Greenfield And Black Tom

Well, I’m back!  Looks like the family crises that have kept me busy are starting to lessen, for now.  So I guess I should put something down here.

In my novel, the climax takes place in a location called the Greenfield Industrial Park.  It is a complex of warehouses and factories located on a man-made peninsula jutting into the Hudson River just behind the Statue of Liberty.  This is the one location in my story that is completely fictional.  Or is it?

Greenfield is in reality a replacement for an area on the waterfront in Jersey City called Black Tom.  See this map:


Black Tom was originally an island in the river, not connected directly to New Jersey.  It was supposedly named for a freed African-American slave who set up residence on the island.  Over time, the island’s strategic importance in the harbor could not be ignored.  At the turn of the 20th Century, Standard Oil interests bought the island for use in trans loading oil to ships in the harbor.  A causeway was built to connect the island to the rail network in New Jersey so that the oil could be delivered to the new docks built on the island, called the National Docks.  A connecting railroad was then built from the island to a connection with the then mighty Pennsylvania Railroad at Journal Square in Jersey City.  The line was called the National Docks Railroad.  It later became a part of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Over time, the island was made bigger and bigger with fill.  Fill also increased the size of the causeway, until there was no causeway at all:  Just a broad peninsula of land connected to Jersey City.  The rest is history.  The docks at Black Tom fell into disuse by the end of the 1970’s, and by the turn of the 21st Century, only a few tracks remained in the area.  One track serves a large Daily News printing plant.  Another runs to what appears to be some kind of trans load facility where hopper cars are emptied into trucks.  This is unconfirmed, except by satellite images on Google!

The National Docks is now a critical link in today’s railroad scene here in the New York area.  Both CSX and Norfolk Southern trains use it, as does the switching trains from the Conrail Shared Assets operation set up by the two big megacarriers.  It carries trains from the huge Oak Island Yard in Newark up to the CSX’s River Line to Albany, NY, and to Norfolk Southern’s Croxton Yard in Jersey City.  It also provides access to the heavy petroleum industries in Bayonne.  The whole scenario plays out well for my fictional Midland Railroad as well.  When I wrote the proto-manuscript back in 1990, this all belonged to Conrail, and there was no way some upstart short line railroad would ever be able to get so much as a spike from this area.  It was just too valuable to Conrail.  I should know.  I ran trains over this line back then before I made my switch to NJ Transit.  Today, everything has changed, and the new environment that railroads operate in opened the door for me to create Greenfield, and the scenario for how the Midland winds up with a piece of trackage on the Hudson River waterfront that plays the most critical role in my novel regarding my fictional Midland Railroad.

One piece of trivia about Black Tom.  It was the scene of the very first terrorist attack on New York City – in 1916!  Back the, Europe was in the midst of the 1st World War.  The U.S. had not entered the conflict at that point, but we did supply our allies, the British and French, with munitions, shipped from various East Coast ports.  One of those ports was Black Tom, and the National Docks facilities located there.

On the night of July 30, 1916, a series of small fires was reported at the piers.  At 2:08 in the morning, a massive explosion rocked the waterfront as the munitions stored at the piers went up.  Shrapnel lodged itself into the Statue of Liberty, which still bears the scars of that fateful night.  Visitors have not been allowed up its arm to its torch since the explosion.   The arm had been damaged by the blast and to this day remains weakened by it.  Shrapnel also lodged into the clock tower of the Jersey Journal Building, over a mile from the blast site.  The blast wave shook the ground, measuring the equivalent of a 5.0 to a 5.5 earthquake on the Richtor Scale.  It was felt as far away as Maryland.  Amazingly, only 7 people lost their lives.  One unfortunately was a ten week old infant asleep in his crib.  Another was the Police Chief for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

The blast was traced to a group of German spies, who set the fires that triggered them.  It was the very first terrorist attack on New York.

So, fast forward to October 2015, the setting of my novel.  Having my climax in this area called Greenfield, which is a replacement for Black Tom, kind of brings things full circle in an eerie sort of way.  It also keeps in time with my efforts to use as many real locales in my novel as I could.  Until next time.


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