Sunday, April 25, 2010

Plaid Dress

I am walking over a footbridge. People are moving under the footbridge, sliding downhill on sleds. They might be on something else I don't understand.

The footbridge takes us into the dark interior of a large cavernous building. I think we go this way to get on those sleds. I want to see how you do it.

I am little. Someone is leading me through the dark building, past lots of people playing loud games and talking. I want to see more of the sleds but there are different things we have to pass first.

I am an adult. I can't find my way in the building. Someone who should be with me is not. It's loud. It's hard to see through the crowds. I don't know where to go. The noises and flashing lights are bothering me.

I pay to get into another part of the building. I find a quiet library room. I am meeting someone there. It's Helen. But she's not there yet. Someone says she'll be there later.

Maybe this library has the lost book I have been trying to find. You have to ask at the counter and they would get it for you. Behind the counter is a polished stone wall. The ceiling is very high, so high it's almost lost in darkness. I think I have been here before. But I can't remember the name of that book, so I can't ask for it.

I walk a while and find myself in a more deserted part of the building. The cream-colored concrete walls are dirty, and dust hangs on the chain-link fence that surrounds the paid area I am in. I want to go back to the busy place.

Doors and halls lead to confusing rooms. I am in a museum. There are people walking slowly and talking quietly.

I am in a room with an exhibit of armor in floor to ceiling glass cases. I walk on. The next room has a few dinosaur skeletons. I walk on.

The next room is a large central space. I remember was here a few minutes ago. There are flags hanging from the ceiling. It has stone walls and stone archways into rooms in all directions. I am going in circles.

I go back into the armor room. Now there is a young woman in there in a black dress. She has blond hair with bangs. I don't know who she is. She tells me how to get back to the large building.

I am inside a wooden tower. I keep going up steep stairways or ladders. It's a little scary.

Each floor is one room. The floor and walls are polished wood. There are couches and coffee tables and people sitting or standing around. Some are old people. How do they get here? Is there an elevator?

At the top I go outside. A walkway leads along a parapet of the stone building and into the steel and glass building I was in before.

I go inside to the noise and semi-darkness. My little daughter is there waiting. She is the one who was supposed to be with me. She's OK. People in charge were watching her for me. I sign a book to take her. She smiles and calls me daddy.

I am little. My father is with me. I did not really leave the large building. I just imagined it. It's confusing with all the talking and noise. We're walking around in there looking at things.

I am a young adult. I am in a noisy space with some friends. It's not as large as I thought it was. We're playing Skee Ball. None of us play often enough to be any good at Skee Ball, but the strips of prize tickets spool out profusely. We laugh as our balls miss the holes. We pretend we can toss the ball where we want it.

We bring the tickets to the counter to get our cheap prizes. I can see the sun shining outside through an opening near the counter. That's the way out, right there.

I go out the opening. I am by myself in a foreign country. I am older. It's colder now, and cloudy, but I have a jacket on. I like it here but I am confused.

How did I get here? I can't remember. Can I still catch my flight home? I think I know where to go. I am not sure.

I see a railway station across the street. I can go that way. I use the ticket I found in my pocket to get in, and I take the first train that comes. It has shiny paint on the outside.

I am not in a foreign country after all. I am in a subway train in New York. I am tired and I want to go home. I leave the subway and go up to the bus terminal.

I am riding the bus to New Jersey. I am a high school student.

A girl my age has taken the aisle seat next to me. She's talking to me. I answer her questions, but I look out the window. I never look at her. She seems nice. I should look at her and ask her some things too, but I don't. Why is she talking to me?

I get off the bus and start walking home. I pass a place where there used to be an old stone house. When they tore it down, I could see the rough stone basement, but then they filled it in and paved it to be a parking lot. I wonder who else knows that basement is still there.

Finally, I am coming around the bend in the road near my house. Then I realize, I don't live here any more. This is where I used to live when I was a kid. This is the wrong house.

I have to go home to the right place. There is no bus service directly from here to there. I will have to go back to New York and come out again on another bus.

Before I do that, I remember, I don't live there any more either.

I am an adult. I have to go where I live now. I think hard, and I remember where to go. I can take a train from here, not a bus.

The train arrives somewhere unfamiliar. An announcement in the terminal tells me I can take a ferry to get where I'm going. I get on the boat.

I am little. My father is taking me home. We are on a ferry that carries cars on the main deck, and I am looking out the front at the river. I feel the damp cool air and I see gulls flying. It feels very strange to see the river and the gulls, but I like it.

The ferry goes into a windy building. I am confused. As we walk off I look up and to each side and we are in a building. We walk forward in the building and there are trains in there.

How can a boat and trains come into a building? Are we on land now? It doesn't make sense.

I am an adult. I am on the train to South Orange. I have done this many times before. I look out the window at the meadows.

I am a young adult. I am riding in an old train with rattan seats and high ceilings, with the sash windows raised to let in the warm air. We are passing through suburban towns. I see people getting off at the stations and walking home. Some of them are talking and smiling. The train goes past houses and leafy trees. I want to live here and walk home like they do, but I am not on my way home. I am just riding a train for fun.

No. I am who I am now, on a train, going home, arriving at South Orange.

It rained earlier and the streets are full of water. The station is an island. People are taking off their shoes and socks, and rolling up their pants, to wade through. I do it too. I walk home carrying my shoes and socks, even after I reach drier streets.

When I get home, Helen asks if I had a good walk. Yes, I did. I feel refreshed, not tired.

She wants to go to the store and get some things. I'm going to drive her. That will be good. It won't be weird there.

We go outside and walk up the driveway. We're approaching the front of the car. Strange. One of us must have backed it up the driveway. We never do that. I only ever did it twice, when I had to load a lot of stuff in the back, and that's all. Something feels wrong.

I let Helen in the passenger side. For some reason I walk around the back of the car.

There's a rumble seat. And there isn't. The back of the car is solid steel and glass like it always is, but at the same time also there is an opening with a padded bench seat in it.

My mother is sitting in it. She died fifteen years ago. She doesn't look weak and ill like she did the last few times I saw her. She's healthier, like I remember her most of my life.

I stare at her for just a second. She looks startled. "Oh, you're not supposed to see me," she tells me. She laughs at this.

I remember her laugh. And in an instant I realize that she has been taking drives with me, and with my brothers and sisters too. I remember my father often took us for drives. My mom must like it.

Then I notice that there's a young woman next to her who looks like my mom. No, she's just a young teenager. She's wearing a cotton plaid dress, red and grey, with little buttons down the front and a little white collar, and her hair is in a wave like girls had in the late forties, early fifties. She's smiling. I've never seen her before. My mom introduces her.

"This is your sister who was stillborn. She likes to come with me."


Next time: Bagels.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Crooked Brook IV

[ Crooked Brook starts here. ]

Last time we paused for breath in front of the Timothy Ball House. We're going to need it. Our journey so far was over relatively flat ground. In the mile we've travelled we've risen only 80 feet in elevation from the confluence of the Crooked Brook and the East Branch of the Rahway. Now in the last half mile, we're going to go 310 feet higher to the top of the First Mountain.

The Timothy Ball house was acquired in April 1919 by a group of local developers. It was they who added the pretentious colonnade to the house and turned it into The Old Washington Inn. Leaving some grounds around the house, they subdivided the rest of the property to create a "restricted residence park" called Washington Park. The names trade on an association with George Washington, who slept at the house a few times during the Revolutionary War while it was owned by Uzal Ball, son of its builder Timothy Ball. Washington may have even been related to the family through his mother Mary Ball.

"A brook fed by mountain springs runs in a deep, heavily-wooded ravine through the centre of the property", wrote a New York Times reporter in 1919. The same story quotes George W Clark, a great-grandson of Timothy Ball, as writing many years earlier that Timothy Ball's first log house had been "a few rods to the northeast, just over the brook that divided Orange from Springfield. Wishing to dig a well, a diviner came along, and by use of stocks pointed out where water could easily be found on the southwest side of the brook. This located the more permanent house...".

The brook is of course the Crooked Brook.

Below, we see the brook as it goes underground at Ridgewood Road, protected by an iron fence. The Timothy Ball House is on the left, and the other houses you can see are in Washington Park.

The Washington Park property has one street simply called Washington Park that crosses the Crooked Brook three times. The brook is protected by identical concrete walls at all three locations. They're not quite bridges, because the brook runs through a conduit, as you'll see a few pictures down.

Here's the first crossing, looking downstream. The second picture shows the Timothy Ball House. Moss grows on the north side of trees, and concrete too.

Looking upstream from the first crossing. The brook runs free up here.

Looking down from the second crossing.

The south side of the second crossing, showing the type of conduit through which the brook runs under all three crossings.

Looking upstream from the second crossing.

The south side of the third crossing. We've gone up about 90 feet from Ridgewood Road.

Looking north, we see the Crooked Brook disappearing again, emerging from a round opening in a wall. It's at the V of these two grassy slopes.

Up there, that's Owen Drive, outside the bounds of Washington Park. It's quite a walk to get there from here: we have to go all the way back down to Ridgewood Road, and climb back up again on Cedar Lane.

We could stop here till next time.

No, I won't do that to you. Let's finish this off.

Here, we've gone all the way around, and we're up on Owen Drive looking back down.

Across the street from the barrier shown above, the Crooked Brook runs underground between 9 and 13 Owen Drive, and then, on the other side of the block, it runs directly under the house at 126 Wyoming Avenue. This is the only place where I am sure it runs directly under a house.

Then, across from 126 Wyoming Avenue, there is a narrow paved way that might be a public street, or not, I am not sure. The first four houses on Lewis Drive and Woodhill Drive don't have driveways facing to those streets, but rather use this narrow road as access to their garages. The road is shown on the Maplewood township map with the name 10' STORM ROW. It's probably ten feet wide all right, but it's sad to see the Crooked Brook officially reduced to a "storm right of way".

Below, we're looking up the right of way from Wyoming Avenue.

Once the paved way ends, the brook is back outside, and remains outside up to its source.

Yes! This is the Big Reveal! Here's how the Crooked Brook runs to its source.

I know you want to see pictures. A map won't do it. So, we walk to the end of Woodhill Drive and go into South Mountain Reservation.

Looking down from the end of Woodhill Drive, near the back of 19 Lewis Drive.

Looking uphill, around the back of 21 Lewis Drive. The main stream of the Crooked Brook goes along the fence and turns right just past that yellow bush.

Here are two views as we follow the brook up in the reservation.

And here it is! The source of the Crooked Brook! It's a little wet spot in the woods, with standing water days after the last rain. I don't know how there can be springs here, because this is just about the highest point on the ridge. What would create water pressure? There's a lot I don't know. All I can tell you is that it sure is wet here. Watch where you step. I sank a few inches into the muck somewhere there that looked like solid earth.

Here is the same wet spot, from the other side, looking down hill.

What amazed me is where this turned out to be. It's right near the corner of Crest Drive and South Orange Avenue. It's not a hidden place by any means. It's one of the main entrances to South Mountain Reservation. I've walked past here many times and looked at that wet spot. It's even wet in the road on the south side, almost all the time. Walkers need to look out for cars splashing them. But it's not just another wet spot. I never knew that this is... the Source of the Crooked Brook.

So, we've done it. We have traced the hidden ways, exploded the mysteries, and eliminated one of the unknowns from our lives. We can say that we know where the Crooked Brook flows, from its source to its mouth.

There. What next?

You want me to trace the Rahway River from the mouth of the Crooked Brook all the way down to the Arthur Kill? Nothing doing. Look, even if I step up the pace to half a mile per week, it might take me the rest of 2010. Heh heh, don't tempt me. You don't want that, believe me.

My photographs were taken on April 4, 2010. The present-day property maps are from the Township of Maplewood.

Next time: Plaid Dress.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Crooked Brook III

[ Crooked Brook starts here. ]

We left off last time at Jefferson Avenue, looking north at no brook. I will tell you the truth. It's hard to say exactly where the Crooked Brook runs for the next few blocks. This part took the most investigation. I'll try to explain my reasoning as we go.

Some property developer in this area we're going to look at, and maybe there was more than one, didn't want the Crooked Brook. It was put into a conduit and hidden. It wasn't a feature, it was a problem. A brook took up space that could be built on. But what a loss. I think people moving from the city to a fine suburban location would be charmed at seeing a little brook running near their property. They wouldn't think about heavy rains and flooding. They'd see the beauty of it.

Let's get exploring.

The storm drain you see at the curb up above has to be right over the Crooked Brook. We know that. Now there's an odd thing. The property of 73 Jefferson Avenue, the house on the left up there, does not extend to the corner. There's a narrow corner lot with no building on it.

Check the driveway. With a corner house, it's common around here that the driveway to the backyard garage would come off the side street, but this one can't do that. That space to the right of the driveway isn't part of the property. And that's not all. Although the driveway runs past the righthand side of the house, it curves to a garage awkwardly located in the back left corner (see it back there?). It's avoiding something.

Oddly enough there's a storm drain in the middle of the driveway, just past the house, which you can almost see in the photo above. Even stranger, there's a second drain in the lawn to the right of the driveway near the garage.

So, I think the property line separating this house and the corner lot is more or less the Crooked Brook. I think the brook runs just to the right of the driveway, curving to the left so that it can run behind the houses on Kendal Avenue (like the yellow one back there). That's my guess, because I think the builders wouldn't put a house right over the brook. But maybe they did.

Helen and I wandered around the next few blocks looking for any storm drains or grates where we could hear the brook. I'd better give you a map, and then I'll explain it.

Near the bottom, there's 73 Jefferson Avenue, with the garage in its back left corner. Notice the empty corner lot at 65-67. The blue spots are the grates I just mentioned. Move up block by block.

The low point in the grade of Garthwaite Terrace is between the house and garage of 75 Kendal. There are storm drains at that point on both sides, but we could not actually hear the brook, so I have not put blue spots there. I did put a blue spot showing a storm drain at the similar low point on Hoffman Street, between 65 Kendal and 30 Hoffman, where we heard running water. I'm pretty sure the brook runs behind the houses from 77 to 65 Kendal.

The next one is interesting. We heard water at a drain in Headley Place near the back of 25 Hoffman, and then at a corner drain near the side of 12 Arcularius Terrace. Both are marked with blue spots. It's as if the brook ran across the street diagonally. The photo below shows the two storm drains.

The grey line I drew on the map corresponds to something in the Sanborn atlas of 1912. This is really cool because I think it confirms that the brook really does cross Headley Place at that angle. Here's an image tiled together from two Sanborn atlas plates.

Look at Headley Place! You can't build a street with that wedge in it. Here's what must have been happening. The land was just being subdivided for building in 1912, and not all of the proposed Headley Place had yet been dedicated as a public street. The farm on the northwest side was still one large property. (By the way the two houses of this farm, circa 1800, still stand, with alterations, at 452 and 455 Ridgewood Road.)

That old property line is what I drew in grey on the first map. It just happens to be at the same place where we thought the line of the Crooked Brook slants across Headley Place. I believe this line is a remnant of the colonial property line along the Crooked Brook that is mentioned at the top of Crooked Brook I.

I don't know whether the brook still follows the old line. In the block from Arcularius Terrace (a name you do not find in every town) to De Hart Road, it runs either under or behind the houses along Headley Place.

The next place we could find running water was a round grate in the street in front of 14 De Hart Road. This doesn't help establish how the brook gets here from the previous location.

Coming up is Orchard Park. I knew the Crooked Brook must run under the park, because we will finally see it again at the Timothy Ball House, and the park is on the way there.

We found another round grate in the park, next to the paved walk just beyond the back of 19 De Hart Road. We could not only hear running water, we could see the Crooked Brook. I even got it into photograph.

Orchard Park exists because of an old flower business. The remnant of it is Gefken Florists, at 432 Ridgewood Road. It's a commercial property in a residential area, not conforming to zoning, but it is allowed because it was already there when the zoning laws were adopted, sometime early in the twentieth century. The business had greenhouses and planted fields behind it.

Part of Orchard Park is a wetlands. It's been like this for centuries. The Crooked Brook overflows here. Below, a photo taken not right after a rainstorm, in the part of the park shown by the big open circle up there in the first map.

I bet kids love stomping around in that muck. Parents were keeping their little critters shepherded onto the other side of the walk when we were there, but you know how they break free sometimes.

The house at 426 Ridgewood Road, across the road from the Timothy Ball House, was already there in 1912. I know this because it's shown on the Sanborn map, and by its style it looks to me like it's from the 1870-1900 period, older than most houses in the neighborhood. That would put its construction before the date the Crooked Brook was placed underground here. My guess is that the brook ran along the north side of the house.

Below, the light blue line shows a very speculative path for the Crooked Brook under ground, summarizing what I've been saying so far. It's based on the concept of the brook running around, not under, buildings. It's probably not quite correct.

Below, a view from looking across from 426 Ridgewood Road, showing the Timothy Ball House on the left. That little iron fence at right center protects passersby from stumbling into the Crooked Brook as it enters the conduit that will carry it downstream by hidden ways.

More pictures of the house are at Stone House III.

And here we pause.

We're almost done. Next time, we will follow the brook all the way to its source. It might not be Lake Victoria, but it's still going to be pretty good.

When I started this, I didn't know whether I would be able to tell you definitively where the Crooked Brook starts. I imagined myself wandering in the woods up on the mountain trying to guess which stream bed might be the one. But it turns out that I can tell you exactly where our brook originates. I have been there. I admit I wasn't the first White Man to see it. But still, next time, the Big Finish.

My photographs were taken on March 27 and April 4, 2010. The present-day property maps are from the Township of Maplewood.

Next time: Crooked Brook IV.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Crooked Brook II

[ Crooked Brook starts here. ]

The Crooked Brook. Look, there it is. See it?

That's where we left off last time. A round grate in the pavement hidden around back of St James's Gate. We can do better.

The Crooked Brook looked pretty good in Memorial Park, didn't it? And it's going to look pretty good in this installment too. Just hang on a few minutes. We have to find our way from this grate to where it comes out again.

Here's what you do. From the St James's grate, walk up into the parking lot of the Woman's Club, staying in the lowest part of the paved ground. If you can find this next cover, you'll hear the brook once again.

South Orange Township. The name was changed in November 1922 to Maplewood Township. That's an old cover. The brook went underground sometime between 1912 (the Sanborn map) and 1922. We also know this from the St James's Gate building appearing in photographs dated not long after 1912.

The drawing below is a detail of a bird's eye view of Maplewood published in 1910. It shows where we've been so far and where we are going.

The mouth of the Crooked Brook is at the lower left, just to the right of Baker Street. You can follow it up, under the railway, and across Maplewood Avenue. The drawing has Inwood Place (not named) a little too close to Highland Place, so the brook is squeezed in that block, but you can see it take a big bend to the right just about where the Woman's Club is now, and after that it runs under Durand Road and then to the right side of the image.

If that big bend is accurate, and it may not be, the brook seems to have run originally on the north side of the Woman's Club, where there is today a hollow with trees and grass. But from the South Orange Township cover to the next place we can identify, it would be a straight shot under the club's parking lot past the south side of the building. It would have been easy to relocate the brook if the property was not yet built on.

The property was vacant. The Woman's Club building dates from 1930. I don't know why this large lot near the shops and station was still available at that time. The houses in the area date from the 1920s or earlier. It might just have been an owner who did not want to sell, but I wonder if the ground was soft.

In the view below we are standing near the front of the Woman's Club, looking across the street at the space between 61 and 67 Woodland Road. The brook can be heard flowing under that round cover in the road. More importantly, beyond that wooden fence in the distance, the brook is in the open again.

I admit it: to get the second photo I had to walk a few yards up the private driveway. You can see the brook from the public sidewalk though. It's just hard to get a good picture.

You can't walk along the brook here without going into people's lawns, so go around the block to see it again where it crosses Durand Road. Above, see that tan house in the distance? Below, here it is on the right. This is the Durand Road bridge. Both these views are looking downstream (almost all these views look upstream since that is the direction we are going.)

Before we continue, while we're still looking back downstream, let's take some field notes for future generations. Below, the Crooked Brook is shown in light blue from the portal in Memorial Park (bottom) to the portal in the property opposite the Woman's Club (marked as 60 Woodland Road). The location from Memorial Park to the north side of Maplewood Avenue is based on the Sanborn map (Crooked Brook I). The three dark circles are the covers where we could identify it: the simple one behind St James's Gate, the South Orange Township one in the Woman's Club parking lot, and the one in the street in front of the Woman's Club. Notice that the brook forms a property line between 63 and 67 Woodland Road, and between 28 and 32 Durand Road.

Back to Durand Road. On the north side of the bridge, a pair of narrow streets bracket the brook for one picturesque block, viz Brook Lane and Brookside Road.

At the end of the block, Brookside Road ends at the grounds of the Jefferson School, but it's not a dead end, since traffic can turn into Maryland Road. Brook Lane continues alone on the east side to reach four more houses, and ends in a loop. (The Brook Lane house numbers conform to Brookside Road because the addresses were formerly given as Brookside Road. After many years of trouble with deliveries and emergency services, the east side was given its own name a few years ago.)

I have never seen a map that shows the details here correctly, so see below. The very thin brown line with the loop at the end shows the course of Brook Lane correctly, although if this is right the street is laid on private property. I added the thick brown line to show footpaths that connect the end of Brook Lane to a path from Woodland Road to the end of Virginia Road. The footpaths are on rights of way for streets that were never built. Brookside Road is in two parts.

Here's the Crooked Brook north of Maryland Road, from the Brook Lane side. The footpath crosses over on a wooden bridge that is a smaller cousin to the one we saw in Memorial Park.

The round thing at the footbridge is a sewer, built up to the level of the proposed street. The footpaths and bridge must be here to provide access to the Jefferson School, which you can see in the left background in the last picture above.

Below, we look north from the footbridge.

To see more, we need to walk around the block to Jefferson Avenue. Below, we look downstream at the brook on the south side of Jefferson Avenue.

As we turn to the north side of Jefferson Avenue, we see... no brook! It's gone! But we will not be defeated. We will find it, I promise you. Next time.

My photographs were taken on March 20 and 27, 2010. The bird's eye view is by H S Wylie, for the promotional booklet Picturesque Maplewood, 1910. The present-day property maps are from the Township of Maplewood.

Next time: Crooked Brook III.