The communities surrounding the five rail stations in the Corridor share a common rail line, similar demographics, and proximity to major employment and recreational centers in New York City, the Hudson River Waterfront and Downtown Newark, however, their physical characteristics, scale and development economics are not the same.
On the west end, Orange and East Orange offer the smaller physical scale and small town feel associated with neighboring towns such as Maplewood, Montclair and South Orange. With a relatively small employment base, Orange and East Orange are largely residential communities.
The east end of the corridor, around the Broad Street Station in Newark is anchored by two districts. The district to the south of the station is the Newark Central Business District. The district to the north of the station is the Lower Broadway community. Lower Broadway is similar in scale and physical characteristics to Orange and East Orange.
All five communities are heavily impacted by the two major transportation structures that run through the area, the Morris & Essex Line, and Interstate 280. You can read in more detail about each station and the community surrounding it by clicking on each station below:
Transportation has always played a big role in the development of the communities in the Corridor. Starting in the 19th Century with the Morris Canal, which connected mines in western New Jersey with Newark and the Hudson River, then the railroads in the 19th Century, and finally the construction of the East-West Interstate 280 in the 1960’s, these systems have dominated the growth and development of the area.
Before the 19th Century the area was mostly agricultural. However, the Morris Canal made the area attractive for manufacturing companies, including hat makers and breweries that needed access to the markets and ports in New York City, and their raw materials in western New Jersey. In 1792 there were 21 hat factories in the area.
During the 19th Century this trend continued and accelerated when the railroad provided the same connections as the canal, but much faster and more reliable. The railroads began operating in 1836, supporting the growth of industry in the area, including hat making and breweries. Also, there was development of residential neighborhoods for the workers in the factories, and more expensive housing and neighborhoods for the owners of the factories. Many of these industrial buildings are still evident in the area, especially in Orange and Newark. Also, much of the housing built during this time still dominates the area surrounding the railroad.
The 19th Century also brought an extensive network of trolley lines, making travel within the area more convenient. In the 1860’s trolleys ran on Broad Street in Newark, Main Street in the Oranges, and eventually on Central Avenue. These lines also brought growth to the areas’ retail and commercial areas.
The early 20th Century saw rapid growth around this transportation infrastructure. Residential neighborhoods grew, especially middle class suburban neighborhoods. Residents used the trains and trolleys to travel to jobs in Newark, and New York City, while living in Essex County’s growing suburban areas. The population reached its highest levels during this time, and the business districts along Main Street and Central Avenue drew customers from throughout the region, and attracted branch stores of important New York City retailers. Between 1890 and 1930 East Orange’s population grew from 13,000 to 68,000, and B. Altman’s opened a branch department store on Central Avenue. The shopping area became known as the Fifth Avenue of the Suburbs.
Another big change was the elevation of the railroad in East Orange and Orange around 1920. The railroad had already been elevated further east in Newark around 1902. The area’s rapid growth and the growing congestion at the grade crossings made railroad operations very inefficient. Trains had to cross at least 40 streets to pass through the area. While there was some pressure to put the tracks in a cut, the railroad put the track on structures above the streets instead. The track was already elevated in Newark and engineering considerations made a cut impossible. This reduced conflicts between the railroad and traffic, but the structure created a formidable boundary through the center of the area. In spite of passable underpasses, it effectively separated the areas to the north and south from one another.
In 1947, soon after World War II, planning started for an East-West Freeway between West Orange and Newark. The project was approved by Congress in 1957, construction started in 1961, and Route 280 opened for traffic in 1973. While initially contemplated as a raised highway, local pressure resulted in a final design which put the highway in a cut. There was strong local support for the highway project. It was hoped that the highway would reduce local congestion, increase property values in the area, and slow the decline in population that had occurred since the end of the war.
After 1960 the population continued to decline as residents moved to the growing suburbs to the west, often replaced by lower income residents. Also, the commercial and retail areas weakened as incomes dropped and stores followed their customers to new malls in western Essex County.
Today there are signs that the area is finally rebounding. Things like quick rail access to New York City, Newark, and the Hudson River Waterfront make the area attractive to prospective residents and businesses.