Transportation has always been vital to the development of towns and cities. Without the means of bringing goods and services to its residents, industries and businesses, a community cannot grow and prosper.
Glen Ridge and its neighboring towns were fortunate that early settlers were men of foresight who recognized the need for public and commercial transportation. Because of their perception and initiative, the area has always had some of the best mass transit lines in the state, changed and updated as newer modes became available. The network of transportation has offered two rail lines, numerous trolley (in the early years) and bus lines, a fine road system and, from 1831 until the mid-1920’s the Morris Canal Waterway.
Morris Canal In 1831, the Morris Canal was completed from Phillipsburg to Newark. Extended in 1836 to Jersey City, the 102-mile-long waterway was built because of the need to bring anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to New Jersey. In addition, it provided cheap transportation for western New Jersey iron, an important industrial product of the mid 1700’s.
Trips took five days through 28 locks. Boats were hauled on cradles over rails up and down 23 inclined planes or locks. Annual tonnage reached its peak in 1866 with 88,220 tons. The canal was deepened and widened in 1844 and improvements made in the planes and locks.
The canal was 52 feet wide at the top, 20 feet at the bottom and four feet deep. The inclined planes were designed by Ephraim Morris of Bloomfield, and the parts were made at the old Morris Mill on Bay Avenue near Broad Street.
Towns along the canal like Boonton, Dover, Paterson, Bloomfield and Jersey City experienced phenomenal growth in industry and in population. Newark’s population increase of 75 percent in the period between 1830-1840 was undoubtedly caused by the coal and iron brought to its industries.
Even though ice blocked the canal in winter, it flourished until the late 1860’s when increasing competition from the railroads, which made the trip in eight hours, caused its decline.
A colorful as well as productive asset to the communities along its route, the canal also hosted packet boats and excursion barges. The fare from Newark to Paterson was 37½ cents, while to Bloomfield it was 18¼ cents. Boat captains and their families lived on the canal barges which were drawn by mules walking along the towpaths.
Camping and picnicking along the canal banks provided summer fun, and in winter the canal “looked like a Dutch travel folder as skaters took to the ice.” School children often spent their lunch hour skating on the canal. The teacher at the Old Stone Plains school would hang out a red shawl to call students back to the class since they could not hear the school bell.
In 1923, the State of New Jersey acquired control of the Morris Canal and Banking Company, which operated the waterway. The canal was abandoned in later years, and the State offered for sale to municipalities those portions of the right-of-way and tributaries which lay within their boundaries.
A part subway and part open-cut rapid transit railway was built, in 1932, in the canal bed from Belleville to Newark and is now the City Subway. The Garden State Parkway and its service road, John F. Kennedy Drive, built in 1952-54, utilized another part of the canal in Bloomfield.
Roads and Highways In the late 1800’s, prior to the founding of Glen Ridge, streets were few and rarely paved in the Township of Bloomfield. Sidewalks were of cinder or boards and people either walked often long distances, or went by horseback or carriage.
One of the first roads in the area was an Indian trail from Newark which, in Glen Ridge, ran from Park Avenue to Glen Ridge Avenue and on to Montclair center. It was the principle artery to the west until 1810, when a private corporation built a toll road between Newark and Montclair. The road continued on to Pine Brook with a branch to Pompton Lakes, that branch now known as the Pompton Turnpike or Route 23.
The entire artery was a link in a large network of toll roads being built in New Jersey. Toll gates were located near Branch Brook Park, the top of Montclair mountain, at the approach to the Pine Brook bridge in West Caldwell and at Singac.
The turnpike helped foster growth in the area. Teamsters carted products from Sussex, and freight wagons carried raw materials from the Delaware River to Newark. Stage coaches transported passengers to the Center Street dock in Newark where they boarded boats to New York City. Small businesses flourished because of the traffic stimulated by shops opened along the route by blacksmiths, wagon makers and wheelwrights. Taverns were opened to provide lodging and food for drivers and passengers.
Local Streets Streets within the Glen Ridge section were in deplorable conditions in 1895 at the time of the secession from Bloomfield. Surfaces, with the exception of Bloomfield Avenue, were dirt, in some cases covered with a sprinkling of gravel. There were few or no street lamps. The owner of the first house on Douglas Road carried a lantern to the station each morning, leaving it with the station agent to be picked up at night to light his way home.
Mayor Rudd and his new council moved rapidly to upgrade the streets in the new community. In 1897, road bonds were floated and road work was pushed, including culverts and gutters. The intent was to pave all roads as soon as water, gas and sewer lines had been laid. By fall of 1899, all streets where these lines were completed were paved, and Glen Ridge residents no longer had to drive, wheel or walk through mud. As the Borough became more populated and more areas of the community were developed, roads continued to be constructed and improved.
Prior to 1856, the only crossing over the Glen was “Gallagher’s Lane,” which generally followed the course of Clark Street to the Gallagher estate. Prospect Street, now Ridgewood Avenue, was opened in 1856 from Bloomfield Avenue to the Orange line. In 1873, Ridgewood Avenue was completed and widened from 60 to 89 feet by the County Board of Freeholders, and the present stone bridge over the railroad was constructed.
Newark and Bloomfield Railroad The Newark and Bloomfield Railroad was chartered in March 1852, opened in July 1856, and operated between Newark and West Bloomfield, now Montclair, as a single track line. At the line’s terminus in Montclair, there was a turnaround where the crew had to turn the train around manually for its return journey to Hoboken. Youngsters used to ride the train to Montclair, get off, and help turn the trains around. In 1912, the road bed was doubled tracked and elevated, where needed, to eliminate grade crossings at street level.
A timetable of 1857 indicated no stops between Bloomfield and West Bloomfield, but James Moffett made an arrangement with the railroad that one train each way would stop at his mill daily for the convenience of his neighbors. Moffett also built a bridge over the dam for passengers to cross and signal the trains. Many names were applied to this first train stop in the “Hill” area, among which were “High Bridge” and “Honeysuckle” because of the wild azaleas and other flowering bushes which lined the tracks.
In 1860, the railroad built a platform at Prospect Street, now Ridgewood Avenue, stopped all trains there, and called the station “Ridgewood” after the adjoining Gallagher estate of that name. The station continued under that name for twenty years.
When through trains began running from Montclair to Hoboken, the railroad was operated by the Morris & Essex Railroad. It was later leased to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Line.
Mrs. George Minasian, wife of a former mayor, notes in her “Memories of Glen Ridge.” … The round-trip fare to New York was 45 cents including the ferry ride across the Hudson River! My mother, preparing to go to New York, waited until she heard the steam train chugging up from Bloomfield before putting on her hat and coat and starting for the station two blocks away. She knew it would take the train a full ten minutes to reach Montclair, turnabout on the turntables, and get back to Glen Ridge to pick up passengers…..
A wooden station was built in 1872 on the banks of the glen and used as a ticket office, agent residence and barber shop. A post office was opened there in 1883. To prevent confusion with Ridgewood in the Bergen area, the Post Office department required that another name be selected, so the name Glen Ridge was adopted.
The present station, built of local stone by A. G. Darwin, was completed in 1887 and was for many years considered to be the finest station on the Morris & Essex Line. Darwin paid for a substantial part of the cost of the building. He deeded the station to the railroad as a gift with the stipulation that all passenger trains must stop at Glen Ridge.
The station now houses Virginia L. Flick Realtor and Baggage Room Antiques, both owned by local residents, as well as the station waiting room.
New York and Greenwood Lake Railroad In 1867, the Montclair Railway Company was incorporated, mainly by Montclair men led by Julius Pratt. The original plan was to bond the towns along the line to help pay the costs. This plan created an issue in Bloomfield. The anti-bond element was led by Judge Amzi Dodd. Representing the pro-bonders was E.S. Wilde. The two groups met in the lecture room of Old First Church and fought the issue to a finish. Won by the anti-bonders, the decision led to the secession of Montclair from Bloomfield in 1868.
The railroad was completed to Montclair in 1872, and was a single track line until 1906, when it was double tracked.
The financial panic of the 1870’s bankrupted the New Jersey Midland Railroad (Susquehanna), the original bond guarantors of the railroad. It was then sold to the New York, Lake Erie & Western Railroad and was renamed the New York and Greenwood Lake Railroad, later known as the Erie, since it used Erie engines and rolling stock.
A small building or shed was erected at Ridgewood Avenue as a station, called Chestnut Hill. Later, since there were few houses in that section, the station was moved to Highland Avenue, with the guarantee of fifteen commuters. In 1882, as development on North Ridgewood Avenue and connecting streets began, a new station was erected at the present site on Wildwood Terrace and Benson Street.
Original plans for the Erie station were made in London in 1880 for Edward S. Wilde. A letter from his daughter states that in return for a gift of the right-of-way of land for the railroad from her father, the railroad was to maintain a station on his property. When the railroad refused to build the station, Wilde had the station built in 1883 from greatly reduced plans and with no services except a waiting room.
The Benson Street station was maintained by the railroad with a station master until the early 1950’s. At that time, the railroad closed the station and proposed removal of the building. Local residents strongly opposed the destruction of the station, and eventually a young railroad buff, James Wilson, who lived nearby, became the self-appointed station master. Wilson kept the station clean and warm during commuter hours for several years. During that period, he conceived the idea of turning the building into a railroad museum.
Because of vandalism to the empty building, extensive repairs were needed, and in 1968, residents petitioned the railroad to keep the building in repair. Wilson, by this time having accumulated many railroad mementos, leased the station from the railroad for $30 per month with the provision that waiting room facilities would be maintained for commuters.
In 1972, the railroad museum was opened to the public. Repeated vandalism has interfered with year-round operation, and the museum is now open only during the summer months.
Erie-Lackawanna Railroad After years of competing with one another, the two railroads merged in 1960 in an effort to remain financially sound. Started as passenger lines over 100 years earlier, they were finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the influx of buses and private cars.
The Erie-Lackawanna continues to operate the electric line to Montclair, and modern diesel engines pull the passenger cars and freight trains on the Greenwood Lake line. Both railroads operate their passenger lines on a much-reduced schedule of trains and only in the commuter rush hours.
The railroad, in the mid 1970’s became part of the federal government-financed Con Rail system, which is a merge of the bankrupt railroads in the northeastern section of the country.
Glen Ridge historical files show that in 1921, when a railroad strike was threatened, the Borough of Glen Ridge offered its assistance to the Lackawanna railroad. Led by Harold M. Kennard, a committee set up a plan to transport commuters by special train and automobiles to New York and Hoboken. With the exception of the engineer, the special train was to be manned by Glen Ridge volunteers with former railroad experience.
Newark, Bloomfield and Montclair Horse Car Railroad Company Chartered in 1867, this innovative mode of transportation initially ran on track laid from near the cemetery on Belleville Avenue, down Broad Street, along Franklin Street to Newark Avenue which was newly opened as part of the route. Continuing on a meandering route over Mt. Prospect Avenue to Bloomfield Avenue, the railway ultimately took its passengers to Broad Street, Newark.
The original enterprise was unsuccessful and, in 1876, new owners laid track on Bloomfield Avenue. These first street railways were constructed for short distances and each line operated as a separate corporation under its own franchise. Later, each was absorbed by larger companies, and eventually all or parts of these companies were incorporated into the vast Public Service System.
In October 1890, the first electrically-operated street car was placed in service on the Irvington line replacing the outmoded horse-drawn cars. Throughout the 1890’s, an extensive network of overhead trolley wires was strung in the area, extending service up Bloomfield Avenue as far as Caldwell. Extension of these trolley car lines stimulated residential growth in Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair and neighboring communities.
Jitneys to Buses World War I heralded the arrival of the automobile as a vehicle for mass transportation. Large passenger cars called jitneys appeared carrying passengers along side streets and on main arteries on haphazard schedules.
About 1920, regular bus service was initiated and gradually replaced the trolley lines. The final Bloomfield Avenue trolley cars were discontinued in 1952. Interstate bus lines appeared shortly after the opening of the Holland Tunnel to New York in 1927.