The Early Railroads
From New Jersey as a Colony and a State
by Francis Bazley Lee1902
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
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
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
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 sectionsby
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
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
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
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 charterthe
State having reserved the right to purchase the road at the end
of thirty yearsit 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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