18 November 2010

Shovel-Ready, 1897

When the members of the Bridgewater Township Committee were roused from their beds by phone calls and messengers just after midnight on October 24, 1897, they probably weren't expecting to hear that they were in the midst of an invasion by "a thousand men from Baltimore", but that was exactly what was happening.

New York Times headline, 25 October 1897

The New York and Philadelphia Traction Company had been involved in a bitter three-year dispute with the Brunswick Traction Company over who had the legal right to build and operate a trolley line between Bound Brook and Somerville. Earlier that evening, a train left Baltimore for Finderne carrying enough railroad track for two and a half miles of road, a trolley car, and 1,000 laborers, foremen, and engineers under the employ of the New York and Philadelphia Traction Company - with orders to build the railway, and let nothing stand in their way.

The few police officers the township committee had at their disposal were completely ineffectual, so they called on the Somerset County Sheriff - who quickly recruited 50 "special deputies". He was joined by Edward Radel, the president of the Brunswick Traction Company, who arrived a short time later with 50 men of his own, and an injunction from a Superior Court Judge.

The New York and Philadelphia men, who outnumbered the locals by ten to one, kept right on working - digging up the street, setting sleepers, laying rail, and setting poles - despite a pouring rain all day. Fueled by coffee, and the occasional "stronger stimulant", the laborers worked at an incredible pace. By the afternoon, they were already stringing the overhead electric cable.

President Radel made one last stand at a 1,000 ft. stretch of land bordering a farm which he owned, but his men were easily overpowered and the work went on.


Main Street Somerville with Troilley Car, circa 1900
Somerville, NJ circa 1910 showing trolley
New York lawyer John B. Shaw, a supporter of the New York and Philadelphia Company, recently had a large dynamo installed at his magnificent residence in Finderne, supposedly to supply electric light. It was from this location that power was supplied to the trolley line.


By the following morning, the invading army had left for Maryland, eager to be out of the state before any legal action could take place.

And that's how a shovel-ready project was completed in one day in 1897.

Let's see how long it is before the first number 7 train pulls into Secaucus. I'm guessing ten years, minimum.

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