It used to be a water-filled ditch until
about 1930, part of the Morris Canal and lock system built back
in the 1800s to bring commerce from western New Jersey down to Newark,
Jersey City, and New York. Lock Street in Newark (near the Warren
Street subway station stop) was where one of the many locks was
located as the barges made their way slowly down the canal to market.
Mom said her brothers always took a summer swim in it.
As progress overtook the canal with railways, roads and later
airways, the need for a high maintenance canal rapidly faded, and
with it Newark changed its section of canal into what we know today
as The City Subway, the number 7 line. The tile murals on the walls
in the underground stations starting at Warren Street show what
life was like along the canal.
At first, they thought about putting buses in that old hand-dug
ditch, but wisely opted for a less polluting, quieter rail line,
with many spurs that fed other street-level trolleys along Bloomfield
Avenue, Park Avenue, Orange Street, Street, Norfolk/Central Avenue,
Washington Street; and stretching out to Market Street, Roseville
Avenue, and the Oranges. The number 23 line went all the way up
to Our Lady of Lourdes Church in West Orange at the foot of Eagle
Rock Avenue and Main Street. There is a bus station there now.
In 1954, the last street level trolleys disappeared from Bloomfield
Avenue, leaving only the main spinal column, of the once extensive
trolley network. I can remember the old trolleys, just barely. Many
of the now prevalent bus lines are numbered in the same manner as
the original routes for the once clanging trolley lines. There was
a trolley barn at Lake Street and Bloomfield Avenue, which later
became a bus garage and is now completely gone. The other big barn
along Bloomfield Avenue was in Montclair, which later became a big
bowling alley (Belle Clair Lanes) and is now the site of high-priced
condos. Things change. There was also a Roseville barn.
The City Subway now has been extended past its last stop at Franklin
Station (re-named Branch Brook station) thru to a new Silver Lake
station at the corner of Heckel Street and Franklin Avenue, and
goes all the way down to Grove Street in Bloomfield near Bloomfield
Avenue…… near where the old Charms plant and the freight
yard used to be (near Ampere Parkway and Bloomfield Avenue).
Got fancy new white double cars now too, and a new maintenance
facility at Grove Street too. They moved the trolley repair shops
there…… from their original home under Penn Station.
Did you ever wonder where the trolleys went after they dropped you
off at Penn Station, disappearing into what seemed like a dark maze
under the station? Then they emerged again later to start their
route all over again.
Many of us rode the subway all over the north and central wards.
Take the subway…..be there in 7 minutes. Leave your house
at 8:00, be sitting at your desk in downtown Newark at 8:30. Clean,
no bus or auto fumes to inhale. Watch the sun rising up over the
Cathedral on a cold clear morning with that subway car all toasty
and warm. The trolley starters at Franklin, Bloomfield and Park
Avenue stations, remember them at the back doors getting everyone
on board safely and pushing the rear buzzer button so the driver
would know when to start on his way?
I used that little rail line every day to go to N. C. E. and then
to work at PSE&G Know every tree along the route through Branch
Brook Park. After many a tough day at school and later work, that
gentle rocking along the road bed seemed to soothe the bumps and
made me feel a bit more relaxed. Remember that clikkitty-clack noise
of the wheels? The new cars don’t make that sound anymore.
They glide instead. I prefer the noise. It was part of the experience.
I enjoyed the fast ride you got between Orange Street and Park
Avenue when the driver opened her up a bit. If you sat in the back
you experienced both a swaying and a bouncing motion. This happened
again when you left Davenport Avenue and sped toward Heller Parkway.
The old Heller Parkway station is closed now in favor of the New
Branch Brook Station. The connecting buses still stop at the Branch
Brook Station, there on cobblestone-lined Anthony Street.
At night I remember seeing the sparks from the overhead contactors
on the wires. What about those big globe lights at the station stops
at Bloomfield Avenue and Park Avenue, remember those? And the signs
that flashed….”Car Coming” to let you know a trolley
was approaching? So visual an experience it was, a little bit of
European flavor right in our own backyards. Big stately trolleys
they were, gone now, and the memories fading faster as we age. They
rebuilt the overhead lines too, and gone are the bright blue sparks
When they tore down the old PSE&G terminal building in 1981,
I watched from my office in the new tower building the day they
tried to smash the old incline that lead into the back of the building
where the trolleys entered. The wrecking ball just bounced off it.
They hammered at that incline for days, and finally dynamited it
and the remaining foundations. They found some old trolley tunnels
down there and pulled out two demolished cars they had forgotten
in a sealed tunnel.
Just a couple of years ago they re-discovered the old underground
Cedar Street spur line that opened out onto Washington Street. That
line ultimately led into the basement of the original PSE&G
building. That whole area is honeycombed with tunnels, and abandoned
underground stations and boarded up store fronts. I suppose when
they dug out the Military Park underground garage, and the new PSE&G
skyscraper it probably capped off those once busy tunnels leading
into the terminal building. Like I said, things change.
Every now and then, some street work in downtown Newark exposes
the sleeping rails and switch tracks. People gawk and find it hard
to believe, especially if they are young. So much we now depend
on autos, it is hard for folks to imagine a time when trolleys were
Rumor had it you could walk underground from PSE&G, all the
way to Bambergers. I don’t doubt it. I understand that before
WWII there were plans to expand the underground subway all over
the downtown area, like NYC, but I guess it never did get any serious
attention later. Too bad. It would have been quite a nice way to
escape the surface level traffic and winter weather.
The City Subway is a rather famous trolley line. Been written
up in quite a few websites and histories about inter-urban transportation
systems. The City Subway will always be my little time machine,
reminding me of how I grew up in Newark. I still ride it, even if
it does have new cars. But I remember the sights and smells of the
old cars and that’s what I experience whenever I ride it.
Things change……. but not completely.