The Millstone Branch – Somerset County Rail Trail Candidate

Somerset County has a hidden gem of a rail trail candidate. Abandoned for decades, the western end remnants of the former Millstone & New Brunswick Railroad lie hidden. Buried in woods and overgrowth and running silently behind subdivisions, it courses through the landscape from New Brunswick to East Millstone. If converted to a rail trail, this corridor would provide an excellent recreational and multi-modal transportation resource for the greater community. There’s even a deli (The Sunrise Deli on Market Street in East Millstone) and parking space available at the East Millstone end.

right of way at Wortman street
The old right of way at Wortman Street in East Millstone

History

sunrise Deli
The Sunrise Deli on Market Street in East Millstone. The train used to run along the angled side wall.

In 10 years of abandoned railroad research and frequenting East Millstone for my fine art photography work I never knew that a railroad once existed there. The railroad carried weekend shoppers to the stores in New Brunswick where riders could make connections to bigger cities. At its height in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries the railroad offered 12 trains daily but service ended in March 1930. The line continued to run freight for decades after, serving a rubber factory in town until the early 1970s. After that there was one industrial customer left at the Clyde Road crossing farther East until very recently. In 2011 the tracks were actually improved up to that point from the main line, but the company moved out around 2015 and now they lay unused once more.

Barely discernable is it winds west through the neighborhoods of Franklin Township on the south side of Amwell Road, the right of way crosses that thoroughfare (near Cedar Grove Lane), then runs along the north side of Amwell, crossing over at Mettlers Road and into East Millstone village where it ends at Market Street. You can still see the right of way where a bridge once existed on Wortman Street and along the angled wall of the Sunrise Deli, behind which once stood an engine house. There are even tracks in the overgrown right of way between Market and William streets.

right of way at Market Street
The former right of way dead ends at Market Street

The Case for Conversion

I attended a meeting of the Franklin Township Trails Advisory Committee (TAC) last November (2019) to ask them about converting the old right of way to a rail trail. They told me that I was “late to the party,” as they had been; the section of right of way west of Clyde Road to East Millstone was sold off by the railroad to private owners some time ago. They informed me that Franklin Township owns the section between South Middlebush Road and Elizabeth Avenue. The township has plans to create a north-south bike trail along the former and connect it to their segment of the old railway path. My dream is to have the East Millstone segment converted to a trail, a project that would require getting landowner approval. It could then connect with the segment along Colonial Park and Spooky Brook Golf course north of Amwell Road, which are county-owned, I believe, and then to the township-owned segment at Elizabeth Avenue.

Tracks
Tracks are still embedded in the land parcel between William and Market Streets

This former right of way is a perfect candidate for building a great and useful rail trail for the community. It would be one of Somerset County’s first, along with other proposed trails in the County’s Walk, Bike, Hike Plan, in which this trail is not mentioned. So, this will require some legwork of my own. I’ve already written a letter to present to East Millstone residents, who I’m told are very receptive to new ideas. I hope to get their support for my idea and then we can go back to the TAC to look at the next steps.

I’ve been late to the party before yet I managed to accomplish significant results with another historic preservation project, with the promise of restoration and adaptive reuse where before none seemed to exist. (See my post on The William Gulick House in Lawrence Township on my “James T Callahan’s Blog” site.) And I have no doubt I can do the same here.

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