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The Morris & Essex Railroad

The Morris & Essex railroad was the third railroad to plan a route across the state from New York to Pennsylvania. Following the Camden & Amboy and the Elizabethtown & Somerville, it didn't exactly get the best choice for the route.

The charter was filed in 1835. The route selected was a much more difficult crossing then the minimal grades encountered in the center part of the state. The railroad surveyed a route starting from Newark and heading west across the state toward Dover. As each section was built, the M&E negotiated for better rates rather then searching for better grades. Little by little the railroad crossed the state from Newark through the Oranges then onto Summit, Chatham, Morristown and finally reaching Dover in 1848.

The M&E's first trains started running on the eastern end in 1836. These first trains, like most of this era were horse drawn. The M&E didn't start running under steam until a year later. Its first engine was built in New Jersey, not England like they were a decade earlier. This engine was named The Orange.

After reaching Dover, the M&E briefly paused, before continuing towards its ultimate goal: The Coal Fields of Pennsylvania. It then built west to Hackettstown were it turned southwest toward the Delaware River and Phillipsburg. The M&E finally reached the Delaware in 1865.

With the mainline finally completed, the M&E then looked toward the iron mines in Morris Country. First lines were built to tap the mines in Newton and Andover. A branch from Newark to Bloomfield was built at the same time. In 1867, the Boontown branch was built.

On the eastern end, things were not proceeding as smoothly. The M&E still ended here and had no route of its own into the lucrative New York markets. To continue on, the M&E would need to cross the Passaic. Help came from the Steven's family of Hoboken. Edwin Steven realized that he could weaken the New Jersey Railroad by strengthening the M&E, and in the process, increase the value of his holdings on the Hudson.

While Stevens built west out of Hoboken, a bridge was built over the Passaic River. Finally, in 1862, the M&E reached its eastern end in Hoboken. The final piece of construction was the Boonton branch, mentioned above.

The Morris & Essex ended its life as an independent entity on 12/31/1868. On this date, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western railroad leased the M&E forever. Of course forever ended in 1976...but that is another story.

However, the impressive legacy of this railroad is very visible today. While very few artifacts of the original M&E remain, anyone who takes a train out of Hoboken today can look at the departure board and see the name "Morris & Essex". The former mainline of the M&E is now a four-track (sometimes) commuter railroad from Hoboken to Dover operated by New Jersey Transit.

Morris & Essex Railroad: 1835-1868

(c) 1997 - Phil Paone