Monday, June 20, 2011

Paterson Plank Road

Once time a friend of mine from out of the area visited me in New Jersey, and we happened to be driving along Paterson Plank Road. He looked out at the street sign.
"Paterson Plank Road? What an ugly name for a street!" he spouted.
I was very taken aback. "Excuse me?" I remarked. "That is a historically significant name!"
It should be noted that the person who made this grave insult has lived his whole live in late 20th century suburban developments on streets with names like Thistledown Court and Sweet Briar Trail. But his comment surprised me because some of our other conversations led me to believe he had an interest in the history of roadways. He grew up near the Pennsylvania stretch of the Lincoln Highway also known as Lancaster Pike and was interested in the history of that local road. Maybe because Lancaster Pike is such a pretty name?
Perhaps if it wasn't paved with wooden planks and didn't lead to Paterson, the road would have had a different, "prettier" name. It never had the honor of being part of the Lincoln Highway either, and probably does not have much fame outside of northern New Jersey. Or maybe they used it for a scene in The Sopranos?
Paterson Plank Road was built to connect the two large cities of Paterson and Jersey City, meandering across the swampy Meadowlands between. It was paved with planks of wood, in a long ago era before tarmac and modern highway engineering (say the mid-1800s), thus the "plank" in Paterson Plank. One end begins in Jersey City, then turns north through Union City and North Bergen, where it winds down the back of the Palisades cliff and lands in Secaucus. It's the main street in Secaucus, and unfortunately that's where it ends - kind of.
A bridge used to take the road across the Hackensack River but it was demolished many many years ago. There was a trolley that ran along it too. In fact a short length of the tracks were salvaged and placed in a park in Secaucus where Paterson Plank Road once crossed the river. The road still continues on the other side, and goes by the same name while forming the border between Carlstadt and East Rutherford. There's even a bit of cobblestone paving exposed here (they didn't keep paving it with planks forever, ya know). The Izod Center and the Meadowlands Racetrack are on the East Rutherford side of the road, and on a bad day you can smell the stables as you drive past them.
After Paterson Plank Road crosses Route 17, Hoboken Road splits off from it, and the original road becomes Paterson Avenue. Fun fact: there used to be be a Wawa on this stretch of the road, a rare thing to find in northern New Jersey, but now unfortunately another convenience store is located there.
At the Passaic River, the original bridge is no longer standing either. Another nearby road takes traffic across the river, and the original Paterson Plank Road is thence called Main Avenue/Street through Passaic, Clifton, and all the way into Paterson.
 That's about all to say for now about Paterson Plank Road. Maybe not the prettiest-named street, but an interesting and significant one for sure!