Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: Railroads in New Jersey, the Formative Years by John T. Cunningham 1997 Afton publishing Company

A few months back, I reviewed Railroading in New Jersey by John T. Cunningham. It was a compilation of a series of articles he wrote in 1951 on the history of railroads in the Garden State. That was quite a fascinating thing to read. John Cunningham knew how to tell a story about real people and facts. He is prominent among authors on New Jersey History.

Railroads in New Jersey, the Formative Years, is John Cunningham’s book that expanded upon the brief chapters of his earlier work. He brings you an immense work on the origins and development of New Jersey railroads from the beginning to the "golden era" prior to World War I. Well-illustrated with photographs, maps, woodcuts and lien drawings, Railroads in New Jersey covers the entire state well. It was quite a heavy thing to read, being over 300 pages of text, double column, on pages better suited to a coffee table book.

Cunningham’s research is thorough and the folks who helped him were experts in their own right. The book captures those first years, when men with vision and daring and a bit of luck went out to build the railroads. Many built them to serve their other businesses. These 19th Century entrepreneurs made no bones about it. Those who succeeded were tough, innovative, insightful and at the same time driven by profit. Cunningham talks of both their admirable and their unappealing characteristics. For instance, there is talk of how the railroad owners were very callous when it came to worker and passenger safety because they felt it cut profitability. In the book, these men are described as they were, neither lionized or totally vilified.

Railroads in New Jersey gives the feel of the competition between railroads. It discusses how they battled in the marketplace and their shenanigans in the state house. Cunningham describes some of the weasel tricks and the rampant corruption. He also tells of the successes and the improvements that railroads brought. There is much said of the triumphs over the obstacles placed by nature, from the soft and boggy flats at the Shore to the impenetrable mountains to the North.

This is the New Jersey that we know: gritty and bright at the same time. Railroads in New Jersey The Formative Years brings a slice of New Jersey history that is fascinating and informative. Well worth reading! I recommend it highly

(I checked the publisher. Afton Publishing had a few copies left, mainly missing dust covers or remainders. They are priced at a discount. Order here: