The Mahwah Historical Society History
By John Y. Dater, The Old Station Timetable, May 1978
This is a short history of the Mahwah Historical Society. Back In 1965 the old 1871 railroad station stood end to E. Ramapo Ave. under the high voltage line of the local power company, and they wanted it moved or razed because of the potential hazard.
It was no longer used as a storehouse by the man who had moved it there in 1902 when the Erie went from 2 tracks to 4 and had to relocate the station. Former Mayor, Morris Ruddick suggested that a society be formed to move and restore the old building which was still structurally sound. This idea bore fruit in the spring of 1965, and the Mahwah Historical Society came into being.
The author of this account, John Y. Dater, although not a resident of Mahwah, along with this wife, was invited to join. The occasion was a meeting in the fall of 1966 when the above-named brought a collection of H. O. Havemeyer papers they had acquired that spring.
A new foundation for the station was installed on town land a few hundred feet from its 60-year old location on the street. This was done by a Naval Reserve Construction Battalion whose assistance was solicited by Peter L. Murphy, a society member and also Township Committeeman. A mover was engaged to shift the building to the new site. In the early summer of 1967 restoration work was started. It was found that the slate roof had badly disintegrated and had to be removed. Plywood was laid on the boards and over this asphalt shingles. A good sized crew of members worked for many days to accomplish with the money being raised by total contributions. Some contributed to have their names placed under shingles on the building. Work was also undertaken on the original paint color.
The first major project was the moving of the old 1871 Railroad Station and its restoration work started in 1967. It is located opposite Winter’s Pond and serves as a museum open to the public from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays through October.
After the roof there were a great many details to be accomplished such as special moulding for the outside, window glass Installed, doors repaired and the chimney. The partition separating the agent’s office from the waiting room had to be replaced as well as some of the flooring. A lot of the Interior work was done by the author. One day he was visited by one of the vice presidents of the Erie and the general superintendent who had heard what we were doing.
At last all was ready for the ceremony of dedication which took place Sept. 22, 1968. Of course, all the local officials were present. The principal speaker was Gov. Richard J. Hughes, now Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. Also present were Vice President M. F. Coffman of the Erie, R. J. Downing, General Superintendent, and George Eastland, their publicity man. It was a fine ceremony and well attended. Congressman William B. Widnail was also a guest.
Already In the station on exhibit was the 1 1/2 scale working model of a Pacific steam locomotive. This was made by apprentices of the Dunmore shops of the Erie about 1918. It was given to the Society by Stephen J. Birch, Jr., and it had been given to his father, S. J. Birch by the Erie. Mr. Birch was an active stockholder of the Erie and also an official of Kennecott Copper. The locomotive was operated on the Birch estate for young Steve. Itis a very finely built model. In the museum are other railroad items, documents and exhibits which are changed periodically.
The Society itself meets monthly except during the summer in one of the school auditoriums. At first, meetings were held in the 1890 school in Darlington. While it had a lot of historical flavor, the acoustics were bad and so was the parking.
In 1970 plans were made to procure an old Erie caboose and locate it on trackage near the station. One was purchased that had been used as a club car In one of the western freight yards. The Erie brought It East, and it was stored on a siding of Abex in Mahwah. Ground was leveled off for the track, and Mr. Downing of the Erie donated ties and rails if we would pay the track crew to lay them. This was done, and the caboose moved over one Saturday. It was necessary to bring the trucks separately. These were the heaviest part of the car, and it was practical for the crane to handle in the half mile from Abex along local roads in two trips.
The history of the caboose was researched. It was built in Hoboken about 1910 according to the experts. Blueprints were secured for the Interior fittings, most of which had been removed. But it was finally painted up to use as additional museum display area. One of the main items is a topographical model of the main line of the Erie Lackawanna from Jersey City to Chicago showing all the major cities traversed ‘by the route. This was previously on display in the railroad president’s office, but it was given to us about the time they moved to Cleveland.
The Society co-sponsored an archaeological dig with the Board of Education of an 18th century house on Ridge Rd. Roland Robbins, a professional archaeologist of Lexington, Mass. had charge.