Journeys into River Edge
In a recent posting, we mentioned the positive response to the news that paddling is going to be introduced to the Hackensack River. The proposal is for a rental site at Van Buskirik Island in Oradell at the site of the old Hackensack Water Company waterworks building.
This new service is an effort to revive recreational uses along the river. It once was a source of food and fun through the first decade of the Twentieth Century. According to one of our local histories, shad and herring were caught in it; a rowboat full could be netted in a couple of hours. It pretty much so remained until 1911 when the need for increased water storage prompted the building of the Oradell Reservoir. That need was satisfied, but in order to do so the river was made so muddy, and became unfit for any kind of use. Large quantities of silt were churned up and the spawning habits of the shad were disturbed.
Most agree that in the aftermath of that event, the river was perceived and officially deemed unusable for recreational purposes .
Nevertheless, we are told that numbers of locals continued to venture out onto the river - even though it was not necessarily the best thing to do. In one recent Facebook posting in response to our earlier article about recreation on the river, one person described how their neighborhood friends all had spoken of having fun on the river in the 1950’s – “boats, fishing & ice skating on the small ponds”.
Growing up in town decades ago, one can recall recollections about how the ponds scattered throughout town provided ice and seasonal sports activity opportunities frequently during winters in the 1950’s (Site of Liberty Travel and Van Saun Pond). As to the river itself, there undoubtedly were those who continued to use the river recreationally – we often saw folks fishing from the bridge – even when the river was at its worst.
In the 1960’s, a serious proposal surfaced for the creation of place to be called Lake Hackensack. A tidal barrier was to be constructed just south of the Midtown Bridge in Hackensack creating Lake Hackensack between it and the Oradell Dam (just north of Oradell Avenue at the mouth of the Oradell Reservoir). The plan provided for a variety of recreational activities such as boating, canoeing, biking, hiking athletic events, and concerts.
In River Edge, the plan proposed including a bird sanctuary. In fact, the sanctuary would ultimately become a reality - in a section formerly owned by the Kraissl family. Another part of the blueprint that actually came to be was the addition of a picnic area at the Steuben House so that visitors could enjoy river views.
The Damming of the river at Hackensack was first proposed in 1900 and then again in 1933 and 1967. But it never happened.
BTW, If anyone needs any further evidence to support the undesirability of the river as a recreational spot during that period, one need look no further than this: It was when River Edge joined the Bergen County Sewer Authority, the last community along the river to do so, that the initial study for a Lake Hackensack could commence. Prior to that time it was routine for raw and partially treated sewage to be dumped into the river. Eventually a county sewage treatment plant was built in Little Ferry.
Our local history book describes how, if there was adequate rainfall, water would flush pollutants out to Newark Bay. But it also describes an especially notorious chapter in the 1960’s when a prolonged drought prevented this flushing process. As a result, sewage, industrial wastes and debris built up and tides pushed the pollutants northward. River Edge received national recognition when Girl Scout Troop 127 was written up in Life magazine for its determined efforts to clean up the river. It was those gallant efforts that sparked the Lake Hackensack proposal. But as mentioned above, for a variety of reasons, despite big plans, Lake Hackensack died before it could take hold - an idea only.