Wanaque Reservoir Historic Distric


Historical Overview of Ringwood and Wanaque
The original occupants of Passaic County were the Lenape Indians, who were attracted to the land for its diverse natural resources and abundance of freshwater sources, which they utilized for fishing, hunting, and navigation. In fact, Wanaque is the name given to the valley by the Lenape and has been translated as "valley of sassafras" (Peters and Biggio 1993). In 1697, Dutch settlers began to settle within the region and included such families as the Beams, Sloats, Van Dines, Vreelands, Van Wagoners, Ryersons, and many others (Peters and Biggio 1993).  Like the Native Americans, they were drawn to the region for its natural resources, and they established settlements along the Passaic River, which was navigable to Manhattan and was used as a trade route until the incorporation of the Erie Railroad in 1836 (Lurie and Mappen 2002:615). The growth of industry in Passaic County was directly connected to the presence of its rich natural resources. The activities of the early Dutch settlers centered on farming. Sheep were also raised and their wool was spun and woven into cloth. Timber was cut from the surrounding forest and hauled to newly constructed sawmills and gristmills to be made into lumber for houses (Richard Grubb and Associates 2002; Peters and Biggio 1993).

The Boroughs of Wanaque and Ringwood were originally part of Pompton Township, a since defunct township. Pompton Township was originally formed in 1797, from portions of Saddle River Township and Franklin Township in Bergen County, and incorporated on February 21, 1798. When Passaic County was formed in 1837 it included Pompton Township (Synder 1969). The borough of Pompton Lakes was formed in 1895 and was the first municipality to split from the township. The township was divided on February 23, 1918, into the three boroughs of Bloomingdale, Ringwood, and Wanaque, with the remaining portion passing to Pompton Lakes (Synder 1969). This ultimately ended the existence of Pompton Township.  

The early settlements in the Wanaque Valley were induced by the presence of rich mines of iron ore discovered in the early part of the 18th century (Clayton 1882:569). For this reason, Ringwood has been referred to as the birthplace of the American iron industry (Wood 1992:89). Cornelius Board, a Welsh miner who entered the Wanaque Valley in 1737, may have been the first to mine ore in the area. In 1740, he built a forge along the Ringwood River (the present-day Wanaque River), which marked the beginning of the Ringwood Iron Works. Later that year the Ogden family bought property from Board, built their first iron furnace, and established the Ringwood Company. The forests provided wood for the manufacture of charcoal, which was in turn sold to the iron mines. After 1763, a dozen highly productive mines were opened in the area, and many forges and furnaces were located throughout the Wanaque Valley (Richard Grubb and Associates 2002:6-7; Wood 1992:89-91). At the time, even a small furnace consumed a thousand acres of forest a year, and waterpower was required for blast and for working the resulting metal. Peter Hasenclever acquired the property for the London Company and made improvements to enlarge the ironworks. He added needed acreage around Ringwood and Long Pond and constructed a dam on Tuxedo Pond to provide waterpower (Wood 1992:89-91). Hasenclever established Ringwood Manor as an iron plantation and imported over 500 mine workers from Germany and Britain (Richard Grubb and Associates 2002:6-6). After a series of changing property owners, the iron mines were expanded during the mid-19th century. However, the iron industry in Ringwood did not continue for very long; by 1880, the iron ore from the region was being replaced by ores from the Mesabi Range in Minnesota. The growing railroad network across the country enabled the transport of ores from elsewhere in the country, and the market for locally available ores diminished. By 1893 iron production at Ringwood ceased, and the facility closed its doors.

In the late 1800s, the Wanaque Valley had turned further toward industrialization, and before the century’s close, four blacksmith shops, a feed mill, a grist mill, a tannery, and a bobbin factory were located there. A paper industry was established in Borough of Wanaque, and the grist mill, which stood near the present location of the Wanaque Dam, became the Wanaque River Paper Company in 1892. The paper mill was owned by local resident Robert D. Carter who employed many of the area’s residents (Peters and Biggio 1993). In the 1920s the Wanaque River Paper Company was lost to the impending construction of the Wanaque Reservoir.

Another major industry in the Wanaque Valley prior to the reservoir’s construction was the production of gunpowder. The American Smokeless Powder Works was established in the Borough of Wanaque in 1894-1895, with Laflin and Rand Powder taking over the company several years later. The DuPont Company soon acquired the explosives plant and became a major employer in the community. During World War I, over 7,500 were employed at the explosives plant, and a section of the community, known as Haskell, became a company town, housing DuPont employees and their families (Peters and Biggio 1993:10-13). Although the DuPont Company was a major employer of Wanaque and Ringwood prior to and during World War I, by 1926 the company ceased operations because of the impending reservoir construction project, and a major employer was lost from the community. 

The first railroad into the Wanaque Valley area was begun in 1865, and the first station was established at the Ringwood Avenue crossing. In 1872, Midvale was listed as a stop on the Montclair Railroad, and by the time the railroad was operated by the New York and Greenwood Lake Railway, there were two stations in Wanaque—one in Midvale and one in Haskell. The New York and Greenwood Lake Railroad was responsible for bringing many new settlers to the Wanaque area, and excursion trails carried passengers to Greenwood Lake from Jersey City (Peters and Biggio 1993:10). In 1918 Wanaque and Ringwood were officially established as boroughs when they formed from Pompton Township (Snyder 1969).

The construction of the Wanaque Reservoir had a profound impact on the Boroughs of Wanaque and Ringwood and its residents. To provide the necessary space needed to create such a massive structure, many homes and businesses were demolished. The loss of the DuPont plant and the paper mill in Wanaque, which provided major sources of employment for residents in the area, left hundreds of residents unemployed through the Depression years of 1929-1939. However, the onset of World War II brought an improved economy, and after the war, Wanaque and Ringwood experienced a construction boom of housing and public buildings.

Construction History of the Wanaque Reservoir
Long before Ringwood and Wanaque were incorporated, the area’s leaders focused their attention on securing a source of pure drinking water for the growing number of people and a source of water power for a rapidly growing industrial market. They turned to the natural resources of northern New Jersey as a source for the precious commodity. With the need for potable water (pure water to drink), the cities of Newark and Paterson applied for permission to develop the areas north of their cities where the Wanaque River supplied the natural resources and the source of potable water. The area surrounding the Wanaque River was known as an excellent source of exceptionally pure water, as evidenced by two major reports on water quality that were published at the time. The first report resulted from a study conducted by an engineering firm for the City of Newark in 1879. The second study was conducted and a report published in the Geological Survey of New Jersey on Water Supply in 1894 (Huebner 1987).

Various schemes were developed to utilize the Passaic Watershed to supply water to municipalities in the region. As early as 1881, concerns about the quality of the water supplied to New York, Newark, Paterson and other populous communities had surfaced. Early water sources, such as the Passaic River, had become contaminated with industrial and personal wastes leading to health and fire concerns. Public officials began to look at outlying sources of water, rivers that could be dammed, and waters that could be piped in from pristine river sources (Armstrong 1976: 217). The need for water in New York City led to legislation in 1883 enabling a corporation to divert water to New York City from the Ramapo River before it entered New Jersey. Objections to the diversion were raised, and alternate ideas included plans to pump water from the Passaic River at Little Falls through a conduit under the Hudson River. The project was unsuccessful and upon failure to provide water to New York, attentions were turned to other water sources in New Jersey (Pratt 1930).

Between 1880 and 1902, various private water companies were active in water supply projects, including the construction of the purification plant at Little Falls and the construction of the Boonton Reservoir. Because of problems with various arrangements with different private water companies, the State Water Supply Commission was established in 1907. The State Water Supply Commission developed a comprehensive plan and project from the years 1908 to 1915. By July 1915, seven towns were included in the development of a joint water supply. The North Jersey District Water Supply Commission was then created by Public Law in May 1916 as a composite of several previous legal bodies to complete the works that had already been planned and partially negotiated. In 1916, the North Jersey District Water Supply Commission oversaw the permitting of “the construction of district works” (Pratt 1930: 39).  By 1920 construction of the Wanaque Reservoir, under contract with the City of Newark, began (Pratt 1930:391). By 1925, the municipalities participating in the project included Paterson, Kearny, Passaic, Clifton, Montclair, Bloomfield, and Glen Ridge (Pratt 1930:391). The commission later became the Passaic Consolidated Water Company.

The planning of the reservoir prior to its construction occurred over a number of years. Although the first agreements were signed earlier, the actual ground work did not begin until October 1920. Before construction commenced, the area encompassing the Wanaque Reservoir consisted of a landscape similar to the surrounding community, with houses, roads, rivers, and cemeteries. To construct such a large structure, major changes to the landscape and community were necessary, including the destruction of a 19th century paper mill, the demolition of over 70 buildings and the relocation of four cemeteries (Peters and Biggio 1993).

During the clearing of the land for the reservoir, water quality was a major issue of concern in the Wanaque water supply development, and methods for clearing, grubbing, and forestation were specified as follows:

Clearing and Grubbing: The entire area of the reservoir will be cleared of all trees, bushes, fences, and other perishable materials above the surface of the ground. This clearing will be finally completed as the water rises in filling the reservoir in order to prevent new growths on areas previously cleared. In addition to the this work, a marginal strip entirely around the reservoir at the flow line will be grubbed off all sub-surface organic material, such as stumps and roots, in order that the action of the waves may form a clean gravel beach. Cemeteries within the reservoir area have already been removed. Clearing will also include the demolition of all buildings, filling all cellar holes and the excavation and removal of all sources of pollution, such as farmyards, outhouses, and cesspools. 

Forestation: All land under control of the State Water Supply Commission will be cleared of brush and kept in good condition to promote natural forest growths. A consistent policy of reforestation of areas the reservoir will be inaugurated and maintained (Peters and Biggio 1993).

Figure 3: Photograph of a young girl along the Wanaque River Midvale, now covered by the reservoir. Source: Ringwood Library, Ringwood, NJ.

Figure 4: View of Ringwood Avenue, circa 1916, before the Wanaque Dam construction. Source: Suburban Trends, January 26, 1964.

A number of photographs show the landscape and community prior to its transformation. The community was apparently an attractive one, as evidenced by a photograph located in the Ringwood Library depicting a young girl sitting beside the Wanaque River in Midvale observing the picturesque landscape (see Figure 3).  Another picture from the Suburban Trends newspaper published in 1964, illustrates a circa 1916 view of the houses located along Ringwood Avenue before the dam construction. Additional images illustrate the landscape as it existed before and during construction of the reservoir (see Figures 4-6).

Figure 5: Circa 1916 view as construction for the Wanaque Dam commenced. Source: Wanaque Borough, Golden Jubilee, 1993.

Figure 6: View of the Wanaque Reservoir during construction circa 1916-1921. Note all of the property shown here were demolished for construction. This is presently under water. On file at the Ringwood Public Library, Ringwood, Passaic County, NJ. Source: Unknown

A circa 1916 image labeled as “Homes being demolished to make way for the Wanaque Dam” shows the numerous homes that existed prior to  demolition (see Figure 5).  Similarly, two images published in the 1994 Wanaque Borough Golden Jubilee illustrate the vast area of land as the dam was being constructed (see Figures 6 and 7). In addition to the buildings, a large stone furnace, called “Old Furnace” was destroyed, as illustrated in the Suburban Trends newspaper in 1964 (see Figure 8).

Figure 7: Panoramic view, August 14, 1921, of the former location of the south end of Hook Road (now under water) during the Wanaque Reservoir construction. Source: Wanaque Borough, Golden Jubilee, 1993.

Figure 8: Old furnace in Wanaque now submerged by the waters of Wanaque Reservoir. Source: Suburban Trends, January 26, 1964.

Four cemeteries were located in the project area and were moved to new locations at the time of the reservoir construction. The State Water Supply Commission worked with great consideration to re-establish the bodies and headstones in accordance with wishes of the next-of-kin. The two images in the Ringwood Library provide insight into the families and landscape of the former cemeteries. The first is the Ryerson family cemetery, which was moved to a tract in Midvale Cemetery. A photograph shows the original family cemetery with the prominent stone of Mary Ryerson before it was moved (see Figure 9). The new graves in Midvale Cemetery were given new stones where necessary and were fenced in and separated from other tracts. A photograph from the Suburban Times newspaper shows the Board family cemetery (see Figure 10). The Board Family requested the remains to be reinterred in the Old Pompton Reform Church Cemetery at Pompton. In total, 256 bodies and 37 headstones were removed during a two-year excavation.  In addition to the relocation of cemeteries, construction of the reservoir required relocation of six miles of the Erie Railroad and approximately ten miles of the highways, which, if left in place, would have otherwise been submerged (Snow 1927:22) [see Maps1-2].

Figure 9: Former location of the Ryerson Cemetery within the present-day Wanaque Reservoir. Source: On file at the Ringwood Library, Ringwood, NJ. Source: Unknown

Figure 10: Former location of the Board family cemetery before construction of the Wanaque Reservoir. Source: On file at the Ringwood Library, Ringwood, NJ. Source: Unknown

Village of Pompton

Map 1: 1877 - E.B. Hyde Map of Pompton Village, Passaic County, NJ.

Township of Pompton

Map 2: 1877 - E.B. Hyde Map of Pompton Township, Bloomingdale P.O., Passaic County, NJ.

Construction of the Wanaque Reservoir was a significant achievement in enabling the supply of potable water to areas that no longer had safe drinking water sources, including the Cities of Paterson, Passaic, Clifton, and other customers of the Passaic Consolidated Water Company. An aqueduct was completed on March 8, 1930, and water was delivered through a pipeline to Kearny and Bayonne. By September 1, 1930, Newark and Montclair were receiving water, and service to other municipalities was anticipated. After “prolonged litigation and some litigation” a contract was executed with Newark providing for other municipalities to join at a later time (Pratt 1930). By the time construction was completed, Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Clifton, Kearny, Belleville, Elizabeth, Montclair, Glen Ridge, and Bloomfield had all contracted to receive water from the Wanaque Reservoir. The Wanaque Reservoir held 29.6 billion gallons of water, thus providing a safe and clean source of water for cities which had previously suffered the consequences of utilizing polluted water. 
The storage capacity of the Wanaque Reservoir under normal flow conditions was originally set at 27,600 million gallons, with additional provision for side basin storage a possible 29,000 gallons. However, when the cities of Bloomfield, Montclair, and Kearny joined the water agreements with Newark, Paterson, Passaic, Clifton and Glen Ridge, it was decided in May 1924 to build the project to its full capacity of providing 150 million gallons a day. With each enlargement of the project, the construction costs rose at exponential rates. In 1911, the project was projected to cost $5,862,000. In 1918 the project was slated to cost $9,047,000, and in 1924, it was projected at $18,000,000.

As it was finally planned, the waters of the reservoir measured 300 feet above sea level. Interestingly, this is roughly 200 feet higher than the business centers of Newark, Paterson, and Passaic. Raymond Dam, the largest dam servicing the Wanaque Reservoir, was the first component of the reservoir complex to be constructed, with ground broken for the dam on November 23, 1920. After eight years of construction and nearly a full year for the reservoir to fill, water was delivered to customers for the first time on March 30, 1930. The dam was originally designed to be the longest of all of the reservoir’s dams, measuring 1,500 feet long and rising over 67 feet above bedrock. It was constructed of concrete at the core, with a base of 12 feet at bedrock and tapering to five feet on the top. The dam’s design included an aerator at the base of the front elevation, designed to eliminate offensive odors and tastes by thoroughly mixing the air and water and breaking up microscopic organisms (Huebner 1987).  The aerator was contained in a shallow concrete basin measuring approximately 400 feet long by 75 feet wide. Nozzles hidden in the basin bed were designed to produce water in an upward direction with a whirling motion at a pressure of approximately 12 pounds per square inch.

Secondary dams were constructed to serve as a means of closing gaps in areas where the ground was below the elevation of the flow line of the waters and include Wolf Den Dam, which is 2,200 feet in length and averages 15 feet in height. Furnace Dam, Midvale Dam, and Swamp Dams No. 1, 2, 3, and 4, total approximately 7,600 feet in length for all the structures.

Another major feature of the reservoir project was the West Brook Road Bridge. The bridge was constructed to carry the re-located West Brook Road across the Wanaque Reservoir.  Construction of the West Brook Road Bridge began in August 1926, and it was opened to traffic on January 7, 1928 (Pratt 1930:428-436).