05 April 2021

Easton and Amboy - Lehigh Valley Railroad

Our story begins in 1851 when railroad entrepreneur Asa Packer became the majority stockholder in the stalled Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Susquehanna Railroad (DLS&S) and changed the name to Lehigh Valley Railroad. The DLS&S had been chartered in 1847 to move coal from Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley to Easton but had done little in four years besides some route surveying and grading. Packer brought financing and a bolder plan - to reach the lucrative metropolitan market of New York.

1908 LVRR Timetable
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

In the 1860s the LVRR used the Central Railroad of New Jersey's mainline through Hunterdon and Somerset Counties to reach the New Jersey ports. In 1871 the LVRR leased the Morris Canal in the hopes that a railroad line could be built along its right-of-way but the project proved unworkable. In 1872 the company purchased the charter of the unbuilt Perth Amboy and Bound Brook Railroad and added to that a charter for a new railroad from Easton to Bound Brook. They then combined the two roads into one company called the Easton and Amboy Railroad.

1908 LVRR System Map

It took three years to build the railroad - most of that time spent on a troublesome one-mile tunnel through the Musonetcong Mountain near Pattenburg. The construction itself was a boon to businesses along the line, including in Hillsborough where Andrew Lane's general store at the end of Mill Lane in Neshanic Mills took a contract with the railroad to supply the workmen with food, clothing, and other necessities.

Clockwise from top left,
Flemington Junction, Flemington Station,
Tracks into Three Bridges, Three Bridges Depot

After the Pattenburg tunnel, there were a half dozen stations to Flemington Junction. There a transfer could be made to go south into town. Part of Walter E. Foran Boulevard is built on the right-of-way of this short branch. After crossing the South Branch of the Raritan River, the train would pull into Three Bridges.

Scenes around Neshanic Station, top to bottom:
The creamery, approaching the station from the east, and the station.

From there it was just a short hop to Neshanic Station. For decades coal remained the LVRR's chief moneymaker, but they also served other businesses along the line such as the Neshanic Station Creamery and stockyards. Later, as we will see, passenger traffic became an important source of revenue. The station building was razed by the railroad in 1944 - long after passenger service was suspended at the station.

The old (top) and new (bottom) LVRR bridges
over the South Branch at Neshanic Station.
(Photographs courtesy of Carlene Kuhl)

The original bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River was completed in time for the Easton and Amboy Railroad to commence service on June 28, 1875. The first station in Neshanic was actually on the Hillsborough side of the river on the hill behind Andrew Lane's Mill Lane store. 

LVRR Flagtown Station
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The Lehigh Valley Railroad used a number of different designs for their stations, The one in Flagtown included an apartment on the second floor for the station agent. Today the old LVRR through Hunterdon and Somerset County is single-tracked - but when it opened in the 1870s it was double-tracked. In 1912 the railroad added a third and fourth track to most of the route and in Flagtown, with sidings, there were actually six sets of tracks!

Scene along the LVRR in Hillsborough circa 1900
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The railroad had a way of influencing the names of localities - and sometimes even Post Offices - along their path. In 1942, the LVRR changed the name of their freight station at Flagtown to Read Valley and lobbied the US Post Office to change the name of the Post Office - and thereby the village - to Read Valley. The Flagtown Board of Trade, led by George Farley, vigorously opposed the change.

The Royce Valley - South Somerville Station
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Hillsborough residents usually referred to the section of the township along what is now Route 206 as South Somerville. When the railroad built their station there in the 1870s they consequently called it South Somerville. Later in the last century, they renamed it Royce Valley as can be seen in the photo above.

Scene along the LVRR tracks near present-day Manville
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Railroads of a century ago needed constant maintenance and regularly employed work crews who lived in designated "camps" along the line. One such camp in Hillsborough was near Camplain Road (originally Camp Lane - a name that derived from its purpose). Residents tolerated the camps pretty well until 1944 when overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and general rowdiness - including criminal behavior - were brought to the attention of the township committee who began a legal battle to have the camp either cleaned up or moved.

The old (top) and new (bottom)
Hillsboro - Manville Stations
(Borrowed from ManvilleHistory.com)

Before there was a Manville, New Jersey, the station stop in that part of Hillsborough was called "Hillsboro". In 1912 - after the Johns-Manville company relocated their plant to the township, Hillsboro Station became the destination for hundreds of families from the Pennsylvania "coal country" recruited to work and live in the new town of Manville.

The LVRR Bound Brook Station

Although hauling coal from Pennsylvania to the coal docks in Perth Amboy was a lucrative business, what was really needed was a terminal closer to New York. In 1887 the LVRR began construction of a terminal in Jersey City on land acquired in the Morris Canal deal and on a classification yard at Oak Island. To reach the terminal, they built the Roselle and South Plainfield Railroad which could connect with the Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks at Roselle.

The LVRR New Market Station

Eventually, the LVRR completed its own route from Roselle to Jersey City by constructing five separate railroads. The complete line from Easton to the Jersey City waterfront was finally completed in 1895.

The John Wilkes at South Plainfield

With the line finished, the LVRR was ready to compete in the high-speed passenger business. On May 18, 1896, the Black Diamond Express passenger train left Jersey City at 12:14 pm and arrived in Buffalo, New York at 10 pm reaching speeds as high as 70mph. 

Although neither the Black Diamond Express nor the John Wilkes stopped at any of the local stations, they must have been a sight for residents! 

Few railroads survived the bankruptcies, failures, and mergers of the 1960s and 1970s. Today, Norfolk Southern operates the freight line from Easton to Manville while Conrail Shared Assets controls the Manville to Newark route.

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