Milltown History

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Historical society’s ‘Winter Wonderland’ part of efforts to relocate train station
BY JAMES McEVOY
Staff Writer

The model train display designed for the “Winter Wonderland” holiday event in Milltown took Jim Reid 40 hours to construct. The event on Dec. 8 and 9 will benefit efforts to relocate the borough’s former freight station. The Milltown Freight Station, the last vestige of the once-prominent Raritan River Railroad (RRRR), stands on Washington Avenue, peering across the street at its future home.

Through the efforts of the Milltown Historical Society, the Raritan River Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS), and numerous borough volunteers, funds continue to be raised to relocate the station.

Kathy Heilman, president of the Milltown Historical Society, said they are close, approximately 75 percent, to the fundraising goal, and are hoping the third annual “Winter Wonderland” holiday train show on Dec. 8 and 9 will put them over the top.

The event, she said, is unique in its appeal to families during the holiday season and those who hope to keep borough and county history alive.

The Milltown Historical Society hopes the borough’s train station, which ceased operation in 1980, will serve the community as a museum for the Raritan River Railroad. “There’s something for everyone of all ages,” Heilman said, noting that even after the station is relocated, it will have to be refurbished before it can be used as a museum for the RRRR.

“This is how history stays alive,” Heilman said of the groups and volunteers working to preserve the station. “It doesn’t just magically stay alive.”

Families are invited to enjoy the trains, refreshments and the opportunity to see Santa, who will pay a special visit to the event at noon each day.

Much of the event has been changed to ensure families who enjoyed the festivities in years past will have new experiences, Heilman said.

Jim Reid, owner of Frosty Automotive and an avid model train enthusiast, constructed a massive model train display for the event. He said he spent nearly 40 hours constructing the display.

Aside from his love of model trains, he also has a special place in his heart for the RRRR.

“I literally grew up playing on those tracks,” he said. “During the summer vacations, we’d spend a lot of time down there. The engineers were really cool guys and they knew we were in love with the trains and they’d let us come up and give us a ride on the train.”

After seeing several other stations demolished or destroyed by fire, Reid is hoping to help ensure the last station remains for future generations.

“I saw all of the tragedies of the Raritan River Railroad,” he said. “[The Milltown station is] still in great shape, considering it’s been neglected for 30 years, but it’s at the point now if something’s not done, we’re going to lose it. I always admired that station.” Heilman expressed gratitude to the county and borough for their cooperation in regards to the land acquisition.

She also thanked James Curran, the station’s property owner.

“He offered to give [the station] to the borough of Milltown and have the historical society run it as long as he didn’t incur any expenses,” she said.

Reid echoed her sentiments.

“He was nice enough not to destroy it,” he said. “He wanted it to stay in Milltown. He wanted it preserved.”

Ken Durrua, of the Raritan River Chapter of the NRHS, grew up in nearby Sayreville and said the station is also linked to the industrial history of the area.

“The railroad was really vital to these industries being able to transport both their workers and their freight,” Durrua said. “I feel it’s important to save these structures because once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

He said the chapter will have photos and other materials on display at the event. He also hopes to have former employees from the RRRR — which was absorbed into Conrail in 1980 — on hand to discuss the railroad.

In addition to providing a unique holiday experience, the historical society will be accepting cleaning supplies, especially heavyduty garbage bags, for those still cleaning up after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The event is scheduled for Dec. 8 and 9 at the borough Senior Center. Santa will visit from noon to 2 p.m. each day.

Attendance is $5 per person, and 100 percent of the funds and money from food sales goes directly toward the relocation efforts.

The society is also selling memorial bricks as an additional fundraising source.

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