It is probably safe to say that any resident of Chatham today will be familiar with the electric trains of New Jersey Transit that speed commuters to and from the city every day. Many Borough residents may not be aware that Chatham was at one time served by another form of electric railway - a trolley line that arrived, thrived, and died before the first electric train on the Morris & Essex Lines even ran.
The Morris County Traction Company was chartered in 1899 and showed an early interest in Chatham. Its Route 1 was proposed to run between Chatham and Stanhope. Construction began on the west end of the system in 1903 and the first cars ran in Dover in 1904. Progress was slow and the first cars did not run in Morristown until August 27, 1909.
Eager to speed progress, the Traction Company began construction on the eastern end of the system with the first cars running between Summit and Union in 1906. Closing the gap between the two isolated segments of trolley line would be slow. A franchise allowing streetcar operation in the streets of Chatham was not granted until 1910. Strong local opposition further slowed progress. The first street car didn’t reach the Borough until 1912 when the bridge across the Passaic River between Chatham and Summit was opened and service began to the east. The final track gaps between Chatham and Morristown were closed and service on the entire system from Dover to Union began in 1914, where a connection with the cars of the Public Service trolley system was made.
Chatham was also the site of a powerhouse for the southern end of the Morris County Traction system. The powerhouse was located near the river south of Summit Ave, and received coal deliveries from the DL&W RR. The powerhouse did not remain for long. By 1920, the MCT Company was purchasing all of its electricity from commercial utilities.
The streetcar era in Morris County was to be short lived. By the late teens, improved roads and the presence of jitneys (small, initially unregulated motor vehicle operations that ran just ahead of the trolley cars and charged a lower fare) began to take their toll. Increased use of personal automobiles further eroded ridership and in 1927 the decision was made to convert to a bus operation. February 1928 marked the end of the trolley routes.
Even after almost 90 years, a remnant of the Morris County Traction System still exists in Chatham. The concrete piers that supported the trolley bridge to Summit remain in place, just up river from Shepard Kollock Park.
Photo: Starting in 1912, locals could hop aboard the Morris County Traction Company trolley in downtown Chatham every half-hour. By the time this c.1930 photo was taken only the tracks remained of the MCT Company.