Historic Structures

Ampere Railroad Station, East Orange New Jersey

Date added: July 26, 2016 Categories: New Jersey Train Station Renaissance Revival

Ampere Station, located in the northeastern section of the city of East Orange, was the first station stop west of Newark on the Montclair Branch of the New Jersey Transit Morris and Essex Lines. Ampere Station, originally built by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad in 1907-08, was the second railroad station to be constructed at this site. The construction of the station, its replacement and enlargement, and later its demise, was directly related to the initial growth, expansion and eventual decline of the neighborhood of Ampere which took its name from the station.

The four-mile Montclair Branch of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (D. L. & W.) was originally chartered in 1852 as the Newark & Bloomfield Railroad. In 1855, the railroad was completed from Bloomfield to a connection with the Morris & Essex (M. & E.) tracks at Bloomfield Junction, now Roseville Avenue. The line, which almost exclusively served commuter traffic, was extended to Glen Ridge and West Bloomfield (Montclair) in 1856. In 1868, the Newark and Bloomfield Railroad was absorbed by the Morris & Essex (M. & E.) in a long-term lease and became known as the Montclair Branch. It was included as part of the M. & E. leased to the D. L. & W. later that year.

The introduction of rail service precipitated a real estate boom in Orange in the l 840's and 1850' s. By the Civil War, Orange had been transformed from an agricultural village to a suburban industrial community, and was formally incorporated as a town in 1860. The comparatively wealthy and less settled First Ward of the new town rebelled against the prospect of heavy taxation to provide the more crowded wards with such urban amenities as fire and police forces, paved streets, gas lighting, and water works, and was finally allowed to separate from the town of Orange in 1863 to form East Orange.

By 1876, East Orange had grown to over 4,000 in population and was of sufficient size to attract the Erie Railroad as a competitor for the Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western Railroad. The Erie built the Watchung Branch from the Greenwood Lake Line to Park Avenue in West Orange, with depots at Prospect Street and Brighton A venue. This attracted some real estate development in the area of what was to become Ampere, but the Erie suspended service for lack of business in August 1877.

Originally, trains stopped in Ampere only under special order obtained from the railroad. In 1890 a station was built at the request of the Crocker-Wheeler Company, an electrical equipment manufacturing company established in 1888 that had constructed a plant east of the railroad tracks.

Historic photographs indicate that the original station building at this station stop was a singlestory fieldstone structure with a pyramidal roof and overhanging eaves supported by smooth posts. A brick chimney extended from the western roof slope. At the behest of Dr. Schuyler S. Wheeler, one of the founders of the Crocker-Wheeler Company, the station was named in honor of the distinguished French scientist Andre Marie Ampere. Ampere is regarded as the founder of the science of electrodynamics whose name is used to designate the unit by which electric current is measured. The area surrounding the new station rapidly developed largely as a residential neighborhood though other industrial concerns, such as General Electric and the Ward Baking Company, eventually followed Crocker-Wheeler. The neighborhood itself soon became known as Ampere. In 1899, the citizens of East Orange voted to incorporate the community of over 20,000 as a city. By the turn of the century, the Montclair Branch had become a very busy commuter line.

In 1907-08, a new, larger, more substantial building, the one documented here, was built by the D. L. & W. to replace the original station at Ampere. Building Department records from East Orange City Hall indicate that the cost of the new station was $44,000. The new Ampere Station was designed in the Renaissance Revival style. The station was a single-story building of Flemish bond brick walls with extensive concrete trim and a roof covered with green-glazed terra cotta tiles. Porticoes and platform canopies had Tuscan columns. The most distinguishing feature of the new station was the large concrete round-arched door surround which extended above the roof line.

Orig~nal plans of the station indicate that Ampere Station was designed by the D. L. & W. Railroad's in-house staff. Drawings are attributed to Frank J. Nies, Architect and Lincoln Bush, Chief Engineer. Nies, who designed many other stations for the D. L. & W., was noted for his innovative use of reinforced concrete for railroad stations. Lincoln Bush, who served as Chief Engineer for the D. L. & W. from 1903 - 1908 was best known for his patented design of the Bush Train Shed, a deviation from the high balloon shed used during the nineteenth century and whose initial installation was at Hoboken Terminal. Bush specialized in bridge engineering and played a significant role in the planning and execution of the early grade separation projects, pioneering the use of reinforced concrete for railroad stations and viaducts.

The station was dedicated on December 4, 1908. A bronze tablet honoring Andre Marie Ampere was unveiled at the new station in a formal ceremony by Jules J. Jusserand, the Ambassador of France to the United States; local dignitaries, including Mayor Cardwell, were also in attendance. This tablet, the donation of the Crocker-Wheeler Company, was mounted on a wall of the main waiting room.

The ·Crocker-Wheeler Company, whose presence provided the impetus for the creation of Ampere Station, played a significant role in the development of the community of Ampere and was a significant force in the early development of the electrical manufacturing industry in America.

The Crocker-Wheeler Company was founded by Francis B. Crocker and Schuyler S. Wheeler, two pioneers in the field of electrical equipment manufacturing. Crocker and Charles G. Curtis had formed the C. & C. Electric Company to make the first successfully-marketed small electric commercial motors of standard specification in 1886. Wheeler went to work for C. & C. as a designer, electrician, and manager; Crocker and Wheeler formed their own enterprise in 1888.

Dr. Francis Bacon Crocker (1861-1921) received his E.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Columbia University, and in 1889 was appointed by Columbia to teach the first electrical engineering course in the country. He served as president of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, and was chairman of the Conference of the Insurance and Engineering Representatives that formulated the National Electrical Code. He wrote such early electrical studies as Electric Lighting and Electric Motors, and with Dr. Wheeler authored Management of Electrical Machinery, and, as did Wheeler, contributed often to technical journals on the subject of electricity.

Dr. Schuyler Skaats Wheeler (1860-1923), the long-time president of the Crocker-Wheeler Company, was also an alumnus of Columbia University. He was associated with several of the earliest electrical enterprises including Thomas A. Edison's engineering staff, the Jablochkoff Electric Light Company, the U.S. Electric Lighting Company, and the Herzog Teleseme Company. From 1888 to 1895, Wheeler was the electrical expert member of the Board of Electric Control in New York City when the city's overhead electrical wires were placed unde!ground. He was a member of all the national engineering societies of his day, and, as did Crocker, served as President of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers where he was instrumental in the adoption of a code of engineering ethics. His inventions included far-ranging applications of the use of electrical power such as electric elevators, an electric fire engine system, a series multiple motor control, and the parallel connection of dynamos. In 1896 Hobart College honored him with an honorary degree for his work in electricity.

Crocker and Wheeler's new enterprise, which was formally incorporated in 1889, grew dramatically. At the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, there were some seventy-eight CrockerWheeler Company machines in use, thirty-two more than the closest of the company's twenty seven competitors represented (a field which included the Edison and Westinghouse companies).

From 1910 to 1913, the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad undertook a major grade crossing elimination campaign on all of their lines. This program was largely in response to an ordinance passed by the City of Newark in 1900 which required the three main railroad lines (the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the D. L. & W.) to eliminate grade crossings within the city limits. During the grade crossing elimination campaign, many of the D. L. & W. stations were replaced with larger, more substantial buildings, and all grade crossings were eliminated except for those in East Orange including the two in Ampere.

By 1912, trains to or from Hoboken made over sixty stops a day at Ampere. The first luxury apartment building in the city was erected in 1911, and upper Central A venue soon developed as a major shopping center. East Orange was among the first suburbs in New Jersey to enjoy the convenience of branches of the major New York City department stores. The population of East Orange more than doubled between 1910 and 1920, when it stood at 50,710.

By the First World War, the Crocker-Wheeler Company had become a major employer in Ampere. Its twenty-five acre plant was a self-sufficient community with its own post office, telegraph, telephone, and express and freight facilities. The industrial campus boasted a large collection of industrial buildings and was reputedly the first manufacturing establishment in the world to have all its machinery driven by electricity. The Crocker-Wheeler Company beautified the factory grounds with plantings of grass, trees, shrubs and flowers.

Because of a lack of cooperation from the East Orange government, grade crossings remained at each end of Ampere Station until 1921, when the city was forced by the courts to give approval and financial support to the D. L. & W.'s plans. The two grade crossings at Springdale and Fourth Avenues were finally eliminated that year by raising the tracks twelve feet and lowering the streets. During the grade crossing elimination project, a temporary track was constructed to the west of the station, and a second floor was added to the building to provide access through the station to the newly raised platform level. The platform canopies were raised to the height of the new platforms. A brick shelter house and canopy was constructed on the westbound side of the tracks, partly with materials from the 1908 station (including sections of canopy and columns from the eastbound side, and benches from the smoking room).

These alterations and additions were also designed by Frank J. Nies, the architect of the 1908 station, with George J. Ray as Chief Engineer. Ray, the successor to Lincoln Bush, served in this position from 1908 to 1934 when he was appointed Vice President and General Manager of the D. L. & W., where he remained until his retirement in 1946. Ray continued the use of reinforced concrete for railroad viaducts and stations, a pioneering effort of the D. L. & W. that was to become their hallmark. The alterations to Ampere Station in 1921 marked the end of the D. L. & W.'s great wave of new station construction in New Jersey and marked the beginning of the decline of rail travel in favor of the automobile. The D. L. & W.' s last station in New Jersey was constructed in Lyons in 1931.

The line was electrified in 1928 and 1929. In 1930, West Orange resident Thomas A. Edison helped to bring the D. L. & W.'s first electrified train from Hoboken to Montclair. From 1928 to 1957, the Montclair Branch was reputedly the most heavily traveled commuter branch line in the country.

The census figures show that the population of East Orange peaked at 79,340 in 1950; in 1990 only 73,552 residents were counted. The development of interstate highways throughout northern New Jersey after World War II precipitated an exodus of the more prosperous residents who headed to new suburban communities.

The postwar period in East Orange was also marked by the loss and migration of many industries. The loss of the manufacturing, office and retail businesses from the local economy greatly eroded the tax base in East Orange. Ampere's major employer, the Crocker-Wheeler plant, was eventually acquired by the Carrier Corporation and continued to operate at the original site until 1963 at which time the plant was operated by the Worthington Company for the manufacture of air conditioning and refrigeration equipment.

By the early 1990' s, almost all of the Crocker-Wheeler physical plant, which once dominated the area to the immediate east of the station, had been demolished. With the loss of the major employers, the activity in Ampere waned and the use of the station diminished. A series of fires and repeated vandalism damaged the station to the point where the building was unsafe. The station site had become a dumping grounds for old appliances and broken furniture and the average daily ridership at Ampere had declined to 51 persons in 1990. In the Spring of 1991, following an agreement between the City of East Orange and New Jersey Transit, rail service was discontinued at Ampere Station.