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The Paterson & Ramapo Railroad

Paterson & Ramapo RailroadWhile Elijah Rosencrantz renovated The Hermitage, a railroad to and through Ho-Ho-Kus was in development. The Paterson & Ramapo, fifteen miles in length, was envisioned to connect the Erie Railroad in New York State at Suffern with the Paterson & Hudson Railroad in Paterson. The Paterson & Hudson Railroad, one of the earliest railroads in the United States, had been completed in 1832 and connected Paterson to the New York Harbor waterfront at Jersey City.

The New Jersey Legislature approved the new Paterson & Ramapo Railroad Company in 1841. On a map of the prospective route, the planners noted local factories that might be served, including the Rosencrantz cotton warp mill and other mills on Ho-Ho-Kus Brook. Stock in the company was offered for sale in 1844, and construction began in 1847. Work on the line resulted in accidents and deaths, mostly among the mainly immigrant Irish workers, and cost $200,000. Two locomotives, the Ramapo and the New York were ordered from Rogers, Ketchum and Grosvenor in Paterson.

The fifteen-mile, single-track Paterson & Ramapo Railroad was completed in 1848. Before its arrival, cotton bales had been brought from New York City to Ho-Ho-Kus by boat and by horse and wagon, and the finished warp was taken to Philadelphia the same way. Elijah could not but be excited about the possibilities for increased business and for faster and more comfortable personal travel to Paterson and New York City. He thus willingly made land available for the railroad’s right of way through his property.

The prospect of improved transportation also contributed to his decision to join Mathew Dunlap in building a new paper mill on Ho-Ho-Kus Brook in 1848. In January 1849, they ordered a papermaking machine from Worcester, Massachusetts, for which they paid $1,800. The mill went into operation later that year, even though Elijah reported to his brother John that building the mill venture and renovating The Hermitage had overextended his financial resources.

General Winfield Scott and several other military heroes just returned from the Mexican War joined railroad and government officials in Suffern to celebrate the opening of the railroad on October 19, 1848. The Morning Courier reported:

The new Road seemed to us to be well and carefully finished. . . . There is some heavy work on the line—deep cuttings through red stone or coarse solid gravel pan—long and high embankments—but all well and finally done. . . . The line of the road traverses a beautiful country—comparatively unknown, too—the flats of Paramus are all laid open to the eye of the flying traveller, and by their beauty, fertility and peaceful aspect, seem to invite him to stay his rapid course. Approaching the Ramapo mountains, the train seems running into the breast of them, when all of a sudden it brings up in one of the gorges, and the wayfarer finds himself besides the Erie Railroad.

Regular runs began on November 1, with three trains traveling in each direction daily. There were stations at Ho-Ho-Kus, Allendale, and Ramsey; another station was soon added at Godwinville (Ridgewood). Special excursion trains were introduced on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and additional trains were run on holidays such as the Fourth of July.

While the railroad had benefits, it also brought costs and liabilities. By August 1849, Elijah was already complaining about trouble getting the Paterson & Ramapo company to clear construction debris that had fallen into Ho-Ho-Kus Brook and interfered with the flow of the water, and thus with the power source to the mills. Accidents, collisions, and derailments also were frequent in the early years of the railroad. Human misjudgments that would have resulted in minor injuries in the slower-moving agrarian world proved fatal with the increased size and speed of the railroad.

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