Horse Railroads


The five following articles were reprinted from
Short Sketches on Passaic County History, 1935by Edward Graf.

First Passenger Horse Railroad

The ceremony of driving the first spike in the horse railroad to Cedar Lawn and Passaic village was performed on Thursday afternoon, August 6, 1868, at five o’clock.  This was the first passenger horse railroad in Paterson.  On Tuesday, August 4, Mr. Beckwith the president of the road, began operations and, on the fifth of August, he laid the sleepers and rails for a distance of two or three hundred yards from the corner of Market street and Railroad avenue.  A large number of citizens were present and a spike placed at the beginning of the road.  Mr. Beckwith called on John J. Brown, first mayor of Paterson, to drive the first spike in the first horse railroad in Passaic County.

Mr. Brown said it gave him great pleasure to take such a part in so important a public enterprise.  He recalled with pride one thing accomplished during his administration as mayor; the laying of flags or brick sidewalks four feet wide so that people could walk dry-shod instead of through the mud.  He seized the sledge and let drive at the spike.  His first stroke missed and raised a laugh; his next was more successful and drove the spike well down.  Ex-Mayor H. A. Williams drove the next spike, followed by Mayor N. Townsend; H. B. Crosby, president of the Passaic Land and Improvement company; representatives of the city papers; Recorder J. J. Warren; City Clerk Belcher; City Attorney A. J. Sandford; City Treasurer E. R. Mason; Aldermen Knowles and Osborn; J. E. Fredericks; George Christie and others.  Before the ceremony was over half a dozen rails were fastened.

The contract for laying the rails was awarded to F. C. Beckwith, president of the road, and the work was to be completed to Cedar Lawn within two months.  Owing to a strike in the Pennsylvania iron region where the rails were being rolled, that part of the work was delayed nearly a month.  But on arrival, a large number of men were employed by the contractor so that he was able to complete the contract in three weeks.  Mr. Beckwith was determined to run the first car on Saturday, August 29.  After vainly trying to have the builders of his car deliver it in time, he went to New York Saturday morning, procured help to life the car on a truck, mount the load and drove it through New York from Thirtieth Street to the Pavonia Ferry, and succeeded in getting it shipped to Paterson just in time to achieve his object.  The first car containing the directors and a few invited guests, made its trip over the road on Saturday afternoon, demonstrating that the contractor had done his work well.  The cars commenced running regular trips on Tuesday morning, September first, making a trip each way every hour.  The fare was eight cents and for the convenience of regular travelers, tickets were sold at six dollars per hundred.

Totowa Line

The horse railroad to Totowa was formally opened on June 30, 1871.  Three cars laden with invited guests started about half past four and made the virgin trip from Broadway and West Street.  After making several turns the road terminated at the corner of Ryerson Avenue and Totowa.

Main Street Line

The Main Street horsecar was formally opened on Saturday, October 28, 1871, at 4 o’clock.  Two cars loaded with directors and officers of the road the guests rode out to the terminus near the Sisters (now St. Joseph’s) hospital and return.

The cars started from Van Houten Street where an improved turntable of iron had been constructed.  The cars were cozy little things, arranged to be drawn by one horse, with all the latest improvements.  The driver was also the conductor, although he was relieved of the responsibility of handling the money.  By a mirror over his head, he could see that the passengers all paid their fare.  After a passenger entered he was surprised to see the rear door close of itself.  This was done by the driver, who controlled cords which ran concealed through the car.  The passenger hearing a little bell ring, and going over to see what the matter was, discovered a curious little place in which he was directed to deposit his fare.  If you had the five cents in change, depositing it in the box it fell below where the driver could see it and if correct, touched a handle and the money went out of sight in the box below.  If the correct change was not on hand a notice told that it could be had from the driver.  In the front was a small door marked change; pushing down the little door, rang a bell calling the driver’s attention.  If a twenty-five cent piece was given the driver he would give in return an envelope on which was printed “25 cents.”  This envelope contained a fare ticket, which your deposited, and twenty cents in change.  The cars made regular trips every twenty minutes from both ends, connecting with the stage line to Lakeview at Barclay street.

Distinguished by Colors

In December of 1871, horse cars could be distinguished by the colors.  The green cars starting from Main street in front of the Guardian office ran to Cedar Lawn and little signs on the top of the cars told whether they would go via Market street or Willis (Park avenue) street.

The Riverside cars started from Broadway near Main street and were painted yellow.

The small red cars which started from Van Houten street ran up Main street as far as the Sisters hospital.

If you saw a high railroad car with a locomotive perched two stories up in the air and drawn by sixteen or twenty horses with a howl and racket, scaring the horses and people through Market street — that was the “Paterson Horse Railroad company.”

Adventures of a Horse Car

As the Totowa horse car was coming down Union avenue at 9:45  p.m. September 7, 1887, a boy threw a stone which struck the driver on the back of the neck. Putting on the brakes, he left the car, as there were no passengers, and rushed after the lad back up Union avenue.  The car was near the turn of the tract into Hamburg avenue.  The brakes did not hold, and the horses showed their disregard of the driver by jogging quietly along on their contempt for the prescribed places for the wheels by running past the turn.  They went straight as possible and crashed into a large frame tenement in Hamburg avenue.  The inmates of the building rushed out in terror, an old lady nearly went into hysterics.  After a tree box had been town from its fastenings the animals stopped and waited for the driver, who came up breathless and scared, without having captured the young miscreant who hit him.  Little damage was done to car or horse.