River Edge Summer Time Memories – The River
Journeys into River Edge
You might have recently read of some exciting plans to bring kayaking and walking paths to the area at the old Hackensack Waterworks at Van Buskirk Island just up a ways in Oradell. In North Jersey.com article announcing the plans, it mentioned that there was once a time when the Hackensack River was a place of recreation – swimming, fishing and boating. In fact, the river not only served as a place of leisure for the community, but also was a destination drawing vacationers with financial means and sophisticated tastes from New York City and beyond. The establishment of a train line to the area especially made the Hackensack River valley and vacation spot of choice.
We share with you here a recollection from that earlier time – late 19th or early 20trh century by – taken from the River Edge history book – The History of River Edge, 1693-1894, by Sigmund H. Uminski, 1965, Hauser Printing Company, New York:
Among the aquatic sports indulged in the good old days, we can include swimming, boating, canoeing and fishing. All of these sports were practiced by the children and adults of River Edge. The Hackensack River was the place where all of the aquatic sports were enjoyed
“Almost everyone in town”, said Edwin C. Herrick, “owned a canoe or boat of some kind. On Sundays there were many canoes and boats filled with children and adults, enjoying the day on the river”
“Many kids in town”, continued Herrick, ”learned how to swim in the Hackensack River. The water was so clear that you could see the bottom of the river and the fish”
“There were three canoe clubs on the Hackensack River in the area of River Edge. The first club was started where the record company now stands between present Main Street and Reservoir Avenue parallel to the Cherry Hill section. The second canoe club was started on the east side of the Hackensack River by New Bridge. The third canoe club opened on the west side of the Hackensack River, north of the bridge in River Edge”.
“From the days of the Indians, the Hackensack River provided amateur fishing for local residents. Commercial fishing followed the introduction of the railroad across the river”.
“For the price of a nickel”, stated Edwin C. Herrick, ”any child could catch one fish, and bring it home to his parents”.
Residents of both river banks caught and packed herring and shad in barrels for quick train delivery to the Fulton Fish Market in New York City. As late as the 1890’s, a rowboat full of herring could be taken in two hours. The long hand-made shad nets were woven during the winter. The shad ran until nearly the end of the century, when the construction of the Hackensack River waterworks disturbed the spawning, and the shad gradually disappeared.
When the shad disappeared, fishing was still continued until the sewage disposal from Camp Merritt in Dumont polluted the Hackensack River. Camp Merritt was a large embarkment camp during World War I through which many soldiers from all states were processed by the Army before they went overseas. The soldiers boarded the New York & New Jersey Railroad which brought them to Hoboken to board ships which took them to the European battlefronts)
With the pollution of the Hackensack River, other aquatic activities besides fishing also stopped like swimming and finally canoeing and boating.
These days an occasional power boat can be seen on a hot summer’s day. Also, River Edge a few years back re-instituted a canoe launch site near the Swim Club.
During the 1960’s plans were announced for a Lake Hackensack which was to provide recreational activities to locals. That never happened. But even without the lake some recreational life along the river had started tentatively to returned.
It is hoped that the recent news out of Oradell will accelerate that long overdue revival of recreation on the river.
More on the plans at the Waterworks: https://www.facebook.com/CommissionerSteveTanelli/videos/803785850339958