Grab the kids, grab a friend, because once again its that time to ride the rails into history.
On Oct. 15 and 16, Union County celebrates Four Centuries In A Weekend, when historic sites and museums across the county open their doors to the public, free of charge.
Many of the sites are within walking distance of the train stations across the County, with some sites offering shuttle service.
Kean University will once again provide trolley service from NJ Transit’s Union Station to Liberty Hall Museum. Meanwhile, Mountainside will provide a shuttle that will make a loop from the Westfield train station to the Deserted Village, with stops at the Miller-Cory Museum, the Reeve House, ucnj.org/reeve, and Mountainside’s Deacon Hetfield House, ucnj.org/deacon, before reaching the Deserted Village , ucnj.org/dv, where Union County Parks sponsors a host of activities and tours for young and old alike.
“It’s a fun outing, with a train ride and a little history along the way,” said Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski. “Many of the towns’ historic sites are within walking distance of the stations,” she said, noting that the County has put together a listing of all the sites along the County’s three train lines.
“Some sites, like Fanwood, are right at the train station,” Kowalski said. “Others have further walks but if it is a beautiful fall day, it may be just the day to enjoy a leisurely stroll.”
A full listing of directions from the County’s rail stations to the historic sites is available at: ucnj.org/trainthrutime or ucnj.org/TTT.
“Four Centuries is such a great event,” Kowalski said. “A train ride is just the icing on the cake and adds to the fun of learning about our area’s incredibly rich history.”
NJ Transit allows children to ride free on weekends. Monthly commuter passes are also valid. (Fare details are available at njtransit.com) . For those wishing to cycle from a train station, be sure to check with NJ Transit’s guidelines for bringing bikes aboard the trains.
Below is a brief guide to the sites. The (#) below refers to site numbers in Union County Across the Centuries, the County’s guide to sites of historic note in the area. Union County Parks (ucnj.org/parks) is also rolling out routes for cyclists to visit several historic sites along a 10–12 mile ride.
Long before the Raritan Valley Line, there was the Central Railroad of New Jersey. From stations across Union County, from Plainfield to Elizabeth, it was possible to board a train to Chicago, or from Jersey City, to board a ferry to New York City. The CNJ is long gone, however some of the historic sites along the route remain, and you can ride the train to visit some of them.
Raritan Valley Line
Plainfield to Elizabeth, it was possible to board a train to Chicago, or from Jersey City, to board a ferry to New York City. The CNJ is long gone, however some of the historic sites along the route remain, and you can ride the train to visit some of them.
Details about these sites are found in the front of this book, and at ucnj.org/4C. Most sites are staffed by volunteers, so it may help to call in advance to confirm that the site will be open for your visit.
From the Raritan Valley Line, train stops near sites include these:
- Fanwood: (8) Historic Fanwood Train Station, 230 North Ave. The Victorian Gothic train station is on the westbound side.
- Westfield: From the train station, walk north through downtown. Then, walk along Mountain Ave., past the iconic white Presbyterian Church to (34) Reeve House, home of the Westfield Historical Society, located at 314 Mountain Ave. Continue to (33) the Miller-Cory House Museum, at 614 Mountain Ave.
- Cranford: (4) Crane-Phillips House Museum,124 North Union Ave. This American Civil War veteran’s cottage stands next to the Rahway River, a short walk northeast from the train station.
- Roselle Park: (20) Roselle Park Museum, 9 West Grant Ave. Walk south on Chestnut St. to the borough’s downtown, to find the Roselle Park Museum. A little further, on Westfield Ave., was the Charles E. Stone store, the first store in the world illuminated by Edison’s incandescent lamp.
- Union: (32) Liberty Hall Museum, 1003 Morris Ave. The train stops at Kean University. Walk across Morris Ave. to Liberty Hall, built on the eve of the American Revolution and home to William Livingston, a signer of the Constitution. (This site is also a 1-mile walk from North Elizabeth station on the Northeast Corridor Line. See details below.)
Morristown Line and Gladstone Branch
The Morristown Line, formerly part of the old Erie Lackawanna Railroad, intersects with NJ Transit’s Gladstone Branch in Summit, where there are two sites within a half-mile of the downtown station:
- Summit: (28) Summit Playhouse, 10 New England Ave. Just west of the station, the Summit Library Association kept its books in various locations until residents donated $3,720 to build the Richardsonian, a Romanesque structure designed by Arthur Jennings.
- Summit: (29) Twin Maples, 214 Springfield Ave. Just east of the station is Twin Maples, with a style evoking the White house. This suburban estate typifies the grand homes built in the Summit area from 1880 to 1920.
Northeast Corridor and North Jersey Coast Line
The Northeast Corridor, once the proud domain of the Pennsylvania Railroad, is now the main line between New York City and Trenton, while the Coast Line takes travelers to the Jersey Shore. All trains stop in Elizabeth, but only some stop in North Elizabeth, so be sure to check before boarding.
From the Elizabeth station, in the heart of the city, there are three sites within a half-mile of the station:
- Elizabeth: (6) First Presbyterian Church of Elizabeth & Snyder Academy, 42 Broad St. Exit the station onto Broad St., and walk north to 42 Broad
- Elizabeth: (5) Boxwood Hall State Historic Site, 1073 East Jersey St. & (7) Nathaniel Bonnell Homestead & Belcher-Ogden Mansion, 1045 & 1046 East Jersey St. Exit First Presbyterian to left. Turn right onto E. Jersey St., and follow it to 1073 E. Jersey, then 1045 & 1046 East Jersey St.
These two significant sites are a mile-plus walk from North Elizabeth station. (Be sure to check the train schedule at njtransit.com, because not all trains stop at North Elizabeth.) Those desiring to visit both sites from this station should first stop at Evergreen Cemetery, and then proceed to Liberty Hall to avoid back-tracking:
- North Elizabeth: (9) Evergreen Cemetery, 1137 N. Broad St., Hillside (1853 interdenominational burial ground with mausoleums and more than 10,000 monuments — a virtual museum of funerary art). From the No. Elizabeth station, head west on North Ave. for 3/10 mile, then turn right onto Cross Ave. Head north for a half-mile, then bear left onto Lower Rd. Turn left onto North Broad St. The cemetery entrance is on your right.
- North Elizabeth: (32) Liberty Hall Museum, 1003 Morris Ave., Union (built on the eve of the American Revolution, and former home to William Livingston, a signer of the Constitution). From the station, head west on North Ave. for 7/10 mile, then turn right onto Westminster Ave. Turn left onto Wilder St. Approaching the rear entrance to Kean University’s Nathan Weiss Graduate School, take the pedestrian bridge on the far side to cross the Elizabeth River, and arrive at Liberty Hall. (Travelers not wishing to return via North Elizabeth station can cross the avenue to the Union Station to board the Raritan Valley Line, for travel to points east or west.)