Recent photos courtesy CapeMay.com.
At the very tail end of 2023, Cape May’s “Ghost Tracks” made a surprise reappearance. The long lost rails are seldom witnessed and until resurfacing in 2014, the tracks had not been seen for about eight decades.
In November of 2014 the shifting sands at the southernmost tip of our state revealed something that had not been seen in decades — the rusted remains of a hundred-plus-year-old railroad track, rising from the sands like the unearthed remnants of a lost city.
Cape May Sand Company plant once was located on the site where Sunset and Higbee beaches meet.
The iron rails and deteriorated wooden ties of the ghostly rail bed resurfaces running parallel to the water between Sunset Beach, where Cape May’s famed concrete ship juts out of the surf, and Higbee Beach, on the Delaware side of the Cape May peninsula in Lower Township.
The narrow-gauge tracks, which date back to 1905, never were used as a passenger line. Instead they were a spur of the Cape May Point branch of Atlantic City Royal Route, and in the early 1900s were used to carry sand from
the Cape May Sand Company plant, which once was located on the site where Sunset and Higbee beaches meet.
Large cranes were employed in the operation to scoop the sand off the beach along the surf line and place it into the boxcars that a small locomotive would pulled right up to the waterfront on the tracks. In its heyday, the company transported thousands of tons of sand per year. The Cape May Sand Company mined the fine quartz sand along the shoreline and shipped it for use in glass making or building projects.
Cape May officials eventually would stop the company from shipping sand off the beach in 1936, because of concerns of the depletion of sand on nearby bathing beaches.
An electric locomotive car which once served the Cape May Sand Company.
After the Cape May Sand Company vacated the site, it was taken over by the Harbison-Walker Magnesite Plant, which operated there through the 1940s. The natural movement of the sand would continue though, and sand level would continually fluctuate, especially during times of powerful storms — such as the one that excavated this phantom trestle once again in 2014. The industrial area where the companies operated now is abandoned.
Until resurfacing in 2014, the “Ghost Tracks,” as many now call them, had not been seen for about eight decades. The discovery became something of a tourist attraction, bringing photographers, railroad enthusiasts and other sightseers to the beach in the offseason.
Large cranes were employed to scoop the sand off the beach along the surf line and place it into the boxcars that a small locomotive would pulled right up to the waterfront on the tracks.
Soon though, the curiosity would once again be buried by the ever-shifting sands of the southern shoreline. That is until this past November, when erosion along the beach once again exposed a 50-foot-long stretch of the tracks.
As the new year of 2024 begins, no one can say how long the tracks will stay visible, before being buried once more. There is no telling when they Ghost Tracks of Cape May might reappear along the Delaware Bay shore, but one thing is for certain — the past is never too far beneath the surface of the shifting sands of this historic and many-storied beach.
The preceding article is an excerpt from Weird NJ magazine, “Your Travel Guide to New Jersey’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets,” which is available on newsstands throughout the state and on the web at www.WeirdNJ.com. All contents ©Weird NJ and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.
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