TUCKAHOE – Train and history buffs were brought together Aug. 18 in Tuckahoe to relive the glory years of train travel in Cape May County via points north, south, east and west.
It took place at an open house educational event hosted by the Upper Township Historical Society.
The county contains sites where Lenni Lenape trod, Quakers practiced their faith, whalers pursued behemoths, and important battles were waged.
The Tuckahoe train station, built in 1894, is one of the top-tier such sites and was listed on the National Registers of Historic Places 100 years after it opened its doors.
In 1889 the Philadelphia and Seashore Railway Co. incorporated to provide rail travel from Winslow Junction to Sea Isle City via Richland and Tuckahoe, a distance of 27.4 miles.
The open house was held at the site of three original, restored structures of the former Reading Company which complement the historic atmosphere of the town.
Those buildings are:
* The passenger station built in 1897.
* The interlocking tower that controlled the switches and signals, 1906.
* The steel water tank that was used to supply water for steam locomotives, 1922.
In the era of the "almighty car," it’s difficult, if not beyond imagining, putting oneself in the passenger seat of one of these trains that transported riders throughout the region.
Nevertheless, there are those living in the county who vividly remember the benefits of train travel.
Jerry Bailey, who grew up in Petersburg, remembers first-hand the various lines that crisscrossed through Tuckahoe.
“My family has been in the railroad business for decades with both my grandfather and father working on the trains including as engineers. There were literally dozens of trains coming and going through Tuckahoe packed with the famous ‘shoobies’ en route to their day trip to the shore.”
A roundtrip fare from Camden to Sea Isle City was $1 with many people taking the ferry from Philadelphia to reach the Camden station. Even into the 1950s, this service was frequent although diesel engines gradually replaced steam trains.
The Tuckahoe station was famous throughout South Jersey for its flower garden, established and cared for by a resident, Harry Morgan. It boasted of exotic-looking bushes and flowers and was traversed by gravel paths.
Tuckahoe was the site and intersection of two famous and well-used rail lines: the Reading Company (also known as the Atlantic City Railroad) on their steel speedway between Camden and Cape May (via Winslow Junction). Later, it was the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines.
Since it was located at the junction of the Cape May and Ocean City branches, Tuckahoe was the most important junction on the Cape May Branch for over 100 years.
All Reading Company, Pennsylvania Railroad and Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines trains operating to the coastal resort communities of Ocean City, Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, Wildwood and Cape May City passed through Tuckahoe.
In the summer of 1927, which was the era of the highest rail activity for Tuckahoe, there were 11 Reading Company and nine Pennsylvania Railroad scheduled "through" round trips on weekdays and Saturdays.
On Sundays, both railroads had eight "through" round trips. To augment these regularly scheduled routes, extra trains were chartered for private parties, such as church and fraternal organizations.
In June 1933, the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Reading Company merged their southern New Jersey operations to form the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines (PRSL).
Tuckahoe remained busy even after the merger. PRSL "through" service to Camden continued until Jan. 14, 1966, and to Philadelphia until Sept. 30, 1969, requiring the remaining passengers to change trains at Lindenwold. On April 1, 1976, the PRSL became a part of Conrail, which continues to operate freight rail service through Tuckahoe to Beesley's Point.
Passenger service between Lindenwold and Ocean City ended Aug. 13, 1981, and to Cape May Oct. 2, 1981.
On Oct. 8, 2005, Cape May Seashore Lines inaugurated regularly-scheduled excursion service between Richland and Tuckahoe, marking the first time that a passenger train stopped in Tuckahoe in 24 years.
In addition to its passenger excursion service, Cape May Seashore Lines operated freight rail service between Tuckahoe and Cape May, interchanging with Conrail at Tuckahoe.
As part of its excursion service, a Santa Express runs around the Christmas season using Budd-built rail diesel cars, originally owned by the Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines as well as a cafe car, built in 1947 for the New York Central System.
That historic car served on many famous New York Central trains departing Grand Central Terminal in New York City, including the Empire State Express, the Commodore Vanderbilt, and the Southwestern Limited.
Vintage diesel locomotives pull the entire train.
The Santa Express travels between Richland and Tuckahoe for four weeks during the Christmas season. Santa is aboard and pays a personal visit to all passengers.
To contact Camille Sailer, email email@example.com.