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28 Walnut Street
Madison, NJ 07940 (map)
LOOKING BACK COLUMN
This year, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the elevation of the railroad, a look back is in order.
Madison’s first railroad ran along Kings Road just south of Hillside Cemetery. It was completed by Morris & Essex Railroad in October,1837. The one small, horse-drawn car held about eighteen passengers inside, and a dozen more on the top. Soon the horse-drawn cars were replaced by a little locomotive called the “Orange.” One year later it was replaced by the “Essex,” which traveled on iron straps nailed to timber. During the summer heat, the straps were likely to curl up and were called “snake-heads.” One man on the train was given a keg of spikes and a hammer with which to hammer down the “snake-heads.” This design was replaced by the more familiar iron rails in 1841.
During this period the tracks ran down Kings Road behind the current houses on the south side of the street. A flat section of land is still visible in some of the backyards. At the intersection of Kings Road and Samson Avenue, the tracks made a sweeping curve almost down to Main Street just below Kings Road. Again, if you look closely, you can see a flat section behind the corner house. The tracks continued on to Union Avenue and down Essex Place, named for the Morris & Essex Railroad, and on into Chatham.
In 1864 a wood-burning locomotive named “Madison” was purchased and ran until 1880 when a second “Madison” carried commuters from Madison to Newark. Called the “Millionaire’s Express” due to the wealth of most of the commuters, it continued operation until 1905. A scale model of this locomotive is on display at the Madison Public Library.
However, as the years went by, the rails became busier and the routes became unsafe. Accidents between horse-drawn carriages and locomotives were frequent and it became obvious that something had to change.
On September 21, 1914, Borough Council authorized the elevation of the railroad tracks. The project caused major upheaval: businesses had to be vacated, streets had to be rerouted, houses had to be moved or demolished, and temporary tracks had to be laid. Tons of soil had to be removed from the steep Union Hill section, with over 600,000 yards of dirt transported to Prospect Street, Green Avenue and Green Village Road to be used for embankments.
With more commuters using the trains it became obvious that a larger depot was needed. Mrs. D. Willis James, who financed most of the expense of the road grading, was also instrumental in financing the building of the railroad station which opened in 1916. In1984 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. by Helene Corlett