The Trenton - Kensington Railroad

Trenton - Kensington RR

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The Wissinoming Station was built in the late 1870s and was, arguably, the most important event in the development of Wissinoming.  An examination of maps of the period shows that Wissinoming's growth began around the railroad station, then spread gradually west.  This picture is from around 1908.


In 1884, J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott published a three volume set titled History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884.  In the Transportation section, pp. 2183-2185, they give a good account of the Trenton-Kensington Railroad:

Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad

     All interests involved in the business of transportation between Philadelphia and New York were not united in the movements for the establishment of the Delaware and Raritan Canal and the Camden and Amboy Railroad. Consequently another line of railroad was projected, and Feb. 28, 1832, the Legislature of Pennsylvania passed an act "to incorporate the Philadelphia and Trenton Railroad Company, with a capital of six hundred thousand dollars." Authority was given to this corporation to locate and construct a railroad of one or more tracks from a suitable point in the district of Kensington, through the borough of Frankford, intersecting the Delaware Division of the Pennsylvania Canal in the borough of Bristol, and to continue to a point at or near the Trenton Delaware bridge, in the borough of Morrisville. To this company also was given power to place on the railroad machines, wagons, vehicles, carriages, and teams of any kind, and to transport goods and passengers, said road to be a public highway for conveyance of passengers, and transportation under rates to be charged by the company. There was no difficulty in disposing of the stock, and the work of construction was immediately entered upon. It was estimated at this time. that the amount received by the Union and Citizens' Lines jointly during the year 1831, for way passengers alone, between New York and Philadelphia, exclusive of through passengers and transportation of goods, was one hundred and six thousand dollars, and that, allowing the opposition line, which might go by the Camden and Amboy route, a greater proportion of the business, the net annual receipts would be sixty thousand dollars, from which, deducting interest on the capital, there would still be sufficient profits to allow a dividend of flfteen per cent. This flattering estimate was not sustained by subsequent experience. The track was finished from Morrisville to Bristol on the 14th of November, 1833. The People's Line for New York, via Bristol and Trenton, was established immediately, with the announcement, "No locomotive, no monopoly, fare only $1.50." In order to make a virtue of a necessity, the People's Line claimed that it desired to protect the community. It said, "As it has always been their first care to provide a safe and comfortable conveyance, they have resolved not to use steam-carriages, and thus not to "place it in the power of an agent to sport with the lives of passengers at forty miles an hour. Col. Reeside's best drivers and horses are constantly employed on this route, by which the United States Eastern mail is carried."  These precautions were not of long continuance.

      The railroad was completed from Kensington to Morrisville on the 1st of November, 1834, and a locomotive was immediately placed upon it, which ran to Morrisville, twenty-eight miles, in one hour and thirty minutes. The depot of the road was established on a lot of ground between Front Street and Frankford road north of Harrison Street.  By act of March 27, 1834, this company, with the consent of the commissioners of the Northern Liberties, was given authority to connect its track with the Northern Liberty and Penn Township road at or near Front Street, with authority to "occupy such street or streets as shall be most convenient." In view of this authority, the office of the company was established at Third Street Hall, a large building erected at the northeast corner of Third and Willow Streets, partly for use as a hotel and partly for a railroad depot. In February, 1835, the Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law empowering this company to build a bridge over the Delaware River and lay tracks to New Jersey. Shortly afterward authority was given to the road to purchase stock in turnpike bridges and railroad companies, not only in Pennsylvania, but elsewhere. There was a feeling of opposition among the people of the Northern Liberties and Kensington which was sufficiently understood, and had its effect in preventing the company from making the junction with the Northern Liberties and Penn Township road, on Willow Street, which had been intended. This had the effect of delaying the connection some time. On March 23, 1839, another act of Assembly was passed authorizing the company to continue its tracks from the depot in Kensington along the Frankford road and Maiden Street for one year, until another railroad could be conveniently constructed upon another route from the Kensington Depot to the depot at Third and Willow Streets. The privilege of continuing the tracks upon Frankford road and Maiden Street was not to extend over one year, and James Ronaldson, Thomas D. Grover, and Daniel Smith, carpenter, were appointed commissioners to ascertain what damages had been suffered by the corporation of the district of Kensington and the people along the route. The second section of this act permitted the company to locate a railroad between the Kensington and Willow Street Depots "by the best route along the streets between said depots, and for that purpose they may occupy such street or streets as shall be most beneficial and convenient." The route might be   approved by the Court of Quarter Sessions, upon the report of a jury of view of six persons, appointed to consider its advantages and its disadvantages.

     Under this authority, license was obtained to lay a track on Front Street between Willow Street and the Kensington Depot. No sooner had the proposition taken shape than an excitement arose among the people not only upon the line of the proposed tracks, but throughout the Northern Liberties and Kensington. It was urged that the establishment of a railroad to be carried through the thickly-built portions of the districts would be dangerous to the lives of citizens and injurious to property. The law of 1839 was criticised unfavorably, upon the allegation that it was smuggled through the Legislature without notice to the people of the districts. When the workmen began to tear up the pavement for the purpose of laying the rails, they found themselves surrounded by crowds of discontented persons, who talked loudly against their proceedings. The women, who were active; scolded them, and resorted to many annoyances, in which they were countenanced and aided by men. From words the discontented opponents resorted to acts. On July 26, 1840, several feet of the rails which had been laid down were torn up, and the roadway injured. On the following day the company procured the protection of over one hundred police officers, who were stationed in the neighborhood of the road; but the workmen were obliged to desist by the menaces of the crowd. A pitched battle ensued, in which the mob used paving-stones and the officers tried to resist them with their maces; some men and one woman were arrested, but the police who held the prisoners were attacked, severely handled, and compelled to retire from the fury of the mob, which was increasing every hour. These occurrences took place in the afternoon of the 27th, and they created much excitement. The news of the encounter spread to all parts of the city, and at night large numbers of persons resorted to the scene. The rails that had been laid were again torn up, and the mob proceeded to a tavern upon Front Street, which was owned by John Naglee, president of the railroad company, and was occupied by John Emery. The place was offensive to the crowd because it had been occupied by the police. An attack upon the building followed; the doors were battered in with paving-stones, and, the house being abandoned by the tenants, was entered by the rioters, who set it on fire. The usual alarm being given, the firemen came to extinguish the flames, but they were assaulted with a shower of stones, and driven back.

     The police were as active as was possible under the circumstances; they arrested, or endeavored to arrest, the persons concerned in the riot and arson, and ten men charged with rioting were brought into the Court of Criminal Sessions the next morning, and indictments were framed and presented against them. The grand jury responded speedily, and two of the persons charged, Joseph Jennings and David Ortman, were arraigned immediately, tried, and found guilty. The court was as passionate as the mob. Jennings was sentenced immediately to seven years' imprisonment in the Eastern Penitentiary, and Ortman to ten years' confinement in the same institution. They had been in the station-house all night, were taken thence to the court; and the preliminary examination took place in the court-house before the Judge and in the presence of the general jurors. The accused had no time to summon witnesses or to obtain counsel. Ortman was imperfectly acquainted with the English language, and he and Jennings were strangers to each other, and had no opportunity to consult as to the best methods of defense. The court was denounced on account of the indecent haste and feeling exhibited by the judge, prosecuting attorney, and jurors. At a public meeting held in the Northern Liberties strong resolutions of condemnation were passed. Petitions for the pardon of the prisoners were prepared and passed and extensively signed. They were so strong in their influence that they produced an effect upon the Governor of the State, and in a short time Ortman and Jennings were pardoned. An effort was also made to repeal the law creating the Court of Criminal Sessions, which had been passed in 1838. It was not successful at the time, but the feeling had its influence in the passage of the act of Feb. 22, 1840, by which the Court of Criminal Sessions was abolished and the Court of General Sessions erected in its stead. The company was not disposed to yield to the opposition. New authority was obtained from the Legislature by act of May 3, 1841, which extended to the company the right to use the railroad tracks along Frankford road and Maiden Street for three years, and gave the same time for the construction of the railroad along Front Street from the Kensington Depot to the depot at Third and Willow Streets. No immediate attempt was made by the company to exercise this authority, and in the neat year an act was passed to repeal the law of the year previous, reaffirming the right to construct the railroad on Front Street. Practically the Front Street route was abandoned for many years. The Kensington Depot remained at Harrison Street, and trains arrived and departed there. For passengers, particularly on the through lines, the station for starting by cars was established at Tacony. City passengers were carried by steamboat from a central wharf in the city as far north as Tacouy, where they took cars and proceeded on their journey. Certain trains arriving from New York were accommodated by the same method.

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