Colonel John Stevens of Hoboken first proposed the construction of steam locomotive railroads in 1810, and his dream of building an operational railroad was realized by his sons, Robert L. and Edwin A., with the incorporation of the Camden and Amboy (C&A) Railroad in 1830. When completed in 1838, thee C&A connected the municipalities of Camden, Bordentown, Trenton and South Amboy, and provided the impetus to the commercial growth of many towns along the alignment. The Bordentown junction was invaluable to the development of the railroad as the site of both a major passenger station and car and locomotive maintenance facilities (see map at right).
The C&A, one of America's first commercially successful railroads, also played a critical role in the early advancement of rail lines throughout the world. One significant C&A development was the construction of this country's first efficient passenger locomotive, the "John Bull." Purchased in England by Robert L. Stevens, the "John Bull" was shipped, in parts, to the United States for re-assembly by a young mechanic named Isaac Dripps, who had never seen a locomotive before and who had no instructions to guide his work. The engine, which was assembled in Bordentown in September 1831 and continued in operation until 1866, is now on display at the Smithsonian institution in Washington, D.C.
Initially C&A tracks were laid on stone blocks called "sleepers" produced by inmates of New York's Sing Sing prison. However, when shipments were delayed, Stevens temporarily utilized wooden crossbeams (or ties), that he found produced a more comfortable ride and better support for the track. Wooden ties soon replaced all "sleepers" on the C&A and were ultimately adopted for use throughout the country. When the foundation of an 1851 engine house was uncovered during construction of this station stop, its foundation was found to be made of stone "sleepers" salvaged from the original C&A tracks. Two of these "sleepers," one of which has and iron spike protruding from it, are displayed in the nearby exhibit, and several others were donated to local preservation organizations. America's early railroads used rails made of flat iron bars or inverted T-shaped iron beams. C&A president Robert L. Stevens designed a new, more stable, T-shaped rail with a bottom flange that was secured to the ties with hooked spikes that were also of Stevens' design. Following their installation on the C&A these elements, which were of essentially the same configuration as the rails and spikes used today, quickly came into use throughout the world.