Trap Rock Industries Hopewell Quarry Railroad

The long abandoned rail connection speaks to a different time

Trap Rock Industries once had 3 sites in operation in Central New Jersey. Today, the quarry in Rocky Hill/Kingston is in full swing while the other two out near the Delaware River are closed. All three operations had direct rail service connections at some time in the past but they’re now long gone. The infrastructure is still in place in Lambertville and Hopewell, with the former last used around 1998 and the latter much longer ago. The old rail access line leading into the closed quarry site at Hopewell is heavily overgrown and has clearly been out of use for decades. Based on my experience photographing and researching abandoned railroads it looks to be at least 40 years since a train rumbled over the bridge and down the right of way, having been long ago replaced by truck transport.

Why am I interested in these things?

As far as photography goes I began this type of work in graduate school for my MFA, where we also had to write extensively about our work so I got used to photographing and writing. It also comes from my penchant for history and photographing historic subjects in the field. Someone needs to document these things in the landscape for posterity…that’s my thought and it’s just ‘what I do.’

I also love the mystique of abandoned railroads. There’s so much to wonder about when you see an old set of rails or a decaying iron truss bridge that hasn’t seen a train in years. It’s almost like a ghost story. That, coupled with my photographic specialization in industrial subjects, compels me to produce such pictures.

Photograph what interests you.

Dive into your interests through your photography and make return visits to your favorite subjects to make more pictures. And, as one of my mentors told me years ago, shoot what’s available to you. Do research to inform yourself and your writing. Keep a journal and post the work to your blog, website and social media. You’ll start to develop a style and through the recursive process of photographing and editing, your pictures will get better. Invite critique from peers and friends.

It’s worth the effort and you’ll find it very fulfilling.


Elevate Your Photography!

Expand your photographic explorations with the help of my extensive photographic experience. My photo essays are available for download on the Photo Essays page. Get yours today and start making more compelling photos!

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The Millstone Branch Railroad – Remnant of a Lost Era

A railroad connected this once bustling borough with bigger cities.

A Favorite Place

abandoned railroad tracks embedded in overgrown brush
The rails are still embedded in the lot between William and Market Streets

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.

support pillar
A pillar in the Millstone River was built to carry the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad into Hillsborough

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 former right of way looking West toward East Millstone.

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.

The Sunrise Creek Deli on the old Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad; note the angled wall marking the right of way.

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?

Victorian House
The Victorian House that sits on the right of way.

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.

The right of way North of Amwell Road on the edge of Colonial Park.

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.

The former right of way of the Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad ends at Market Street in East Millstone.

Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay, Part II – The Neshanic Station Railroad Bridge

Standing on the abandoned bridge affords one a unique way of viewing that space

A Little History

This week’s installment of Art, Self-Isolation, Abandonment And Decay focuses on the old abandoned railroad bridge that stretches over the South Branch of the Raritan River in Neshanic Station, New Jersey. I’ve been photographing this structure over a period of 8 years since I moved to the area. It’s of interest to me not only because it fits in to the spectrum of historic and abandoned subject matter that I photograph and write about, but it also ties in with my childhood memories of Flemington, New Jersey. And those imagined recollections[1] are the conceptual foundation of my “Reflections” series. So, you could say that this work is an outgrowth of that project and intimately connected to it.

South Branch Railroad bridge
The abandoned South Branch Railroad bridge in Neshanic Station, NJ, July 2017

My father used to take us to Flemington when we were kids and we would ride the historic railroad on the western segment of this line. It still runs to this day, in fact. The Eastern-most segment of the railroad used to cross over this very bridge. I never rode the train over the Neshanic bridge, as passenger trains had stopped running on the line before I was even born—the last one made the final trip in November of 1953. But this bridge is part of the same railroad, I found out through research, and that led me to a connection with my own history and my memories of Flemington, and with the photography work I was doing there for my master’s thesis.

(If you’re interested in learning more about this partially defunct rail line, Google the ‘Black River & Western Railroad’. They have weekend and special holiday trips so it’s definitely worth checking out and the history is interesting.)

The Physical, Metaphysical, and Time

The bridge in January 2013

The history is a point of fascination for me but my reasons for photographing this place (and for writing this post) are about the physical aspects and also the metaphysical and philosophical lenses through which I view it. This may sound like a lot of academic hot air—and I am an academician—but these things are what compel me to make the pictures…as they do for many other fine art photographers. Abandonment, decay and isolation are the factors I mentioned in my last post and they have inspired countless photographers in the Post Modern era, which we are still in today.
 

I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…

There are many thoughts that run through my mind when I visit and photograph the bridge. Some are rooted in my childhood memories of Flemington, others are concerned with the span of time as it relates to the bridge itself. When I climb the embankment up to the old track bed (and it’s a steep climb near the abutment) the first feeling I’m struck with is that ‘this is an old place.’ I view much of my fine art photography work as a form of visual archaeology, and it also involves a lot of introspection and self-discovery, all of which apply here. It’s also a place that most people don’t or can’t go…I feel a certain exuberance at being in a space that is so separated from the everyday flow…to be well off the beaten path. The fact that the railroad was but is no longer part of the moving living world is a key point that makes me want to seek answers as an artist.

Time

The old railroad station depot in Neshanic Station, NJ, in July 2015.
…a train has not rumbled across the bridge in over 40 years…

One of the more intriguing aspects of this bridge for me is that a train has not rumbled over it in 4 decades—since I graduated high school in 1978. That’s a long time in human years. As you would expect, the bridge is well overgrown at each end especially in the summer months when all the greenery is filled in. At that time of year I can stand up on the old rail bed and feel the excitement of the summers of my youth. Contemplating the passage of Time gives me many thoughts, such as what it was like when there was a passenger train running through here. It was a different time, a slower time when most people didn’t have cars and traveling from one town to another was a much bigger consideration than it is now. Then one day there were no more trains. Freight trains continued in small numbers until they, too, ceased. And then the tracks were quiet forever…and eventually removed. It seems a shame to take them out; it would add so much to the romanticism and mystery of the railroad if they had been left in place. At least the bridge, depot and track bed still exist. And it’s one of the more fascinating aspects of my work, to follow former rights-of-way to see where a train once went. Some are so well erased by now that you need to employ a detective’s mindset and eye to find them.

Sometimes I allow my mind to run free and think ludicrous thoughts…like sitting at the old station depot and waiting for the train to come. It’s an apartment house now, well-kept but a little overgrown, which adds to the feeling of Time past, and you can imagine the train coming over the bridge, through the woods and pulling up to it with brakes squealing and steam venting. (Passenger trains on this line were pulled by steam locomotives.) I’ll think, maybe if I wait long enough one will come, like in a Twilight Zone episode.

When I climb up the embankment to make pictures I think about venturing out towards the middle as I have on the Readington bridge farther west on the line. I haven’t made it very far yet—it’s about a 30-foot drop to the river below. But you can imagine summers long ago, back in the 40’s and 50’s, when some kids might have climbed up onto the bridge and jumped off into the cool water below, daring each other to do it before a train comes. It makes me think of the movie Stand By Me in both time and mood.

A Tree In Time

The bridge in July 2017
Eventually the tree took over the tracks…

There is one aspect in particular that strongly illustrates the element of Time and its effects on the bridge and the trains that would have passed though there. A tree that took root at the bottom of the abutment on the west bank of the river has grown all the way up some 30 feet through the railroad ties, or what’s left of them, and well beyond. Above the track bed its trunk is thick and continues upward. You can see it in my photograph at the top of the post. I would guess this tree to be about 40 years old, so that means it sprouted as a tiny seedling at about the time the trains stopped running here. Then it became a sapling as it continued reaching up towards the bridge and tracks. Eventually its leafy top reached the underside of the bridge and began to poke its delicate branches through the rail bed. Unimpeded, it continued its way up. But no trains were coming by to trim it and keep it from growing larger and stronger. Eventually the tree took over the tracks.

Eventually—and this is what I like to think about—it got too thick for a train to pass. If the tree was just sticking through the rail bed with its new growth, trains coming by on a regular basis would easily have kept it at bay. But now, a thick trunk courses up and branches off through the former tracks. Even if trains didn’t come by too often and the tree continued to grow, a train could easily have trimmed it. But at some point the tree became too thick for a rain to pass and that seems to me a singularity in the time of the railroad and the bridge—the point when the passage of trains on the bridge was over forever. The removal of a section of track and overpass just east of the bridge where the railroad crossed River Road really made it final, but the tree seems a more natural progression of things. Sounds like a crazy person’s thoughts, perhaps? But it’s interesting to think about. For me, anyway…

What’s In The Future?

The Readington bridge is the same iron truss type farther own the line towards Flemington that is still in use. Trains only cross it a couple of times a week but it’s in good condition. I’ve photographed that bridge extensively, too, and I expect it will be around for a while longer. But the Neshanic bridge, which was built in 1917, may not be around as long. It’s pretty rusty and since it has been abandoned for around 40 years it hasn’t been maintained. It’s very picturesque now but at some point it will probably have to be dismantled for safety reasons. Perhaps a good blow could send it crashing into the river. Other parts of this railroad were quickly demolished and essentially erased when passenger service stopped running on it, particularly the station depots. Thankfully, the bridges are much bigger considerations and so this one remains. I think they add much to the aesthetic of our historic landscape. Eventually, though this one will come down and someone who comes after me might have less to go on in discovering this old railroad. And that’s another consideration of Time.

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1. The photographs in my Reflections series visualize deep impressions of each place that are driven by memory. In a similar way, the photographs I make in this series are inspired by the same memories. In his seminal book, “The Poetics of Space,” Gaston Bachelard suggests that real images we see are engraved in memory by the imagination; the engravings replace the real images and deepen our remembering so that they become ‘imagined recollections.’ This is a concept that underlies much of my fine art work.