So what’s all this about a “Frog War” in Hopewell? And why does the frog seem to be the unofficial mascot of Hopewell Borough?
The Hopewell Elementary School has a frog mascot, and the Hopewell Harvest Fair has a “Find Freddie [the Frog]” contest. And you’ll see the frog theme on the weathervane on the top of the gazebo in Hopewell Borough Park, which was created by T. Johnson Design.
The story of the Frog War is explained in an article kindly contributed by railroad historian John Kilbride, “The Mercer & Somerset Railroad and a Frog War,” that details this conflict between the ambitions of two railroad companies to connect train lines across New Jersey.
== Read “The Mercer & Somerset Railroad and a Frog War” (PDF) ==
The “Frog War” is the name of the confrontation that took place on January 5 and 6, 1876 at a railroad crossing just south of Hopewell Borough. The Delaware & Bound Brook Railroad (D&BB) needed to construct a “frog” so that the tracks of its new line could cross the existing tracks of the Mercer & Somerset Railroad (M&S), which was itself part of the Camden & Amboy Railroad, owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The M&S wanted to prevent the expansion of the D&BB, so it had begun using a guarding engine to block the tracks to prevent the D&BB from crossing. Then on the night of January 5, 1876, employees of the D&BB responded by disabling the M&S engine, laying their tracks across the intersection (the “frog”), and setting up their own barricade. The M&S then sent an engine to run the barricade. As the crowds of angry people grew, the Governor called out troops, and an official ruling followed the next day that the D&BB could cross the M&S tracks, ending the battle.
The new Delaware & Bound Brook line was a success. Within three years, the Mercer & Somerset was abandoned, and later auctioned off. The tracks were removed, and only a few remnants still remain today in the Hopewell Valley landscape.
The article also includes an account of the Frog War that appeared in the Sunday Times Advertiser newspaper of April 30, 1916. The reporter interviewed an anonymous eyewitness to the 1876 event from forty years earlier, and tells the story in spellbinding detail.
Kilbride also kindly explains the background of the use of the term “frog” for a railroad crossing. “Frog” is railroad jargon for the rails that allow trains to cross intersecting tracks.
The name may come from the diamond shape of the crossing, which looks like a splayed out frog. Or it may come from the V-shape when tracks split at a switch, which is reminiscent of the V-shape on the bottom of a horse’s hoof, which also is called a “frog.”
It would be interesting to definitively document and map out the route of the Mercer & Somerset through the Hopewell area. For example, Rick Porter provided some new Hopewell Railroad Research that clarifies the path of the M&S tracks through Hopewell Borough, using Mercer County deeds from 1874 and 1876.
For more on our local railroad stations, see the earlier post on Railroad Stations in the National Register of Historic Places, with the National Register nomination documents for the Hopewell and Pennington stations, plus the preservation plan for the Hopewell railroad station.
And see Jack Koeppel’s 2007 article on the M&S in the Hopewell Valley Historical Society Newsletter, Clues from Hopewell Valley’s Long Lost Railroad. This includes a tour along the path of the M&S, pointing out some of the remaining artifacts, and an interview with Isabel Clarkson, whose husband Daniel Clarkson built the section of the M&S that ran though Pennington, and built both the still-existing Pennington and Hopewell stations.