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Rock-A-Bye Baby

by Mike Helbing

Though it may be hard to believe for visitors and younger residents, Northwest New Jersey was once home to an abundance of railroad systems, criss-crossing the countryside between every point of commercial significance. 1946 saw the peak of rail mileage in the United States; powerful locomotives and glorious double tracked lines bound from the heartland for our major cities. But that was 30 years after an obscure short line stretching from Whitehouse in Hunterdon County to the outskirts of Morristown had carried its last load.

The Rockabye’s train heads for Whitehouse. Photos by permission Tom Taber III, “The Rock -A-Bye Baby, A History of the Rockaway Valley Railroad”

The Rockaway Valley Railroad was about 25 miles long and lasted for about 25 years. It was constructed predominantly to ship peaches, and although it also saw other freight and passenger traffic, Hunterdon County orchard owners were responsible for the railroad's commencement in 1888. John Melick, who grew up in Hunterdon County, and whose family name is still prominent in county agriculture and politics, was the railroad's builder. The prime financier, until his death in 1899, was James Nelson Pidcock, who had built the Georgia Northern Railroad, served in Congress, and returned to Whitehouse to resume agricultural pursuits.

From the beginning, the Rockaway's story is one full of twists and turns, trials and tribulations, as the railroad sought its way in a transportation industry dominated by giants. In his fascinating history of the railroad, Tom Taber III writes, "Its travail against adversity is a classic; the unavailing efforts against the realities of business. It is a colorful story of the hopes and work of people to establish and then keep going a railroad that possibly should never have been built; a railroad that needed five corporations to construct its meager twenty five miles and saw four different ownerships within its short lifespan." The cost of building the line was nearly half the standard estimates of the day, and due to the moderate grading along the line, the railroad earned the nickname "Rockabye Baby" for the swaying motion made by trains as they rode the light gauge rail around the many turns through Hunterdon, Somerset, and Morris counties.

The Rockabye Baby began at Whitehouse Station, where it broke away from the Central Railroad of New Jersey (now NJ Transit) heading north through Readington into Tewksbury Township, passing through Oldwick, which at the time was called New Germantown. Turning east, it crossed the Black River/ Lamington River entering Somerset County's Bedminster Twp, and then north into Pottersville. Continuing on in a generally eastern direction, the line also passed through Gladstone, Ralston, Mendham, Washington Valley, and Watnong, two miles from the center of Morristown. The trains promised prosperity to the little towns along the route.

Record peach crops kept the railroad afloat in the 1890s, even as the financial picture for the company clouded. Unfortunately, before the little railroad had an opportunity to turn a profit, the peaches were infected with blight, and the Hunterdon orchards passed their prime. Although its future looked as dire as that of the peaches, the line struggled on carrying coal, farm goods, and other merchandise. In fact, there was less business than the prospectus forecast, and carloads were not even full. Trains ran picnickers from Morristown out into the Black River wilderness. And they ran folks from out of town into Morristown on special Shopping Day excursions. Though it was proposed to connect the line to the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western's main line in Morristown, the connection was never made. A great deal of construction work was done on the proposed extension, but never reached further than Speedwell Lake. No connection was made either in Gladstone where the Rock-A-Bye-Baby passed near the DL&W. Since beginning its construction, the Rockabye Baby had already filed for bankruptcy three times by 1912.


Frank B. Allen and the Model T he used to tear up the tracks pose for a photo at Brookside.

Above: Patriot’s Path acess the to right-of-way in Ralston. Below: Roots run across the right-of-way where the tracks used to sit in the ground. In some places the ties are not totally rotten and the roots can be seen making their way around the ties. Photo by Mike Helbing

Below: Former right-of-way at the end of Vliettetown Road in Tewksbury. Photo by Mike Helbing

Even the arrival of the Morris County Traction Company at Morristown in 1910 could not help the struggling railroad complete a long awaited extension to Speedwell Avenue. The line was sold off to Frank B. Allen in 1913 after the Watnong Station was destroyed by fire. Under the new name of the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Railroad, efforts were made to improve grades, buy more equipment, and refurbish bridges. Sadly, hope was given up in 1917, and the remains of the railroad were removed using Allen's Model T and sold for scrap and World War I salvage.

Much of the Rockabye Baby has been forgotten, it's right-of-ways eroded or farmed beyond recognition, while other parts have been absorbed into parklands and multi-use trails. Patriot's Path, an ever-growing trail system throughout Morris County, has incorporated a great deal of the right of way which varies from unimproved narrow hiking pathways to crushed stone surface or pavement. The longest continuous section of the trail stretches from Ralston to Speedwell, following the railroad bed as closely as possible, diverging from the route a few times where land has been developed, or where it meets impassable marshlands. The most significant detours made by the trail are at Lewis Morris County Park where the Patriot's Path takes to the top of a hillside, and near Speedwell where a sewage treatment facility has been constructed.

Remnants of the railroad can be seen throughout the course of the trail. Aside from the leveled grades, ties can be seen at times, and where ties have long since rotted away, roots of trees in some places grow around where the ties once lay. Where the Patriot's Path crosses Lake Road and the Whippany River, there is still a bridge under the road near the trail, which has been almost completely filled in, as well as a significant rocky cut for the tracks visible from the road. Further southwest, another section of Patriot's Path makes use of the right of way through Willowwood Arboretum to Daly Road and Route 206. In addition, a new municipal park in Bedminster incorporates a beautiful section of the right of way along the Black River, parallel to Black River Road.

In nearby Hunterdon County where Vliettetown Road reaches the Black River, a section of the Black River Road has been constructed aligned on the right of way. In Whitehouse Station, the railroad's western terminus, some of the right of way between municipal ballfields and the site of a trestle over the Rockaway Creek is used often as fishing access. Many other sections are now recognizable only because fiber-optic wire has been laid under the rail bed. The tracks crossed what is now US Rt. 22 in the short section where it is co-aligned with County Route 523 at Whitehouse Station.

The Little Railroad That Couldn't lives on, if only for hikers, cyclists and patrons of local lore. Take a walk and imagine the slow moving locomotive rocking back and forth on its way through the countryside.

For more information including downloadable maps on sections of the Rockaway Valley Railroad in Morris County, visit website.

Thanks to reader Gerry Geisler who sent us these photos from his collection.

Top: A bond from the Rockaway Valley Morristown Extension Railroad Company. Bond Number 4, issued in 1892. With the failure of the peach crops the RVRR looked to the revenue that could be generated by soliciting less than carload business into Morristown, NJ. The only problem was that downtown Morristown was already directly served by the DL&W Railroad, while the Rockaway Valley ended near the edge of town. The Morristown Extension was an attempt to extend the railroad directly into downtown Morristown in order to more directly compete with the DL&W.
Left: A brass lock and key from the Rockaway Valley Railroad. This is most likely a switch lock, used to prevent unauthorized persons from throwing a track switch and derailing a train. Given the small size of the RVRR, and the fact that it has been gone for over 90 years, actual hard artifacts of this kind are very difficult to find.
Above top: A stock certificate from the Rockaway Valley Railroad stock issue of 1888. Total capitalization was $60,000, an extremely low amount for the planned length of the railroad, even for the time.
Above bottom: A stock certificate from the Rockaway Valley Railroad stock issue of 1893. When the initial capitalization of $60,000 proved inadequate to complete the railroad, authorization was received to recapitalize at $300,000. The initial stocks were recalled and exchanged for stock from the new issue, the additional money raised by selling the additional $240,000 in stock was intended to be applied to completing the construction of the railroad.

Comments

Joe
14 Aug 2014, 10:28
Mark -

Thanks. So proceeding out of Gladstone on Old Chester Road at the point just before the road veers right, I noticed a graded embankment to my right and the two properties to the left. Is the embankment to the right part of the ROW? Am I right to guess that the Peapack Trestle started behind those houses on the left?
joni
25 Jul 2014, 15:02
I loved this article and personally grew up near the Lackawanna route in Denville..
always love when other fellow railroad lovers are kind enough to share stories and history with the public.
Great stories; would love to see more often ! thanks !
Mark Corigliano
25 Jul 2014, 11:00
Joe,

The ROW went to the west (above) the coal dock in Gladstone. If you drive up Old Chester Road, just before the road bends to the right, that is the point where the ROW crossed. If you look through the two properties to the left, you can still see a remnant of the graded ROW.

Mark
Joe
18 Jun 2014, 11:49
Anyone know if the ROW went east or west of the coal docks in Gladstone? (that is, did the ROW go through "Rock-a-bye Meadow" or above the coal chutes (to their west))
Don
09 Dec 2013, 06:28
Another SPAMMER!
Skylands Visitor
27 Nov 2013, 08:36
Don, Spam deleted. They are persistent and hard to keep up with!
Don
27 Nov 2013, 06:22
Does anyone monitor this page to keep these spammers out? No historian here would likely visit your site, Blcirkcex because your post is inappropriate for the topic and downright annoying.
David Kurmay
22 Oct 2013, 18:12
I have a Rockaway valley bond like the one in the picture only its from 1888 when the line was opened and not the extension. It is bond number 41. Does anyone know anything about these or where I can get any information?
M'ke Helbing
25 Oct 2012, 10:56
There is no rail that I am aware of remaining from this line. All signs of the former junction save for some grading are gone from Whitehouse Station.\r\nEven at road crossings, where rails would have gone, they were probably removed because none of the roads would have been paved at the final abandonment in 1916.\r\nNote: The Bedminster Township section has been more formally developed as a trail. Field sections on or parallel with the line have been mowed off of Black River Road, and the right of way remains somewhat clear heading to private land on the north, at which point arrow markers and a cleared trail lead from the fill back out to Black River Road.
Gordon
09 Apr 2012, 05:43
Does anyone know if there are any remaining peices of the rail from the RVRR? I own a small section of it.
Bruce Bocchino
08 Feb 2012, 07:58
To' Bob Donaway\r\nI would be interested in buying them.
Don
28 Dec 2011, 20:19
Gerry, I think that you are referring to William Whitehead.
Gerry G
09 Jul 2011, 20:08
Steve, I think I can shed a little light on what you remember. Back in the late 1950's or early 60's there was a railroad enthusiast (I don't remember the name) whose back yard was crossed by a section of the old Rockaway Valley Railroad right of way. He laid a short section of track and purchased a caboose from the Morristown and Erie Railroad to display apon it. The caboose, M&E 1, was DL&W 4, a two axle wood "bobber" caboose. He later purchased a steam locomotive from the Danville & Mt. Morris Railroad. This was former DL&W 2-6-0 number 565. This may have also ended up in his back yard but I am not sure. The story is that his idea was to relay the Rockaweay Valley right of way with track and to run it as a steam powered tourist railroad. There were a number of problems with this, one being that the construction of I287 would cut through the right of way. Reportedly his person made an effort to have the State of NJ preserve the right of way with a bridge. The State of NJ was not about to spend the money to build a bridge to protect the right of way of a railroad that had been abandonned for over 40 years so nothing came of it. He later arranged to move his equipment to the Central Railroad of New Jersey Chester branch with the idea of setting up operation there as the Black River and Western Railroad. There were problems there too, and the CNJ abandonned and ripped UP the Chester Branch with out any public steam trains being run. The PRR Flemington Branch was then leased. Later purchased this forms the beggining of todays Black River and Western freight and tourist railroad in the Flemington area. Locomoitve 565 was later sold to a restuarant in Wayne, NJ were it sat on static display for years. Later it was relocated to the Morris County Central when it was located in New Foundland NJ with the idea of returning it to operation, something that never occurred. It later became the only actual DL&W steam locomotive in the Steamtown collection in Scranton, PA. It is currenlty undergoing a very therough but cosmetic overhaul to return it to an in service appearence. It is unlikely to ever run again. The caboose is now on display at the Whippany Railway Museum in Whippany, NJ, painted in its M&E Railroad colors. It is currently in line to recieve some more restoration work, but its age will probably prevent it from ever being used in regular WRYM excursion train service.\r\nI hope that this information is helpful,\r\nGerry
Stephen R. Sgarlato
09 Jul 2011, 18:06
\r\nI remember reading an article back in 1960(I think it was called the “Weekly Reader”) while I was in the 6th. grade. It was a story about a family rebuilding part of the Rock-a-by line near or on their property. It is a very vivid memory. Is there anyone else who knows about this, or as heard of it?\r\nSteve Sgarlato\r\n
Gerry G
29 Jun 2011, 06:17
There is an intersting story behind the coal bins that have been mentioned here. If they are the ones that I erad about in Tabor's book, they were not owned by the RR. They belonged to a coal dealer who had begun construction on them shortly before the railroad closed down and was sold. Believing that the shut down would be temporary, he proceeded to complete the bins, only to have the railroad scrapped within 2 years with out ever returning to operation. The coal bins never actually recieved any coal by rail! I do not know if they were ever used in any other capacity, or if perhops coal was trucked in to them.
Gerry G
29 Jun 2011, 06:11
One of my Christmas presents from my then bride to be 31 years ago was a framed bond from the Rockaway Valley Morristown Extension Railroad Company. It is bond # 4. None of the coupons were ever clipped, which I guess says something about the number of payments that were ever made on the bond issue! I could post photos of this and some other RVRR items that I have if there is a way to add them to this page.
Mary Zendejas
28 Jun 2011, 00:56
Cool Site! This is a really interesting topic -thanks for the insight, I'll look for more comments soon!\n\n<a href="http://www.associates-degree-online.com/">http://www.associates-de gree-online.com/</a>
Skylands Visitor
23 May 2011, 15:34
Frank Allen was, indeed, the last owner. He bought it at a foreclosure sale on October 18, 1915, and reorganized it as the Pennsylvania and New Jersey RR. Allen apparently intended to rehabilitate the line and operate it, but after a number of unsuccessful attempts, he decided to scrap it and tore up the rails and ties. He had paid $108,600 for the purchase and rehabiltation...the scrapping netted him in excess of $150,000...making him the only individual to profit from the railroad.\r\n \r\nThere are photos of this bond. It should be a $1000 denomination and have a vignette of a train in an oval, surrounded by "Rockaway Valley Railroad Company." The complete bond has 40 coupons attached. Condition would play a major role, but it won't put the kids through college in any case...depending on condition and comnpleteness, it would range from $60 - $125 in value (more than the investors got back when the line went bankrupt), maybe a little more at auction on a good day.
Bob Donaway
21 May 2011, 11:44
My father-in-law recently passed away at the age of 97. When cleaning out his home, we found a Rockaway Valley Railroad Bond paper. It reads "First Mortgage, 5%,20 year Bond" and is number 14 in a series. It is dated 1889. There are 40 coupons attached to the bond. Frank B. Allen was the last owner. My father-in-law is an Allen. Is there any historical or financial value to this find? Any suggestions as where to go from here? Thanks.
Gerry G
24 Feb 2011, 16:36
The RVRR was always standard gauge. By the time that the RVRR was built the DL&W itself was standard gauge, and was using the Morris & Essex instead of the CNJ to reach the water front. \r\n\r\nIf you can find a copy of Tom Tabors book on the RVRR it is the bast possible source of information.
M'ke Helbing
09 Feb 2011, 17:37
I am not familiar with there ever being a "triple gauged" track along the CNJ from Whitehouse. I wasn't familiar with the RVRR ever being anything other than standard gauge honestly either. Since it was constructed in 1888, I thought it was beyond the point where the extra rail was needed. The DL&W no longer needed the third rail on CNJ after around 1870. They acquired the Morris and Essex Division, a former competitor around that time so DL&W had it's own route east and the CNJ line connection in Hampton and the route south of Washington became secondary. That line was built much earlier than RVRR, in 1856.
Bruce Bocchino
07 Feb 2011, 14:07
Ken Whitney' Yes the old r.v.r.r.coal bins in Gladstone are still in tact. Gill St. Bernards is now a housing development. I believe the bins are perserve. Hope this helps.
William Allan-Dalgleish
27 Feb 2010, 18:08
I have always wondered about the connection (or "breakaway") of the RVRR from the CNJ. If I am correct, the RV used a 3-foot guage, which, like the connection of the East Broad \r\nTop to the PRR at Mt. Union, would have required a dual guage track. But, since the CNJ also connected, at around that same place, to the DL&W, which used a 6-foot guage, there would have presumably been a section of track in Whitehouse Station that was triple guaged. That would make Whitehouse, to my knowledge, the only section of triple-guage track in the world. Anyone know anything about this? Any photos?\r\n\r\nThank\r\nBill
ken whitney
13 Jan 2010, 13:48
for those who wonder about the coal chutes in Peapack. As late as 1954 the coal chutes were in place at the north end of the town just where the pastures began. I used to pass them when I walked from St. Bernards School on the way into town(village back then) I would like to check with the town hall but I have become disabled and don't get around as much as once did.
M'ke Helbing
26 Oct 2009, 08:40
Connie,\r\nThe line that went from Long Valley to Chester was formerly the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Chester, Chester Hill, and Chester Mine Branches. Some sections are now part of the Patriot's Path. You can read more about these rail lines one one of my other articles at www.njskylands.com/odhikerail.htm\r\nThanks for reading!
Connie Zander
25 Jul 2008, 12:12
I'm looking for information about the railway that went through Long Valley to Chester.
Jim DuSel
18 Jun 2008, 19:38
Thanks! I grew up in the late fifties and early sixties not far from the line's right-of-way up Pottersville Hill. Every once in a while I think about the old line I never saw!
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