Roads of Yore
This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in March 1983.
In 1848 the NJ Legislature created Hohokus Township which included Mahwah, Ramsey, Allendale, Waldwick and Hohokus. The town committee met in Ramsey in a wing of an old hotel on Main St. People came here to vote also. Hence the roads that came through these towns had a common interest.
Such a road was the Franklin Turnpike which ran through Ramsey to Hohokus. It was the main road to New York City by way of Glen Ave. from the turnpike on Paramus Road, through Hackensack and over the meadows on the Plank Road to Jersey City and thence by ferry to New York.
In Ramsey, the Turnpike stopped at Arch St. which connected with the Island Road. This road was the main road through Ramsey and Mahwah and thence through the Clove to Orange County, NY. Before the railroad, transportation was by this route. In 1797 Dobbins and Tuston were given a franchise to run from Goshen, NY to New York City, by the route as aforementioned.
The Paterson & Ramapo R.R. came through in 1848. At first it stopped at the state line in Mahwah and people took a horse and wagon to the Suffern station of the Erie. In 1850 the Erie tied in and you could go to Jersey City by train. Stations were at Ramsey, Hohokus, Glen Rock, Paterson and Passaic.
In the old days most of the roads ran north and south. Ramsey became a railroad station because there was an east-west road there from Saddle River west to Wyckoff. All good farm country. In the season a trainload of strawberries went to the city from Ramsey.
A very important north-south road was the Ramapo Valley Road, now Rte. 202. Originally an Indian trail it has seen many route changes. On the 1781 French map it is east of the river. At one time there was a road along the mountains. I remember walking with a friend along this and he picked up two copper, 18th Century English pennies.
This section ran from Yaw-pough (now Oakland) north to Suffern just beyond the railroad to Washington Ave., also connected with Island Rd. and thus went up through Suffern, through the Clove and upstate. At Suffern, there was a road which wandered east to the Hudson River and which was very important in Revolutionary days.
The old roads were gravel covered and it was not until the late 19th Century that crushed stone became the surface. This was called “macadam” and the Turnpike was the first in this part of the state. There was natural crushed stone where the Valley Road ran along Campgaw Mt. Theodore Havemeyer bought a stone crusher when he improved the Valley Rd. from Darlington Ave. north to W. Ramapo Ave. in Mahwah. About this time, there was a stone crushing business northeast of Suffern. The old steel wagon tires helped keep the gravel roads in shape. The towns also had team-drawn road scrapters which kept the roads in shape especially after the thaw at the end of the winter.
In winter the roads were kept snow covered. “Oh what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh.” I remember doing this more than once. There used to be races on Main Street Ramsey. We had a one-horse sleigh, often called a “cutter,” and a larger one holding four and the driver. I have sleigh bells which the book says are 18th Century. Rich people even had silver-plated bells. We had a pair of chimes (three each) which fastened on the harness over the horse’s back. Snow weather also helped in bringing timber out of the mountains. The sleighs they used were made with two sets of runners. Wagons and sleighs were also made in Ramsey on Mechanic Street by my great-grandfather, John Y. Dater, who was born in Mahwah.