Along with Simon Van Ness in 1701 were his eight partners in the purchase of the Indian lands in or bordering present day Fairfield. These were the Clawson, Franson, Steinmets, Lowrentze, Vanderhoof, Peterse, and two Spier Families.
It’s a pretty safe bet that the prime farmlands were divided up into plots similar in size to Van Ness’ 300 acres. These large parcels were divided and re divided as the Frontier Families grew from generation to generation.
It might be hard to imagine, but four generations later Fairfield’s farmlands including the hay meadows virtually covered the entire township. The primary farmland corridor was along Fairfield Road with a large swampy meadow to its southeast. This is ‘Long Meadow’ almost a forgotten name compared to our better known Great Piece, Little Piece, and neighboring Hatfield and Troy Meadows.
Long Meadow runs about two miles from Clinton Road, along the airport property, to the rear of the Municipal Building property. This low meadow is fed by several brooks and streams primarily from North and West Caldwell. The Deeplavaal Brook is a natural stream that drains Long Meadow into the Passaic River at Pier Lane and Little Falls Road.
But this brook was made to Natures needs, and not to mans ever emerging needs. To improve the Townships overall drainage the Deeplavaal would need to be greatly increased in length, width, and depth. There were many obvious benefits to be realized. ‘Draining the flowed lands’, increasing cultivable farm acreage, and ‘relieving the people .........of sickness and diseases.’
Okay, now it’s time to put on your historical context goggles. Set them to 1844 :
By 1844 we understood the breeding of mosquitoes in stagnant water. But we still did not know that these pests could transmit diseases like malaria and yellow fever. That discovery by Carlos J. Finlay, a Cuban Physician, was still 38 years away.
Back then we also generally adhered to the ‘miasma theory’ of disease that held that the origin of epidemics was due to a miasma, emanating from rotting organic matter, malodorous swamp gasses or ‘night air’. The germ theory eventually replaced the miasma theory some 35 years later. My point is that draining the lowlands in 1844 was perceived as a means of preventing disease. The swamps ‘infected the air’.
The term “No-Brainer” was still in the future by about 115 years, but why would local beneficiaries ever object to such a worthwhile project ? You’re probably guessing it was a ‘money’ issue and that was a big part of it. There were virtually no Government funds for such rural projects in those days, only laws that assessed land owners in some supposedly equitable way. So all costs including administration were going to be charged back to the land owners. A duly appointed assessor would subjectively evaluate the benefit to each property and ultimately advise each individual’s fair share.
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.” ...........Ronald Reagan
Even with your 1844 reality goggles you cannot imagine the full extent of the Yeoman Farmers concern, skepticism and suspicion. That’s because then current undertakings like the Morris Canal and Bloomfield Avenue Turnpike proved to be profit neutral and had to be infused with additional capital for unanticipated upgrades and maintenance.
But most importantly, such bonded projects were financed by investors who had cash to speculate with. Our Farmers were barely subsisting and money was very tight following the nations worst economic depression in the five years (1839- 1844) immediately preceding these discussions.
There were no guarantees that such a ‘canal’ would provide the stated benefits so the proposal showed little progress for thirteen years. However, another 1844 drainage proposal was approved and implemented. This was the blasting out a channel in the traprock reef in Little Falls. While only one foot deep, twenty feet wide, and 100 long it appeared to provide immediate relief. The $1,000 of voluntary contributions seemed well worth the expense to protect Fairfield’s 2,000 ton annual hay crop. ( This is NOT a typo – 2,000 tons ! ).
Later in 1858 the State finally approved the Deeplavaal improvement plan. Several bids were considered and five sections identified. Bids were very similar with $ 0.16 per cubic yard of excavation, and $1.00 per cubic yard for any rock blasting.
An injunction was issued on behalf of a Claimant(s) on the Pine Brook end, and the Civil War diverted attention for a while. But eventually the “Big Ditch” project was completed as planned. One report indicated that the allocated assessment fees could be deducted from future property taxes.
One aspect I found humorous was a financing proposal that fees could be collected in three (easy?) payments : 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days ! This sounded to me like a Ron Popeil ‘Chop-O-Matic ‘ infomercial 100 years in the future. I’m sure these Farmers would rather use their money for a new steel plow that was just perfected by John Deere.
Exactly when the project was completed is unclear. Much later in the 1930’s a WPA project was initiated to improve the Deepavaal Canal along with its bridge crossings. About this same time the small Curtiss Airport was sold and greatly expanded by the Curtiss-Wright Corp. Dutch Lane was relocated as well as the Green Brook and the Deepavaal. Not major stream changes, but enough to allow full runway optimization of the new 275 acre airport. You know, about the size of one share of the Indian land purchase in 1701.
Original 1933 footprint of Curtiss-Wright Airport. Notice Old Dutch Lane and the Green Brook ‘Mill Stream’ running through the property. Both later relocated. The Jersey City pipeline is also shown running easterly through the new Airport.
Fairfield Reformed Church Minister Joseph Wilson served the Fairfield Community 1838 to 1845. He had nothing to do with the Deepavaal Brook. I just forgot to take off my 1844 historical context goggles !
One of the farms directly northwest of the old airport was owned by John Wisniewski. This Fairfield Road property was bought by my Family ( Pollio ) in 1941 and it was bordered at the narrow back end by the Deepavaal Brook. In the early 1960’s a severe drought brought our irrigation pond to an extremely low level, so we had a ditch dug about 300 feet to the Deepavaal. Even though it was only a trickle of a stream at times, it served our irrigation purposes for many years.
Our irrigation pond soon became a prime spawning habitat for carp as they took over the Deepavaal. Carp are frequently blamed for destroying the spawning habitat of other species, but this is only partially true. The carp can survive in turbid and polluted water better than most other species. Some of these fish in our irrigation pond were over 22 inches long.
When snowmobiling became popular we made a bridge over the “Big Ditch’. This involved felling two trees next to each other and nailing a deck of pallets on top of them. This allowed us to snowmobile onto the Airport and also the Mountain Ridge Golf Course nearby. We always avoided the putting greens on MRCC but they were not happy and had the West Caldwell Police looking for us. The Fairfield Police sometimes tried to catch us on the Airport too by driving up and down the plowed runways with their lights flashing, but we politely waved to them and zipped away.
Deepavaal Brook, Canal, and ‘Big Ditch’ 2007
Dedicated to the many 19th Century ‘owners or possessors’ of Fairfield lands seized for the widening and extension of the Deepavaal Canal. And, later taxed for the benefits of drainage to their farms and properties.
...............Paul Pollio October 16, 2018
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