On River Edge’s Reservoir & A Big Rain fall way back when

On River Edge’s Reservoir & A Big Rain fall way back when

Journeys into River Edge

The recent devastating heavy rains and the flooding that accompanied it, has us marveling at the bravery and dedication of our first responders. Thank you

It also prompted us to contemplate the subject of water from another time – back in the 19th century when River Edge served as a storage location for local waters. Of course, there is a clue when one travels in the south end of town and sees streets named Reservoir and Lakeview.

The Reservoir in question has an interesting story.

Conceived and brought to reality by one of two competing local water companies at the time – this one the Cherry Hill Water company founded by Charles H. Voorhis, a borough founding father, this project would become part of the Hackensack Water Company after Voorhis bought a controlling interest. The Reservoir project was a top priority for him.

The Reservoir, once built, stored water transported from the river at a site on the property of Henry Lozier (Kinderkamack at the corner of what is now Reservoir) to a location on the 150 acre farm of John Zabriskie. The Reservoir itself was 70 above the tidewater at the river. It was 25 feet deep and measured 240 x 150. Lined with bricks it is described as stretching from the location of what would become Route 4 to the present day Reservoir Avenue.

Interestingly, the Reservoir was short-lived – only 8 years – from 1873-1881. Different history sources cite differing reasons for this brief run. According to one history book, by 1881, because of the promise of new business to Hoboken the River Edge site was already considered obsolete and was to be replaced. A Short History of River Edge by Kevin Wright (1994) instead cites that rather than obsolescence the pumping of water was unfeasible – mentioning that the brackish river water drawn from this location proved undrinkable. Finally, some speak of the impact of a financial Depression in the 1870’s.

Whatever the reason, the Hackensack Water Company relocated the reservoir to New Milford at the head of tides in 1881. By the way, an early plan called for pipes to run along Kinderkamack Road to a bigger new reservoir but that was nixed after a crowd of local farmers armed with pitchforks stopped the digging. It was only 20 years later that another reservoir would be built to the north in Oradell.

The Zabriskie family, never thrilled about the idea of a reservoir to start with re-bought the River Edge property as soon as he had the chance. But even then the property would sit overgrown with grass and weeds for years. Eventually it became the site of garden apartments and ranch houses.

By the way, it is said that the bricks from that Reservoir were sold to the superintendent of the Hackensack Cemetery, and according to local lore (confirmed in one of our history books) they were then used to line graves.

When my parents bought one of those new ranch homes in `1951 the Army Corps of Engineers had just completed a project that was supposed to mitigate potential flooding issues. Not sure if the mitigation made any difference because flooding was a frequent fact of life along Zabriskie Place – even before any had heard of the term climate change. So too is flooding at the south end of town – always there but these days it seems more frequent and more severe – perhaps a bi-product of 21st development as well?

We humans are good at planning and making changes, but it seems nature has its own ideas about where and when water will flow.

BTW, one last interest piece of history: In 1903, a severe storm dumped over 8 inches of rain each day on October 8 and 9. Only a year earlier, it is reported that severe flooding occurred along the Hackensack on March 3. That was before Hackensack Avenue and KBG but undoubtedly Main Street and the train tracks were flooded back then too. (re: Musket Anchor & Plow)

Other source info: https://www.riveredgenj.org/media/River%20Edge%20History/History.pdf