Sunday, November 1, 2009


This was a tough week. I started writing something called "Check-up", but it did not work out, and then I was sick for a few days, and then Saturday came round, and what have I got? Nothing. But lucky for you I thought of something that caught my interest a few months ago, and I took a walk Saturday and shot some photos, and here you go.

Also: while I was home sick I had that salad with dill weed for lunch both days, and I have added a photograph of it to Dill Weed, so go back and look at it. It will make you hungry.


One morning when I was walking the six-mile loop that takes me through South Mountain Reservation, I came back downhill on a different street, and saw something strange. There was some kind of monument down at the end of a dead-end street.

There was a concrete barrier fence, protecting drivers and pedestrians from going any farther, and a bronze plaque on a concrete pylon. WTF? I had to detour to see what it was.

What event or person might the plaque commemorate? And why here? What special thing could lay at the end of this backwater street?

A reservoir.

As a resident of South Orange Village, I know that my water is supplied by the East Orange Water Commission, so I am not totally surprised to see the Water Department of the City of East Orange making its presence known here.

I took a look over the barrier. If your idea of a reservoir is a large lake, this will disappoint you. It's a covered reservoir.

There is quite a drop, but all you can see below, through the trees, is a level field of grass. Here's a photo that doesn't show you much. The field of grass is fenced in and protected by signs that say: NO / TRESPASSING / WATER SUPPLY / AREA / EAST ORANGE WATER COMMISSION.

I can tell when I am not welcome. But later on, after walking around, I found myself in a place where I could get a good picture of the reservoir roof. I'll explain where I was shortly. If you go there, you'll find the fence is incomplete, but it's pretty clear that they don't want people walking around on the roof, so I'll ask you to follow my example and keep off it.

On their web site, the East Orange Water Commission describe how this reservoir fits into the water supply system:

To supply the residents of East Orange and South Orange, the Commission derives its water supply from four well fields in the 2300+ acre East Orange Water Reserve. The water is obtained from eighteen (18) artesian wells supplied by the great Passaic Aquifer, created during the last Ice Age. The water is forced from the wells through conduits to the East Orange Pumping Station, where it is minimally treated and then pumped to an underground reservoir in Maplewood. From this reservoir, it flows via gravity into the distribution system and to the consumer’s house tap at which point it first sees the light of day.

The fact that the water is never exposed to daylight until it reaches the consumers' premises accounts for its purity, coolness, and general excellent quality.

The water reserve they mention is along the Passaic River, not far from the Mall at Short Hills. The water supply system dates back to 1903, so the work commemorated by the monument of 1939 must be for an enlargement of an older reservoir.

And I found two older related structures.

The first one is a block away, at a higher elevation, on the far side of South Orange Avenue. From the reservoir all you have to do is go maybe 150 feet northeast through a wooded lot and then across the avenue.

Notice the level field right behind this building, which must be another covered reservoir .

"Village of South Orange, 1912". Maybe water for South Orange is pumped here for local distribution. This reservoir is about 100 feet higher, which would help reach the houses on the hill in South Orange. From here, also, a run of about 500 feet west and north, up the hill, brings you to a huge water tank. I took a photo of it back in 2002.

Leaping Lizards! The Martians have landed! This thing was required to supply water by gravity to the houses in Newstead, the neighborhood on the top of the mountain. It's probably from the 1950s, judging by the style of the fake ranch house in front of it with the overly large garage. I love the lightning rods (or antennae to signal forces in space when the time is right).

The oldest building related to the reservoir is on its downhill side, right out on Wyoming Avenue.

The mound of earth behind it is the same reservoir as the one behind the concrete monument. The steps look pretty inviting for a walk on the wooded hillside, and there's no fence until you get farther up, but there are ancient signs forbidding trespassing. You can see them on the trees left and right of the building.

"East Orange Water Works" and "Erected A D 1904". (It became the Commission in 1909.) This is a pleasing little building. I like the yellow brick, and the cut stone corners, and the tiled roof. Maybe those big windows mean that at one time you were allowed to see the machinery inside, back when cities were proud of their public works, and not afraid of vandals.

You must be confused by now, so here is the lay of the land, courtesy GIS mapping from the Township of Maplewood's web site. I've circled the three structures and named them 1939, 1912, and 1904 respectively. The reservoir is the L shaped open space between 1939 and 1904, marked with a 107, for its address, 107 Wyoming Avenue. The South Orange reservoir is just above the 1912 building, and from there if you look left and up, you can see the big tank at the top edge of the image.

Look along the southwest edge of the reservoir. See Cedar Lane? If you're there on the ground you could easily overlook it. It's an ancient road. The portion from South Orange Avenue to Wyoming Avenue has not been open to traffic in a very long time, but the township map still shows it as a public right of way.

After I took photos of the 1912 building, I went into South Mountain Reservation tried to follow Cedar Lane down the hill. I went down next to "The Top" (marked with all those 616s) and found the right of way running between the fence of the reservoir property and the backyard fences of houses on Woodhill Drive. The smaller circle about halfway down Cedar Lane, near my 1939 circle, is where I took the photo of the top of the reservoir. I was going to continue down from there, but the way was so overgrown that I turned back and used Woodhill Drive to go down.

The other small circle, near 1904, is where I took a photo of Cedar Lane looking up from Wyoming Avenue.

It looks like this is the end of Cedar Lane, doesn't it? It's the end of the part you can drive on. But you can see the rest of it, right in the center of the photograph, covered with leaves, between the driveways to those two houses. It's paved with stone blocks for a short distance. I know that I walked up there about ten years ago and had no trouble reaching South Orange Avenue. So I think its condition has deteriorated in that time.

Here is a street map of the Oranges from 1889 and a Hagstrom map of Essex County, both showing Cedar Lane running all the way through.

One of the books I read for the Stone House essays indicated that Cedar Lane is the original path of the road over the mountain, replaced more than 200 years ago by the straight lines of South Orange Avenue. The 1889 map shows accurately that the alignments diverge at the curve. In the field, the old right of way can still be made out , running along the south side of modern South Orange Avenue, but going downhill a little more steeply. It turns right at the "The Top" property and runs almost straight from there.

The Hagstrom map was drawn in the 1930s. It shows Harding Drive South running through to Cedar Lane, which may have been planned before the reservoir expansion commemorated in the monument of 1939, but whether was ever graded is unknown. At the date of the map I scanned, 1953, I doubt the upper part of Cedar Lane was still open to traffic.

Besides that, though, an old couple who used to live next to us told me once that Cedar Lane was not passable from Wyoming Avenue to Ridgewood Road either until the 1960s, with mounds of earth blocking the way. The houses along Cedar Lane and the parts of Lenox Terrace and Lenox Place in Maplewood all appear to me to date from the 1960s. But there are a few sections of old stone walls on the south side where it borders Washington Park, as if the builders there had allowed for Cedar Lane's existence. Hagstrom thoughtfully provides us with house numbers from 2 to 172 for West Cedar Lane, although there was not a single address on it in 1953.

See? I take a little walk around the neighborhood, and look what weird stuff turns up.

I'll tell you what I'm going to do now.

I'm going to go have a glass of water. The old aqua pura. Crystal clear liquid ice. Dihydrogen monoxide that has not seen the light of day till it drips from my tap. Mmmm.

All photographs were taken October 31, 2009, except the one of the big tank, which is a 35mm film photo from 2002. The Cedar Lane maps are from Rutgers University's New Jersey Historical Maps (1889) and my collection (1953).

Next time: Beats me.
(That's not a title, it's a comment. It's not an essay called Beats me. But that would be an interesting title. Hm.)


  1. My Grandfather use to work for them. He use to check the wells on foot. some of the wells were reached by boardwalks due to the overflow of the Passaic River. There is still at least one old well, that can be reached by foot when the river is down. My mom and her family use to live on the property, and when I was young my brothers and I use to walk those old boardwalks and also visit that old well. It's a bit scary looking. My parents live down the street, and we still take walks down to some of the wells. It is private property, but my mom has lived there as a teen and again when I was a teen, and we have never been questioned when walking the property The East Orange Police Department also has a shooting range there. I would wake up to guns going off on Saturday mornings. Sad thing is there is an old house on the property That the Police have used for target practice. This is all located in Livingston off Passaic Avenue. East Orange owns quite a bit of property in Livingston as well as Short Hills. We also lived on their property when I was a child on Parsonage Hill Rd in Short Hills across from the golf course. My Great Grandparents also owned property that backed up to East Orange Property. Been in those woods through out my whole life.

    1. I lived on E.Cedar Lane and remember when Cedar Lane between Ridgewood Rd. and Wyoming Ave did not go through. It was a dirt road, but the road did continue again from Lenox Pl to Wyoming Ave. It was around 1968-69 that they paved the road through. We had just come back from being at the shore for a month and the road was opened. Lots of kids enjoyed riding their bikes on the new ashpalt.On a facebook page memories of Maplewwod/South Orange a thread became live from a picture dating from the 1950's taken at Cedar Lane & Owen Dr. Some type of home for challenged people(was active in the 1940's) resided below Lenox Pl. and Ridgewood Rd. Entrance was from the dirt road of the southern portion of Cedar Lane. Builders started building houses there in the late 1950's & early 60's. We always wondered why the top part of Cedar Lane did not go all the way through to South Orange Ave. We would walk up that path which then would take you to the back to Grunning's Ice Cream shop which now is the Top Condominiums. Thank you for your story.

    2. Nice history, enjoyed reading!