Hidden Waterways of Baristaville

Inspired by the comment threads about various development plans for Montclair Center, resident historian Frank Gerard Godlewski unearthed a series of diagrams showing the original, pre-suburban waterways of Baristaville. The image at left shows that the Siena is built on the site of the West Bloomfield Cemetery, and that South Park Street was a waterway flowing from a pond.

Godlewski told Baristanet in a recent email that “the water is most probably still there, if not, augmented by increased water coming from the mountaintop watertable and outflowings that have increased in volume due to global warming.”

He said in a comment: “Until about 100 years ago, before we became a residential suburb, Montclair was a famous springs and climatic station resort, rich with water sources, brooks and ponds. On the oldest 1857 map and even on the later maps there is a brook and even a small pond that corresponds to the site where the Siena is. In 1919, the famous urban planner Nolan, proposed a town Green for the site, perhaps because of the waters. Before the Sienna, there was the Hahnes department store, sleekly designed to serve Montclair, considered to be the second richest community in the US. Before the Hahnes, there was an 1880′s Victorian club structure.”

Are these old swimming holes finding their way back into modern life, in slower seeping ways?

Click on pdfs below (and then again when it takes you to the new page) for more details:



montclair center 1857

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  1. Its interesting to note that the Garden State Toll Plaza was a lake and that area was a popular hunting venue. Watsessing Park was a large lake and tourist attraction and so was Silver Lake, now the large shopping plaza where Staples is, off Bloomfield Avenue. There were many mill ponds off Bloomfield Avenue as you can see in the maps.

  2. Early in the 20th century my Great Grandfather worked for the Oaks family in Bloomfield. He Built a car for the son Tommy Oaks that was pushed by a propeller on the back. The Bloomfield Historical society has a picture of the car and I have the propeller.

  3. In San Diego we have potable (drinking water) and in many areas reclaimed water goes through a separate distribution system for watering lawns and gardens, in the desert it makes sense to reuse as much water as possible.

    Water isn’t the same issue here, but it seems an awful waste to treat water, clorinate it, add fluoride, only to have it go onto the lawns. Changing the entire municipal system would be cost prohibitive, but I wonder if some of the larger tracts of land (parks, etc) could tap this resouce for lawns and gardens?

  4. Perhaps Frank could scan the maps, save them as pdf files, and make them available to download on Baristanet? A bit of fussing, of course, but many of us would love to see the details. Just a thought.

  5. The waterways on the original maps are highlighted in blue. Its fascinating to imagine what it was like. I also wish the maps were more readible in the slideshow. Perhaps I could re send them.

  6. OK…I will re send them in PDF and also include the original non highlighted versions. the Cranetown Map is from 1775 and the others are from 1856 – 7, found at the Bloomfield Historical society.

  7. I’ve just resent my Jpegs to Erika Barista because i unfortunatly couldnt figure out how to PDF them. I am happy to provide copies of these maps to anyone interested because they are rare and also important learning tools.

  8. OK, I’ve converted two of the images into PDF format and put the links at the bottom of the story. Click on them, and then again when it takes you to the new page. Not neat and tidy, but the best this editor can do at the moment. Will try to get the rest up soon.

  9. I’d love to see Watsessing Park get a pond again. The semi-regular flooding could be avoided with a small pond or two.

  10. Agreed; these are terrific. Thanks for the effort of making these available.

    WRT the Montclair Library: Does it have a color scanner? Or is only copying possible? Is the copier at least in color?


  11. These maps are from digital photographs. Photocoping the originals are not permitted at the library as to not harm the originals. The 1856 maps are from the large original that is hanging at the Bloomfield Historical. I had it photographed a few years ago.

  12. STQ–to make way for humans.

    Imagine if the idea to submerge rivers and get rid of ponds were made today. We’d never hear the end of ‘my taxes, oh my taxes.’

  13. Thank you to Frank and to Erica for making these available. Some of the old buildings around the Bloomfield Green are still here, such as Seibert Hall on the Bloomfield College campus.

  14. My fave on the topic is a very old house in Greenwich Village, I think it’s on the north side of West 12th Street, just east of Butterfield House.
    All the lots have 90 degree angles over there, except this one house with it’s side wall angled. There’s a plaque there that notes the angular shape was due to the natural course of the old Minetta Brook, which ran alongside the house, and long since buried. Pity. I think about it whenever I walk by those houses on the north side of Edgemont Park, with Tony’s Brook running between them, imagining a similar condition in Manhattan, centuries before.

  15. I find that the best way to see the maps is to make the slideshow full screen and to click on the thumbnails in the toolbar.

    Your welcomed ROC, Galaxym, Carl… et alii!

  16. We get a steady stream of water flowing through our yard that often forms a bit of a swamp in an otherwise grassy area at the side of our house. I keep saying I’m going to look into some way of capturing this for watering the grass (although we don’t generally water our grass). Are there any non-profits or “green” people that can help me figure out if there is a good way to capture this water and make good use of it? Maybe it is better to not mess with nature, but I’ve been curious about options.

  17. It was the waters that actually drew people to our area. The highly detailed 1856 Bloomfield map was commissioned by our first real estate developer, Llewellyn Haskell when he came to Montclair after the tragic deaths of four of his five children from typhus at their estate in Kearney. (the Passaic River was highly polluted from the industries in Patterson.) Llewellyn Haskell was in search of a healthier, cleaner and drier location with its own source of fresh, unpolluted water so his (NY) architect Alexander Jackson Davis, (grandson of the Bloomfield Davises who lived in the homestead, now the Bloomfield Steak House who’s grandmother was a Crane) brought him here, proverbially the healthiest region so near the city; in its beauty of situation and in its abundant supply of pure soft spring water. This lead to the suburban development of our area. Following A. J. Davis’s creative vision, Haskell built the world’s first gated suburban community, Llewellyn Park, extending south from Llewellyn Road in Montclair to rte 280, east from Orange Road and west to Eagle Rock. By 1857, Haskell had purchased approximately 350 acres of farmland and woodlands spread across the eastern slope of the First Watchung Mountain from Orange to West Bloomfield. New York socialites and political figures began to visit our area to enjoy the spring waters, fine local resorts and magnificent views. At the time, Llewellyn Haskell was the world’s richest chemicals merchant and his business then became the Merck pharmaceutical industry.

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