Sunday, February 12, 2012

Elizabeth Loop


Research for the New Jersey Terminals map project is starting to enter the 19th century. I realize that some of my fine sources aren't all that solid on dates before 1900. There's going to be some guesswork on my part. But I do what I can.

Once in a while I come across something that's just baffling.


One such thing is the station lineup on the Greenwood Lake line between North Newark and Montclair. The railroad itself opened in 1873 and this portion had passenger service until 2002.

(7.9) North Newark (Newark): 1873.
(8.5) Forest Hill (Newark): possibly 1873. Junction with Orange Branch.
(9.0) Soho (Belleville): 1880s.
(9.4) Soho Park, later called Belwood Park (Belleville): 1890s.
(9.8) Orchard St, later called Rowe St (Bloomfield) : 1900?
(10.2) Bloomfield Walnut St: 1900? Replaced Bloomfield Chestnut St.
(10.4) Bloomfield Chestnut St: 1873? North side of Belleville Ave.
(10.9) Chestnut Hill, later called Glen Ridge Benson St: 1900? Replaced first Chestnut Hill.
(11.3) Chestnut Hill (Montclair): 1880s. At Montclair border.
(11.9) Montclair: 1873. Still open as Montclair Walnut St.

The numbers are mileages from Jersey City. Ten stations in only four miles! But of course, not all were open at the same time. It helped me to work out that Soho Park and Belwood Park are the same place, and so are Orchard St and Rowe St, so it's not twelve stations. But on the other hand, Chestnut Hill was two places.

Notice the big shift that happened sometime around 1900. Chestnut Hill moved four blocks east, Bloomfield moved three blocks east, and Orchard Street appeared.

Left to right: Chestnut St, Walnut St, Orchard St. Walnut St once overlooked the Morris Canal, and then since the 1920s overlooked a ditch where the canal used to be. You can see why the station was closed around 1953— the Garden State Parkway was built right through the site. (By the way, it's not to be confused with Montclair Walnut St, known at that time as Montclair Erie Plaza when it needed to be differentiated from Montclair Lackawanna Plaza.)

The renaming of Orchard St station remains a mystery to me. The story is sometimes told that Rowe St was opened to replace the station closed for parkway construction, but that's not right. It had been there for years. The rename was not simultaneous with closing Walnut St either. I have an Erie timetable of September 24, 1954, that has Walnut St gone but Orchard St still so named.

The station is located between Orchard St, a north-south local connector street, and Rowe St, a minor dead end. Why would you rename a station for the less important street at the other end? To make it harder for drivers to find it? I think passengers even had to go to the Orchard St end to cross the tracks. I just don't get it.

Soho had the distinction of being the smallest station in New Jersey. Back in the day, there were numerous stations up in the hills and down in the pines that were no more than a wooden shelter the size of an outhouse. But Soho beats that. No walls at all.

All right, some country train stops had no shelter whatsoever, so they were infinitely smaller than this, but why ruin a good story?


Anyway that's not what I wanted to tell you about.

One of my book sources is (take a breath) Historic Journeys by Rail / Central Railroad of New Jersey / Stations, Structures & Marine Equipment by Benjamin L Bernhart, Outer Station Project, 2004. It's a good book. The author has tried to provide a photograph of every station building that existed in the 1900-1930 heyday of the railroad and to give the dates of each one, which is just what I wanted for my map project.

Many of the photographs are from the Interstate Commerce Commission valuation project done about 1917. Among them was this one. This is what I meant by baffling.

The caption notes that this was Fourth Street station, Elizabeth, on the Elizabeth Loop Line. To which I said to myself, THE... WHAT?

The same 'NE' who provided us a map of the Penhorn Creek Railroad has also worked his magic for the Elizabeth Loop Line, here. The left tangent is the original Central of New Jersey main line, which ran down a private right of way in the middle of Broadway to the Arthur Kill, where passengers and freight continued to New York by water. The right tangent is a later freight branch.

To my knowledge, up to last week, the old main line had no passenger service after 1864, when the Newark Bay bridge was completed, allowing all trains to run to the railroad's newly opened Jersey City terminal. Besides how could Fourth Street be the only station on the loop line?

I admit, for a few days I wrote this one off as an error by the writer. It just had to be a freight office, not a passenger station. This is called denial. Look at it. Long covered platform, small house. That's a passenger station. It's just in a very wrong place.

And then I saw Map of the City of Elizabeth New Jersey by Grassman & Kreh, published by Ernest L Meyer Inc, 1916. That might be the same year as the photograph! You can see it at Rutgers University's page New Jersey Historical Maps.

But I'll give you the key detail, below. I rotated the map to put north more or less at the top. (By the way it is intriguing how many New Jersey mapmakers in the early 20th century still carried on the Dutch colonial practice of putting west at the top.)

CNJ main line trains from Jersey City came in from the upper right, stopping at the important Elizabethport junction station, and stopping or passing the local Spring Street station at lower left. The other lines at Elizabethport ran north to Newark and south to Perth Amboy and shore points. Passengers would change at Elizabethport if their train did not continue in the direction they wanted.

I now think that around this date, the CNJ ran some local trains as follows. Coming from Jersey City, take a left at Elizabethport, stopping at the curved platform, like a shore train. But then, eight blocks south, take a right into the old main, and stop at Fourth Street. Continue straight back onto the main line in time to make the Spring Street stop too. How's that?

The routing I just described adds one stop to the run while skipping none. It also meets the usual railroad definition of a loop, which is not an oval, but rather a branch line that diverges from the main and then rejoins further on, forming an alternate route.

The Loop route could not have been operated much later than 1917. Within a few years the Perth Amboy line was raised above street level on an earth embankment, to eliminate the street crossings at grade, and that work also eliminated the connecting curve to old main line in Broadway.

I'm tentatively putting the Elizabeth Loop onto the 1915 and 1905 maps, but not earlier. Princeton's online Sanborn map collection has a map of Elizabeth from 1889 that shows neither the station nor the connecting curve. The map from 1903 at the same site shows the curve without the station, but because the station was a wooden structure in the middle of the street, I'm willing to imagine that it was left off. The 1889 map coverage also shows that much of the city was not yet built up in this area. I think the Loop station was used for factory shifts, and therefore would have had only a few trains per day at the right times. In that case it was not a holdover from 1864 but a new service put back on part of the old main when there was enough passenger traffic to warrant it. I don't think that happened yet in 1895.

There was a similar stop east of Elizabethport, Singer's, which Mr Bernhart documents as being in use from about 1908 to about 1926. It was for employees of the Singer Sewing Machine factory next to the line at that location, and it was doomed by another reconstruction project, the grade change for a new Newark Bay bridge. For that matter the CNJ's Kearny station was primarily for the Western Electric plant, and the entire Sound Shore Branch in Linden and Carteret (known in its later years as the Chemical Coast line!) was for factory workers.

I have never seen any mention of the Elizabeth Loop service in any book or web site, and I have the feeling I am one of just a handful of living humans who know about it. Now you are too.


No comments:

Post a Comment