In the Aftermath of Storms – Then & Now

 In the Aftermath of Storms – Then & Now

Journeys into River Edge

Great thanks to the DPW of River Edge and Downes Tree Service for their work in removing debris and restoring Brookside Park and (adjacent properties) after last week’s thunder storm. That sudden storm felled a large 80 year old tree in the park, which is next to our house. In turn, that tree took down parts of at least 5 others. The park and, by extension, our yard was a mess. A fence was destroyed. Animals were killed. Broken glass was dispersed from the lights strung across our backyard deck that were hit by falling trees. But more than property was impacted. Though so thankful that to be safe, we still felt left a bit stunned and disoriented from the event - that is, until the clean-up crew came in and did such wonderful job to restore the area and our well-being. Thank you.

It was a fast and terribly powerful storm whose gust caused this damage. And, it could not help but get one to thinking about the most notorious storm in the history of our town.

That momentous storm occurred 126 years ago today.

It was on July 13, 1895 that a tornado struck the Cherry Hill portion of town. It was a devastating and defining event for the neighborhood and the greater community. It struck when the Borough was scarcely a year old, and it challenged the new town in ways large and small. Over a century later it still haunts the psyche of old timers and plays an important role in the community’s history.

Our history books tell us that it was a hot and humid summer day – that now infamous Saturday afternoon. Folks were swimming, fishing and boating on the river as was usual, but in the early afternoon “short snappy gusts of air were noted”. By three o’clock “ the skies became inky black, touched with green and yellow”. By 3:15 a tornado struck. “For the next 15 minutes little is known except that a hard to describe roar prevailed over the area”, chronicles the account in the local history book.

The tornado is said to have traveled in a corridor of destruction southwest to northeast from where Route 4 now stands to midway between Howland and Wayne. In the Cherry Hill Section of town survivors say that the storm hit so suddenly and unexpectedly that residents were stunned and socked by it all.

They say that it started with hailstones. But very soon the sky was filled with flying objects. When those flying objects began to fall, the confusion, panic and destruction only increased.

The local history reports that as the storm departed to the east (The tornado was also reported in Long Island later that day), a cone-shaped black funnel could be seen.

When it was safe to come out the damage was surveyed. It was a long list. Three were killed, and enormous property damages was sustained. Homes, barns, livestock and crops, as well as a hotel and a bowling alley were destroyed. After the storm, there was a home (Actually part of a home as the front had been cut out) occupying the corner of Main Street and Kinderkamack (at the site of CVS) at a spot where no home had stood before the twister. The Cherry Hill Railroad Depot vanished completely. The Cherry Hill Reformed Church was moved a foot off its foundation. A residence on Hackensack Avenue at Cole’s Brook was completely lifted in the air for a distance then crashed earthward at a 45 degree angle causing total destruction.

The hotel destroyed – Friedeman’s Hotel was a local fixture and landmark. Its owner, Conrad Friedeman is one of those who died in the tornado.

It took years to rebuild the community and even longer its spirit. For a number of reasons (not just the tornado) , folks wanted to move on – to an extent that they wanted to change the name of the neighborhood to North Hackensack.

North Hackensack would remain a tightly knit community for many years thereafter, but ultimately faced an obstacle it could not overcome when Route 4 opened in 1938. The highway leading to the G.W. Bridge made the area much more accessible, but in doing so cut right through the heart of Cherry Hill. That proved a fatal blow to a sense of neighborhood. Ultimately, it would blend in to becoming part of River Edge. But, whether Cherry Hill or North Hackensack, the neighborhood would never be the same.

Now decades later, many folks have come and gone. The community continues to evolve and reinvent itself. Old trees are replaced, but new seeds mix among the existing deep roots. There is destruction but there is rebirth.

Thankfully we heal and grow – even as memories of storms, recent and not so recent, remain part of the legacy of our community.

Source for Histories: The History of River Edge, 1693-1964, by Sigmund H. Uminski, 1965, Hauser Printing Company; Musket, Anchor and Plow, The Story of River Edge,.

For more on the tornado of 1895:

 In the Aftermath of Storms – Then & Now