|Dimensions||16 × 12 × 2 in|
Erie/EL’s Bundee Branch, NYS&W’s Passaic Branch and the Historic Industry of Dundee and Garfield by Peter Brill
“The DCIHD is significant as a surviving, intact, interconnected component of the textile-industry-related landscape that defined Passaic, Clifton, and surrounding communities from the late 19th through the mid-20th centuries.” This is a quote from the Library of Congress describing the significance of the Dundee Canal Industrial Historic District. Three industrial complexes, including the most famous, Botany Worsted Mills, are included in the DCIHD but dozens more are not and some were internationally known in industries other than the textile industry.
Companies were initially attracted by the availability of water for power, transport and as an ingredient in manufacturing processes. The Dundee Water-Power & Land Company, owner of the land and water power, sought to attract more companies and commenced building a short branch to the Erie’s newly-opened Bergen County Short Cut in 1881. By 1882 it was operated by the Erie as the Dundee Branch or Spur. Three years later, the Erie and the NYS&W sparred as the latter built the Passaic Branch and the Erie extended their branch under the Bergen & Dundee banner, both seeking to serve a newly industrialized area. Over time, the density of industry served by each branch supported a total mileage of sidings almost equaling the length of the branch. Competition between the two railroads soon ended as the Erie acquired the NYS&W in 1898, an arrangement lasting four decades.
The explosive growth in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s of the industrial base in Passaic, including the area which would become the Borough of Garfield in 1898, fueled the rapid population growth of the region. Many of the textile firms were owned by German interests and a large-scale wave of immigration from countries throughout Europe provided much of the manpower and womanpower for the mills and came to represent a substantial fraction of the region’s populace. Botany Mills in the Dundee section of Passaic was New Jersey’s largest industrial enterprise for a period of years.
Passaic achieved national recognition as a center for the manufacture of woolen products while nearby Paterson was the “Silk City”. Both cities endured major strikes in the 1920’s but the 1926 Passaic Textile Strike gained national attention and was still capable of generating a book a century later.
While passenger service on both the Erie and NYS&W branches was minimal and short-lived due to the proliferation of trolley service and the proximity of the residential neighborhoods to the factories, freight service flourished for decades. As both the Dundee Branch and the Passaic Branch were only about three miles long; included bridges with significant restrictions and connected to a multitude of private sidings, both the Erie and the NYS&W assigned small motive power in the steam and diesel eras.
The dominant local textile industry went into decline after World War II. Many factors combined to decimate the mills that had once employed almost 20,000 workers. Companies in other industries continued operating and the roster included well known railroad industry suppliers; U. S. Rubber, Pantasote and Okonite. But the general trend of de-industrialization that plagued the Northeast could not be avoided and by the time of Conrail there was not much left.
NYS&W service ended in 1968, a victim of a compromised bridge over the Passaic River and the last customer converting from coal to oil. Conrail eventually abolished service on the Dundee Branch in 1995 and the remnants of the Dundee Branch lay dormant until a new company, the New York & Greenwood Lake Railroad, arrived on the scene in 1997. The NY&GL managed to attract some new business and operate part of the branch for a little over a decade into 2009 after which there was sporadic service for a few more years.
Finally, NY&GL sold out to a developer in 2019 and much of this once heavily industrialized area was slated for residential and light commercial development while governmental agencies succeeded in preserving the structures of a few of the entities that once defined the region as the Dundee Canal Industrial Historic District. Unfortunately, the tracks of the Erie/EL and NYS&W which once served the vital purpose of connecting these industries to each other and to the rest of the Nation and indeed the world were not preserved. This book aims to remedy that oversight.
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