The Railroads of the Frog War

Hopewell Elementary School

We think of the Frog War as a local Hopewell thing, and really rather goofy – with cute frog logos for the Elementary School (see earlier post).

But the Frog War was very serious business for the two heavyweight contenders that were fighting to preserve (or break) a monopoly on direct rail service between Philadelphia and New York – the Pennsylvania Railroad and the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad.

See also:

See Hopewell Train Stations: History and Art – References for more details on the history of the Hopewell Valley train stations and railroad service, and on these and the other Hopewell area railroad lines.

The Frog War

The Frog War was the resulting physical battle in January 1876, which saw the massing of several hundred workers just outside of Hopewell with instructions to build (or prevent) the railroad crossing – by laying track, disabling locomotives, constructing blockades, and even crashing locomotives to break though the barriers. With 2000 people on the ground the next morning, the situation was resolved only by the Governor mustering the state militia and a legal ruling from the state Chancellor to allow the track to go through.

The importance of this event was demonstrated by the national coverage in the New York Times – with this front page story on the first day, and a page 2 follow up on the next day, both detailing both the situation on the ground and the legal maneuvering.

[New York Times, 1/7/1876, p. 1]
[New York Times, 1/8/1876, p. 2]

The Railroads

And what were the actual local railroads involved in this battle? The Pennsylvania’s proxy railroad was the Mercer and Somerset (M&S), which it constructed with the express purpose of physically blocking the Reading’s proxy, the Delaware and Bound Brook (D&BB).

The Mercer and Somerset was built first, and opened in 1874. It ran from the Delaware River in Ewing through Pennington and Hopewell and curved east to Millstone. The result was not a direct path – the connection to Philadelphia was from Trenton west on the Belvidere Delaware Railroad (Bel-Del) along the Delaware River to Somerset Jct. in Ewing, then northeast on the M&S, and the final connection to New York was through West Millstone.

Mercer & Somerset Stops (22 mi.)

  • Somerset Jct. (on Delaware)
  • Burroughs
  • Woolsey
  • Pennington
  • Marshall (Marshall’s Corner)
  • Hopewell
  • Stoutsburg
  • Blawenburg
  • Harlingen
  • Hillsboro
  • West Millstone

Delaware and Bound Brook Stops (29 mi.)

  • Trenton Jct.
  • Ewing
  • Pennington
  • Glenmoore (Moores)
  • Hopewell
  • Stoutsburg
  • Skillman
  • Harlingen
  • Belle Mead (Vanaken)
  • Hamilton
  • Weston  (Weston-Manville)
  • Bound Brook

The Delaware and Bound Brook opened in 1876, after the Reading’s victory in the Frog War. It ran from a Delaware River bridge at Yardley through Pennington, Hopewell, and Belle Mead to Bound Brook.  The full route from Philadelphia to New York then could be one train, but passed over three lines – the new Northern Pennsylvania Railroad from Philadelphia to Yardley, the D&BB to Bound Brook, and then the New Jersey Central Railroad to New York City.

This 1881 Barrington New Railroad Map shows both of the railroad lines through Pennington and Hopewell as of 1879 (before the M&S was shut down). 

The map is annotated to highlight the train lines and stations for the D&BB (blue) and M&S (purple) lines.

The Pennsylvania Railroad lines on the right (marked in red) are the United (now the Amtrak Northeast Corridor) and the Camden and Amboy.

The Pennsylvania RR line on the bottom left along the river (in green) is the Belvidere Delaware (Bel-Del).

More Information

See the full Hopewell Valley Railroad Lines brief (PDF) for more information on the local railroad lines, plus a chronology with references for these and other local transportation services.

See also Hopewell Train Stations: History and Art – References for more references and links on the history of the Hopewell Valley train stations and railroad service, and on these and the other Hopewell area railroad lines.

More on the Frog War

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, as 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). After a violent confrontation, the D&BB succeeded, and brought two rail lines across the Hopewell Valley.

The Frog War (1876)

7 thoughts on “The Railroads of the Frog War

  1. […] It’s difficult to imagine life in Hopewell Township in 1880 – almost century and a half ago. It was an exciting time, since two train lines had been recently built though the township, accelerating the growth of the region. (See the Hopewell Railroads post.) […]

  2. […] Hopewell Railroad Lines for more on these railroads and the Frog […]

  3. […] See The Railroads of the Frog War for more on the train lines […]

  4. […] The Railroads of the Frog War – with references on the railroads […]

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