The (Half) Bridge of Continental Avenue

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The (Half) Bridge of Continental Avenue

Journeys into River Edge

One person’s brook or stream is another person’s drainage ditch. That can be the summary so far of an assignment given to us last week.

At that time we were asked to see what we could find out about what was described as a crumbling wall on the south side of Continental Avenue just across from Memorial Park. The spot was adjacent to a new parking lot where until recently the old and much loved American Legion building once stood.

Seeking an answer, we started armed only with what some ”blacktop history” of local folklore. A comment to the initial inquiry at “This is River Edge” guided us as well: “….the wall being there because of the drain that runs underneath it from behind the library to Continental Avenue”.

The two authoritative histories of River Edge were of little help. Nor was a call to the D.P.W. Though quite cordial and supportive they had little hard information to offer. We have tried to tap a couple of other sources, with little success so far. So we are left to our own resources: A map, our memory,  a bit of observation and some totally unscientific but perhaps informed deductions.

What we can say is that the wall on that south side of Continental is a concrete bridge wall. Drive by and you will see that concrete. Usually it would be found on both sides of the road. You can see a couple of places around town where such one sided bridges exit (such a partial bridge structure can be seen at the foot of Greenway Terrace as one enters Brookside Park). Here it is present only on one side.

Whether one side or two, the existence of such a structure implies that it covers some water or a channel through which water occasionally flows.

As that poster mentioned, there was such a channel –he called it a drain – a bit to the south of it – separating the library from the tennis courts.

However, if one ventures to that spot, the area appears to be more of a meandering stream than a drainage pipe channel.

A look at the Google map for River Edge shows no channel that would justify a bridge at that location. At the same time that Google map does not show the stream/brook/drain separating the tennis courts and the library either.

The Google map does show a blue line running in a “U” shape a bit to the south of that place - specifically from Elm Avenue & Greenway Terrace down through backyards between Kensington and Voorhis then along the paper path of Oak to its intersection with Madison.

That blue line can be described as a drainage ditch or brook/stream.

In the Middle East, one often comes across a wadi, a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season. Here in North American but not around here such a channel would be called a gully.

So taking the posting comment to heart, one could reasonably make a case that the half bridge on Continental covers a drainage ditch.

But below, I argue that it is a bridge over the remnants of a stream or brook.

So I hope you will follow me as I try to piece it together.

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If you go back to that Google street map of River Edge and look for blue lines noting areas of water, in addition to that U shape running down Elm and back up Oak paper path, there is another long line of blue running parallel to Oak Avenue from the south end of town (between Valley Road and Route 4) until just before Kensington Road. It is referenced by many as Van Saun Brook though the map has no name attached to the line (the map indicates that there is a Van Saun Mill Brook that continues behind Valley Road towards Coles Court and Eastbrook Drive and eventually enters into what is now Van Saun Park – We used to call it Coles Creek and Coles Brook though the map mentions it today in that Van Saun name)

Just beyond the end of this blue line along Oak Avenue is the south side of the earlier referenced U shaped blue line.

Then, just a few blocks up along the Oak Avenue paper path is a green area – now a park called Brookside Park.

Let’s go back to the area of the library and the tennis courts again. Just as it appears at the spot it disappears just as quickly into concrete pipes and tunnels on both sides – to the south heading towards Elm Avenue and what will become a fenced off area on the west side of the street (called by some a drain but noted on the map as part of that U shaped water channel leading to Brookside Park and beyond). To the north of the tennis courts this brook or drain leads into a tunnel just to the south of a parking lot. Just to the north of the parking lot is that wall we started with (the half bridge over Continental Avenue).

It should be noted that the first street to the west of that area is called Millbrook Road. Where is the brook in question? I argue that it flows just to the east and is mostly covered - but where visible it is now called by some a drain.

Another clue may be the use of the land to the north – it was late to be developed, and while there were a number of proposals for it ultimately it became Memorial Park and the Little League Fields. It is reasoned that this delayed development was because of the existence of that brook/creek/stream.

One can easily make a case that developers bulldozed over a number of brooks and streams in the name of progress as subdivisions grew and what was previously farmland and forests.

In the south end of town I grew up on Zabriskie Place. It is a part of town  notoriously known for basement flooding. The area had been part of a reservoir (Reservoir Avenue) or lake (Lakeview Street) depending on which old timer you listened to. Anyway, the Army Corps of engineers came in after World War II to level the land and prepare it for the ranch homes that opened circa 1950’s. A community grew and became home to many including my family. But it was not without a price. The basement flooding and erosion on our backyard hill was a reminder of promises made when the homes were built that did not quite work out.

So, based on these clues and a bunch of others it is my very unscientific view that the wall is actually a bridge over what are the remnants of one of many brooks and streams that were characteristic of this neck of the woods.

By the way, a similar case can be made just to the west in Van Saun Park at the site of the Washington Spring, a place believed to be where the Continental Army of George Washington refreshed itself in 1780. It lies at a spot that too was characterized by a number of streams - for example one that still connects it to the Van Saun Mill Brook and that leads into Coles Brook and then into the Hackensack River.

These streams - past and present reflect the flow of life in the area before there was a Route Four as well as the subdivisions and shopping centers built of the existence of that thoroughfare.

So, that is it for now. What is reasonably clear is that the wall on Continental is a bridge. And under it is a channel where water flows. We will continue to see if we can get more complete and authoritative answers than just relying upon these clues.

For now, it indeed appears that one person’s drain may be another person’s stream. I suppose it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

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