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The Early Railroads

From New Jersey as a Colony and a State
by Francis Bazley Lee—1902

OF THE many contests, industrial, religious, and political, of which New Jersey has been the scene no one struggle for supremacy was waged with greater bitterness than the fight for existence between the advocates of a railroad connecting New York and Philadelphia and the proprietors of the stage-coach lines, who then controlled the transportation of freight and passengers across the State.

With the advancement, of the plan for a railroad there was a vigorous cry of "monopoly," a cry by no means unusual, in view of the fact that no greater monopoly ever existed than that exercised by the stage-coach proprietors. As late as 1834 the rate of stage-coach fare between Philadelphia and New York was six dollars, the time occupied in the journey being an entire day. By control of the inns and taverns on the route, and a system of practically compulsory "tips" for employees, to which must be added many discomforts, the travelling public was at the mercy of the stage lines, except the few voyagers who "snubbed" across New Jersey by way of the canal.

Under these conditions the Camden and Amboy Railroad came into being.

In the contention that the Camden and Amboy Railroad was a "monopoly" there was nothing new. As early as 1707 the Assembly complained "that patents had been granted to one Dellman to transport goods on the road from Amboy to Burlington for a number of years to the exclusion of others," and that such executive action was "destructive to that freedom which trade and commerce ought to have." To this Governor Cornbury replied that, by reason of the monopoly, goods could be sent across New Jersey once during a fortnight "without danger of imposition," for that alone by means of Dellman's stage wagon a trade had been carried on between Philadelphia, Burlington, Amboy, and New York "which was never known before, and which, in all probability, never would have been." When came the later stage-boat lines, those under the management of the Bordens, Richardson, and O'Bryant, the ferries of the Inians, Billops, and Redfords in East Jersey, there was still the complaint of monopoly, excessive rates, and poor service.

By the opening of the nineteenth century the roads of New Jersey between Philadelphia and New York were but little improved beyond the deplorable condition which Governor Franklin criticised in 1768, when he said that these highways were "seldom passable without danger and difficulty." But with the agitation concerning internal improvements which marked the advent of Jefferson's administration no less than nine turnpikes were chartered by the Legislature on the route from Philadelphia to New York. These were the Hackensack and Hoboken, 1802; the Trenton and New Brunswick, 1804, with its annex, the bridge over the Delaware; the Jersey City and Hackensack, 1804; the Essex and Middlesex from New Brunswick to Newark, 1806; a continuation of the Trenton and New Brunswick turnpike from Princeton to Kingston, 1807; the Woodbridge and Rahway, 1808; and a branch of the Trenton and New Brunswick from Burlington through Bordentown to Trenton, 1808. It was not, however, until 1816 that the famous Bordentown and South Amboy turnpike was constructed.

It is with a great degree of justice that J. Elfreth Watkins, Sr., of Washington, D. C., in his admirable monograph dealing with the origin and, early history of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, attributes the progress of steam transportation on the soil and waters of the State of New Jersey to the efforts of John Stevens. In that long life between 1749 and 1838 this inventor-statesman saw New Jersey emerge from the horrors of the French and Indian War, witnessed, as treasurer of New Jersey during the Revolution, the political birth of a nation, and helped, more than any other man, to lay the foundations of that system of transportation which has made the State the terminus in whole or in part of every great trunk line or its allied interests in the republic. Ceaselessly active, he devoted the ninety years of his life to the common good, as an experimentalist and inventor, giving to the improvement of steam navigation a large proportion of that great wealth which he had inherited and increased.

There hangs in the section of transportation and engineering in the United States National Museum in Washington a medallion portrait of John Stevens, and beneath it an inscription. This is but a small part of the record of so useful a life, but from it there may be learned that John Stevens, as a petitioner, was the father of the patent law of 1790, that he, in 1792, took out patents for propelling vessels by steam pumps, modified from Savary's plans, and that in his experiments on different modes of propulsion by steam he had as his associates Brunel, constructor of the Thames Tunnel connecting London with the Surrey shore; Chancellor of the State of New York Robert R. Livingston, whose sister Stevens married; and Nicholas I. Roosevelt, of the patroon family of which President Theodore Roosevelt is a member. From these experiments, in 1798, John Stevens made a steamboat that navigated the Hudson. In 1804 he made his first application of steam to the four-bladed screw propeller, which has survived many forms and which was not commercially successful until 1840. His multi-tubular boiler appeared in 1803, and the first steam ferry in the world, that between New York and Hoboken, was opened October 11, 1811, with the trip of the "Juliana."

Turning his attention during the second war with England to the possibilities of steam transportation upon land, he urged the construction of a steam road instead of the Erie Canal, and paved the way for the building of those local railroads which were subsequently united in the New York Central Railroad system. Later, in 1823, with Horace Binney and Stephen Girard, John Stevens obtained a charter from the State of Pennsylvania for a railroad from Lancaster to Philadelphia, on the line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and in 1826 he built the first locomotive having a tubular boiler which ran upon any railroad in America. This locomotive carried six people at a speed of over twelve miles an hour, and was operated upon a circular track within the limits of his estate in Hoboken.

The immediate predecessor of the Camden and Amboy Railroad was the Union Line of wagons and stages, which enjoyed a monopoly of the trade between New York and Philadelphia. As early as 1808 the "Phoenix," which was, according to Mr. Watkins's narrative, " the first steam driven craft to venture out to sea," was designed by John Stevens, built by Robert L. Stevens, and was taken to Philadelphia from Hoboken by the Sandy Hook-Cape May route. The "Phoenix" became the property of the Union Line, whose route of one hundred and one miles between Philadelphia and New York was divided into three sections—by steamboat from Philadelphia to Trenton, by wagon or stage upon the Trenton-New Brunswick turnpike, and thence by the Raritan and the waters bounding Staten Island on the west to New York. The trip occupied from noon of one day until the morning of the next, and was both tedious and expensive.

It was given to John Stevens to look far into the future, to see that even the steamboat and the canal projects in Europe were to be supplanted. As early as 1812 Stevens had published his "Documents Tending to Prove the Superior Advantages of Railways and Steam Carriages Over Canal Navigation," but even his valid reasoning, his logical conclusions, based upon a wealth of facts and figures, failed to convince capitalists that railroads were more beneficial than canals, and that as investments they might become reasonably popular.

In the meantime the growing commercial importance of England, and the congestion of her population in the manufacturing centers, had developed railroad construction to a degree that attracted the attention of the civilized world. Among those who went abroad for a personal study of English railroads was William Strickland, a member of the Pennsylvania Society for Internal Improvement, and it was the facts presented in this report, and the personal enthusiasm of John Stevens and his friends, that led to the first public railroad meeting ever held in the commonwealth. Upon the 14th of January, 1828, "a large and respectable meeting of the citizens of New Jersey friendly to the proposed railway from Camden to Amboy" occupied the court house in Mount Holly. Of this assemblage John Black was president, John Dobbins vice-president, and Charles Stokes and James Newbold secretaries. A committee appointed to draft resolutions expressive of the sense of the meeting reported that the members were deeply impressed with the importance of internal communication, and recommended the extension of the policy throughout the Atlantic States, that New Jersey should sustain a line of communication between New York and Philadelphia, and that the application to the Legislature for the railroad is highly approved, not only as a local project, but as one of the most important links in the great chain of " internal intercourse." A general committee to urge internal intercourse." A general committee to urge the matter before the House of Assembly and Council, and committees from Gloucester and Burlington Counties to secure signatures upon a legislative memorial, were selected. This meeting was followed by others at Burlington, Bordentown, Princeton, and Trenton, as well as in other portions of the State, upon which occasions similar sentiments were expressed, while the Legislature received memorials in 1828-29 and in 1829-30 upon this subject.

But the friends of the canal interests were by no means inactive. The Union Line had identified its powerful interests with those of the projected railroad as against the canal scheme, which had been taken up by the People's Line and lesser rivals of the Union Line. The State was filled with talk of "monopoly," of the injury that would come to stage drivers, tavern keepers, and road gangs, of the political dangers that a railroad charter presented, and, above all, that the railroad itself was destructive to life and limb, brought undesirable elements to the State, endangering public morals, and was in every way objectionable. Then appeared in the legislative session of 1829-30 the first "lobby," recognized as such, when the friends of the railroad and the canal found it necessary, as in the latter sixties and early seventies, when the "monopoly" agitation again appeared, to go armed about the streets of Trenton.

But in January, 1830, a compromise was effected. From negotiations completed between the principals of the warring interests charters were granted the Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company and the Delaware and Raritan Canal Company. The separate legislation was passed upon the 4th of February, 1830. On the 28th of April, 1830, the organization of the Camden and Amboy Railroad was effected, in Camden, by the election of Robert L. Stevens, of Hoboken, president; Edwin A. Stevens, of Hoboken, treasurer; Jeremiah H. Sloan, of Camden, secretary; and a board of directors consisting of Abraham Brown, of Mount Holly; William McKnight, of Bordentown; William I. Watson, of Philadelphia, and Benjamin Fish, of Trenton.

Under the provisions of the Camden and Amboy Company's charter the capital stock authorized was one million dollars, divided into shares of one hundred dollars each, with the privilege of increase to one million five hundred thousand dollars. The Legislature reserved the right to subscribe to one-quarter of the stock. The designated terminals were indefinite. On the south the road was to commence at some point between "Cooper's and Newton's Creeks," and on the north to end at "some point on the Raritan Bay."

There first appeared in the charter that provision against which all subsequent attacks of the "anti-monopolists" were directed. In lieu of all taxes the new railroad company agreed to pay a transit duty of ten cents for each passenger and fifteen cents a ton for all merchandise transported. These transit duties were to cease in case the Legislature authorized the construction "of any other road to transport passengers from Philadelphia to New York to terminate within three miles of the commencement or termination of this road."This protection was made absolute upon March 15, 1832, when the Legislature in an amendment to the statute provided that during the life of the charter—the State having reserved the right to purchase the road at the end of thirty years—it should be unlawful to construct any railroad between Philadelphia and New York without the consent of the companies.

Throughout the spring and summer of 1830 surveys were made under the direction of Major John Wilson, of the United States army, assisted by Lieutenant William Cook, having charge of the section from South Amboy to Bordentown, and John Edgar Thompson, afterward president of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, in charge from Bordentown to Camden.

With the completion of the surveys for the Camden and Amboy Railroad Robert L. Stevens started upon a mission to England, under instructions to order a locomotive and rails for the new road. Fortunately for the cause of transportation the long voyage gave Stevens an opportunity to exercise his talents as an inventor. While upon the ship he either produced or perfected the American or Stevens rail, adding a base to the "T" rail, and dispensing with the chair then in use. To this he added the "hook headed" spike, the "iron tongue," known in its present form as the "fish bar," and the rivets (now bolts and nuts), necessary to complete the joints. After many failures the Guest Iron Works at Dowlais, Wales, succeeded in making a rail sixteen feet in length and weighing about forty pounds to the yard. Between May, 1831, and October, 1832, there were twenty-three shipments of rails to New Jersey, the first arriving on the ship "Charlemagne," and laid on the piece of track near Bordentown in August, 1831. At this spot, upon November 12, 1891, the Pennsylvania Railroad Company erected a handsome monument, properly inscribed, commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the first movement by steam upon a railway in the State of New Jersey.

The village of Bordentown, upon a sultry day in the middle of August, 1831, was all excitement, for there stood upon the wharf, surrounded by a crowd of the curious, the locomotive "John Bull " or "No. 1," which had been recently completed at the English works of Stephenson and Company. To Isaac Dripps, later master mechanic of the Camden and Amboy Railroad, whose technical education had been acquired with the Stevenses in their experiments with steamboats on the Delaware and the Hudson, was assigned the duty of assembling the parts of the "John Bull." Without directions or drawings, Dripps, who had never seen a locomotive, prepared the engine, weighing ten tons, for track work. A tender was made from a converted four-wheel flat car, used by the contractors, the tank being a large whiskey barrel, and the supply of water conveyed to the boiler by short sections of shoe leather hose made by a Bordentown shoemaker. After a preliminary test the locomotive was given a public trial upon the 12th of November, 1831, in the presence of the members of the Legislature and invited guests of prominence. Attached to the locomotive were two four-wheeled coaches, built to be drawn by horses if need should arise. These coaches were practically carriage bodies, three doors to a side, with the seats facing each other, and built upon English models by the Greens of Hoboken. The first woman to ride upon the train was Madam Murat, a Bordentown girl, wife of Prince Murat and niece by marriage to Napoleon Bonaparte.

The advent of the "John Bull " led to the establishment of the Camden and Amboy shops at Hoboken, where in 1832-33 there were three locomotives built, while in 1832 from these models Matthias Baldwin, in Philadelphia, constructed the "Ironsides" for the Philadelphia and Norristown Railroad Company, now a part of the Philadelphia and Reading system, and thus established the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia.

While the road was being completed from Amboy to Camden, and the engineers were contending with problems at the "deep cut" near the mouth of the Raritan, horses were used to convey freight and passengers. A section from Bordentown to Hightstown was finished on September 19, 1832, and on December 17 of the same year the line was completed to South Amboy. Three freight cars, with a capacity of six or seven thousand pounds each, were put in service on January 24, 1833, the goods being conveyed from Bordentown to Camden by wagon road. In the meantime the railroad company had acquired control of all steamboat lines upon the Delaware and from New York to the Amboys. As late as the summer of 1833 relays of horses, "driven continuously on the run," took passengers from Bordentown to the Raritan, the trip of thirty-four miles requiring two and a half hours. Early in September, 1833, the "John Bull" began service, leaving Bordentown at seven in the morning and returning at four in the afternoon. The late fall and winter of 1833 found the road opened from Bordentown to a point south of Rancocas Creek, and in January, 1834, the road was completed to Camden, and the single track system of sixty-one miles was opened for continuous travel between New York and Philadelphia.

The inauguration of the Camden and Amboy Railroad and the success of the plan, its stock selling for $134 in July, 1835, had led to the presence of rival corporations. Securing a charter from the State of Pennsylvania upon the 23d of February, 1832, the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad Company had constructed a line in 1833 from Morrisville, opposite Trenton, to Bristol, which in 1835 had been extended to Kensington, now the great shipbuilding center of Philadelphia. This corporation had also secured a majority of the stock of the Trenton Bridge Company and the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike Company. Upon March 7, 1832, the New Jersey Railroad was chartered to construct a railroad from Jersey City to New Brunswick through Newark, Elizabeth, Rahway, and Woodbridge, with a capitalization of seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars. The line had been completed to Elizabeth in 1834, and had practically reached New Brunswick late in 1835. To remove all opposition, particularly as the Trenton and Philadelphia corporation claimed that it could lay tracks on the wagon road under the terms of the charter of the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike Company, the joint companies acquired a controlling interest in the stock of the Philadelphia and Trenton Company, with its allied corporations, the Delaware Bridge Company, and the Trenton and New Brunswick Turnpike Company. On September 26 the Camden and Amboy Company entered into a " traffic agreement " with the New Jersey Railroad Company that "the price for passage from New York to Philadelphia shall be four dollars for day passengers and five dollars for night passengers, the receipts to be divided in pro rata proportion as to the length of the respective railroads used in this transportation, the fare from Philadelphia to New York, by way of Bordentown and Amboy, to remain three dollars for each regular passenger and two dollars for forward passengers." The Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad also agreed to build a railroad from Bordentown to New Brunswick, the line projected to follow the canal as far as Kingston and thence across country to New Brunswick. In spite of the disasters attending the panic of 1837, and the failure of the Bank of the United States to meet guaranteed sterling bills of exchange on Baring Brothers in London, Commodore Stockton sailed for England and raised funds on six per cent. Bonds amounting to nearly eighty-three thousand pounds. This was probably one of the first negotiations of American railroad securities in a foreign market. In September, 1837, the new road was completed from Bordentown to Trenton, and was used by passengers in 1838. In spite of the failure of a syndicate of capitalists to meet their agreements relative to a lease of the joint companies, which lease, in contemplation, was used by Commodore Stockton to attract European capital, he succeeded in selling bonds, and overcame all imputations made against himself and the project that he represented. For a year and a half no work had been done between Trenton and New Brunswick, but with the arrival of funds in the spring of 1838 such advancement was made with the enterprise that by January 1, 1839, the twenty-four miles of track was completed. The year 1839 was spent in making certain radical changes, such as rebuilding the bridge over the Delaware, making it safe to sustain the weight of the locomotives, the alteration of the gauge of the Camden and Amboy and the Philadelphia and Trenton lines, thus avoiding a transfer at Trenton, and the introduction of through cars. By 1840, the first through all-rail line from Philadelphia to New York was completed.

The report of the Camden and Amboy directors made on the 29th of January, 1840, shows that in construction several devices of rail-laying were adopted. On twenty-six miles between South Amboy and Bordentown the track was prepared by embedding stone blocks, two feet square, a yard apart. Five-inch holes were drilled in each block. Attached to these blocks dressed locust chairs fourteen inches long and from one to two inches thick were fastened. On these chairs the Stevens "T" rail was laid and fastened with six-inch spikes. This rail was three and one-half inches high, with two and one-eighth inches on the upper running surface, and weighed forty-two pounds to the yard. The ends of the bars rested on wrought-iron plates or cast-iron chairs, connected with iron tongues.

Seven miles of the system were laid upon cross oak and chestnut sleepers, embedded in broken stone, upon stone trenches, and consolidated with heavy hand pounders. To these sleepers the rail was attached.

At South River for a short distance continuous granite sills, twelve by fourteen inches, eight to ten feet long, were laid. To these a flat bar of iron two and a quarter inches wide and seven-eighths inch thick was attached. After four years' trial this method was abandoned. Cross sleepers of locust were laid transversely on the sills and the edge rail was placed thereon.

In Camden and Burlington red cedar piles seven feet long were driven into the ground about a yard apart. Upon these the edge rail was fastened. At Pensauken Creek a wooden rail was laid. The foundation was a plank three and a half inches thick and two feet in width under each rail. Cross sleepers of oak were placed every four feet, with blocks two feet long intervening. Upon these blocks and sleepers a wood rail six inches square, of yellow pine, rested, with a flat bar of iron two and a quarter inches wide fastened thereon by spikes and screw bolts.

Of the rolling stock of the Camden and Amboy Company, in 1840, there were seventeen locomotives and sixty-four passenger cars, two of these cars having the proverbial "rocking chairs," which always attracted the attention of European travellers of the period, one car of the omnibus type and eight cars for forward deck passengers, while the construction of the road and its equipment from 1831 to 1840 had involved the expenditure of $3,220,000.

There has been preserved an interesting memento of the running time of "Engine No. 8" which gives a fair idea of the length of time occupied in 1835 in the railroad journey between Camden and South Amboy. For this distance of sixty-two miles the running time was five hours and twenty minutes, allowing one hour and five minutes, an average of fifteen miles an hour, for the detention of the engine. There were then six stations on the route. With thirty-nine possible "stops," the slowest local train of the Pennsylvania Railroad to-day covers the distance in two hours and a half, while the trip could be made in an hour, at an average of sixty miles an hour.

In the eastern portion of the State the growth of the railroad idea was extremely rapid.. Within two years nine companies, having an authorized capital of $7,140,000, were chartered. Besides the Camden and Amboy and the New Jersey Companies there were several corporations that, while organized upon a local basis, with none of the broad aims of the Camden and Amboy system, are of especial interest, as illustrative of the development of the industrial activity in the East Jersey towns.

In 1831, late in January, the Paterson and Hudson River Railroad Company was incorporated with a capital of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. In its charter it was provided that the road must commence or pass within fifty feet of the intersection of Congress and Mill Streets, Paterson, thence to Weehawken, terminating at any suitable point upon the Hudson opposite the City of New York. In the crossing of the Hackensack the railroad was authorized to pass over the river near or upon the bridge of the New Barbadoes Company. The State reserved the right to purchase the road after the expiration of fifty years from its completion, and required the payment of a graded per centage upon its capital stock in lieu of all taxation. In 1831 the Paterson Junction Railroad Company was chartered to construct a railroad from a point on the Morris Canal for a distance of one and a half miles to intersect the Paterson and Hudson River Railroad Company at its Paterson terminal. Another road, which was never built, was chartered March 8, 1832, to extend from Paterson to Fort Lee.

The year 1831, so prolific in railroad corporations, marked the beginnings of the Elizabethtown and Somerville Railroad Company, which was chartered upon the 9th of February. The road was to pass as near as practicable by Bound Brook, Plainfield, Scotch Plains, and Westfield, and had an authorized capital of two hundred thousand dollars, to which the State reserved the right of subscripting twenty-five thousand. In 1833 the stock was increased to five hundred thousand dollars, and legislative authority was given to extend the road from Somerville by way of Clinton to Belvidere, and to construct a branch, if necessary, its western terminal being a point between the mouth of the Musconetcong and Phillipsburg.

The project to thus construct a road from Easton to tidewater was but one of the manifestations of the development of the great anthracite coal industry, which had appeared as one of the forces in the revolutionizing of the industrial life of the United States. In Pennsylvania the North-western Railroad had been proposed, extending from the Delaware opposite Belvidere, by the Water Gap and Stroudsburg, to Pittstown upon the Susquehanna.


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This page originally appeared on Thomas Ehrenreich's Railroad Extra Website

 


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