Back in 2013, Jay O’Neill began a thread on the “Old Verona” Facebook page about the railroad that once ran through the west side of Verona. This post is derived from those postings.
When some of us Verona-ites see the words “Erie Railroad”, we picture the little train station that once stood on Depot Street at the top of Personette Avenue. This was where some of the Verona men with jobs in New York City caught the 8:00 a.m. commuter train to the City, and then returned home on the 6:00 p.m. arrival.
Our railroad line was the Caldwell Branch, although travel in the Caldwell direction from Verona was not very extensive. My family lived on Personette Avenue just below Fairview, and as far as we were concerned, our Erie tracks marked the limits of Verona civilization in the Caldwell direction. Beyond these tracks was the Second Mountain of the Watchung Range, and as kids we would sometimes climb the heavily wooded hill to find ourselves in the nether world of the Essex Mountain Sanatorium.
The freight trains on this line had their usual stops to deliver supplies to local businesses requiring their services. Guy Vanderhoof told us, “The Freight trains switched and backed up to the Power House at Overbrook Hospital to drop off coal, (the power house later converted to oil), and also backed into a siding at the bottom of Durrell and Valley View to drop off lumber at Charles Bahr & Son. Then they would deliver coal to Johnson’s on Fairview Avenue before they had put in oil tanks. We can still see some of the tracks at Bahr’s, and some of the cement coal bins at Johnson’s.”
Mr. Kiefer had his brush factory nearby along the tracks. As a kid, I was impressed by the enterprising nature of Mr. K. who began his brush manufacturing business in his garage across from us on Personette, and grew it into its own facility on Depot Street. “I used to work on Depot Street for Kiefer Brush in the early ’70s. Best job I ever had”, said Louis DeLaura.
In defiance of the “No Trespassing” signs around the tracks, we would of course have to find out just how flat our pennies could get on the rails when the train rolled over them. Some of the more adventurous kids were bold enough to hop a freight train to Caldwell, but I never tried it. I was certain we’d get caught by the engineer or the brakeman in his caboose. My limited feat of defiance was jumping off the tracks into the giant piles of coal at Johnson’s and sliding down to the bottom. I then had to explain to my mom why I came home covered with coal soot.
“We lived at the top of Pine St… The train ran right behind our backyard… My brother was a train enthusiast… he took tons of pictures of the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad in its heyday!”
–Donna Tempesta Heun.
Some people think ‘Erie-Lackawanna’ when I mention the Erie RR, but the merger of the two would not come about for some time. The Lackawanna Railroad was an electrified route that went from the Montclair Terminal to Hoboken at the docks on the Hudson River. We kids would sometimes take this train to the Model Railroad Show at the Hoboken Station. This route was also an acceptable way for us to get to New York City, since it would be years before any of us would drive a car. The round trip ticket to Hoboken included a free ride on the Manhattan Ferry and back, otherwise the fare across the Hudson was 5 cents each way.
I never did get to ride the Erie, but I do have a fondness for the road today. An issue of Trains Magazine will sometimes include an article regarding locomotives sporting the Diamond E herald, taking me back again to the good old days.
“My Grandmother lived on Depot Street and I remember the Brush Factory and walking the tracks with my Grandmother and cousins, Chris Marchant and Julie Marchant.”
“I lived on the other side of town but I can definitely recall the railroad along this line.”
“I don’t think anyone’s house was as close to the tracks as mine, top of Arnold Way. The whole house would shake when the trains would pass by.”
“That’s my old neighborhood.”
–Sherry Brown Fiore
“We always played by the railroad track,,walked all along the tracks and explored all those woods. I used to love finding old dishes from when I guess there might have been old houses there ( or so I thought as a child).”
–Ann Stevens Kays
“I still have my pennies ran over by the train…luv it.”
–Jonathan C. Pitt
“Jonathan C. Pitt, we used to put pennies on the tracks as well.”
“One day during the 1954-1955 school year, Ms. Schermerhorn, soon to become Mrs. Sanger, took her Forest Avenue School first grade class on the best field trip ever. That trip began my life-long love affair with trains.
“What a great trip along memory lane. I was forbidden to go across the street and near the tracks behind Lynwood Road but of course went there all the time.”
–Betty Plummer Walker
“We did something like this with Mrs. Russi in 1st grade — definitely visited Phoebe Snow in Hoboken and crossed Hudson by ferry — circa 1960-61. I’ve never forgotten.”
“I remember that trip, Mitch!”
–Grace Albano Kelliher
“My Dad took the train to Manhattan where he worked. I remember taking the train once in a while.”