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.


  1. I have enjoyed your sharp detective work as you searched for the original path and the source of Crooked Brook. This has intrigued me for a long time too. Besides tracking the brook in reality I have found virtual evidence of it in some historic documents-- such as an early map which shows why the brook was named "crooked." There are some postcards that reveal a missing section of the brook near Gefken's at the turn of the century before it was submerged. I also know of a very early deed that included a drawing of Crooked Brook. Contact me at Durand-Hedden and I'll show you.

  2. Great, just finished reading the Crooked Brook story, loved it, thank you.

  3. Awesome article! I have an apt above St James Gate, exactly above the side of the building that the brook flows under. I am sitting over the brook right now in my kitchen, and never new it!

    Though I suspected that the drain in the back was the brook.