If you’ve ever noticed the milepost right off of Bowden Road, walked across the Arch Bridge on Little Falls Road, or discovered an old stairway across from the Pompton Avenue Foodtown, you’ve encountered the railroad history of Cedar Grove.
Philip Jaeger, a local historian and member of the Cedar Grove Historical Society, began researching the old tracks of Cedar Grove after moving to town with his family in 1964. At that time, Jaeger says he and other locals would ride the train from Cedar Grove to Great Notch, Essex Fells, or even Jersey City.
Two years later, on Sept. 30, 1966, Jaeger took his infant son David to ride the rail on its final day of service. He has been researching the train track’s history ever since.
Train service began dwindling in the 1950s as passengers started using other forms of transportation to get around, Jaeger told the Times during an interview Monday, Aug. 11.
Enthralled by the fading presence of stations, Jaeger researched the terminals and documented his findings in a book dedicated to the township. The book, Cedar Grove (Images of America), was published in 2000.
The late 1800s
There were three active train stations in Cedar Grove during the late 1800s. All were a part of the Erie Railroad Company originally built in 1853 but re-established in 1895, according to erierailroad.org, a website dedicated to the Erie Railroad. The first station, according to Jaeger, was known for its location on Little Falls Road.
Established in 1872, the Little Falls station “existed maybe until around 1900. We have a good hunch that [Cedar Grove resident] John Bowden built it because his cotton mill was right down the street from it,” said Jaeger, adding that the site is now home to a recycling station.
At that time, a freight train ran from Cedar Grove to Jersey City, and the Cedar Grove station was built and used by Bowden presumably to transport his cotton to different vendors, according to Jaeger. But he goes on to explain that because business was scarce, the Cedar Grove stop was cancelled and disposed of in 1900, leaving no photographic evidence of its existence.
Jaeger does have a postcard photo of the Arch Bridge on Little Falls Road, where he says the first station stood. “On top of the bridge there was a station there. And the train still goes through there. It’s part of the New Jersey Transit, the Montclair Boonton Line. It doesn’t stop [in Cedar Grove] though. It goes through Montclair University to Little Falls,” Jaeger added. The second station, dubbed Overbrook, was built in 1891. This station was located in front of the Essex County Hospital at Overbrook, which was known for being the largest mental institution in the county, according to Jaeger. The hospital was built in the late 1800s and housed over 1,500 patients, according to overbrookhospital.- net, a site dedicated to the institution.
During its first 60 years of service, Overbrook used coal to generate its own electricity and heat, causing the hospital to rely heavily on the freight trains serviced through Cedar Grove.
The third station was also built in 1891 at the Cedar Grove Centre on Pompton Avenue, directly across the street from where the Foodtown supermarket is today. “There are steps still there that lead up to where the station was,” Jaeger said.
The stations were the main reason many businesses thrived in the town. “Two major things came to Cedar Grove because of the railroad. Overbrook was built because the railroad could bring in the building supplies. And it could bring in patients. Patients would come from Newark to Cedar Grove on the train,” Jaeger said. “Also the Ridge Road reservoir was built, one major reason, because they could bring in supplies by the railroad.”
Built and owned by the City of Newark, the reservoir still exists today.
The stations also serviced businesses like the Cedar Grove post office, according to Jaeger. In fact, according to Jaeger’s research, the office was relocated near the train stations in order to be more easily accessible to its customers. During the early 1800s and 1900s, locals had to physically go to the post office for their mail, and train passengers would retrieve their packages while at the station, Jaeger’s research cites.
The Pompton Avenue and Overbrook sites were closed in 1966 as they became less useful throughout the years. Overbrook stopped relying on coal in the early 1950s when steam power was replaced by diesel locomotives, according to Jaeger’s research. And automobiles like buses and cars became more prevalent, as service from the stations became less frequent averaging at two stops per day, noted Jaeger.
“It stopped for a variety of reasons. No. 1, from Cedar Grove to Hoboken back in those days, you could make better time by driving to Upper Montclair. And No. 2 a lot of people were driving rather than taking the train. And with things like the Lincoln Tunnel, George Washington Bridge, better roads – I’d rather drive my car then go on the train,” Jaeger said.
While the old Cedar Grove train stations are no longer in service, and in some areas can no longer be traced, the terminals had a purpose in the town once upon a time. And for people like Jaeger, the tracks and milestones that were left behind serve as reminders to their existence.
To learn more about the train stations of Cedar Grove’s past, copies of Philip Jaeger’s book are available at the Cedar Grove Historical Society.