A Favorite Place
I love East Millstone because it’s an idyllic place of quiet streets lined with Victorian houses…calming for the mind and perfect subject matter for my work. For the past 10 years I’ve occasionally made the short drive over there to photograph one of my favorite subjects – a large and stylistically unique Victorian house, along with a couple of others for my 19th Century House series. Yet for all the years I’ve been going there, one thing managed to remain hidden from me: the remnants of the Millstone and New Brunswick Railroad, later known as the Millstone Branch, which ran right up to Market Street. Through my long-term photographic study of abandoned railroads and old railroads near me I’ve developed a pretty good eye for finding them in the landscape. But a railroad in East Millstone? I had no idea.
More Railroad Clues
My first clue was spotting an old stone pillar in the middle of the Millstone River…
I think my first clue of something more was spotting an old stone pillar standing in the middle of the Millstone River just south of the Millstone bridge on Amwell Road. I knew it was a historic railroad support judging from the other river crossings in the area. This must have started me to thinking to find the right of way across the river. A railroad can be abandoned but there will still be a path where the rail bed was. This was early last Spring and I remember looking for another pillar in the swampy area between the Amwell Road bridge and the canal path, figuring that the railroad must have run through there as well.
The next step, as I remember, was to search the Internet for “Millstone” and “railroad.“ I asked my good friend Dave (who has grown up and lived here for a long time) if he knew of any railroad there. He told me that there was and to do a Google search; sure enough, the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad came up. Dave is a local realtor who knows of my obsession with all this historic stuff, and he’s helped me with many questions about old houses in the area. He said how when he was a kid he played baseball at Ms. Irene’s Enrichment Center on Wortman Street, and they would take breaks and walk down to the railroad tracks near the building. So I went over there to see and there’s a gulley where the the tracks used to run. The Wortman Street bridge over the tracks was removed years before and the space filled in so the road could run across it.
I then followed the old right of way through town, behind properties and across streets to Market Street, where it crossed and ran along side the Sunrise Creek Deli. You can see the angled side of the store that accommodated the railroad. There is also a fine Victorian house (a smaller one, but fine just the same) across from the deli where the tracks crossed the road. The North corner of the porch was practically right on the railroad! As such, there are no windows on that side of the house, so you know it was built after the railroad. I also know this because the railroad was completed and began operation 1854 and the house is of an 1860s or later vintage. Placing houses and other buildings close railroads was common practice in the 19th and early 20th centuries…I’ve seen it in many other railroads from the same era.
At its height, the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad had 12 passenger trains daily servicing East Millstone….
So, What Now?
I’ve become very passionate about abandoned rail lines and riding rail trails. In fact, I long ago gave up road riding. I felt it was too dangerous for my liking and after a 10-year absence from biking I now ride almost everyday exclusively on rail-trails. Consequently, I want to become more involved with getting abandoned railroads converted into rail trails. This brings together my interests in history, historic rail, bicycling, and my work as a photographer and writer. I love telling stories about the railroads’ history and my adventures riding the trails. I post my pictures and writing on social media so I can become more visible in the pursuit of my interests and as a photographic artist, and for the benefit of others who love to ride and want to get involved. For me it’s the perfect combination of interests and talents. I’ve also made contact with the Rails To Trails Conservancy, a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving abandoned railroad right of ways for conversion to multi-use trails. I’ve also started to attend the monthly meetings of Franklin Township’s Trails Advisory Committee (TAC). Franklin is where the old Millstone & New Brunswick right of way is located and the committee was formed to involve trail users and Township residents in advising township departments the manager, and the council on issues related to trail acquisition, design, maintenance, and use.
My first project in my rails to trails work is lobbying to get as much of the former M&NB Railroad converted to trail use as possible. At my first TAC meeting I learned that Franklin Township owns a segment of the old line between South Middlebush Road and Elizabeth Avenue (in Franklin Township). This was encouraging to hear. Not so encouraging was a committeeman telling me that we’re all “late to the party” in acquiring the other segments for trail use. The railroad sold off the other parts to private landowners a while ago. But I remain undeterred. In my historic preservation work (and rail-trails fall into the same category) I’ve been given the same “late to the party” speech about saving an endangered historic house in Lawrence Township. I still managed—single-handedly—to get a certification of eligibility from the State of New Jersey for its inclusion in the national and state historic registers. As a result, talks have been underway with the property owner for full preservation. So it’s never too late, in my experience.
I’m going to circulate a flier or brochure in East Millstone about converting the segment that runs through town to a rail-trail. The right of way comes close to no houses and wouldn’t be a bother to any one. Quite the contrary, it would afford the community a nice trail to walk their dogs or ride a bike, and to improve their physical and mental well-being. I’ve been told by a new friend who owns the Millstone Workshop art gallery and coffeehouse across the river that people in East Millstone are very receptive to new ideas. So, I think that’s in our favor. Honestly, I can’t see how anyone would object. Then, we can work on acquiring permission for the segment just North of Amwell Road that borders Colonial Park. That section could ultimately connect with the other segment the township owns.
One day, one piece at a time.