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When New York City began its explosive growth after the Civil War, America experienced its first large scale development of the "suburbs". As the City spread northward on Manhattan Island, and eastward on Long Island, another kind of development was happening in northern New Jersey. Situated just a short ferry boat ride away from lower Manhattan, Jersey City and Hoboken became the end points for many railroads. Not until the Pennsylvania Railroad tunneled under the Hudson and East Rivers did a railroad get direct rail access to New York from the west, and to Long Island.
The Erie Railroad and itís chief rival, the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western, were major players in the northern New Jersey commuter business. A multitude of rail lines had by the latter quarter of the 19th century crossed New Jersey, and the Erie and DL&W among others, eagerly snapped them up into their corporate empires. Having abandoned its one time starting point of Piermont, NY (on the west shore of the Hudson River), the Erie now came into Jersey City, directly opposite lower Manhattan. With the growth of the City, it was only natural that a busy commuter business would spring up allowing city workers the option of pleasant living in the country. The railroads themselves promoted these developments, and period photos of the stations often depict advertisements for real estate.
The Erie absorbed the New Jersey and New York Railroad in 1869. Chartered in 1856, construction did not begin until 1859, and generally followed the pleasant Pascack Valley, a north-south corridor. In the Hackensack Meadowlands south of Carlstadt, connection was made with the Erieís Paterson and Hudson River line. It is over this trackage that the connection to Jersey City was made. The railroad was built in three major segments, Hackensack to Hillsdale, by 1870; Hillsdale to Spring Valley, by 1874; and Spring Valley to Haverstraw by 1888. At Haverstraw connection with the West Shore RR was made.
Oradellís lovely Victorian station was constructed in 1890 as the many towns along the route were flowering with suburban development. Oradell was a train register station (telegraph call CD), located at the end of the double track from Hackensack. Many stations on this line are located quite close together, sometimes as close as a mile or less apart in the more densely populated areas. Pre-automobile, turn of the century commuters would board neat steam pulled consists of open platform coaches for the ride to Jersey City. In 1918 commuter trains ran almost every 20 minutes during the morning and evening rush hours. A trip from Oradell to the ferry dock at Chambers St., Manhattan took approximately one hour, not bad considering the number of stops: New Milford, River Edge, North Hackensack, Hackensack (four stops at various streetís stations in the city limits), Hasbrouck Heights (two stops), Wood-Ridge, Carlstadt, and finally Jersey City. Then the pleasant trip across the Hudson to the City would complete the ritual. What a change from todayís maddening commute stuck in oneís automobile.
Over the years, the cities and towns of northern New Jersey would grow ever larger so that today, itís often hard to tell what town you are in. Itís just a continuous sprawl, with no real city centers. But to those of us who map things by the railroad it is possible to discern the boundaries. Many of the historic depots on this line survive and are still in use as commuter station stops. Thankfully, high platforms have not been added which would destroy a lot of the character of the depots. Train service has long been dieselized, and the quaint heavyweight commuter cars are the standard NJ Transit fare. These are functional, but a bit bland. But better a "plain train" than "no train" at all.
The stations of the New Jersey and New York, some now over one hundred years old, still function as their builders intended. The railroad is still a vital piece of the landscape.
On a late June Sunday afternoon all is quiet on the railroad. A warm breeze ruffles through the fine old trees lining the pleasant streets and lanes near the depot. Golden rays of sunlight illuminate the scene, making perfect photography weather. The surrounding neighborhoods are filled with large well kept Victorian era homes, and one could easily want to wander off and explore on foot.
Rest now, Oradell. In the morning your commuter rush will start again.
Oradell, New Jersey, on the former Erie RRís New Jersey and New York, the Pascack Valley line on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, June 25, 1989. [JCD photo.]
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