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RAILROAD HISTORY - PORT MORRIS NEW JERSEY

    
The Railroad Roundhouse at Port Morris, NJ, circa 1895 - 1900

Railroads played a big part in the development of Roxbury Township, NJ, and the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Line,
later know as the Erie Lackawanna, was central to life in Port Morris for the last 125 years. A Train Yard and Roundhouse were
built  by 1869, and both increased in size over the next 30 years as rail traffic grew. The Roundhouse was active through WW2,
after which train traffic entered a decline.

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Coal transport from Pennsylvania to the cities further east was a big part of went on at the yard. The coal cars at upper left
could be tilted to the side and the coal quickly dumped. Much of the space underneath the tracks was for coal storage.


Although the Locomotive is circa 1870, smaller, older machines were used for short hauls around the coal yard till the 1930s.

 

 


Rail yard crew at Port Morris Roundhouse, circa 1905


This 1948 aerial shows why Port Morris had the nickname, 'Smokey City". Lake Musconetcong is toward the bottom of photo.

 


Double Steam Locomotive pulling coal cars through the Port Morris rail yard in 1940. The iconic yard Tower is seen at right

by the website editor M. Balston (with sources listed below)

The history of Port Morris, New Jersey is intertwined with the histories of Landing, Lake Hopatcong,  Netcong/Stanhope, Roxbury Township and Morris County. In this short overview we will focus on Port Morris, while understanding how these communities were interrelated.

1850's -- The tracks of the Morris and Essex Railroad (taken over by the Lackawanna in 1868) are laid through the area around 1853, on the route between Morristown and Hackettstown. In the Port Morris area they ran roughly parallel to the route of the Morris Canal. No station is built in Landing or Port Morris. Passengers going to the area left the train at the Drakesville (now Ledgewood) crossing.

1857 -- The Morris and Essex Railroad announce increased service on their Newark to Hackettstown Line, now with an official stop in Port Morris.

1860's -- Port Morris has a large building that served as a Boarding House for Railway workers. A train yard now starts to form, and in 1869 the oldest part of the Roundhouse was built by the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company, newly enlarged by it's takeover of the Morris & Essex Railroad.

1873 -- The DL & W builds a row of 12 houses for it's workers south of the railroad tracks. These houses, along with the Roundhouse, would firm up the position of Port Morris as a major Railway hub in these early years. Eight of these houses still (2008) stand in their original location on Kings Highway.

1875 -- On March 29, 1875 the Port Morris Post Office was established with Ira Mowery as Postmaster. Also in 1875 a Methodist Sunday School was organized for the children of the Railway Workers, numbering 20 students who met in a small building built onto the rear of the Railway Roundhouse. By October, Sunday afternoon services of the newly organized Port Morris Methodist Church began. Services were initially held in the same room used for Public School during the week. Not until 1892 would the Methodists construct their own building.

1880 -- During 1880 the amount of Iron Ore carried by the boats on the Morris Canal was 108,000 tons. With a boat normally carrying seventy tons, over 1,540 boat loads were needed to move this cargo. When you consider that the Canal did not "run" on Sunday and during the coldest part of the winter (frozen water), those 1,540 boat loads had to be moved over a span of less than 270 days, an average of over 6 boats of Iron Ore per day, beside all the other commodity boatloads. This was the last "big" year for Canal shipping. Things changed greatly in 1881 when much of the Canal Iron Ore business was lost when the Central Railroad of New Jersey took over the Ogden Mine Railroad and connected it to the Central's High Bridge Branch in 1881. Commercial shipping on the Canal would dwindle during the next 2 decades, the quicker railroads having taken much of the business. Port Morris would shift over these decades from being 'Canal-centered' to being 'Railway-centered'.

THE RAILROAD TAKES OVER
1880's -- Many Port Morris residents work in the Railway Industry as employees of the "Morris and Essex Railroad", which was later acquired by the "Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad". A detailed 1887 map of Port Morris (above) shows a large Railway "Roundhouse". These two decades were a time of expansion and population growth for Port Morris, with an increasing number of stores, a Post Office and a school. In the early 1880's the New Jersey Central Railroad built a Passenger Station at  Drakesville (modern day Ledgewood). Horse drawn carriages would then take people up the bumpy road to Lake Hopatcong.  By 1887 the Landing/Lake Hopatcong Railway Station on the Lackawanna Line was built.

1890's -- An 1895 Atlas listed the population of Port Morris as 233, but that probably failed to count the many transient Railway workers who lived in town.
This era also saw the blossoming of Lake Hopatcong as the Summer Resort of choice by both the wealthy and the newly middle-class. People came to enjoy the cool "mountain air" afforded by the one thousand foot elevation of the Lake, a welcome summertime relief from the sweltering cities. Many would come up for the weekend and stay in one of the Hotels or rooming houses that sprang up around the Lake. Most everyone traveled to the Lake via Train, disembarking either at the  Central Railway of New Jersey Station at Nolans Point or at the Landing Station of the Lackawanna Railroad. The great increase in Lackawanna rail traffic benefited Port Morris.

1910 -- The "Lackawanna Cut-off" is constructed across New Jersey in 1910, it is a Railway Engineering marvel, running on a level plane from Port Morris to the Delaware River. Instead of following the contours of the land, it uses massive amounts of fill, rock cuts and long bridges to traverse valleys, creating a level road to the Delaware River, cutting hours off the trip for the many trains coming in from the Anthracite fields of Pennsylvania, as well as passenger trains. Many immigrants from Italy had moved to the area to take advantage of the employment provided by this massive project. The two large arch bridges which still stand and cross Center Street in Port Morris are the starting point. Many new brick homes are constructed in Port Morris at this time, housing the conductors and other personal working on the increasingly busy Railroad.

1920's --  The rail yard expands to it's largest size, with an enlarged semi-circle Roundhouse of 23 stalls and a 90-foot turntable bridge to handle the mammoth Steam Locomotives. The nickname "Smokey City" is now applied to Port Morris, due to the Steam Engine traffic in the train yard with belching smoke stacks.

1941-1945 -- Trains full of Tanks and other military hardware were a common sight during World War 2, heading toward the ports in Newark & New York. Old timers tell of seeing armed guards in the rail yard, especially when gold bullion and other valuables were shipped through.

THE MODERN ERA
1940's-1950's -- The Rail Yard continued to bustle along, with many Railway employees making their home here, although the amount of rail traffic through Port Morris steadily declined after World War 2. During this time the old Steam Engines were being retired, with Diesels taking their place.

1960's-present -- Through the 1990's the Port Morris train yard had a series of renovations to become a Coach Yard for New Jersey Transit Commuter Trains. At present, Port Morris has about 1,000 residents.

2021, 2024 , LandingNewJersey.com and M. Balston. Much of the material here was personally compiled by the Editor over a period of 10 years of assembling local memorabilia. Please do not reproduce or use on another website without permission.

Information for this page came from a variety of sources, including:

Beck, Henry C. "TALES AND TOWNS OF NORTHERN NEW JERSEY". 1964. Rutgers University Press.
Hosking, Annie S. & Meeker, Harriet  "THE HISTORY OF ROXBURY TOWNSHIP" Vol. I & II  Roxbury  Township Historical Society
Lewis Publishing,  "Biographical History of Morris County New Jersey".  1914
Munsell, W.W.  "History of Morris County, New Jersey",  1882
Murray, Stuart A.P.  "HISTORY OF HOPATCONG BOROUGH" , 1976 Hopatcong Bicentennial Committee
Seraly, Ruthann & Lyman, Frances; "OLD HOMES OF ROXBURY TOWNSHIP", Roxbury Township Historical Society
Thompson, Mary Wolfe. "THEODORE FRELINGHUYSEN WOLFE", 1961, privately published
The Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum,   PO Box 668,  Landing, New Jersey  07850
"THE LAKE HOPATCONG BREEZE" - September, 1979.
Waldron, Robert. Long time Port Morris resident and historic researcher.

If you know Port Morris history and want to have your comment about this page posted, you can
E-Mail us at  Editor@LandingNewJersey.com

2019, 20024 LandingNewJersey.com and M. Balston. 

Click for a Personal account by Sal Valentino of growing up in Port Morris

NEW !!  Click for a History of the Red Men Tribe Fraternal Lodge in Port Morris

NEW !!  Click for a Selection of vintage family photos from Port Morris

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