Gaining…and Losing…Traction

by Erin Feith, Research Assistant
March 21, 2023

Getting on board with transportation trends that swept the nation at the turn of the century, the Morris County Traction Company (MCT) was incorporated on June 8, 1899. The company’s ambitious goal was a 31-route trolley system, spanning the county and encompassing 200 miles of tracks. While this initial plan encountered challenges, the MCT powered on, connecting the local landscape, climbing to communities trains did not reach, and endearing itself to local residents.

Blackwell Street, Dover with trolley lines, early 20th century

Despite the eagerness of early promoters to reach all parts of the county, the trolley experienced a slow start. The inaugural trolley down Dover’s Blackwell Street was not until July 1, 1904, but it touched off a more rapid expansion of the system, into Wharton, Rockaway and beyond. Growth, however, continued to be hampered by conflicts with local branches of the railroad and ever-present financial issues. While the MCT operated several lines across the area by 1910, including one that finally reached its long-time base in Morristown, the tracks were a system in name only, with too many gaps to provide seamless travel. 

Morristown’s first trolley, August 1909

At this juncture, the MCT came under the ownership of a group of Pittsburgh investors.  After stabilizing the company’s finances, they turned their attention to connecting all existing and future lines. Their endeavor developed into a 50.55 mile system, including branches from Denville-Boonton, Morris Plains-Mount Tabor and Dover-Morristown. When the line between Morristown and Lake Hopatcong, a popular resort area, was completed, the company even offered moon-lit trolley rides to its passengers. During this period of expansion, the trolley became a popular form of transportation for individuals of all backgrounds. In fact, it was public support that aided MCT in their pursuit of closing the remaining gaps between Summit-Morristown and Morristown-Madison.

Certificate for the Morris County Traction Company signed by Robert D. Foote, President of Morristown’s National Iron Bank, 1917

The MCT rode the trolley boom until the early 1920s when the combined cost of surveying and laying track and growth of the automobile industry turned the vehicle’s signature clang into a death knell. Long encumbered by debt, the company went into receivership by 1923 and was sold to bondholders in 1927. On February 4, 1928, about one month ahead of its dissolution, the MCT operated its last trolley ride.  Ninety-five years later, roads across the county, now dominated by automobiles, leave little hint of the long-buried tracks still underneath them.