Mahwah Museum is now CLOSED for the Summer.
We will reopen in September 2019 with three new exhibits highlighting the 50th anniversary of Ramapo College’s creation, Palisades Park Amusement Park and Mahwah’s 75th anniversary, since its split from Ho-Ho-Kus Township.
Please check back in the fall for more information about these upcoming exhibits.
The Donald Cooper Model RR and Les Paul in Mahwah are permanent exhibits and will reopen in September.
The Donald Cooper Model Railroad
CURRENTLY CLOSED FOR THE SUMMER.
The Museum’s Donald Cooper Railroad is an operating HO-Scale model railroad with many trains traveling between levels and on different routes. Centralized electronic switches allow the operator to control the entire layout from the DCC central control panels. The railroad yard is fully functional allowing operators to make up trains and dispatch them to their own destinations. The four-level high layout has three independent scenic modules that are constantly changing, as well as a trolley, a subway system, logging station, waterfall, roundhouse and turntable. We invite engineers of all ages to come and visit our ever-changing and growing railroad world. The Donald Cooper Model Railroad is CURRENTLY CLOSED THE THE SUMMER. For information about joining the train crew, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 201-512-0099.
Please note: the DCMRR is not a free train display (admission is free only for members of the museum) and it is not a train ride.
Les Paul in Mahwah
CURRENTLY CLOSED THE THE SUMMER.
Mahwah Museum has a small permanent exhibit featuring some Les Paul history which allows visitors to learn the essential facts of Les Paul’s life and career. It has sections on his inventions and innovations, a display of one-of-a-kind precious guitars made especially for Les, and a re-creation of the studio in which Les did his work. Learn how this creative genius transformed rock, country and jazz music. See how he and Mary Ford performed for their weekly radio show from their home in Mahwah.
Mahwah Museum receives operating support from the New Jersey Historical Commission in the Department of State.
Any Youngs, Hagermans, Bodines out there?
The Mahwah Museum archives are processing a large collection of photographs from the Martha Young Kuklinski Collection which document the lives of J. Frank Young (1905-1960) and Henrietta Morriss Young (1909-1984) and their families, ranging 1910-1940s. There are also some older historical family photographs. Henrietta Morriss’ mother was Bessie Hagerman and she lived with Andrew Hagerman. The photos from this branch of the family are fairly well labeled. The photographs of the Youngs, who came from Tallman, often have no labels at all. J. Frank Young’s mother was Anne Jane Bodine and his father was John Franklin Young. His siblings were Alta, Freda, and John Young. If you can help up put names to faces, it would make this collection much more useful to researchers.
Theodore Havemeyer (Suzanne Meyer Stein Collection, Mahwah Museum)
Three generations of Havemeyers were inventors. As you know, Theodore A. Havemeyer came to Mahwah in 1879 and established Mountain Side Farm, much of which is Ramapo College. He died in 1897. Although Theodore had nine children only his sons, Henry O. Havemeyer and Frederick C. Havemeyer, continued a presence in Mahwah. Henry O. Havemeyer died in 1965 but his son, Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. continued to live here until his death in 1992. The house in which Henry Jr. lived became the home of the President of Ramapo College. Theodore, Henry O., and Henry O., Jr. were all inventors.
Theodore Havemeyer’s Sugar Mold Carriage patent
Theodore A. Havemeyer, born in 1839, had only a grammar school education but joined the family sugar business as a partner in 1861. He was the technological expert in the family and an early age had spent a year in Europe studying the sugar refining process. In 1862 he and a man named Schnitzpan patented a new and improved carriage for sugar molds. He was a partner in Havemeyers & Elder, which was an integral part of the Sugar Trust. In his later years in Mahwah he was a patron of many agricultural and scientific societies that were advancing the technology of agriculture. He was on the forefront of ensilage– to generate feed for his cows—the breeding of cows to improve milk production, and the breeding of fantail pigeons for show.
Henry O. Havemeyer (On loan from the Mahwah Library)
Theodore Havemeyer’s son, Henry O. Havemeyer, dropped out of Yale in 1897 after the death of his father and became an apprentice at the family sugar business. He returned to Yale and graduated as a proud member of the Class of 1900. The Ramsey Journal reported in 1906 that he had gotten a speeding ticket in his newfangled automobile. So it is appropriate that he was the inventor of a license plate holder that could be flipped over so that it had the plate of one state on one side and the plate of another state on the reverse. Henry O. Havemeyer was not merely a playboy, however. He was the president of the Eastern District Terminal in Brooklyn which had been spun off from the family’s sugar business. He became an officer and later the long time president of the Eastern District Terminal. The Eastern District Terminal was the gateway for all railroads coming from the west and seeking to be in Brooklyn or Long Island. It was also the only way in which refined and packaged sugar could get from the Domino refinery in Brooklyn to the west. They had to come through these yards and be moved by small locomotives like these. It would be up to Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. – who also worked for the company – to make some important advances.
Havemeyer House (Courtesy Dater Family Archives)
There were no tunnels under the Hudson River so railroad cars were barged or lightered over from the yards of Jersey City, Bayonne or Hoboken, to the Eastern District Terminal and then transferred to the industries or railroads in Brooklyn. To get one or more railroad cars across the river, there was a floating bridge connected to the tracks on the shore. The barge connected to the water side of the bridge. There were tracks on the barge to accept the car being transported. You can imagine how difficult it must have been to transfer a fully loaded railroad car from tracks on the bridge to the tracks on the rolling barge. There were constant mishaps and derailments. The invention of Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr., filed in 1925 when he was 22 years old, improves on the way that the rails on the bridge and barge could be aligned to make derailments rare. Henry O. Havemeyer, Jr. lived in the house we today call the Havemeyer House and had a number of other inventions to improve railroad transportation.
Henry O. Havemeyer’s License plate design
(Thomas Dunn Collection)
Henry O. Havemeyer Jr.’s patent design
Fitzwilliam Sargent was called the “father of brake-shoe engineering” and he obtained multiple patents for improvement of railroad brake shoes. He was born in 1859 in Philadelphia and attended Lehigh University where he graduated in 1879 with a Civil Engineering degree. He came to Mahwah (then Hohokus Township) in 1902 as the chief engineer of the American Brake Shoe and Foundry Company.
After joining American Brake Shoe, he built a large home on 5 acres off Olney Road. The house had all the latest improvements of the day, including electric lights and steam heat.
In 1935 the Board of Directors of American Brakeshoe built an up-to-date testing facility to keep up with the progress of the railroad industry. The building was named the F.W. Sargent Laboratory Building and from the opening of the building to the date of his death at the age of 80 he went to work as often as possible. The picture below shows his first invention, which he had done before he came to Brakeshoe, of a machine for testing brakeshoes. During his career, he had many patents relating to the improvement of brakeshoes. His last patent was issued to him in 1934 at age 75. The invention created a system of reinforcing a brake shoe so that, if the body of the shoe broke, it could continue in service and not need to be replaced as quickly.
- Oweno Road home of Fitzwilliam Sargent.
- Sargent’s first invention
- F.W. Sargent Building
Photos from Fitzwilliam Sargent Greene, `A Tribute to the Life of Fitzwilliam Sargent” (Mahwah Museum Library, 2013.17.072)
This unattributed article was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in October 1981.
A recent story in our newsletter about the Theusen House, later the Education Center, that had been a landmark in Cragmere Park for’ many years was of particular interest to Charles E. Ellis Jr. who still lives in the house his parents built back in 1915.
“Just north of our house at the corner of Armour and Mahwah Roads stands the ruin of the Miller Reservoir whose overflow was the water that fed Oweno Pond. The reservoir next to our house was supplied with spring water by the Miller acquaduct which-crosses the northeast corner of our property and flowed without interruption from about 1875-1978.”
“The water from the reservoir fed the dairy cooling brick double-arched structure whose ruin can still be seen’on Malcolm Road across from the Betsy Ross School. The stream continued to flow west through the Theusen place and fed Oweno lake,” explains Mr. Ellis.
The Ellis family, who had rented their home while at the shore, once stayed temporarily in Mrs. Theusen’s Boarding House until their house tenants moved out. “I remember particularly the afternoon sun shining across the clean white table cloths of the dining room and sparkling on the well-silver (plate) on the tables being set up for the evening meal by young waitresses in black skirts, stockings and shoes, , and white starched blouses with collars. On their heads, they wore some sort of white starched fabric head piece common to the day. A jolly scene, prim and clean, and complete with flowers”, Mr. Ellis said.
Oweno Lake was designed for ice making, as well as ornament. It was located just east of Oweno Road near the corner of Mahwah Road where the baseball field is at Betsy Ross School. It was served by an iron conveyor belt and chains, running from the ice house to the lake. However, the conveyor had ceased operation and was a rusting ruin when Mr. Ellis was just a young boy.
The stream feeding the lake ran into a ditch, still seen today, under the conveyor, now removed, and featured watercress in season.
The building at the north end of the lake was not the “Summer House” but was a boathouse without windows, according to Mr. Ellis. It was from there that Hiawatha, a beautiful darkhaired maiden played by the late Mrs. Euroka Bugg, would annually set out in a white canoe at the Cragmere Association’s yearly Forth of July celebration.
Mr. Ellis concludes “The summer house, so called, was an octagonal roofed and floored open structure on a little island in Oweno Lake at the east side of it near the lake intake. It was reached by an arched bridge which can be seen in photographs of the Miller Estate in the Mahwah Public Library.”
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable” in October 1981.
The Term “Floating Teeth” is still in use today and the tool for doing it is still called a “float”. It is a coarse single cut file used to rasp rough or irregular edges of a horse’s teeth. Unless done when necessary the horse’s mouth.would develop sores, he would go off his feed and food would be inadequately chewed. Among the local farmers in earlier times there were a few who were skillful in floating. After wedging the mouth open (securely) the job could be done quickly. A hundred years ago the term would not have puzzled anybody.
From Country Home Antiques.
Another tool not seen around today is the mill bill. Every grist mill operator was familiar with the tool and knew the tedious and painstaking work involved in using it. It consisted of two parts. The “thrift” looked somewhat like half of a squared rolling pin with a hole cut through the roller part to accommodate an iron or steel bit held in place with a wedge. The instrument was used to deepen the worn furrows in millstones. A dull stone was said to destroy the quality of the grain resulting in a sticky product in the baking process. Both. the nether (lower) and the runner (upper) had furrows chisled in them which initially served to rip away from the center to the outer edge and admitted air to prevent a dangerous build up of heat. The actual grinding was done by the flat surface between the furrows called the “land”. Both terms are typically agriculturally oriented. As the surface and edges became worn the mill bill was used to restore the depth of the furrow and angle by chipping the stone. Mr. Ackerman of Wyckoff Ave. worked in the family grist mill and well remembers working on the stone.
A mill stone at the Plimoth Plantation.
The Ackerman grist mill was located near the outlet of the pond on Wyckoff Ave. It was originally owned by Alyea. Since Wyckoff Ave. used to run on the west,side of the pond the door was located on that side. The grain was taken down a ramp and under an endless chain of buckets that lifted it to the hopper in the upper part of the mill. Power was provided by water turning an undershot wheel.
Old grinding stones were made of local materials. Granite was a favorite and was used in the Ackerman mill. Elsewhere a quartz shot sandstone was used or more expensive burr stone which came from Europe in pieces that had to be filled, cemented together and then banded with hoops. Early millstones have been found in which the furrows were cut in spirals but most of the stones were cut with straight furrows. The patterns varied. When the milled flour fell from the furrows it was caught in a finely woven cloth sieve which was rapidly agitated. Wooden shovels were used to move the flour because of the danger of combustion.
This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “Old Station Timetable,” in February 1982.
Richard Snow is on the tax rolls of Woburn, Mass. in 1645. A record of his will is recorded 1676, and he died in 1677. It is believed he arrived in the Colonies in 1935 as a young man on the sailing ship, Enterprise. He is the progenitor of a vast family network that is scattered across the country, as far as Texas and California. A great number of the early family members were born and lived around Colrain, Mass. In 184), Asaph Snow was born, he enlisted at the age of 18 and fought through several campaigns during the Civil War. After the war, he stayed in the south working as a United States claims agent. While stationed at Camp Dennison in Ohio during his training, he married Teresa McKinney and they lived in Tazewell, Tenn. where he was the postmaster. He died on his farm nearby in 1899.
His son, Elmer John Snow, was born in Tazewell in 1869. He came to Hillburn, N.Y. in 1884 to work for the Ramapo Iron Works owned by a relative, William Wait Snow (1828-1910). This firm manufactured car wheels and other railroad devices. Mr. Snow also bound the first Webster Dictionary! Naturally, Elmer John Snow met W.W. Snow’s daughter, Clara Amanda, and married her in 1892. The iron works later became the Ramapo Wheel and Foundry Company.
W.W. Snow had been trained in the foundry business since boyhood, working for various employers in Massachusetts. With financial backing, he started his own business near the Hudson River and later bought land from the Suffern family in Hillburn. This included a mill, 20 houses and a store, and that is how the town of Hillburn started.
The Worthington Pump Company employed Elmer John in 1899 to put up a large pumping station in Hawaii. Returning to the mainland, he again joined his father-in-law serving as superintendent in charge of design and construction for a new brake shoe factory -now known as Abex – and part of Illinois Central. As director and a member of the board, he had a great deal to do with the growth and prosperity of the business. The Snow houses in Hillburn were destroyed when the N.Y. Thruway was built.
Mrs. Peter D. Ash (Oliver Snow) lived in a house off Miller Road, now in the Oak Hill Estates in Mahwah, N.J. Of her sons, Peter is living near Mt. Snow in Vermont and, Charles lives in Litchfield, Conn. A home on Olney Road, once occupied by Elmer Snow, is still in the family. Mr. Howard D. MacPherson, whose late wife was Mildred Snow. lives there now. She was a great-granddaughter of W.W. Snow.
The Snow family recognized the poverty and deprived conditions under which the mountain people lived years ago. They were forefront in starting a school on the mountain, a one room building with a huge fireplace. A nurse, Miss Mack lived in a comfortable house not far from the school. She provided medical help to the neglected families. Her expenses were paid by the family.
Although the Snow family is no longer prominent in local affairs as “Snow”, the line is carried on under other family names. These include MacPherson, Bristow and Vilmar, just to name three of them. Another great-granddaughter, Mrs. Dorothy Snow Vilmar, lives in her uncle’s house (Homer H. Snow) on Mahwah Road. Her sister, Eugenia Snow Averill, lives in Willbraham. Mass. Her brother’s (Douglas Snow 1934-73) children live in the New Paltz, N.Y. area. How many more area residents can trace their heritage back to William Wait Snow?
This unattributed article was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in Fall 1987.
Following his retirement from office in 1857, N.J. Governor Rodman Price and his family moved to Mahwah in 1862 and established a dairy farm, “Hazelwood on the Ramapo.” Price became so involved in farm machinery and the ensilage system of feeding cows that the American Agriculture and Dairy Association called him a leading agriculturist. In 1866, he owned 250 acres, which later increased to 400. Hazelwood was one of the earlier large estates in the Ramapo Valley, noted for its beautiful gardens and European art and furnishings. Price remodeled the house in 1881 and the “Bergen Democrat” wrote, “It is a magnificent place.”
The map at right, from the 1876 “Atlas of Bergen County,” shows Price’s home, west of the Ramapo Valley Road and Ramapo River. To the north is “Valley Farm,” (near the intersection of Ramapo Valley Road and present-day Darlington Ave,), owned by A.B. Darling, who came to Mahwah in 1872. Further north, the properties of Bockee and Petry eventually became part of Theodore Havemeyer’s “Mountain Side Farm.” Havemeyer came in 1878.
Price died in 1894, and his wife Matilda in 1897. Eventually, the property was annexed to the Kohler estate to the north. The house was rented out and fell into disrepair. In 1942, Hazelwood and part of the Kohler estate were acquired by Fred and Margaret Wehran. who named the property “Sun Valley Farm.” They removed the third floor of the house and substantially remodeled it. In 1964, the house was torn down and replaced by another.
The photo above is from a 1942 “Previews” real estate brochure (collection of Carol Greene), and is the only photograph of the original Price home known to exist. Badly damaged and written on, it was restored by Sieglinde Lehmann of Oakland.
This article, by Dick Greene, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in Fall 1987.
Blandina Bayard, Mahwah’s first recorded non-Indian settler, the Hoppers, and the Dutch and English farmers that followed, had a very local market for their harvested crops, livestock and dairy products. After satisfying their family’s need for sustenance, residual products were traded or bartered with other settlers or at local trading and general stores. Erskine’s “Belgrove Store”, near the original Lutheran church on Moffat Road, did a brisk business with local farmers.
Farm products were hard to transport over rutted, muddy roads, and markets were often over a day away. Settlements along the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers had the advantage of water transport, but the scenic Ramapo offered inadequate depth for anything larger than a canoe.
The coming of the NEW YORK AND ERIE RAILWAY to New Antrim (Suffern) and “Ramapo (Iron) Works” gave a new method of transport to New York City via the railroad’s boat dock and steamship line at Piermont on the Hudson River, south of Nyack. Local farmers began to expand their production for shipment of cash crops over the tracks of the new Iron Horse.
The young PATERSON AND HUDSON RIVER RAILROAD commissioned George Allen as its chief engineer and surveyor with. the task of charting and building a railroad line from the company’s terminus in bustling Paterson to the New York State line in the Mahwah section of the then Hohokus Township, just one mile short of a connection with the NY&E (ERIE) at Suffern’s Tavern in New Antrim. Service began in 1848, connecting Mahwah with Jersey City over the tracks of several railroads.
The New York State Charter of the NY&E prohibited its leaving the boundary of the Empire State. An exception was made along the Delaware River west of Port Jervis where terrain mandated use of the opposite bank, but no station-stops were allowed. The NY&E terminals were at Piermont- on the Hudson, and Dunkirk- on Lake Erie, where the line connected with steamboats which provided regularly scheduled shipping of freight and passengers.
These water connections allowed great flexibility of distribution up and down the Hudson River, over the Great Lakes and throughout the extensive barge canal system which the railroads were to doom to oblivion. Dependence upon water routes slowed travel to a point of placing the NY&E at a competitive disadvantage when parallel railroad lines were constructed by the PENNSYLVANIA RR and Vanderbilt’s amalgamation of small upstate lines into his NEW YORK AND HARLEM RIVER RR, to form the gigantic NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM.
Passengers traveling east or west soon earned that connections by stage coach could be made between Mahwah and Suffern’s that could cut several hours off the longer boat ride on the Hudson.
Giving in to public pressure, the New York Legislature approved a mile-long line to connect “Suffern’s Tavern” to “Mahwah” — THE UNION RAILROAD COMPANY. By 1852, the NY&E had reduced traffic to Piermont to but one train each day, and the passenger steamboat was abandoned. Mahwah was now on the main line of a major railroad system connecting New York with Buffalo, then Chicago and the west.
September 10, 1852, saw the inception of the ERIE Lease of the PATERSON AND HUDSON RIVER RAILROAD (P&H) and its wholly owned subsidiary, the PATERSON AND RAMAPO RAILROAD (P&R). Things were not easy, as the ERIE had heretofore steadfastly clung to its broad gauge of 6′-0″ (the distance measured between the rail heads) while other roads, including the P&H (which had already converted from their original 4′-0″ gauge) and the P&R, utilized the accepted standard of 4′ 8-1/2″ — the width established by the Romans a millennium before as the gauge for all the carts used by their Legions, in order that they could follow in each others ruts.
A third rail was laid alongside the P&R tracks to accommodate the wider ERIE engines and rolling stock, while the acquired P&R and P&H cars and those of other railroads using “standard gauge” would use the original rails. The three rails remained from 1878 to 1881, when the conversion of the ERIE to “standard” was completed.
In 1854, the first “through train” from Jersey City to Buffalo steamed up P&H Chief Engineer George Allen’s track route without so much as a toot for Mahwah. Mahwah had no regularly scheduled “station stop” for passengers on the newly reorganized ERIE RAILWAY COMPANY timetables until 1874 — three years after the station was built, which obviously only handled traffic as a “flag stop” the train stopped when the stationmaster hung out a flag indicating a revenue pickup of either passengers or freight.
Local shipments of farm produce were handled at “Ramsey’s” and “Suffern’s” on the ERIE, with some Valley farmers finding it easier to go to Oakland and Fardale farmers to “Campgaw” on the NEW JERSEY MIDLAND RAILROAD. This line was incorporated in 1866 by the Wortendykes of Midland Park and promoted by Rodman Price of “Hazelwood on the Ramapo” (see accompanying article, this issue).
When an enterprising ERIE conductor from Goshen began bringing fresh milk to Jersey City in the baggage car to be sold across the River by a ferry boat captain, the milk industry all along the ERIE grew to tremendous proportions within a matter of years. The milk sold in New York had been “local” milk from tethered cows fed slops and washed fermented grain from breweries. The taste was reported as being “like drinking bad, white beer”. Fresh Jersey and Orange County (NY) milk tank cars were familiar sights on ERIE passenger trains into the mid-1950s.
The famous Sheffield Farms had their beginnings in Mahwah on Route 202 at what is now the Devonshire School. The Darling and Havermeyer farms delivered daily loads of milk to the depot in Mahwah, built in 1871 (now the Museum at 1871 Old Station Lane, across from Winter’s pond).
It wasn’t only outgoing shipments that improved life in Mahwah; but coal, lumber, kerosene, and goods from all over the country were brought right to, the front door of the Township at Winter’s Coalyard and Store, where the present Post Office now stands.
At the other end of the Valley, railroading was flouNew York and Orishing, also. New Jersey residents subscribed $100,000 to have the NJ MIDLAND pass through Hackensack which was accomplished in 1972. Within one year, interconnected trackage went as far as Ellenville, NY.
In 1880, the NJMRR combined with the NEW YORK & OSWEGO MIDLAND RR to provide owned-trackage to the north, into the rich blackdirt farmlands of Sussex (NJ) and Orange (NY) Counties. In 1881, the name was changed as a reelection of more grandiose plans, to the NEW YORK, SUSQUEHANNA AND WESTERN RR. The trains never went to New York, ending at Edgewater and Jersey City; nor did the trackage ever reach the waters of the Susquehanna River, much less anything western.
The Scranton area (Gravel Place) became the western extent of the NYS8.W tracks as coal from the mines of northeastern Pennsylvania quickly became the mainstay of the line’s revenue, but milk and fresh produce from New Jersey and Orange County dominated the fast trains that sped the goods to New York markets. The siding at Campgaw received produce in cars that were connected to passing milk trains and fast freights headed for interchange at Jersey City.
The NYS&W passed through many economic cycles over the years, being operated by the ERIE from 1898 onward, until spun off in the 1940s when coal and Jersey produce traffic waned. This began a downhill slide to near oblivion for the NYS&W, only to be revived in the past few years by its new owner, the DELAWARE & OTSWEGO RR, of Cooperstown, NY — those masters of operation of the short line. Container trains are now running the restored roadbed on a regular basis. “Peddler” freights deliver freight cars to a few industries along the line, but no longer are farm produce and dairy products loaded from the valley of the Ramapo.
It was the railroad that brought prosperity and improved standards of living to Mahwah’s farmers; and, eventually, it brought the commuter and the developer who bought up the farms, built homes and transformed the rural landscape of the 1880s into a suburb by 1950. ABEX, long Mahwah’s major industrial complex, was originally the “Ramapo Wheel and Iron Works”, building railway equipment parts. It later became “The American Brake Shoe Company”.
The single-track P&R line of George Allen (for whom Allendale is named) grew to the 4 track mainline of the “high and wide ERIE” by the turn of the century.
The ERIE, like most of the great iron roads of the east, fell into hard times at the hands of government regulation, taxation, union strife, and competition from highway trucking and airlines. The CONSOLIDATED RAIL SYSTEM — “ConRail” — has preserved most of the routes in New Jersey of the ERIE, the P&R and P&H, as its main line. Modern equipment, electronic signaling, long-welded rail, and renewed emphasis on speedy, efficient service has given the railroad industry new life. Renovation of trackage through Mahwah has been underway for three years. NEW JERSEY TRANSIT — RAIL OPERATIONS now operates the passenger service from Port Jervis through Suffern and Mahwah to Hoboken, and continues the tradition of the commuter that started over 100 years ago.
Those scenic farms in summer and the lonesome wail of the steam whistle on a still, cold night are now gone, but they will remain a wonderful memory and integral part of the history of Mahwah.
This article, written by Dick Greene, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in March 1984.
When the trees are bare and the wind is right, the blare of diesel horns from the Conrail mainline through Mahwah can be heard all the way to Fardale and into the Ramapo Valley.
For over 100 years, until the mid-1950s, the sound people heard was the mournful wail of the steam whistle, immortalized in Country and Western song and story.
Sparsely settled since the 1700s, Mahwah had its first real growth “boom” with the arrival of the Paterson and Ramapo Railroad in 1848, after the line pushed north from Ridgewood to Suffern. Why Suffern? Simple – because there the P&R could connect with the Erie Railroad Company which was building a line linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Great Lakes. The Erie was the culmination of a grand design by W. C. Redford for a railroad system from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River. Chartered by the State of New York in 1832, the Erie was an INTRAstate railroad and was not permitted to cross over the State’s boundaries as did the INTERstate New York Central.
The 446-mile Erie line was completed May 14, 1851, and ran from Piermont (on the Hudson) to Dunkirk (on Lake Erie). It was the longest railroad in the United States. The main drawback to the Erie was its eastern terminus at Piermont, where passengers and freight were shuttled on steamboats for 26 miles on the Hudson River to and from New York City.
To capitalize on this “inconvenience”, the operators of the Paterson and Hudson Railroad sought permission from the N.J. Legislature to extend their Jersey City to Paterson line from Paterson to the New York State border at New Antrim. New Antrim had a large and impressive station built by the Erie, which they called “Suffern Station”, after John Suffern. The hamlet, as well, soon changed its name to Suffern.
On October 19, 1848, the Paterson and Ramapo subsidiary of the Paterson and Hudson opened its service to the State line on a single track railroad surveyed and designed by John Allen, after whom Allendale is named.
There were only a few stations on the line: Suffern (actually in Mahwah, at the State line), Ramsey’s Station, Allendale, Ho-Ho-Kus, Godwinville and Paterson. Later, the Bergen County Railroad would connect the Paterson and Ramapo tracks at Ridgewood Junction to Hoboken.
With no real standards in use, railroad designers used various gauges- the width between the railheads. The Erie was built with a 6′-0″ gauge and the P&R with 4′-10″. At the time of construction, this mattered not, as no physical connection existed due to the INTRAstate nature of both lines.
Passengers and freight were transported by carriage and wagon for a mile between the two stations in the two states.