More aging North Jersey railroad stations — considered landmarks and often the centerpieces of many towns — are being restored to their historic grandeur. Stations in Demarest, Tenafly, Westwood, Pequannock and Rutherford either are scheduled for renovations or have them under way — even though some no
longer serve the railroad.
The railroads, and their stations, helped transform farmland into bustling New York City suburbs.”The communities that grew are really what grew around the original train stops,” said Kevin Wright, past president of the Bergen County Historical Society. “The population exploded when the railroads went through.”Many of the stations that once served as the entry points to the green pastures of North Jersey are in need of a makeover.
Take Demarest. Borough officials and the local historical society decided in the late 1990s that the depot, considered the most handsome on the old Northern Railroad line, needed to be restored “because it’s a state treasure,” said Demarest Councilwoman Carole Cardinale. “It has always been the highlight or the downtown spot for Demarest,” said borough historian Mary Anne Clarke. So, an architect and contractor specializing in historic building restoration were hired. Old station photographs and an embroidered picture were used to
get a sense of what the depot looked like in 1872 along with information from the son of the last stationmaster, said Clarke.
In the first phase in 2002, a slate roof was installed. A weather vane, finials, cresting and an east dormer were added, said Clarke. Work on a second portion began last year by opening the portico to the station platform, cleaning the stone exterior, upgrading the heating and air-conditioning systems and replacing windows and doors and the cement sidewalk that surrounded the building. Those improvements should be finished soon. The building will then once again house the senior center and serve as a meeting place for groups.
The bulk of the $963,593 project has been funded through state and county grants and county and municipal open space funds — about $641,000. Plans call for renovating the station’s interior at a future date, said Clarke. Demarest Councilman Raymond Cywinski said it’s natural for people to want to
connect to something in the past. “It’s part of a living history almost,” he said of the station. “It has a
certain design and history to it.”
Tenafly’s railroad station, along the Northern Railroad, which became part of the Northern Erie line, has been a work in progress over the years, said Kevin Tremble, a member and former chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. The borough replaced an asphalt roof with slate in 1980. A $269,841 renovation began in 1993 when the roof overhang was restored and roof repaired. The station’s exterior was repainted to match the original colors of the building and air conditioning and attic ventilation added. A $153,000 grant went toward that project.
This year, lead-coated copper roofing replaced a portion of the roof among other exterior repairs. Concrete sidewalks around the station and the platform will also be replaced. Of the $324,500 cost, about $50,000 came from a grant. The station, which now houses a cafe, represents an era of development in
Tenafly, said Tremble. Other towns are also taking steps toward restoring the stations.
In Westwood, research is under way to refurbish the 1932 station, which the borough leases from NJ Transit. Upgrades for the bathrooms, the heating system and window replacement are being considered, said Borough Administrator Robert Hoffmann. Using sustainable resources like solar panels and energy efficient insulation are also ideas being floated.
“It’s a beautiful looking structure,” said Hoffmann. “It was built with loving hands by craftsmen and that comes through when you look at the woodwork,” he said of the station used by commuters and serving as a museum. Pequannock, which bought the Pompton Plains station two years ago, has dedicated $200,000 to preserving it with $157,000 coming from Morris County funds, said Councilman Edward Engelbart. Used as a museum, the borough plans to replace the heating system, restore the interior floor and repaint it among
other things. And Rutherford’s historic station owned by New Jersey Transit, will undergo a $3.2 million renovation including restoring the brick exterior and fixing the indoor waiting area.
by Karen Sudol, Bergen Record