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  • Sue Tryforos, Borough Historian

"All Aboard" the North Jersey Rapid Transit Trolleys in Glen Rock

For this year's Quasquicentennial Celebration, The Rock Recorder Blog will post a chronological (as much as possible) history of Glen Rock, NJ. My main source for framing this series is an unpublished manuscript in the Glen Rock Historical & Preservation Society's archive, which was written by George Hubschmitt. This is Part #10 of the series.

In May 1908 the tax budget for municipal purposes was set at $4,300.00 With the increase in home building at that time, water and gas mains were being extended. On July 14, 1908, gas lighting for the Glen Rock Council's meeting was used for the first time; the meeting was held in the wooden School #1 on Maple Avenue.

On October 3, 1908, Henry C. Smith requested curb stakes along his property (now 216-220-224 and 228 South Maple Avenue). This property was formerly owned by John J. Storms and John B. Vanderbeck - two of Glen Rock's town fathers who had been very involved with the borough's incorporation in 1894. John Storms ran a marble shop on his property and in November 1908 the newly formed Smith-Singer Realty Company asked for and received permission from the Council to move the marble shop to Clifton Place. They were required to post a bond of $1,000.00 to cover any damage from the operation. This bond was returned in January 1909 when there were no complaints of damage. (For further information about the Smith-Singer Realty Company - Glen Rock's premier developer, see The Rock Recorder Blog post from July 7, 2017).

During 1907-1908 the North Jersey Rapid Transit (NJRT) Line was built. This was a high-speed electric trolley. The southern terminus was at Broadway in East Paterson (now Elmwood Park). The northern terminus was at Ridgewood Avenue in Ridgewood for a time; then at Ho-Ho-Kus and later at Suffern, New York. At the East Paterson terminus, one might transfer to the Hudson River Line and ride west into Paterson or east to New York via the Edgewater ferries. The rolling stock of Jewett electric cars was the last word in interurban transport at that time. The car exteriors were painted Pullman green with gold-leaf striping, numbering and lettering; the roof was grey, the undercarriage fittings black. Interiors had mahogany trim and brass hardware with buff colored ceilings and seats upholstered in green plush. Heating was by hot-air coal-burning stoves in winter. The trolley road bed was sand-ballasted. The trolley speed was excellent, at times reaching in excess of 45 miles per hour. At a time when many could not afford automobiles, the trolley provided an economical and pleasant means to get from place to place.

A two-car Paterson-Ridgewood-Suffern NJRT trolley for a special outing circa 1911

There were three stops in Glen Rock: one at Harristown Road, one at Hamilton Avenue, and one at Ackerman Avenue plus a fourth stop just over the borough line at Grove Street in Ridgewood. The first stop in Fair Lawn southbound from Glen Rock was at Fair Lawn Avenue. At Glen Rock's Harristown and Ackerman stops, there were three-sided wooden shelters with benches on the open platforms. The line entered Glen Rock from the south in the Hamilton School area, swung along an easy curve over a fill and trestle and then a bridge (known as the Glen Rock Viaduct) over the Erie Short Cut (Bergen County Line tracks), then down grade and up a little to Hamilton Avenue. From here it ran almost due east to Prospect Street where there was an easy curve to a point on Grove Street just east of the Hohokus Brook in Ridgewood. If you look carefully, you can still find the remains of the footprints for several of the concrete piers that held up the trestle in the PSE&G right-of-way between Wilde Memorial Park and Salem Court.

The Glen Rock Viaduct (right and below) was 1,155 feet in length to take the trolley tracks up and over the Erie Railroad tracks behind Wilde Memorial Park. Remnants of the concrete piers can still be seen there today.

After operating for about a year, there was a terrible head-on collision on the blind curve between Prospect Street and Grove Street, on Friday, July 21, 1911. Car No. 12, southbound, and Car No. 20, northbound, were crushed into a little more than a one-car length. NJRT Superintendent Francis J. Pilgrim, who was operating No. 12, and Motorman William Hutchinson both died that evening at Paterson General Hospital. John Frotaillo, who was flag on the southbound car, died while being transported to the hospital. In a tragic twist of fate, Motorman Hutchinson had quit his job the day before the accident but Superintendent Pilgrim had convinced him to work one more day. The accident was attributed to faulty signals on the line, which had been damaged by a severe lightening storm earlier that afternoon. The No. 20 car was the regularly scheduled trolley on the tracks at that time; it is thought that Pilgrim took the No. 12 car to try to do a quick repair to the signals before the No. 20 would arrive. Both cars were traveling at full-speed when they met at the track curve in Glen Rock.

The settlements resulting from this accident and the quiet squeeze of the Public Service in not leasing the line permission to operate over its trackage to Paterson and Edgewater all helped to write the end for the NJRT. Public Service took over the line later and for a short time operated it but the trolley never operated at a profit. Service was discontinued when Public Service buses paralleled the line, making the trolley service duplicative. At present, this right-of-way is traversed by PSE&G high-tension electric lines.

According to the NJRT historian and former conductor, E. J. Quinby, the original 75-pound NJRT rails were eventually ripped up and sold to the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 1929.

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