I recently took a Sunday afternoon off and followed the track of the Central Railroad of New Jersey’s Chester Branch along its century-old route from Long Valley to Chester and the site of the old Taylor blast furnace on the Lamington River. Along the way I saw some surprising things, and some that were not surprising, but impressed me deeply nonetheless. The railroads of Northern New Jersey played a key role in the commercial development of early America. Today many of them are no more than faint lines on a green and reforested landscape, or marks on a 120 year-old topographical map.
I entered the woods near Chester, New Jersey by stepping over a thin cable slung between two wooden posts and heading up a narrow gravel-covered track that disappeared in leafy dimness. The better part of forty-five minutes later I was barely a mile in, but then I had the camera with me, and had seen many things worth a short delay: a spring from which orange, iron-laden water bubbled; remnants of a 19th century sewage system; ancient stone walls lining a suspiciously regular cut in the earth; century old black cinders born in the firebox of a steam engine. The path I followed was unmistakable as an abandoned railroad right of way: unlike any forest track a railroad cuts long smooth slices through the terrain: no tight curves; no steep grades.