main passenger flow was north and south. The Housatonic built a connection at Danbury in 1889, closing its White Street station and finally bringing the Brookfield trains into the Main Street station for easier connections. Some through trains began to run to New York over the shorter route down the Danbury Branch, but they had to make a reverse move at Danbury because of the stub terminal. A better solution was implemented by the New Haven in 1896, after it acquired the NY&NE, namely a loop track that allowed trains to continue forward, although it meant that looping trains stopped at White Street instead of Main Street. Finally the New Haven built a new station for all Danbury services on the White Street site in 1903.

The New Haven also developed an important east-west freight link. In Orange County, New York, coal from the Lehigh and Hudson River, the Lehigh and New England, the New York, Ontario and Western, and the Erie, and general freight from the Erie, were made up into trains that ran over the Poughkeepsie Bridge (1888). From there the freight main followed the former NY&NE through Brewster and Danbury to Hawleyville, and then onward to Bridgeport or New Haven using the lower Housatonic line.

In 1908 the parallel railroads running east from Danbury were made into a double-track main line as far as Berkshire Junction, where the routes north and east diverged. There had been no junction there before. The parallel lines around Hawleyville were rebuilt in 1911. The new line followed the NY&NE through Hawleyville and then followed a new grade over the site of the old tunnels and down into the lower Housatonic Railroad. The Housatonic tunnel was abandoned, but the NY&NE tunnel was retained with a new west portal for traffic over the old line to Waterbury.

A section of the original Housatonic near Brookfield Junction was abandoned in 1940 after years of very little use. The other two sides of the triangle, Danbury to north and Danbury to east, remain in use. The Shepaug and the ex NY&NE from Hawleyville to Southbury were both abandoned in 1948, years after their last passenger services (1930 and 1932 respectively).

This left just two routes forming a cross at Danbury. The southern leg has Metro North passenger service to Norwalk and New York. Danbury and Bethel stations were re-sited in 1996, and West Redding in 1999. The other three legs have a light amount of freight service.

Danbury was for two brief periods a stop on long-distance passenger trains. The first was an overnight train between Boston and New York from December 1892 to May 1893, that ran on the NY&NE from Boston to Brewster and the New York and Northern (later known as the Putnam Division) down to the NY&N's terminal at 155th St in Manhattan. It took eight hours. The second period saw another overnight train between Boston and Washington, the Federal Express, from 1912 to 1917. The train ran over the freight link previously described, via the New Haven Railroad, the Poughkeepsie Bridge, the Lehigh and Hudson River Railroad, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. It diverted from the modern Northeast Corridor from New Haven to Trenton. Once the Hell Gate Span opened to traffic in 1917, the Federal Express was re-routed via New York Penn Station.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Boston 1974 - 2


Last time we looked at a few Boston transit scenes as they were in 1974. You can't get these pictures any more. The vehicles have changed, and in part the city has changed too.

This time though we are going to see almost total change. We're going to North Station.

I walked up that way twice last month. I didn't have a map. I just wandered.

The first time I crossed Boston Common and saw people getting ready for a charity run, and I walked up into Beacon Hill on a street I can't remember, and back down, and then along some other street. Eventually I saw tracks going up onto an elevated structure and realized I was beyond North Station. I could see the elevated structure going out to Science Park. I went back east.

Another day I walked up Tremont Street and then through the modernist ugly City Hall block and came up to North Station from the south.

The Green and Orange lines used to come up out of the subway two blocks south of Causeway Street, six tracks wide, side by side, between Canal Street and Haverhill Street. The east pair, the Orange Line, came up to an elevated structure and turned right at Causeway Street. Of the left four tracks, the outer pair came up to another elevated structure and turned left at Causeway Street, and the middle pair came up to street level and ended at a loop on the south side of Causeway Street. It's all gone.

Here are two details of aerial views from the 1920s, from the Boston Public Library. I have added some labels.

It looked almost the same fifty years later. The same Boston Garden over North Station, and the same elevated structure.

Here's the Orange Line side.

Everything in this photograph is gone.

We're looking from the North Station platform of the Orange Line. That's the canopy at upper left. The two-car train has just left and made its right-angle right turn into Causeway Street, and it's passing under the Fitzgerald Expressway.

My note on the back says: Sign at bottom of picture notes new subway which will replace this elevated line within a few years. Actually it was only one year later. But that's only the elevated line.

The Orange Line went underground in 1975. The John F Fitzgerald Expressway was closed in 2003 and torn down, replaced by the Big Dig. I don't know when the tall building on the left side was demolished, but it's gone now, and so is the other building on the right, behind the expressway.

I am a liar. Causeway Street itself is still there. But everything else is gone.

From the same location, in 1974, if we turn our gaze to the left, we see this.

Again, almost everything in this photograph is gone.

A bit of the canopy of the Orange Line's North Station is at upper right. In the background is Boston Garden, built over the Boston and Maine Railroad's North Station, torn down in 1997. That's gone, replaced by a new TD Garden. The Green Line elevated was torn down in 2005. The buildings on the left might be there: I am not sure.

In 1974 the Green Line had two stations called North Station. The PCC car above is running south on the elevated line from Lechmere. It has already stopped at the elevated North Station, and made a right-angle turn from there to where we see it here. Right below it, not visible, was the other North Station.

My notes on the back say: Trolley car running toward the subway, after leaving North Station stop, which is partly visible in the rear around a right-angle turn. Sign, center, cautions trolley motormen to go slow on curve "to aid in reducing noise". I wonder how much that helped.

Here is the surface-level station below.

This was at street level, in pavement, but separated from street traffic by a fence. The car in view is facing the same direction as the one in the previous photo, but directly below it.

The car shown was a D car, the Riverside Line. It terminated at North Station in the summer of 1974. If you entered here, you walked across the loop track. You could walk over to that car and get on, or you could go up the stairs and follow a passageway over Causeway Street to go west on the other Green Line cars or north to Lechmere.

Everything seen here is gone now, except the taller building in the distance. I'm not sure what it is.

Here's the Green Line elevated station.

We're over Causeway Street, looking west. Boston Garden and North Station (B&M) would be on the right. The car in the first photo is coming from Lechmere.

The buildings on the left are still there. I saw them last month.

I took photos of the old and new City Hall. The old one was purchased by a developer and renovated. In 1974 I was sure I knew which one I liked better. I didn't pass by the old one last month but I did walk through the open plaza around the new one. My opinion has not changed.

I left Boston last month from South Station. I didn't take a picture of it in 1974, but I remember it as cavernous and dark and impossibly decrepit. The unwashed armpit of Boston. No, that was North Station. South Station was something worse.

At any rate, South Station today looks wonderful. It's light and open, and full of people. There are many food and other businesses in it, and they seemed busy, even at midday. I was glad to see it. I'm used to Penn Station, which is garbage. South Station is how it should be.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Boston 1974 - 1


I went to Boston for a conference a few weeks ago. I didn't bring the camera, and I'm feeling increasingly old fashioned not carrying a camera phone either. But anyway, no pics for you.

It reminded me that I do have a few photographs of Boston transit, and they're the kind you can't get any more. You'd have to go back to the summer of 1974 to get them. The negatives are missing, so I've had to scan the prints, which have undergone some color shift over the years. The past actually came in the same colors as today, as far as I recall. It just looks like this in old photos.

Last month I stayed in Brookline and commuted a short way to the event on the C car of the Green Line. That was fun. I got off the Acela at Back Bay and walked up to Copley. It's only two blocks. Easy if you have only a small bag.

At Copley I went in on the outbound side of course. It's a conventional stairway in the sidewalk subway entrance. But I took a look across the street to check that the inbound side still has the wonderful kiosk we saw way back when.

That's... just amazing. I imagine the city fathers felt a civic duty not to deface the magnificent public library with a humdrum subway entrance out front. Or an iron works gave political contributions to the right people. Either way: well done. And it's been kept up. Even the modern green sign somehow looks like it belongs there.

That's Helen. Just for scale.

We had some free time in the afternoons. The vendor fair was only so big, and once I'd been through it a couple of times and spoken to people at the few directly relevant booths, I felt like it would be good for me to go outside and walk around.

One day I rode out to Harvard Square. Do you know that if you look up at a certain building in Harvard Square, you can see the offices of Dewey Cheatham and Howe on the third floor? This is not from 1974: it's from Google Street View. I have not altered the image except to add the helpful arrow.

Back in '74, while walking around with Helen at Harvard Square we just happened to find ourselves at the south portal of the trolley bus tunnel at Mount Auburn Street. Don't know how that happened.

Here is a blast from the past.

You don't see that kind of bus any more. That car, maybe.

The portal is still there, approximately, but there's a large building now on top of it, so the scene is almost unrecognizable. At this time you could still see the remains of streetcar track on the right.

Be sure to notice how banged-up the front of that bus looks. These things looked old to me even then. It was as if the MTA could no longer figure out where to buy a trolley bus and didn't know what else to do but just send out the ones they had no matter what shape they were in.

Also notice the left-side door. It's there only for the stop in the bus tunnel.

From this angle you can see that the abandoned track is in the same path taken by one of the bus lines, the 72. It still makes its last stop at Harvard Square in the tunnel, comes out here with no passengers, loops around the block, and goes back in again to start its run.

Here's my favorite of today's batch.

I wrote on the back of this one: A two-car train of trolley cars at Chestnut Hill Avenue on the Boston College line, in Brighton. That's the B car line. This scene looks very much the same today except for the type of trolley.

Another short trip I took last month was to the Mattapan High Speed Line (sic) at the end of the Red Line Ashmont branch. It's a railfan favorite but I'd never found an excuse to go down there. To my surprise, it's still run by PCC trolleys just like the ones above, but painted in the old orange and cream colors. So you don't have to go to a trolley museum or San Francisco to ride them.

I think they looked great in green and white. And I love the T in a white circle: why has the New York system never had a good symbol? Sorry, the dark blue M does not cut it.

That boy is 31 years older now (I hope!).

Here is the railfan geek shot.

The B, C, and D lines are very close to one another at Chestnut Hill Avenue, so it's a choice location
if you want to go out one way and back another. We walked past the end of the C line at Cleveland Circle and found this in the block between there and the D Riverside line.

My note on the back says: Entrance to storage yard and repair shop at Cleveland Circle. The yellow vehicle is a very old boxcar trolley. Besides that, two of the PCC cars are in the colors they still use now on the Mattapan line. There is still a transit yard here but these buildings and cars are gone.

A few paces farther east and we're over the Riverside line, at Reservoir station. The most recent of the Green Line branches, this route opened in 1959, running in a former mainline railroad branch. The splindly concrete stairways still looked a little makeshift fifteen years later.

My note on the back points out: Train of very old red cars in distance on a siding. Yes. It's not clear whether they're in the storage yard or on a siding of the former railroad right of way. The track in the foreground ran from the yard (or even from the B or C lines) around to the right and down to the D line. It's gone now.

Today this scene looks very different. The overpass is much wider, providing a bus loop in the empty space out to about the end of the hind trolley car, and the stairs have been replaced. You can hardly see the D line from the street, and only a large T sign alerts you to the station.

(to be continued)


Sunday, November 13, 2011

A Veteran's Day


Leather patch of the 561st Bomb Squadron of the 388th Bomb Group.

My father entered the Army Air Force in January 1943. The flight records in his folder show training flights at Gulfport Army Air Field MS from July to October 1944 and Hunter Field GA in October 1944.

The next record is from December 1944 at an unstated location for "8th, 3d Air Div, 388th, 561st". We know from other records now public that he was at RAF Knettishall in Suffolk County, England. Technically a Royal Air Force base, it was used exclusively by the United States Army Air Force's 388th Bombardment Group from June 1943 to August 1945. Its only other use was for a few years more as British army supply base. There is a monument at the site.

Peter Brennan flew 33 missions from Knettishall, from November 16, 1944 to March 29, 1945. His role was togglier in a B-17 "Flying Fortress" aircraft. The togglier sat in the glass nosecone, next to the navigator who was behind and to the left. He released the bombs, and he also had a forward-pointing gun. This late in the war, my father said, the Luftwaffe were almost gone, so almost all the enemy fire was from anti-aircraft guns on the ground.

He is sometimes described on paper as a bombardier, and on a rare occasion that he talked about it, he said that technically the lead plane in the formation had a bombardier who determined when to drop, and that the toggliers in the other planes just dropped when they saw lead plane drop. A few days ago I got a better description from Dick Henggeler, 388th Bomb Group historian:
A bombardier was an officer who was able to use the Noden bombsight. A toggilier was able to arm and release the bombs manually. In the group the bombardier in the lead plane released his bombs using the bombsight. All other planes released their bombs when they saw the lead ship release.

The bombsight was very complicated to use and required a lot of training. It actually took into account air speed, ground speed, altitude, and humidity. The bombardier actually flew the plane on the bomb run remotely. I am sure that it is easier to tell people bombardier (which they could understand) rather than toggelier.

The Good Conduct Medal.
It is awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal military service. It is awarded on a selective basis to each Soldier who distinguishes himself or herself from among his or her fellow Soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity throughout a specified period of continuous enlisted active Federal military service, as outlined in this chapter. There is no right or entitlement to the medal until the immediate commander has approved the award and the award has been announced in permanent orders. — Army Regulation, Military Awards
Peter Brennan's 33 missions are all listed on the 388th web page.

There's always more to the story than a list of data. The longest gap he had was between December 31 and Jan 20, a full 18 days. Any reason? Yes.

The December 31 mission, his tenth, was a bad one. Co-pilot Stevens was killed in action. Ball turret gunner Martin and waist gunner Sevy did not fly again. This must be the mission my father told my brother about once. He said only he and the pilot came back in good shape, and that he helped carry out a dead crew member.

He and engineer Huntzinger reappear in a new crew on January 20, and tail gunner Woods joined them January 29.

The crew they joined, Edelman, hadn't had it easy either. They crashed on January 5, apparently in Germany, attributed to flak. None died. Three men became POWs and did not fly again, but they survived the war. The six others are listed as "evadee" but that word is all we get from the available record. Did they get out together? How? Whatever happened, they were not all back in action until February 15. They were put together into their old crew as they became available for duty. The three men from the SmithO crew, including my father, replaced the POWs.

The plane from the December 31 mission, now flown by another crew, met its end in a crash on January 20, and the men were all taken as POWs.

The Air Medal.
The Air Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the U.S. Army, will have distinguished himself or herself by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. Awards may be made to recognize single acts of merit or heroism, or for meritorious service... — Army Regulation, Military Awards

The exact requirements for this medal varied. To some degree the "meritorious achievement" was measured by ships and aircraft destroyed and by number of missions flown in combat. The relevant example was that the Eighth Air Force Third Bombardment Division defined the criteria in April 1944 as six "Bomber, Bomber-Fighter, Photographic, Air Transport, or Observation sorties with distinction" for the medal, and then an oak leaf cluster for each six additional sorties.

At the completion of his tour my father had the Air Medal with four oak leaf clusters, which makes five awards. As stated on a typed document dated April 4, the dates follow his missions 6, 12, 19, 28, and 32. Characteristically, I feel, he did not bother to attach the oak leaf clusters to the ribbon! Allowing for delays, the six awards correspond to the first 30 missions completed "with distinction".

My father completed 33 missions. The standard by this date was 35, and you better believe the men counted those missions. My sister has the paper where our father wrote out each mission, one per line, make that one per numbered line. There wasn't going to be any mistake!

Of the original Edelman crew, two had reached 35, three 34, and one 33. The three added to replace the original crew POWs, including my father, were at 33, 33, and 30. I suppose the commander could have kept most of them around to see if they could fill in another mission or two with other crews, but there must not have been enough need. And besides the main reason they weren't all at 35 together was that six of them had "evaded" after a crash and the other three had escaped serious injury from flak. They'd done enough.

But my brother recalls our father being astonished. As he told my brother, when they came in after the mission and were told that their tour of duty was complete, he felt the need to point out to the officer that he had only 33. And when told again, he actually repeated that he had only 33, causing the officer to firmly say he was all done. And then he said to my brother, still not believing it some sixty years later, "but I only had 33!".

More information at the 388th BG Association web site.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

After the Storm


We survived Snotober. That was the stupidest name I heard for the Great Snowy Nor'easter of October 29, 2011, so I love it. As I write this a week later, some places in New Jersey still don't have power back. By some miracle our house lost power for only three hours, on Saturday afternoon. But parts of town were out well into Tuesday.

Our neighbor had a tree fall on the electric line to their house, and that one-house restore job was not done until 6:15 Friday night. It's too bad that after six and and a half days without power, the PSEG truck with the flashing light was out front of their house for only ten minutes taking care of it. But then, the crew have had a lot of practice by now.

On Saturday I ran to Millburn and went up the switchback trail on the mountain. Crest Drive— ironically not a drive any more but a paved walk and bike road along the top of the ridge— is full of downed trees. It's just a one-mile dead end into the park, with no power lines and no houses or other buildings, so it's going to be among the last roads cleared.

The tree damage was not so much from wind but from the weight of the wet "white mud" snow on still-leafy branches. It's amazing how far branches can bend without breaking. And then they bend back up when the snow falls off. But there is a limit. Around the neighborhood the damage is mostly tree branches, but up there it was whole trees, and some big ones.

Remember, it's not January, it's this season:

The squirrels tried one of the gourds, but it turned out to be not a pumpkin, so they let it go.

Sign of the times, below. Most houses in town have a pile of branches out front, which, rumor has it, will be picked up some day by the town. This is the neighbors' pile. Most of this is the tree that took out their electric power.

That's our driveway, bottom left. It's a little tricky backing out with this thing piled as high as the car, but we can manage it. Considering this is the worst we have to deal with, we'll call ourselves lucky and shut up.

I walked around the property to see how the outside plants dealt with the snowfall.

I had not noticed these delicate looking flowers before.

Hardy Cyclamen is a bulb plant that blooms in the autumn. Helen told me she planted it a few years ago. I'm not sure I can see any of the cyclamen's own leaves in there. It's got some autumn sun on it. I don't know what insects are active now to visit the flowers. But we had some buzzing around the week before the snow came.

Most of the asters have gone to seed by now, but I found a few still in flower in sheltered areas in back of the house.

You wouldn't look at this and think it snowed seven days earlier.

Globe Amaranth is an annual. We have a group grown Helen grew from seed in a planter. It's said to be tropical but it came through the snow and the recent frosty nights very well. The leaves are still green and it's raising its flowers to the sun.

Well, all right, I tipped the planter a little to get a good shot of the flower. It's actually holding them out sideways. I just wanted to say it was raising its flowers to the sun. It was, for a minute there.

This is either Pale Smartweed or Lady's Thumb, two closely related wildflowers, and probably the former. You can call it a weed, if you object to plants you didn't put there yourself. We find it here and there around the garden. It's small. I don't know why one would object.

Speaking of weeds, here are some more asters in flower, on top of dying hostas. This is in a little corner hemmed on three sides by the house and a fence.

Feverfew continues to stake out its position in a crack of soil between the house and the driveway. This is not the same plant that survived last winter. That one recently went to seed and dried up. This new group is two feet away. It's a medicinal herb introduced from Europe, now growing wild. Supposedly it requires full sun, but the only place it volunteers on our property is here on the northeast side of the house where it gets no more than a few rays of sun early in the morning. It stays green all winter and looks like it's thriving.

Thanks to Helen for naming the plants!


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seventh Grade


A couple of weeks ago something made me think of a girl called Nancy that I "liked" in seventh grade.

I don't have the slightest idea what did it.

I know the last time I thought of her before that. It was back in January 2010. That was the first time in ages. It happened because I needed a name for the Summer of 69 story. At least I can explain what made me think of her then. So let's go there first.

The name of the main girl in the story, Terri, came from "one soft infested summer me and Terry became friends". Hiding on the backstreets. We'd swear forever friends. Like that. And then it wouldn't last. Like that too. Because that's how it is.

I decided her real name could be Therese (pronounced te-RAZE), and that made me think of a Therese who "liked" me in eighth grade. This is how the mind jumps from one thing to another.

Oh Therese. I am sorry. She liked me, and I didn't feel it. This is the oldest story in humanity, isn't it? That unequal feeling. It's so awkward. But when you feel it, you should say something, and hope the other person at least is kind.

The rare thing is when two people do both like each other. It didn't happen here. Only the very young are surprised.

Therese made me a cookie or something, like Terri made the cake in the story, only I was young and stupid and I didn't tell her it was great. No matter what I felt, didn't I realize that it was great for anyone to do that for me? I realized that truth eventually, but not in time. It was only eighth grade. Not the last age when I was an idiot, but maybe the first. I suppose she got over it. I still wish I'd said something nice to her.

When I needed another girl for the last chapter, I went back to school again, and I found Nancy. I hope she seemed different in the story.

We were really the same age, in the same grade. But she was much younger than high school when I was paying attention to her, so the memory helped me write her younger than Terri for the story.

"Blond hair, bangs, cute like a kid is cute." I forgot that I actually wrote it out. That is exactly the picture I have in my mind of Nancy. That's how she looked in seventh grade. How old were we? Twelve? She was the first girl who made any impression on me.

I picture her sitting one row behind and one chair over. I think that was right. If I glanced over my shoulder, there she was. We must not have been seated alphabetically that year, because I'm a B and she was an R, and we were that close. It was probably size place. I was short.

The usual Catholic school uniforms. She wore a white blouse of some thin-looking material, with a dark blue wool jumper, with the SCS initials in a shield on it, over her heart. Bare knees, and white socks and the approved kind of shoes. I wore a white shirt, dark blue tie with SCS in a shield, and dark blue pants.

I don't remember how much I actually spoke with Nancy. We did some group work in those older grades, so I think I did manage to do a few projects in the same group with her. I must have said a few words.

I knew where she lived. It was just a few blocks from me.

I don't remember how I knew. Maybe we just mentioned it. Or maybe it was by accident.

I was a big bicycle rider in those days. I went all over town. I went three miles from home. I knew all the streets, and I drew maps of them to see the connections.

I know that I rode past her house and saw her playing or doing something out front. Was that how I knew where she lived? Or did I already know, and was that was the reason I rode by on that short street? I guess I rode down that street whenever I was going in that direction, just in case.

This doesn't mean I stopped and said anything to her. I waved at her. That was pretty far out. What do you expect?

I knew boys who collected comic books. I knew boys who liked to play with model trains and building sets. See, I knew what my friends and I could do together. I had no idea what Nancy and I might both want to do. With that impenetrable obstacle of ignorance, I missed the chance to just simply talk to her for a couple of minutes and find out.

Well, that was January 2010, and that was all. That's almost two years ago now.

Like I said, I don't know what happened a couple of weeks ago. An idle thought that connected to another, and there you go. Something did it.

And then the trouble started.

Why? Why do I do things I do?

Here is what I did. I decided it would be interesting if I could find her online, just to see what became of her. Was she well? Had she done anything interesting with herself? It would be satisfying to see that she had. I wanted that. I wanted her to have had some kind of a nice life.

Obviously her last name could have changed by marriage decades ago, but if she wanted to be found, she would have put her old name on the web, and her schools and her home town. So I tried.

I tried her name and the name of our school. No hits there.

I did find a page for our school. There were a few other familiar names. They took attendance at SCS by calling out names every day, so after a few years the names were burned in. Not that I can recite them, but if you said a name now I could probably tell you accurately whether it was a kid in my year. I think one guy I saw on the website was a friend of mine for a while. I haven't thought of him in years either.

Then I was starting to wonder about what high school she might have gone to. Many kids went to the town's public high school, and there were only a couple of Catholic high schools near enough to have bus service. That narrows it down. She must have gone to one of those. I tried her name and the town high school and struck out.

What I tried next was her name and the name of our town.


Not on her name, exactly, but on her last name and her address. It was on a page for a real estate agency. They were showing recent sale prices of houses in town.

Her street was only two blocks long, and the house was on the inside of a curve in it. The little Google map on the page showed the house right where I remembered it. This was the house she lived in. I knew where it was.

Luckily, the database's idea of a recent sale went back twenty years. The house was sold in 1992 by a man and woman with Nancy's last name. Her parents sold the house— it had to be.

There was even a link on the sellers' names, to another web site for people searching.

There they were. They live in Toms River now. Of course. I'd keep that nugget of information to myself, except that I am secure in the knowledge that they don't stand out among the hundred thousand other retirees who live in Toms River. My parents lived there for a while too.

Their ages are given. Mid eighties. That's her parents. No doubt about it. The right generation and the right place to move to.

And they list some family and friends, also with ages. (What is this with the ages?)

Anyway. There are two women with different last names. Neither was named Nancy, but they were the right ages to be slightly younger siblings. That's pretty much the only reason they'd be family and friends to eighty year olds, right? Did Nancy have younger sisters? Beats me. I don't remember. My memory of her in the front yard: were there younger blond girls there with her? I think so. Or I am filling it in?

But neither one was named Nancy.

The absence gave me a chill. A bad feeling. My heart sank.

Now, I'd like to think it means she did something cool. Like she's the black sheep. She did something so wonderfully outrageous that her nice parents disowned her. She became a communist, or a performance artist, or she married a divorced man. She joined the circus.

No, I don't believe it.

Let's get real. I know why she's not listed.

I'm sure I wasn't going to contact her anyway. But it looks like that is not a choice I can make.

I wonder how long ago it was. A high school car crash? It would have been in the local paper, but I'd moved to another town in another county. I wouldn't have seen it.

Maybe she had a nice life. Maybe she found somebody she loved who loved her, and it was good. That's what I want.

Maybe she had kids. If she started earlier than I did, there could easily be a granddaughter by now, a granddaughter with blond bangs, sitting in a seventh grade classroom, cute like a kid is cute.

I have to face the fact that I'm never going to know.

But that's the ending I want to write.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

South Orange Borders IV


Back to the beginning.

Early American Boundaries

The map:

At the establishment of the independent State of New Jersey in 1776, the civil divisions of the former British colony were continued as state divisions. The map area was entirely in Essex County, and contained only two municipalities: the Township of Newark and the Township of Elizabeth. Their names are shown along the boundary line, which was partly the same as the present-day boundary of Essex and Union Counties, but continued west, shown dashed, through what is now Millburn.

Four new townships were established in the area in a twenty-year period.

First, parts of Elizabeth and Newark (about two-thirds from Elizabeth) were taken to form Springfield in 1794. It included all of modern Springfield and Millburn, and parts of modern Livingston, West Orange, Maplewood, Cranford, and Summit. The boundary within Maplewood ran along the East Branch of the Rahway and then along a line from Pierson's Mill over the mountain to Keene's Mill on the West Branch. We considered last time the importance of the long-forgotten Keene's Mill as a boundary landmark. The Springfield boundary in 1794 turned at Keene's Mill and ran another line northeast to Northfield Avenue, which it followed to the Passaic River.

A few years later the remaining area of the map was then divided between Orange, 1806, and Union, 1808, following the colonial Newark and Elizabeth boundary. More than 200 years later that line is still the Maplewood and Union boundary. All of modern South Orange and more than half of Maplewood was within the Township of Orange.

The story would be simpler if the Township of South Orange was then created from parts of Orange and Springfield, but as we saw while working backward, there was an intermediate step. A township called Clinton was formed in 1834 from the southern part of Orange and smaller portions of Union, Newark, and Elizabeth, splitting the settlement of South Orange for 27 years. As a result South Orange was actually formed from the western part of Clinton and smaller parts of Orange and Millburn (ex Springfield). The rest of Clinton would later become Irvington and part of Newark.

Livingston, formed in 1813, is beyond the South Orange story, but it's interesting to see that its southern boundary started at Keene's Mill, which raised the significance of that point from just a bend in the Springfield line to a real landmark. (This is no longer the southeast corner of Livingston, because a strip of Livingston was taken later into Fairmount and then West Orange. The current southeast corner is at Old Short Hills Road, near the left edge of our map.)

Colonial Boundaries

Let's bring this a conclusion. The map:

Newark and Elizabeth were both formed as townships in 1693 by an act of the General Assembly of the Colony of East New Jersey. It was at that time, on one date, that townships were created for the first time within the colony. The boundary between Newark and Elizabeth was "from the mouth of the Bound Creek, and from thence to Bound-Hill, and from thence Northwest to the Partition Line of the Province". The line "Northwest" was not officially surveyed until 1713. Based on that survey and later documented changes, the line was not perfectly straight. It followed the modern county line in the Irvington and Maplewood area (shown in blue on the map), and then ran through Millburn to Chatham Bridge. The Passaic River in that area was the "Partition Line" between the two colonies of East and West New Jersey.

Let's start at the beginning, to see how we got to 1693.

South boundary of Newark

Permission to establish Elizabeth was granted, as Elizabeth-Town, in 1664, the year England acquired the former New Netherlands. Its north boundary was to run from the mouth of the Passaic River "west into the Countery". But the local Lenape tribes had a boundary at Bound Creek, so the subsequent English purchase from the Raritans actually ran only up to Bound Creek, which (hidden under Port Newark and Newark Liberty Airport) is still the north boundary of Elizabeth.

Permission to settle at Newark was granted two years later, and its founders purchased land from the Hackensacks in 1667. The south boundary was correctly set at the Hackensacks' own boundary:
...the great Creke or River in the meadow running to the head of the Cove, and from thence bareing a West Line for the South bounds Wh said Great Creke is Commonly Called and Known by the name Weequachick, on the West Line backwards into the Country to the foot of the great Mountaine called Watchung...
Some historians take the "West Line" as literally running due west. I doubt that that was the intended meaning. The "foot of the great Mountaine called Watchung" sounds to me like the south end of the ridge at Millburn. A line running to that location is closer to west by northwest.

At any rate the leaders of Newark and Elizabeth a year later settled on where their common boundary was.
It is Consented unto that the Centre, or place agreed upon by the said Agents of the Towns for to Begin the Dividing Bounds, is from the Top of a Little round Hill, named Divident Hill ; and from Thence to run up a North West Line, into the Country.
I've shown the "North West Line" on the map with the comment "speculative". This line is shown on some historical maps of New Jersey including one by John Snyder. My opinion, once again, is that the direction stated should not be taken as precise. Rather I think that this is still the west by northwest line to the end of the mountain at Millburn. The significant part of the agreement of 1668 was to place the border at Bound Creek and not any farther north. The line to the mountain sounds to me like the same line as the Newark purchase.

The line was described again as running "Northwest" in 1693 when the townships were created.

The line was finally surveyed and marked in 1713. Again it is described as starting "where a black Cherry tree Markd with ye Letters N on the one side & E on the other Stands under a Steep Hill", evidently Divident Hill, and running along a line of marked trees, about 30 degrees north of west, to "ye South End of ye Mountain call'd Watchung". The marked trees all had N for Newark and E for Elizabeth on the appropriate sides. The surveyed line was not supposed to be a new boundary but just an official marking of the line described in 1693 and 1668.

West boundary of Newark

The western boundary of the Newark purchase from the Hackensacks in 1667 was "the foot of the Great Mountaine", which I show on the map as a line just below the 200 foot contour, where the slope becomes steeper.

Ten years later the settlers purchased an additional strip of land to move the boundary to the top of the ridge. The survey of 1713 also places the boundary of Newark at the top of the ridge.

The description of the Township of Newark in 1693 has it running west the to Passaic River, and the land from the top of the ridge west to the river was purchased from the Hackensacks in 1702, so why was this portion not included in the township as surveyed in 1713? Even John Snyder, in his careful research for The Story of New Jersey's Civil Boundaries, does not have an answer for this one. But it's clear that for most of the eighteenth century, the Township of Newark was approximately the same area as all of modern Essex County.


This brings us back up to the first map above. The westernmost parts of Newark were separated in in 1794 and 1798 to form Caldwell and Springfield respectively, and then a closer portion was separated to form Orange. Part of Orange was separated to Clinton, and then parts of Clinton and Orange and Millburn (ex Springfield) were taken to form South Orange. Part of the Township of South Orange became the Village of South Orange within the township. Another part of the Township separated to become Vailsburg, which was then annexed to Newark. The village became independent of the township, and the township changed its name to Maplewood. Q E D.

Next time: Something not about South Orange.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

South Orange Borders III


This time we'll look at borders in the South Orange area before there was a local government called South Orange.

The map shows boundaries of 1834 in a heavy line:

The Orange-Clinton boundary

The strangest feature to modern eyes is the boundary of Orange and Clinton, cutting modern South Orange Village in two. This lasted for 27 years, from the formation of Clinton in 1834 to the formation of South Orange (Township) in 1861.

I cannot identify anything today that corresponds to the Orange-Clinton boundary. The best reference I could find was this 1850 map:

The 1850 map shows a straight line from a point in what is now the South Mountain Reservation to a point on South Orange Avenue that looks to me like the corner of Grove Street. The boundary then follows the middle of South Orange Avenue to a point off this map near what is now another Grove Street in Newark. Most of the settlement called South Orange was just south of the Orange-Clinton line, including the Morris and Essex Railroad station and the houses and businesses downtown. But the line is still awkwardly located. As South Orange grew, spreading north of the line, people must have objected to it. This may have influenced creation of the Township of South Orange and the reunion of the whole settlement of South Orange into one jurisdiction.

The west end of the straight line catches the eye as the end point of six boundary lines, four of them current in 1834 and two more later on. The 1850 map shows a building at that point called Keene's Mill, an establishment for which I could find no further information. As shown in 1850, it is between a road and the West Branch of the Rahway, while modern— presumably more accurate— maps show the point as being on the road. But the road may have been relocated.

One of the other lines from Keene's Mill is the old Orange-Springfield boundary, shown on the 1850 map crossing Ridgewood Road just north of the Crooked Brook and the Timothy Ball house with the label "N Ball" for the current owner in 1850.

Above: the site of Keene's Mill, October 16, 2011. I wondered whether there was any evidence of the mill, so Helen and I walked around there in the reservation. We found a series of small rapids in the stream at this point that was probably enough of a drop to power a mill. We could not find any stone foundation walls, but there was a double line of stones that looked man-made, shown in this photograph. Maybe it had to do with the raceway that carried water to a water wheel.

The Breakup of Orange

The map illustrates the breakup of the large Township of Orange in the 1860s. The first move was the formation of Clinton in 1834 out of the rural parts of four townships, including Orange. But a quarter century later things began to happen fast.

The reorganization of Orange in 1860 from a Township to a Town— yes those are different forms of local government in New Jersey— seems to have set the stage for breakups.

1861: South Orange was formed from parts of Orange and Clinton.

1862: The short-lived Fairmount was formed from parts of Orange and Livingston up on the mountain. The remainder of Orange after this was a more compact and homogeneous area that included all of the center of business and population that ran along Main Street and the Morris and Essex Railroad from Newark to the foot of the mountain.

1863: East Orange was formed, separating the east end of the built-up area.

1863: West Orange was formed, separating the west end of the built-up area, and also including all of Fairmount, which had existed for just 13 months.

The series of changes in just two years left Orange a small fraction of itself, the smallest of the four municipalities with Orange in their name.

I don't know the rest of this story. I imagine it might have to do with early suburban development, and possibly local political gamesmanship. The timing of it, during the Civil War, might be significant.


Millburn is slightly off topic, but since part of modern Maplewood was originally within Millburn, it's worth a mention.

Union County, the last county created in New Jersey, was formed in 1857 from the southern half of Essex. There had been a longstanding rivalry between the colonial towns of Newark and Elizabeth, the latter being the older and for a time more important of the two. But to my knowledge the main factor in its creation was some political advantage in the state legislature.

Springfield, one of the earliest townships in Essex, was split by the county division, and since the old settlement of Springfield was within the new county, that part retained the name Springfield. The part remaining in Essex was formed into a new township called Millburn.

Town historian Marian Meisner wrote in 1957 in A History of Millburn Township that the new county line mostly followed the colonial-era boundary between Newark and Elizabeth ...
[...] but in 1857, when the line reached Millburn, it was abruptly changed to include Millburn in Essex County. The story goes that several of the Millburn people responsible for the formation of the new Township, either held political office in Essex County, or had aspirations to do so, and it is evident that a shift of the township into the new County of Union would cause a sudden change in the political fates of some ambitious citizens.
You can see the relatively straight county line on the first map above. The colonial-era boundary continued that line to the end of the First Mountain— about where the South Mountain Reservation entrance now is, opposite the Millburn railroad station— and then on to Chatham Bridge. The county line as established in 1857 still ends at Chatham Bridge, but detours to the south around Millburn.

It's an interesting speculation, even if, as Meisner wrote, it is only as "the story goes". A boundary between Millburn and Maplewood along that line would even today follow more closely the apparent boundary of suburban development, crossing Ridgewood Road near its southern end and Wyoming Avenue at Glen Avenue.

Millburn was a new name in 1857. The settlement and railroad station had been called Millville, but the Post Office would not use that name because there was already another Millville post office in New Jersey, in Cumberland County. Millburn was an alternate name sometimes used by an early Scottish settler, Samuel Campbell, and was the name agreed on in 1857 when the township was created. Even though mills were the basis of the town's economy, Millburn sounds more picturesque and was likely more attractive to the suburban development that was just starting at that date.

Next: The colonial boundaries.


Monday, October 10, 2011

South Orange Borders II


Last time we looked at the South Orange borders since the village separated in 1904. Now let's go back about forty years to the beginning of South Orange Township.

The Map

Boundary Changes

Here the Village of South Orange is bounded by dashed lines, to indicate that it was within the township. There were only two boundary events for the village: the formation of the village in 1869 and the addition of an area to the east in 1891, which we mentioned last time.

The Township of South Orange (later Maplewood) was formed in 1861 from parts of three older towns. It brought together under one jurisdiction an area that logically belonged together, namely most of the South Orange Avenue corridor, the South Orange settlement that would become the village, and the country area to the south with mills, farms, and country estates that did business with the South Orange settlement.

This area had been split awkwardly since 1834 by an east-west border almost through the middle of the South Orange settlement, with the old Township of Orange to the north and the newly formed Township of Clinton on the south, which had been part of Orange. (We'll take a look at that border next time.) The new Township of South Orange took enough from Orange to keep the settlement together, and about half of Clinton, down to the Union County line.

To this was added two years later a chunk from the Township of Millburn. The old border, shown on the map, went up the East Branch of the Rahway River as far as Pierson's mill pond (Parker Avenue today), and then went northwest in a straight line. In doing so it crosses Ridgewood Road at the Crooked Brook, noted as "the brook that divided Orange from Springfield" in an early description of the Timothy Ball House (which I wrote about here.)

Orange unfortunately retained a tongue of land that can be seen in the upper right, extending down to South Orange Avenue, because it contained the Orange poor farm, a type of welfare based on the virtues of doing honest labor and breathing fresh air. Because of this, the South Orange Avenue corridor is needlessly split between two municipalities. There is little visible difference today between the Newark and East Orange blocks besides the street signs.

In the far northwest corner of the township, the boundary is shown on some maps as the West Branch of the Rahway River, and on other maps as a straight line, which is what I show. I don't know for certain which is correct, but it is a straight line now, and Snyder does not list any boundary correction there.


There was another perhaps unexpected portion of the Township of South Orange, the area known as Vailsburg, now part of Newark. Vailsburg was considered part of The Oranges in the nineteenth century.

Here's a modified map from 1889 to give you the geographical picture. My blue lines don't totally correspond to the base map, but they're a little more accurate, based on other sources. I like this map because it shows the full extent of the township as it was from 1863 to 1894, in shades of pink.

Vailsburg separated from the township in 1894 by becoming a borough. The reason was almost certainly the passage that year of a state law requiring all the schools within a township to be in a single school district. That act had the unintended consequence of breaking up townships. Until 1897, all people in an area had to do to establish a borough was pass a local referendum. The leader of the initiative in Vailsburg was Dr Merit H Cash Vail, who owned "a considerable portion" of Vailsburg. He was a Civil War veteran, physician, orator, strawberry farmer, and the first mayor of the borough.

During its brief existence Vailsburg was famous in the sports world for bicycle races. The Vailsburg Velodrome was a one-quarter mile oval with a pine board surface, with a grandstand for 2,000 spectators and open stands for about 6,000 more, and electric lights for night events. It was located on South Orange Avenue at Munn Avenue, in the western half of present-day Vailsburg Park, the rest of which was taken up by Electric Park, an amusement ground. The Vailsburg track was part of a national circuit toured by both amateur and professional cyclists. Notable wheelmen included Frank Kramer "the East Orange Flyer" and a popular African American, Marshall "Major" Taylor.

Racing on Sunday— the only day off most working people had— was started in 1901 in defiance of "blue law" traditions. The borough passed an ordinance specifically against Sunday bicycle racing in 1903, and an arson fire destroyed much of the track in January 1904. But the velodrome was rebuilt in time for the 1904 season, and the owners even announced the resumption of Sunday racing despite the law. The next year, after Newark had annexed Vailsburg, the police came one Sunday and arrested track officials. But the judge hearing the case ruled that racing was "clean outdoor amusement" and asked the chief of police why they never arrested people at the Sunday baseball games.

The track's last season was 1910, but only because the lease on the property expired. The promoters acquired property across the street, where there is now a school parking lot, and opened there the Newark Velodrome in time for the 1911 season. Some modern accounts confuse the two tracks. There was also briefly a Newark Motordrome for motorcycle races in 1912, on approximately the site of the old Vailsburg Velodrome, but soon after it opened, when a horrible crash killed two riders and six spectators, Newark banned motorcycle races.

Above, the Vailsburg Velodrome about 1905, looking north, showing the now unfamiliar sight of a wooden track and large crowds attending a bicycle race. Munn Avenue out of sight to the left, behind the grandstand ; South Orange Avenue in the distance with (I think) the new Engine 21 fire station ; Electric Park out of sight to the right.

But what happened to Vailsburg?

Newark was a prosperous city by 1900, and some civic leaders wanted to expand it into its suburbs, just as New York had done in 1898. They wanted to annex nearly half of Essex County and part of Hudson. Four annexation bills got through the state legislature, subject to local referendum : in 1902 the city annexed what was left of Clinton township ; in 1903 it tried to annex Irvington but failed the local referendum ; in 1905 it annexed the Borough of Vailsburg ; in 1908 it tried again to annex Irvington and failed again.

The end of Vailsburg therefore was part of an expansion campaign by Newark. But the voters of Vailsburg had to approve, which the voters of Irvington refused to do, twice. Some Irvington residents told reporters they felt Irvington would lose its identity as just a small part of a large city. Why the residents of Vailsburg felt differently, I do not know.

Because Irvington was never annexed, Vailsburg became a leftover narrow arm of Newark extending much farther west than any other part of the city. The City Plan Commission wrote in 1912 in City Planning for Newark:
The Vailsburg Section had a very haphazard growth before it was annexed to Newark. As a consequence, its street system cannot be made efficient without much expense. Apparently each property holder divided his plot regardless of his neighbors, with the result that there are no good crosstown [north-south] thoroughfares...
But this merely describes the usual suburban pattern of development, as viewed by planners used to the strict grid of Newark. Vailsburg at this date still consisted of scattered wood frame houses, with much open land. The commercial buildings that line South Orange Avenue did not yet exist, and most lots along the avenue were still vacant. The Commission proposed street openings and widenings that could have been done relatively cheaply at the time, but they did not call for a widening of South Orange Avenue itself or realignment of the intersections for continuous north-south travel.

The Commission's Comprehensive Plan of Newark of 1915 mentioned the key problem:
A poor street plan is largely responsible for lack of growth here and also for [lack of] that prime essential to proper development, transportation.
Nothing was done. The only main street in Vailsburg, South Orange Avenue, is congested with traffic, slowing both automobile and bus transportation, and no off-street rail transport was ever built. The Garden State Parkway provides a way out for automobiles, but its bridge over South Orange Avenue creates a visual gateway separating Vailsburg from the rest of Newark.

Next time, the earliest boundaries at South Orange.