Califon Train Station - New Jersey, a photo by flying cats on Flickr.
Califon was a station on the High Bridge Branch of the Central Railroad of New Jersey. The rail line was abandoned in 1976 and now serves as a Hunterdon County-administered rail trail called Columbia Trail, which runs south to High Bridge and north to points in Morris County.
Though the mills were present in the area of Califon for some time prior to its incorporation as a town, it was quite a while before growth became evident in the mid-nineteenth century. It was first called California, from Jacob Neighbor's enthusiasm in the milling business about the time the California Gold Rush broke out. The Borough was incorporated by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature from portions of both Lebanon and Tewksbury Townships on April 2, 1918.
Local legend has it that California became a regular stop for weekend excursion trains through the countryside. When riders bought their tickets they were issued a voucher good for an ice cream; the train would stop so tourists could wander around and cash in their ice cream coupons. Anxious to exploit this source of outside revenue, residents petitioned the Railroad to let them build a real station, which they did as a community project. The station is said to be the one shown in the picture on the right. Citing the local account again, two sign painters who came to letter the sign rode the train from Dunellen, but the background paint wasn't dry when they arrived. They sat and drank at the hotel, which later burned down. By the time the sign was ready for their artistic touch, the local tale says, "Califon" was as close to California as the inebriated painters could manage.
Califon is also situated just north of the Kenneth Lockwood Gorge on the South Branch of the Raritan River; this pristine stretch of clear water and forest is a well-known treasure for New Jersey trout fishermen.
The Califon Historical Society has registered 170 structures with the National Register of Historic Places. Califon is a Victorian-style enclave where the houses are marked with the names of the builders and their dates of establishment rather than with street numbers.
The center of Califon is the historic iron bridge spanning the South Branch of the Raritan River, which divides the borough. Recently the State of New Jersey announced they were going to replace the bridge, using the fact that a loaded school bus represented more weight than the aging bridge could safely carry. Incensed citizens objected, protective of the landmark, and found a colorful but simple solution; the school bus stops at one end of the bridge unloading the students, who then walk across to the other side. Then the empty bus, within imposed weight limits, drives across and the students get back on the bus to continue their ride. Thus the bridge was saved. (Account featured on Califon website).
Califon became a regional household name when frequently mentioned by Merv Griffin on his TV show during the 1970s. He and his wife Juliette owned a home in nearby Lebanon Township, which had a Califon mailing address, and, while they were married, they were often seen visiting the village in a fringed-top Bermuda-style resort cart. Califon Productions created all of his television ventures.