The 1925 Rockport train crash

20 yards from a non-descript railroad crossing in Rockport, NJ is a memorial to one of the worst train crashes in NJ history. On the evening of June 15 and thoughout the next morning, the Hackettstown area was hit by a ferocious thunderstorm. At approximately 10 p.m., lightning struck a lumber yard in Hackettstown. The ensuing fire consumed the entire lumber yard. Shortly after midnight, heavy rain sent debris down a steep hill where the rock dirt and tree branches accumulated in the Rockport Crossing, where the road crossed the Lackawanna’s Phillipsburg Branch.

At 2:24 AM a train full of German passengers traveling from Chicago, Illinois to Hoboken, New Jersey came down the rail line. This was an annual trip organized for German Americans, who would travel to Hoboken and board a steamship for Europe. The train stopped at Niagara Falls, then Binghamton, NY and Scranton, PA before heading thru the Poconos, crossing the Delaware headed for Hoboken. The engine hit the clogged flangeways at the crossing and derailed the trucks to the right. The engine continued down the track for 198 feet before it derailed entirely. the cars behind it detatched from each other and the passenger car came to rest on top of the boiler. The steam fittings ripped open and superheated steam sprayed into the windows of the passenger cars above and beside. Many passengers were burned to death by the steam.

Despite the fire that was raging across town, emergency personnel soon arrived on the horrible scene. Many of those who had survived the wreck either died from the fire and steam or died soon afterwards. The injured were taken via rescue trains to hospitals Easton, Pennsylvania; Phillipsburg, New Jersey; Dover, New Jersey; and Morristown, New Jersey, as Hackettstown did not as yet have a hospital. Many passengers en route to the hospital or in the days afterwards. A more horrific accident was prevented when watchman a watchman in hackettstown heard the whistle blow at the Hazen road crossing (where the accident happened) but did not hear a whistle at what would have been the next crossing. Fearing the worst he held up a westbound freight train that was about to pass thru the area.

A joint investigation by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) and the New Jersey Board of Public Utility Commissioners found that there was no blame to be apportioned and that the accident had been caused by an Act of God. It is unclear exactly how many passengers died in the accident. It is estimated that between 47-50 people died as a result of the accident. 100 survivors boarded the steamship for Germany the following morning.

A small garden and a brass plaque, laid on the 70th anniversary of the wreck, commemorates the crash site.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Donna Palmatary on January 30, 2017 at 6:17 PM

    Hoping to visit the site sometime in the future…a branch of our family was killed in that train incident. They are all buried together in Chicago.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Harry and Kathy Hubert on October 1, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    saw the film well done for the history of warren county Thanks to too all involved!!!!!!

    Reply

  3. Posted by Clair Palimbo on September 17, 2016 at 9:19 AM

    A film about this train wreck can be seen for free at Donaldson Farms on Saturday October 1, 2016 at 7:30 pm. The film’s producer will be there. The last showing in Mansfield Township Warren County of the movie had 400 local people show up to watch it.

    More information can be found on the Dinaldson Farm website or the Hackettstown Life forum website.

    Reply

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