At Whippany, directly across the tracks from the passenger depot, stands the former Freight House of the The Morristown & Erie Railroad Today, this classic railroad structure serves as the headquarters of the Whippany Railway Museum. A visit to the Museum, and the adjacent railroad yard full of historic equipment is a step back in time. Although this yard was constructed at the start of the 20th Century, except for a few minor changes, nearly everything in this isolated area of Hanover Township is as it was so long ago…and that is it’s charm.
In 1904 the Morristown & Erie negotiated with local builders Hopler & Grimes to construct a freight station at it’s Whippany, New Jersey yard. The original 18-by-60 foot structure they built served it’s owners for well over 60 years. Originally located on the “station-side” of the tracks and just west of the water tank, horse-drawn wagons (and later trucks) could pull up to the “street-side” of the Freight House to accept deliveries of incoming freight, while railroad box cars would be loaded or off-loaded on the “rail-side” of the building. Everything from milk, farm produce, lumber, bricks, and a myriad of industrial and household supplies made their way over the heavy oak timbers that make up the floor of the Freight House. The commerce of the Village of Whippany greatly depended on this humble, but vastly important building.
Sometime during the late-1940’s or possibly the early-1950’s several employees of the M&E held a New Year’s Eve party in the Freight House. At some point during the celebration, a fire broke out, probably from an overheated pot-bellied stove. The Whippany Fire Company responded and managed to extinguish the flames before too much damage was done. After the holidays, M&E carpenters repaired the roof and the structure was as good as new. To this day, a few of the singed timbers remain…a silent reminder of that long-ago party that nearly turned deadly.
In the late-1950’s the M&E realized that it required more outdoor storage space for it’s freight loading dock at Whippany. The decision was made to shorten the Freight House to create the needed space. Nearly 20 feet of the western end of the building was removed. The west-end wall was then re-joined to the remaining portion of the building, and that is how it appears to this day.
The operation of a museum within the Freight House can be traced back to 1965 when the Morris County Central Railroad began running steam-powered excursion trains out of Whippany on weekends. Eventually several employees and volunteers of the MCC co-founded our predecessor organization, the Morris County Central Railroad Museum by displaying a small collection of railroad memorabilia in half of the Freight House, which by this time was winding down its usefulness to the Morristown & Erie. This tiny collection was the seed which eventually evolved into today’s Whippany Railway Museum.
In 1967 the MCCRR provided the funding to have the freight house picked up off its foundation and trucked across four sets of tracks to its present site, where the entire building became the home of the Morris County Central Railroad Museum. This move was made to save the historic structure from being demolished and to make way for a new commercial building and parking lot complex begun by the M&E.
From 1967 through the end of 1973 the Freight House and museum helped to entertain and educate many thousands of people who came to ride the MCC excursion trains. At the end of the 1973 season the Morris County Central decided to move its excursion operations out of Whippany. The museum collection was moved as well and eventually set up on view at the MCC’s new location at Newfoundland, NJ.
Unfortunately, the life of the MCC was coming to an end, and it finally went out of business at the close of 1980. By 1982 Museum members were searching for a new home. The old Freight House at Whippany was the most favored choice, but nearly 10 years of neglect and abandonment had caused the aging structure to badly deteriorate. Over two years of work by volunteers was needed to restore the building and surrounding grounds to a safe and pleasing appearance. It was truly a labor of love.
Today, now over 100 years since it was built, the Whippany Freight House continues to faithfully serve the community by being the centerpiece that shelters the exhibits and displays of the Whippany Railway Museum. These important artifacts help educate the public and bring to life the saga of New Jersey’s railroads. The memories of Railroading’s great past live on within the walls of the Whippany Freight House for all to enjoy.