Local crowds turn out to hear about historic railroad

BY MARY ANN ROSS Correspondent

The Jamesburg HistoricalAssociation doesn’t need to hold meetings in Lakeview Mansion in order to bring in the crowds.

SCOTT FRIEDMAN John Kilbride, president of the Camden & Amboy Railroad Historical Group, gives a presentation last week in Jamesburg on the railroad and its impact on local and state history. The presentation was sponsored by the Jamesburg Historical Association. SCOTT FRIEDMAN John Kilbride, president of the Camden & Amboy Railroad Historical Group, gives a presentation last week in Jamesburg on the railroad and its impact on local and state history. The presentation was sponsored by the Jamesburg Historical Association. Local residents, society members and railroad enthusiasts all came out to hear John Kilbride, president of the Camden &Amboy Railroad Historical Group, speak about the history of the first railroad line in New Jersey. His lecture and slide show “Along the Camden & Amboy” was held at the Jamesburg Municipal Building June 4.

Kilbride used slides of old photos, maps and artifacts to set the stage for his stories and comments about the historic railroad line, the personalities who helped create it and the era in which it grew.

John Stevens, whose family would later found the Stevens Institute of Technology, started the C&A. Stevens was already in the transportation business. He owned both a stagecoach and boat line. He was also a gifted engineer, determined to bring the railroad to New Jersey.

SCOTT FRIEDMAN A model "T-rail" sits on display in front of Al Bauman, of South River; John North, of Monroe; Jerry Clearwater, of Marlboro; Robert Piscopo, of Dunellen; and Steve Coraggio, as they listen to a presentation on the Camden & Amboy Railroads in Jamesburg June 4. SCOTT FRIEDMAN A model “T-rail” sits on display in front of Al Bauman, of South River; John North, of Monroe; Jerry Clearwater, of Marlboro; Robert Piscopo, of Dunellen; and Steve Coraggio, as they listen to a presentation on the Camden & Amboy Railroads in Jamesburg June 4. “He was a contemporary of Robert Fulton. Fulton focused on the steamboat and Stevens focused on the steam locomotive. He built the first American Steam engine in 1826,” explained Kilbride.

Stevens eventually received the state charter for the Camden-Amboy line.

Rather than using his own design, he imported a steam engine called the “John Bull” from England in 1931.

“John Bull is the British equivalent of Uncle Sam,” said Kilbride “It came over in pieces, weighing over 10,000 pounds and with no directions as to how to put it together. A 21-yearold mechanic assembled it in 10 days.”

While railroads played a pivotal role in the history and development of New Jersey, and Jamesburg in particular, it wasn’t always a popular idea with the locals.

“People really didn’t want these loud noisy machines running through their towns,” said Kilbride.

“In the early days, owners of the railroads spent more money lobbying than they did on their equipment,” he continued.

There were frequent train wrecks, and the Camden-Amboy line has the dubious distinction of having the first rail fatality in the country. Kilbride showed a slide of a poster that expressed the public outcry. The headline reads, “Mothers look out for your children” and warns of a “noisy locomotive going through your beautiful streets to the ruin of your trade.”

At the time, stagecoaches could take days to go from Philadelphia to New York, and boats were not able to work the canals and rivers during much of the winter months. So, despite popular concerns, railroads were the wave of the future. James Buckelew, the town’s namesake, recognized the value of the “iron horse” and established the Freehold-Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad in 1853.

Jamesburg then became a town with two railroad lines passing

through it.

“It had two railroad stations, one in Upper Jamesburg, along the Camden-Amboy line, and the lower station, which took passengers to the shore and brought in produce from the farms,” said Jamesburg Historian Thomas C. Bodall.

The trains were an integral part of daily life.

“We took the railroad to Freehold for a class trip,” recalls longtime resident Elizabeth Zelasko, who is one of the founding members of the

Jamesburg Historical Association.

There is even a local legend about a stop Lincoln is supposed to have made in town.

“When I first moved here in 1956, there was an elderly woman living in a house on Perrineville Road where the bank is now,” explained Marge Perrine, corresponding secretary for the association. “She was supposed to be around 100 years old at the time. My in-laws and some of the old-timers around town said she had shaken Lincoln’s hand as a little girl. I don’t know if the story is really true, but it’s fun to speculate.”

Bodall agrees, “I have heard that story too, from a number of people, but there is no way to authenticate it”

Passenger service on the C&A ended in 1963 and Kilbride is skeptical about commuter service being brought back.

“Maybe when gas gets to be $9 a gallon,” he said with a smile.

The Camden and Amboy Railroad Historical Group has amembership of 120 railroad enthusiasts. The group produces a newsletter and meets on a quarterly basis.

They are regularly called upon to lecture about the Camden Amboy line, and in November sponsored a symposiumin Bordentown that included distinguished historians and a curator from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. For more information about the organization, contact John Kilbride at JKTRR@msn.com

For more information about the Jamesburg Historical Association, visit their We site www.jamesburg.net/jha/ or e-mail Thomas Bodall at webmaster@jamesburg. net.