The Califon Station

The Califon Station (HMEEG)

Location: Califon, NJ 07830 Hunterdon County
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Country: United States of America
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N 40° 43.13', W 74° 50.27'

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The High Bridge Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey

The town's original name came from Jacob Neighbor, an early resident who prospered in the hills of California during the gold rush of 1849. Upon his return, he built two of the first businesses in town, a large sawmill along the banks of the South Branch of the Raritan River and a general store. He named the fledgling town California, but according to local legend, the sign painter could not fit the name on the station's sign, and shortened it to Califon.

Califon was honored to have the only stone railroad station on the High Bridge Branch, which still stands today. As the town grew, the original small wooden station built in 1876 would not do. So, in 1893, residents convinced the railroad to build a beautiful fieldstone station, and said if the railroad agreed, they would acquire the stone at the nearby Vernoy quarry, and move the stone to the station site at their own expense. The railroad agreed and the residents got their unique, new station that same year.

The first station agent at Califon was William Apgar. He sold tickets, handled freight shipments, processed U.S. Mail, and was the town's postmaster, express agent, and telegraph operator.

Two passenger trains made two round trips a day over the High Bridge Branch. They carried U.S. Mail and delivered newspapers and magazines from New York City and New Jersey to towns along the line. This opened a whole new world of communication for residents that did not previously exist. The trains also took children to school in High Bridge. While the primary freight hauled on this railroad was iron ore passing through Califon between the mines in Morris County and markets along the main line, there were many other commodities handled.

By 1913, Califon had grown so much that it had the greatest number of businesses of any station along the High Bridge Branch, more so than High Bridge. They ranged from Jerry Hoffman's peach basket factory to A.J. Apgar's coal yard and his competitor L.D. Sutton's coal yard, the Neighbor & Sons and J.A. Tiger's gristmills, five confectionary and tobacco stores, a piano shop, and much more.

Peach production was big business in the area, and each fall during the late 1800's, some farms out-produced those in Georgia and South Carolina. Practically every farm near Califon had an orchard and when the growing season ended, the farmers would pack the peaches carefully in baskets made in Califon and nearby Hoffman's. Each day they would take them to the railroad station for shipment to towns along the railroad in central New Jersey, New York City and Pennsylvania. It is estimated that by 1890, there were two million peach trees growing in Hunterdon County alone and nearly one million baskets of peaches were picked from those trees and shipped out by train.

One of the earliest peach basket factories in Califon was built by John Neighbor in 1885. Logs were delivered by rail, debarked and sawed into narrow, thin strips of wood. The wood scraps were fed into the steam engine that produced the power to operate the plant. A 1901 newspaper advertised the Califon Basket factory and having the lowest wholesale prices on peach baskets in the state at $2.00 per 100 baskets. Naturally, they were shipped by train. When the factory closed in 1995, it was the last steam-powered basket factory to operate on the East Coast.

Another important commodity that depended on the railroad was milk, which was a large source of revenue on the High Bridge Branch, after iron ore. In 1903, a local creamery was established when E.C. Demarest moved his operations from Middle Valley to Califon and put John Geist in charge as manager. Raw milk brought in by farmers was kept cool and stored in vats containing ice blocks from nearby lakes and ponds before being pasteurized and bottled. Much of it was shipped in 40-quart cans to markets as far as Jersey City and New York on the evening train. Customers would pay 5? for a quart of whole milk and 1? for skimmed milk. Several years later, B.R. Waldron bought the creamery. It remained in his family for three generations and employed 30 workers. Today, the site of the creamery is the Califon Fire Department.
Placed ByCounty of Hunetrdon - Department of Parks and Recreation
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Monday, October 6th, 2014 at 6:46am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18T E 513696 N 4507558
Decimal Degrees40.71883333, -74.83783333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 40° 43.13', W 74° 50.27'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds40° 43' 7.80" N, 74° 50' 16.20" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)908
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 9 Railroad Ave, Califon NJ 07830, US
Alternative Maps Google Maps, MapQuest, Bing Maps, Yahoo Maps, MSR Maps, OpenCycleMap, MyTopo Maps, OpenStreetMap

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