Log for NB2MP10 - 4/16/11 - The Tween Walk
It was cold and damp enough at 8:15 a.m. when I joined our large group gathering in the New Brunswick train station. I and maybe 10 other FreeWalkers had come off the train from Metropark where we had parked. The station provided some indoor shelter with a Dunkin Donuts and bathrooms within. I had my doubts about this station from the previous week when the station was closed at night.
After taking the obligatory group shot of about 35 of our estimated 40, we were soon on our way at about 8:40. The skies were gray and the wind blowing, but at least there was no rain. We met up with many familiar FreeWalkers, like Maureen Carman and her "super dog" Abby, David Asher and Kathy Roe and her daughter MacKenzie (our youngest walker). And, of course, there was our super support guy, Mike Kruimer, from the East Coast Greenway, ready to back us up all the way.
This “Tween Walk” (because it’s be-“tween” our 2 very different long-distance walks) was advertised as a “different” kind of walk. For one thing, the distance of 12+ miles would be pretty reasonable and most felt comfortable that they would be making the entire distance. What also made this walk unique was that this urban walk would be mostly along busy streets with an objective to catch some interesting sights along the way. Sights that you would not expect and most Jerseyans don’t even know about.
The area the walk covered is a hidden part of an important busy corridor in the Northeast, connecting major rail lines and highways, and as we learned last week during the Great Canal Walk, waterways too. The East Coast Greenway trail follows the direction of the Raritan River here, but is about 1 to 2 miles north of its shore so it’s not visible for most of the walk. Once crossing it from New Brunswick it heads out to the Raritan Bay, which connects with New York’s harbors and the ocean.
Driving through this area, there is little sign of history or significance in these largely blue collar towns. But our walk proved that this area and its inhabitants had an old historical connection and contributed greatly to New Jersey and our country over the years.
Highland Park is a well-kept town of some historic significance dating as far back as the late 1600s. The Johnson family of Johnson & Johnson family was among its most famous residents.
Today, the town has a mixed population which includes a fairly large Orthodox Jewish population. I learned later that this was one of the first New Jersey town (1978) with an“Eruv”, a symbolic wall created by stringing a continuous wire all around its border. This satisfies the religious requirement of allowing residents to treat the entire borough as their home on the Sabbath, allowing them freedom to move about within its borders.
The first of several monument stops was in Highland Park passing the WWI Doughboy monument, first erected by the Veterans in 1921. Here the Greenway turns down Woodbridge Ave / Rt 518 for most of 10 miles.
The next couple miles goes through a mixed zone of small industry and residences until Woodbridge Ave opens up into a wider road. Our first major stop was St. James Episcopal Church, an old church surrounded by an even older Piscatawaytown Burial Grounds, cemetery. We were met there by Mike Kruimer traveling in his van, a MIddlesex County Freeholder, Charles Tomaro and Walter Stochel, the local historian and caretaker for the cemetery.
Walter explained the historical significance of the gravesites to this area. He spent some time identifying the old cemetery and the oldest grave of the Hoopar brothers marked with a tombstone explaining that they both died eating poisonous mushrooms in 1693. It was quite a contrast in an area that otherwise seemed to have a short modern history of boom and bust.
Now, we had five or so miles to go on an expansive Woodbridge Ave with a headwind against us. Our large group had already split into about three main groups, which was expected. I tagged along the rear keeping company with some of our new particiants and members of the University Outing Club, an established group of walkers connected with the Rutgers community. A few wind-blown walkers eventually took advantage of Mike’s van and took a “jump” that shuttled them ahead a mile or two so that they could catch up with a larger group and take a break.
The road was long and not very interesting as we passed Middlesex County College and industrial campuses along the way. Because of the highway intersections and ramps as we neared Woodbridge and the Raritan Center industrial park, the trail turns from Wodbridge Ave to King Georges Road, eventually hooking back up with Woodbridge Ave in Fords.
Traveling on your own for a few miles, you take notice of some strange unexpected sights, like Baps Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Edison on Woodbridge Ave and The Royal Albert Palace in Fords, sitting above the Raritan. It’s an authentic elaborate Indian banquet hall with 4 banquet rooms – the largest of which can serve 1,000. Then there was the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation, the nation’s largest tissue bank, which seemed like a pretty innocuous, average business well tucked away in an office park, with nothing but the name to give away what goes on here.
Raritan Bakery Stop
Probably the most fun part of this moderate walk was finding the Raritan Bakery in Fords. Amboy Avenue is a nice main commercial drag running through the town. Mike Kruimer, who apparently knows just about everyone in this area, had mention to Joe Coyle, the owner about our large group coming by. Joe was nice enough to provide free coffee for us and for many of us we could not resist diving into his baked goods. His apple turnovers and babka got raves from the visiting walkers.
Next, was a big set of monument stops in Roosevelt Park. Roosevelt Park is a beloved place in this area since it was created in 1930s as part of FDR’s Work Progress Administration. The WPA was a national program that originated its own projects (in cooperation with state and local governments) providing almost eight million jobs to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States between 1935 and 1943.
As you head into the park, there is the county’s Veteran’s Memorial, a set of mouments to all the branches of the service. Beyond is the real gem of the park, the fountain sculpture called “Light Dispelling Darkness” created byWaylande Gregory as a WPA project completed in 1937.The art deco sculpture exhibits a heroic theme of combating evil through knowledge. The piece has 6 scary-looking abstract sculptures which represent War, Famine, Pestilence, Death, Greed and Materialism that connect with six concrete arches.
Nearby was the Civilian Conservation Corps statue dedicated to the CCC workers, born from the WPA, who helped build the park. It’s a great looking statue dedicated to the hard work and ideals of the time. It reminded me of picture of my dad taken in the great Pacific Northwest, where he built roads through the woods as a CCC worker. As he told it, as an 18 year old kid from Bayonne, it was a life-changing experience where he learned a lot about growing up as well as respecting nature.
Edison State Park and Monument
Our last stop, for some of us, was another enigma of this area, the site of Thomas Edison’s first and probably his most important research laboratory in Menlo Park. This area now designated as The Thomas Edison Center at Menlo Park, was not directly on the Greenway trail but it was not too far a detour. Rain started to fall lightly and a few walkers decided to head directly to Metropark, but a few of us die-hards stayed with the program.
Today, Edison’s area is made up of 34 acres of barely maintained woods, a very small museum building and a huge, unique 117 foot concrete art deco monument to the man. We trekked through the woods to the monument. The museum is under construction and is due to open in a couple months. The actual research lab buildings has fell to ruin a long time ago after he moved his operation to West Orange, NJ in 1887. The Menlo Park lab first built in 1876 was considered the first scientific research lab in the world. Here, Edison and his company developed over 400 inventions, including the phonograph and the electric light.
The Edison monument is an impressive 117 feet cement monument, constructed in pieces. The thirteen foot diameter bulb structure on top is said to be the world’s largest incandescent light bulb. Under it is housed gigantic speakers, built to be able to broadcast for 2 miles.
A Rainy End
Bob, Nadeem, Coralyn, Joyce and myself decided to continue in spite of the rain and get a close look at the monument and grounds. Just as we approached the area through the woodsy trail, the rain started coming steadily so our visit was short as we made our way down the hill toward Metropark where Mike Kruimer was waiting. Mike was able to give a few walkers a ride back to New Brunswick. We all agreed that it was a spirited adventure which we accomplished just in time at about 1:30 p.m.