Mahwah Old Station Museum to Remain Open Through End of October
The Old Station Museum and Erie Caboose, located at 1871 Old Station Lane in Mahwah, has expanded its fall hours to remain open through October 30th. It is free and will be open from 2-4 pm every Sunday through the end of October. The museum was closed to the public during the pandemic, The Mahwah Museum Board of Trustees took the time during the pandemic to clean up and re-furbish all of the displays and install new historical plaques explaining the history of the train station. There is a new exhibit on display right now. From Mahwah to Moscow- North Jersey’s Trolley Era via Models and Memorabilia includes scale model trolleys by Hollis Bachman and other NJ trolley model cars, streetcar memorabilia, operator uniforms, photos, tickets, lanterns, hardware, fare boxes, and signage.
The Old Station Museum was established in 1967 and is located in the building that was the original station on the Erie Railroad in Mahwah. It was rescued from destruction, first by the Winters family, and later by the Mahwah Historical Society. At the museum, visitors will find interesting artifacts given to the museum by collectors of railroad memorabilia as well as a scale model of the Erie system. Photos show the early days of railroading in Mahwah and along the rest of the mainline. It also features the recently-restored 1929 Erie cupola caboose which is located behind the museum.
Although a new railroad track was laid in 1848 running from Paterson to Suffern, Mahwah didn’t have a stop. Board Trustee and Docent, John Fesen, walked me through the history of station. “All of the other towns had stations, so they could board the train. The residents of Mahwah could only watch the train go by. It took 23 years until a station was finally built in the fall of 1871. Even then, it wasn’t a regular stop. The stationmaster would have to go up to the track and wave a red flag to get the train to stop when a customer arrived at the station. Three years later, it became an official train stop.”
John explained the importance of this. “Mahwah was a very agricultural society at that point, but it was hard to get the products to far-reaching markets prior to the train.” The new station helped the town grow and prosper. The Erie Railroad line was continually expanded and allowed passengers to go as far as Chicago, Illinois starting in 1885. There is a 3-D model display in the museum that shows the length of the Erie Railroad line.
The train station was built as a wooden structure with three separate areas: the baggage area, the passenger waiting room, and the stationmaster’s office. You can see some of the original items in the museum such as the stationmaster’s desk, fire equipment, and the flag. The fire equipment was important because the first Erie locomotives were wood-fired. Despite the funnels at the front of the engines to catch cinders, sometimes some would fly off and cause trackside fires. Coal-burning engines came about in 1886, and were eventually replaced with diesel-powered trains in the early 1950s.
The expansion of the rail line did more than help the flow of goods and transportation of farm produce. It also attracted summer vacationers wanting a break from the city, and an opportunity for people to build permanent homes here and commute to New York City. It also allowed students to graduate eighth grade at the Commodore Perry School and ride to train to Ramsey High School. The building of a train station was such an important part of making Mahwah the town it is today in terms of its growth, that some people regard it as the most important building in Mahwah. An image of the train station is on the official seal of Mahwah.
The museum has a running miniature train set up. A more extensive collection of miniature trains can be seen in the main Mahwah Museum up the road. Also on a display at the Old Station Museum is the Birch Steam Locomotive replica. Built in 1918 by the shop apprentices in Erie’s Dunmore, Pennsylvania shop, the locomotive is built to a scale of 11/2 inches to the foot. Stephen Birch, Sr., had given the locomotive to his son to ride around their estate. The former Birch estate is now home to Ramapo College. Stephen Birch, Jr. donated the locomotive for display in 1967 and is now a permanent part of the collection. Behind the museum is a full-size caboose from the Erie line.
The Old Station is on Old Station Lane which is adjacent to East Ramapo Avenue—just west of the current train station. Come down this Sunday and learn more about the history of Mahwah!