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The Morristown & Erie
A Brief Overview

Copyright 1999 by Steven P. Hepler

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In the age before railroads spun their ribbons of steel across mountains, valleys and streams, many towns and hamlets began to develop. As communities grew, so too grew their need to transport their citizens and the materials they produced.

 

One such community was Hanover Township, situated in the heart of Morris County in northern New Jersey. Within Hanover's boundaries is Whippany, located along the banks of the winding Whippany River. Named Whippanong centuries ago by the Lenape Indians living in the vicinity, the river's name means "Many Willows," or "Place of the Arrow Wood." The river supplied power to the community's mills, including three paper mills, which were continually growing. It soon became clear that a railroad was needed to haul the booming daily output of paper products.

 

In 1895, construction began on the 4-mile-long Whippany River Railroad (WRRR). The tiny road was destined to become the present-day Morristown & Erie Railway, which proudly continues its century-plus tradition of providing personal service to its customers and is an important link in Morris County's transportation network.

 

The creation of the Whippany River Railroad in 1895 was the climax of several years of talk by owners of the paper mills around Whippany and the tradesmen in Morristown. In late 1894, James E.V. Melick turned his interest from building and operating the nearby Rockaway Valley Railroad to that of connecting the Whippany mills with the Lackawanna Railroad, 4 miles away at Morristown. Before the Whippany River Railroad started operating, nearly 40 teams of horses were required daily to pull huge wagons loaded with freight to Morristown.

 

Construction commenced on April 22, 1895 near St. Mary's Cemetary in Whippany, and on August 16, the WRRR opened for freight traffic. A special passenger train was run on September 2, 1895 to celebrate the opening of the line. Regularly scheduled passenger service between Morristown and Whippany began on December 4, 1895.

 

Despite all the work done by Melick, his railroad was very cheaply and poorly built. The 4 miles cost approximately $25,000.00, including land, minimal grading and track. Melick had promised to pay back all construction loans, but this proved to be impossible. By November 26, 1895, the WRRR was in the hands of a receiver.

 

At this time, the McEwan brothers, owners of the paper mills in Whippany, agreed among themselves that the railroad, properly maintained and managed, could become profitable with a bright future. They decided to acquire control of the line from Melick. By settling Melick's loans, they received stock control and ownership in 1897, and eased him out of the company. Over the next several years, the entire railroad was relocated on a new roadbed, and the 3-mile Malapardis Branch was constructed to the Moore Brick Manufacturing Company, later to become the Hanover Brick Co. Today, Hanover Township's Bee Meadow Municipal Pool occupied the former brick works site. The abandoned roadbed of the old Malapardis Branch, which was torn up in the mid-1930s, is still largely intact. Portions of it can be hiked during the winter months when foliage has died off.

 

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