A SHORT HISTORY OF THE NEW YORK & GREENWOOD LAKE RAILROAD
THE FORMATIVE YEARS
The story of the Montclair and Greenwood Lake Railroad began when the Newark and Bloomfield Railroad was completed to Bloomfield in December 1855 and to West Bloomfield (this is the southern portion of present day Montclair) in 1856. Commuters living in what would eventually become the northern section of Montclair and the town of Upper Montclair, eyed the line and suggested that it be extended to them. But the Newark and Bloomfield was in no position to offer anyone expanded service. Its entire passenger business, consisting of one coach and one locomotive, earned the handsome sum of $300 in the first six months of operation.
At the same time, the partners of Cooper & Hewitt were experiencing their own transportation problems. They had purchased the ironworks and mines in Ringwood but did not have a satisfactory route to bring iron out of the Ramapo Mountains. They planned a railroad from Ringwood to Pompton (this is present day Pompton Lakes) where ore or pig iron could be transferred to canal boats.
Although this railroad was not built, the Morris Canal's Pompton Feeder Canal was upgraded. After a long wagon trip south from Ringwood, ore and pig iron were transferred to canal boats for transport to Cooper-Hewitt's Trenton Ironworks.
Still without a railroad in 1868, West Bloomfield broke away from Bloomfield, incorporated itself as the town of Montclair, and started its own railroad. The Montclair Railroad reached south and eastward to a connection with the Erie and shared trackage to Jersey City. Despite their close proximity in the town of Montclair, the Newark and Bloomfield Railroad and the Montclair Railroad were not physically connected until more than a century later when both lines were united under the ownership of New Jersey Transit.
Construction contracts were signed with the New York, Oswego and Midland Railroad. As part of the agreement they also leased the Montclair Railroad so that they would operate the completed line.
It soon was obvious that the Montclair Railroad was not a strictly a local line constructed to give the town of Montclair its own railroad. It was part of a grand scheme to have a line from Jersey City, through Montclair, to the eastern shore of Greenwood Lake, from thence into the heart of New York State and finally to the lake port of Oswego, New York.
It was good plan on paper with only two problems. First, while the lake could easily be reached from the south via the Wanaque River, a prohibitively expensive tunnel would be required to reach it from the north.
Second, funding was insufficient to build the Montclair Railroad.
Fortunately, acquiring Cornelius Wortendyke's New Jersey Western Railroad would solve both problems. The New York, Oswego and Midland Railroad bought it, renamed it the New Jersey Midland Railroad, and used it to reach Oswego. The final route ran into western New Jersey and avoided the need for both the tunnel and the Montclair Railroad.
Although still owned by New York Oswego and Midland, the Montclair Railroad was now no longer part of its grand schemes and so was built directly northwards in the Wanaque River valley to the rich iron mines of Ringwood and the popular excursion destination of Greenwood Lake.
THE HEWITT AND ERIE YEARS
The Panic of 1873 sent the railroad into bankruptcy. What was the Montclair Railroad went in an 1875 Sheriff's sale to Abram S. Hewitt and Marcus L. Ward. The line was renamed the Montclair and Greenwood Lake Railroad. Until 1878 it would be in receivership, undergo an humiliating series of reorganizations, have its steamboats on Greenwood Lake seized by the Orange County Sheriff, close a branch line, endure accusations of missing funds, and finally emerge firmly in the control of Hewitt.
The Hewitt era lasted from 1878 to 1898. During the summer of 1878 the railroad was undergoing another of its periodic reorganization. Hewitt arranged that a number of bondholders would sell their securities to the Erie. This guaranteed that the Erie would control the Montclair and Greenwood Lake whatever the outcome of the reorganization.
While Hewitt was in control of the railroad, in 1882 the first steps to an eventual merger were made. The Montclair and Greenwood Lake began using Erie's engine facilities as well as its Hudson River terminal although the line did not officially became part of the Erie until Hewitt sold it in 1898. Hewitt had bought the railroad to keep iron ore flowing south from the Ringwood Mines. By the mid-1890's the nearby iron furnaces had ceased operations and unrefined ore for the more distant furnaces could not be transported with reasonable freight rates.
Shortly after the sale however, rising iron prices soon allowed the mines to reopen and they were not closed again until 1931. Over the next thirty years, several unsuccessful attempts were made restart iron mining in Ringwood until the mines were closed permanently in 1961.
The railroad had two suburban branch lines, one to the Oranges and Llewellyn Park, the other to Cedar Grove and Essex Fells.
The Caldwell Branch was built between 1890 and 1892. The New York Suburban Land Company teamed up with the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell to charter and finance the Caldwell Railroad. The railroad's purpose was to promote development in Caldwell and Essex Fells. It was taken over by the Montclair and Greenwood Lake in 1893, and in turn the NY&GL was taken over by the Erie in 1898. In 1904 the Morristown and Erie established a connection at Essex Fells. Trains could run all the way from Morristown to Jersey City. There was also once a branch (actually more of a long siding) off the Caldwell Branch to the site of the dam for construction of the Cedar Grove Reservoir, long since removed, but still visible. Connecting passenger service to the Morristown and Erie RR in Essex Fells stopped in 1928, and commuter traffic stopped in 1966, but freight service lasted until 1976 with the establishment of Conrail.
The Orange Branch ran from West Orange station (Llewellyn) to the Forrest Hill station on the "main line" of the NY&GL. Constructed in1868, it saw it's last commuter train in 1955. The Orange Branch was home to some very large and well-known industries. Some of the more notable ones were General Electric, Westinghouse, General Motors, Canada Dry, Tiffany & Co., and Thomas A. Edison. Today, the remaining trackage is operated by New Jersey Transit as an extension of the Newark Subway, and sees occasional local switching to the Hartz plant by Norfolk Southern.
After being sold to the Erie, the railroad became the railroad's Greenwood Lake Branch, and at least on the northern end, its story is one of gradually shrinking trackage and reduced service. Greenwood Lake became accessible by car, and the last train to the lake ran in 1935. After the 1920's, the iron mines went through cycles of abandonment and rebuilding. This reduced the importance of the Ringwood Branch and the construction of the Wanaque Reservoir insured no other industries would arise to take the place of the iron mines.
There was however for many years a reliable and busy commuter traffic between Jersey City, the branch lines, Montclair, and Midvale. The runs north of Mountain View were losing money in the early to mid 1950šs and permission to abandon this service was sought.
Years later with the creation of the Erie Lackawanna in 1960, the Greenwood Lake Branch became the eastern part of the Boonton Line at the crossing of the old Lackawanna line in Mountain View, when through service on the Boonton Line was abandoned through Paterson.
With a yard to handle the commuter traffic, Wanaque/Midvale became the northern terminus until 1966, when service was terminated by the Erie Lackawanna. In 1982, Conrail operated the last freight trains north of Mountain View.
Today the Susquehanna operates some trackage near Riverdale and there are hopes that the Mountain View-Riverdale section will be reopened by New Jersey Transit. New Jersey Transit has completed a connection in 2003 between the ex-Lackawanna Montclair Branch and the NY&GL in Montclair, so that electrified trains can run from Great Notch all the way to Penn Station, New York. East of Montclair however, the commuter line has been closed and all Hoboken bound trains travel via Newark.
1868 to 1875 THE MONTCLAIR RAILROAD
1868 - Montclair founded. Fund raising for railroad begins.
1869 - "Midland Sharpers" deprive Caldwell of its own railroad
1868 - 1869 Work begins on Caldwell tunnel.
September 1870 - Railroad mortgaged to Abram S. Hewitt and Marcus L.
January 1872 - First passenger train from Midvale to Mountain View.
January 1872 - Work begins on the Hudson Connecting Railroad
November 1872 - Service established between Jersey City, Montclair, and
March 1873 - Watching station opened, this was one of the oldest on the railroad.
July 1873 - Through service established between Oswego and New York City via the New Jersey Midland, not the Montclair.
July 1874 - Disruption of service on the Hudson Connecting.
1875 to 1878 THE MONTCLAIR & GREENWOOD LAKE RAILROAD
September 1875 - In the first of two foreclosure sales, Hewitt and Ward buy the railroad of $200,000. Cyrus Field assumes presidency.
July 1876 - Track completed all the way to Greenwood Lake. Watchung Railroad (later the Orange Branch opens)
August 1877 - Service temporarily halted on Orange Branch. Collusion with the Lackawanna suspected.
Fall 1877 - Garrett Hobart appointed receiver.
1878 to 1898 THE NEW YORK & GREENWOOD LAKE RAILROAD
Fall 1878 - Hewitt was instrumental in arranging that in the railroad's second bankruptcy sale, the Erie would acquire a controlling interest.
1879 - Capital improvements started. These would eventually include re-laying track with steel rails, replacing thousands of ties, and rebuilding bridges.
1883- High point of vacation traffic, especially to Greenwood Lake, 51% of revenues come from passenger traffic
1885 - First time the railroad earns a profit.
1889 - George Inness's painting, Short Cut to Watchung Station earns a medal at the Paris Exposition Universelle.
1890 - 1892 Caldwell Branch constructed.
May 1897 - Double track completed to Little Falls.
1898 - Hewitt sells remaining interest in the railroad to the Erie.
1998 to 1976 THE GREENWOOD LAKE BRANCH
1904 - Caldwell Branch reaches the Morristown & Erie at Essex Fells
1912 - Dinkie Line narrow gauge tramway to the Ringwood mines closed.
Standard gauge tracks to the mines are laid.
1914 - All stations on the line photographed. These pictures eventually reprinted the book, The Next Station Will Be...
1928 - Joint passenger service with the Morristown & Erie discontinued.
1931 - Peters Mine closed, end of ore traffic.
April 1935 - ICC authorizes abandonment of track north of Erskine.
1955 - Passenger service discontinued on the Orange Branch.
October 1956 - Rush hour commuter trains begin using the Lackawanna's Jersey City terminal.
1966 - Midvale passenger yard closed. All commuter traffic is now confined to the south of Mountain View. Passenger traffic on the Caldwell branches discontinued.
March 1957 - Commuter trains consolidated at Lackawanna's Hoboken terminal.
1982 - End of freight traffic north of Mountain View.
1976 to Present NEW JERSEY TRANSIT AND THE MONTCLAIR CONNECTION.
1989 - Feasibility studies initiated for linking the Boonton Line and
September 2002 - Electrified service from Great Notch to Manhattan opened.
October 2002 - Swing bridge over the Hackensack abandoned in the open
2002 to 2004 - East Coast Greenway Coalition proposes using the roadbed between Secaucus and Kearny as a hiking trail. Another trail proposed to run parallel to the tracks between Mountain View and Riverdale.
SELECTED INTERNET RESOURCES
For information about the Erie Railroad's ownership of the line, maps, timetables and photographs:
For information about the stations:
For information about Wanaque and the railroad:
For questions or further assistance with the railroad please write to:
1 Shady Terrace
Wayne, NJ, 07470