In 1860 the map of Hillsborough Township, New Jersey was a patchwork of farms and country lanes. A few inns on the Old Amwell Road serviced the century-old stagecoach route from New Brunswick to Flemington. It was there at Neshanic and Flaggtown and Millstone that commerce was conducted. In just a few years, everything would change.
|1872 South Branch Railroad Letterhead|
Of the four railroad lines, past and present, that bisected Hillsborough over the last century-and-a-half, only one could really be called Hillsborough's railroad: the South Branch.
|The route of the South Branch Railroad, from the Cram Atlas (undated)|
|John G. Schenck's house, Shadow Lawn, in Neshanic Station.|
(photo courtesy of Carlene Kuhl)
|The Somerville Station complex, 1882|
|Postcard circa 1905|
|1932 map of the Duke Estate|
|South Branch Railroad bridge built by James B. Duke.|
Postcard circa 1905
|7 December 1865 Monmouth Democrat|
After crossing Woodville Road - today's Duke's Parkway West - the line bends to the west and crosses Roycefield Road and comes to Roycefield Station. The station is significant for being the first railway post office in Hillsborough. Unfortunately, no photograph of the station - which burned down in 1909 - has yet been discovered but we can imagine it looked very much like the next station on the line - Flagtown.
|Possibly New Center, from the May 1911 issue of The Suburbanite|
|May 1911 issue of The Suburbanite|
|May 1911 issue of The Suburbanite|
|South Branch track in 1976 approaching the LVRR underpass.|
|Neshanic Station Bridge|
|Neshanic Station circa 1913, three years after the fire.|
A devastating fire in September 1910 destroyed most of the station complex at Neshanic but spared the station building itself. The area was soon rebuilt as can be seen in the postcard image above.
|Neshanic Station circa 1915|
|Undated photo published 3 May 1990, Courier News|
|September 1927 "Monthly Scholar's Ticket"|
|1925 CNJ Timetable|
These two stations - essentially large sheds - were places for commuters to get out of the rain or a spot to meet family arriving for a summer holiday in the country.
|Photograph courtesy of Dean Vliet|
The route between Neshanic Station and Three Bridges was said to be some of the prettiest country in "The Foothills" and the scenery was featured several times in The Suburbanite.
|April 1907 issue of The Suburbanite|
|July 1908 issue of The Suburbanite|
After leaving Higginsville it's just a one-mile ride to Three Bridges. Not as big a center of commerce as Neshanic Station, Three Bridges nonetheless boasted a station comparable to its big brother up the line.
|Three Bridges station|
When passenger and freight traffic on the line began to drop off in the 1920s due to the widespread use of automobiles and trucks, the CNJ asked the transportation authorities for permission to reduce the schedule, even going so far as to subsidize a bus company to run a parallel route.
|The bridge spanning the South Branch Raritan River near Flemington|
By the 1930s there was just one passenger train running each day in each direction. And the locomotive that pulled into Flemington after World War II was likely pulling just two cars - one passenger and one combination passenger/baggage.
Passenger service came to an end on the South Branch on April 24, 1953. Instead of the usual half dozen commuters, 125 people boarded in Somerville that day for the final trip to Flemington.
|Station stop at Neshanic Station on the final passenger run of the South Branch Railroad.|
Doris Duke, who was contemptuous of the railroad route through her property - especially after passenger and then freight traffic had ceased and the rails were removed in 1981 - erected barriers of barbed wire and 10-foot high earthen mounds across the right-of-way preventing Central Jersey Industries, the owners of the railroad assets after the CNJ's bankruptcy and reorganization, from maintaining their property. When the former railroad's assets were up for auction a few years later, she was able to purchase the property outright.
The Black River & Western Railroad operates over the last remaining part of the railroad between Three Bridges and Flemington, taking advantage of an interchange with the Norfolk Southern Railroad (formerly Lehigh Valley) at Three Bridges to service industries between there and Flemington.