Archive for the ‘Factory’ Category

Historic Oradell Water Treatment Plant

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The Oradell Water Treatment Plant sits on Van Buskirk Island, a man made island created when the Hackensack River was dammed in the 1800’s. The area was of great commercial and industrial activity as the Hackensack River was used by boats to ferry men, materials and good into NYC, dating as far back as the 1600’s. There were several mills that operated here over the years until 1881 when the land was turned over to the Hackensack Water Company, which operated a water filtration plant, operating on steam driven equipment. It was here in the 1920’s that activated carbon filtration was developed by George Spalding, which became the national and international standard for water filtration.

In 1990, United Water (formerly Hackensack Water Company) stopped using the facility and turned it over to Bergen County for use as… well no one is exactly sure what. The County has had the property for 12 years and during the first 6 years they simply debated what to do with the property. It turned the property over to Oradell to do with it what it wanted, but they eventually turned it back over to the County. By 1996 the site was designated as one of the 10 most threatened historic sites in the nation. By July 2001 nothing had been done and County Executive Pat Schuber announced plans to build a “ruins amphitheater” and demolish the buildings. The conservancy group was outraged and soon they began working on their own plan: preserve the site and create a center for culture, science & history. They claim they can pay for their plan with donations, whereas the County plan would cost taxpayers nearly 10 million dollars. On the surface it sounds better, but can they raise the money?

The appointment of a new County Executive has not done much to resolve the issue.

My trip to the Fish Factory

In May 2005 I organized a group expedition to the Fish Factory. We rented a boat and spent about 2-3 hours on the island. Let me state right up front that I do not recommend anyone else do this. Kayaking or canoeing is the only safe way to get to the island. There are numerous sandbars and there’s nowhere to safely dock. We came at high tide and when we got back to the boat it was low tide and the boat was now beached around 30 feet from the water. Even with 5 men, it was a pain in the ass to get the boat back in the water. We also had a problem getting the motor started and drifted dangerously close to the burnt pier. Luckily I had hip waders and managed to guide the boat into water deep enough to get the motor started.

The island is full if fleas, ticks, poison ivy as well as greenhead flies. I knew about the green head flies and purposely planned the trip for a time in the year before they would get nasty. We had to bushwhack quite a bit on the island, so bringing a machete is a very good idea. One of my exploration partners suggested bringing a chainsaw. I can just see it now…

“Excuse me sir, but you’re going fishing, right?”
“Uhh… yeah…”
“Then what’s the chainsaw for?”

If you’re curious abut trespassing, here’s the funny part. According to the Dept of Fish and Wildlife, going on the island is permitted; going into the ruins is not, for safety reasons. The state doesn’t want to be liable in case of an injury. We saw evidence of some human traffic but very little garbage or debris, and little graffiti either. I can safely say that few people have ever explored here and few ever will due to the difficulty in getting here. This, for me, is perhaps one of my most memorable experiences exploring, and has one of the most interesting back stories of any place I’ve ever explored.

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View all the photos here

The Fish Factory

Traveling down Great Bay Boulevard near Mystic Island is an interesting experience. It is a narrow two lane road which connects several barrier islands and has 6 bridges, two of which are one lane only. As a result the final bridges have 2 minute traffic lights to allow cars to safely pass each other. Originally it was meant to connect to Atlantic City 8 miles away, but the company in charge went bankrupt and the final bridge was never built. Even though there are only six bridges, it is known as Seven Bridges Rd.

The road is desolate and has no buildings or businesses aside from a half dozen marinas. It has little traffic and is completely isolated. There is little reason to travel this road unless you’re going fishing or just want a nice view of Little Egg Harbor. If you travel to the end of the road, Rutgers University has a research facility just before the road terminates in a sand dune. A nearby island allegedly held a Coast Guard station during WWII which was abandoned after the war, and all remnants removed.

Visible just beyond the dunes, a mile into the harbor, there is an island with a gigantic building which has lost most of its roof, leaving only a twisted metal exoskeleton. A large water tower can be seen as well. If you look quickly, you might think you’re witnessing an optical illusion. Is what you’re seeing really on an island, or is to on the opposite side of the bay? After all, what is a giant building doing there in the middle of the bay, isolated from everything?

What indeed…

The area around Tuckerton and Mystic Island is a prime fishing ground, but no one wanted to catch the menhaden/mossbunker fish. An adult menhaden female can produce as many as 700,000 eggs, so the waters around the harbor are full of this inedible fish. It is very bony, very oily and tasted terrible. The attributes that make it inedible make it a very good fertilizer. The Indians knew they were good for crops, and the word menhaden actually means fertilizer in the Indian language.

The Fish Factory, or the “stinkhouse” as it’s called by locals, is a factory that sits on Fish Island. Formerly known as Clam Island, this 100 acre island sits in the middle of Little Egg Harbor Bay and is now part of the Great Bay Wildlife Refuge. The factory was built around 1840 and was used to process menhaden, also known as mossbunker, a fish that was plentiful to the area. The menhaden is nearly inedible due to its horrible taste, as well as the high oil and bone content. The oil was valuable for things like perfumes, heating and lighting, soap, as well as fertilizer and pure protein, and was sold to companies like Zapata heating Corp & Standard Products.

The factory was established sometimes around 1850, perhaps earlier, said a spokesman from the Tuckerton Historical Society. Fish processing plants in the area primarily turned the fish directly into fertilizer which was sold to local farmers. Eventually the high protein content made the fish a good base for animal and poultry feed. Many pet foods that come in pellet form came from fish flour, taken from the dried remains of fish.

According to legend a 19th century housewife discovered that if you boiled the menhaden you could skim oil off the boiling water and it was a good substitute for whale oil. The oil proved to have many commercial applications including use in makeup, rust resistant varnish, as well as ink & linoleum. Early workers at the fish factory in the 1800’s would spend much of their time on the island, as getting off required a private boat or ferry. Eliza Jackson was born on the island in 1896 and spent her early years primarily on the island, until she was perhaps in her teens.

The operation ran from last spring to late fall and covered areas from the Gulf of Mexico up along the North Atlantic coastline. The fleet included an average crew of 20 using 6 fishing boats, an airplane as well as three large barges as well as many smaller support boats and trucks. The process began when spotter airplanes which would fly overhead and report positions of schools of fish. Three 85-100 foot boats with a purse net, 200 fathoms wide and 25 fathoms deep, would get into position. A sailor in a rowboat would align himself so that the school of fish was between himself and the net boats. The nets would floaters on top of the water and weights on the bottom to keep it hanging low. The boats would then come around both side of the fish, and one end be drawn up to the boat, encircling the fish in the net.

Catches varied greatly from year to year, with a high of 200 million fish but on average the factory processed 125 million fish pr year. The catch grew lower and lower and by the 1960’s was only handling 25 million fish. Once brought back to the factory, the fish were dumped from the holding tank onto container scale where they were sorted by weight into units of 1000 fish. The fish would be boiled in containers with live steam which released the oil from the bodies. Presses would extract water and oil, and remains would be dried in kilns to be converted into fish flour. This flour would the basis for fertilizer and animal feed.

The fish factory was shut down around WWI according to several people who worked and lived in the area. To continue operations and to continue to provide fertilizer to the local farms, garbage was brought in by boat from Atlantic City where it was composted. The factory was owned by the Fish products Company, and was one of a dozen factories producing similar products. The factories location was both a blessing and a curse. It’s proximity to the ocean meant the fishing boats could unload their catch with ease, but getting the final product to the rail lines was obviously more difficult, with the nearest railine being 20 miles away in Barnegat.

In January 1974 the factory was purchased by Seacoast Products of Port Monmouth. The company had similar factories in Delaware, Louisiana and Port Monmouth. Within a few years though, the factory was shut down because of economic reasons and in 1979 the state began looking to acquire the property thru the Green Acres Program. Once acquired there was no attempt to demolish the buildings, although it appears they did remove the ladder that led to the top of the water tower. The dock made a convenient place to moor pleasure boats, and over the next decade many families would stop at the dock so they could have a picnic lunch on the island. It was an unusual place to bring a family, but eventually the place would become unsuitable to friendly family exploring. As the building shed its exterior, reeds and poison ivy overgrew the buildings. There was a serious fire in the late 80’s and another in the early 90’s, which severely damaged the piers and main factory building. The grotesquely large warehouse and processing center grew more rundown, and eventually the metal sheets that covered the roof blew off in storms, or fell within the building. The metal exoskeleton and large water tank remain a stark contrast to the traditional backdrop at your average marina or ocean scene.

As a result of the damage and the overgrowth of reeds, poison ivy and other plant life, most human traffic to the island stopped at this point. But not all. Vandals and scavengers came to the island and quietly stripped various pieces of piping and machinery including bronze cutoff valves for several large oil tanks. The scrap metal probably fetched around $3, a small price compared to the damage their salvaging did.

In October 1994 boaters reported an oil slick near the island and DEP investigators discovered two 100,00 gallon oil tanks which had never been drained and were now leaking oil into the bay. The tanks still contained almost 18,000 gallons of oil which was the consistency of tar. The oil was contained and the 12 months later a full cleanup was conducted. The plan was to bring pump trucks out to the island and suck the oil from the tanks but the oil was too thick for this to be effective. Lengths of pipe were laid in the oil and hot steam sent thru them which melted the oil allowed for its removal. It took several hours to get to the island, fill the 2300 pump truck with oil and return to the mainland. The removal took weeks. The tank were scrubbed clean and only then was the operational considered complete, taking 14 weeks from start to finish.

A 1996 article about the cleanup states that the DEP has no plans to demolish the factory, though they clearly would like to. One official said that the island is an “attractive nuisance” which attracted the curious and mischievous. Its remote location and the necessity of having a boat insulate the property fairly well from all but the most determined explorers. The Marks from Weird NJ didn’t even visit it until many years after they knew of its existence.

My visit to Curtis Wright

NOTE: I was at this facility at the invitation of an employee, and therefore was not trespassing. Anyone else coming here would be. Also, this visit occurred in 2004, so things may be very different now. Consider yourself warned….

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At the former Curtis Wright site, there are many separate areas & building clusters, some of which are leased out to various companies like NJ Transit and a toy company. Others sit abandoned. There have been issues with chemical contamination, and the photograph above shows one of several areas where the ground is monitored for toxicity & chemical contamination. The site is in the process of being converted into a townhouse development. Considering the history of contamination here, one wonders how it could ever get a passing grade, environmentally speaking. Wouldn’t the soil have to be dug up & replaced? That’s what they did over at Stepan in Maywood, and that situation still isn’t resolved 15 years after they discovered the problem….

My guide pointed out the buildings on some of the roofs. Apparently the complex was considered a potential target for attack because of the highly important work that was done here. Anti aircraft guns were positioned around the facility. Some of the buildings had fake houses built on the roof, and had roads & grass painted on the roof, in an attempt to camouflage the site from enemy bomber pilots. We found an entrance into one of the labs through this tunnel. Below is both the exterior shot as well as a shot from inside. The tunnel was used to vent high temperature exhaust that came from testing the engines. The interior had no windows and thus no light.

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We explored all the way up to the 3rd floor and we found a lot of stuff, but nothing terribly interesting in terms of souvenirs. We did find old reel to reels, records of testing, even blueprints. The control panels you see here were on the second floor, and there was a window that looked down to the 1st floor where the engine was situated.

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In this building we found what is, for me, one of the coolest finds I’ve ever made while exploring: a jet engine still sitting on the blocks. From what we could determine the engine had seen actual use and was brought in for an overhaul or 200,000 mile tune-up or something. They took its cowling off, and then it was left there, abandoned and forgotten. How does somebody just leave an engine behind? Or any of this stuff? CW is still in business, they’re just a few towns away. Didn’t the owner of the airplane ever say, “Hey where’s my engine?” Weird.

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After checking out the engine, we headed for a series of buildings with huge metal doors. Apparently these buildings are where they tested designs or newly built engines. Note the size of the entrances, and the thickness of the walls. They were designed to withstand explosions of the engines, as well as enemy bomb attacks….

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We found many interesting, creepy or otherwise unusual things. We found numerous barrels of unmarked material. We gave them a wide berth, and wore heavy gloves most of the time for safety. This is a hazardous waste site, you know … We saw some evidence of people having used this spot as a place to go & drink. We also saw evidence of a cat population (piles of feathers) but we never saw any actual cats. Joe found an old fire extinguisher which he proceed to gleefully test out. I noticed there was a surprising lack of graffiti.

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You’ll notice the board of switches in the above pictures. I contacted my father, a former telephone company installer and asked what they were. His answer:

Yes, those are the old copper wires for the communications board. Now I know why my emails took so long to be received. The wires were that much bigger in the old days and underground cable was even thicker and it was covered in a lead sheath to keep out squirrels as well as water, etc.

Our final stop was to check out a place I had been on my first foray into CW. As Joe repeatedly had said, “there won’t be any flies in the dead of winter.” We parked in the giant parking lot I had encountered (and then avoided) on my first trip. We hiked through the woods (thorn bushes remain sharp during winter, and just as prickly damn it) and ventured inside … and found some interesting graffiti, and that’s all.

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The room was nothing more then an 8×8 or so pump station. There were numerous pipes and control valves, but where they led one could only guess. Joe & I both speculate that this may have controlled the water supply to the bunkers that supposedly existed below our feet. We couldn’t help but notice power lines running to this bunker, furthering our suspicions about underground facilities. Unfortunately we were not in any position to explore further. With the snow cover it likely would’ve obscured any evidence, and the entrance would more likely be in the basement of one of the buildings anyway.

Curtis Wright Aircraft Facility

The CW facility consists of over 2 dozen buildings on 140 acres of property. One building alone covers 30 acres. If this doesn’t convey the size of this property, then this will: the CW property occupies 1/3 of the entire town of Woodridge. In this facility, airplane engines were designed, tested, and built, leading to other design and assembly processes, such as engines for nuclear submarines. This facility was one of many owned by the CW Corporation, all of which were essential to the US during WW II (most of the aircraft used in WW II used CW engines).

CW was named after its founders, Glenn Curtis and the Wright Brothers. Wilbur & Orville Wright, two bicycle shop workers from Ohio, made the world’s first airplane flight in 1903. Over the next few years they improved their design to the point where flights of up to 24 miles could readily be achieved. This was a huge improvement over the hundred yard flight they made at Kitty hawk, NC in 1903. In 1909 they attended the first ever aviation meet in Europe and to their surprise they competed and lost to an aviator named Glenn Curtis. Curtis had worked with Alexander Graham Bell as part of Bell’s Aerial Experiment Association. Financed by Bell, the Association sought build a usable aircraft. Bell conceived what would eventually be called the aerilon, although the Wrights would get into a patent dispute over this design element that would last for years. Curtis went on to found his own company, the Curtis Aeroplane and Motor company, which came to become the largest aircraft manufacturer during WW I, at one point producing 100 aircraft in a single week, and over 10,000 during the course of the war.

By 1919, Wright Aeronautical was no longer run by the Wrights. Wilbur had died in 1912 of Typhoid fever, and Orville had lost interest in the company, but was still designing with a focus on engines, not on the aircraft as a whole. Wright Aeronautical merged with Lawrence Aero Engine Corporation and in 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew one of their planes, “The Spirit of St Louis” across the Atlantic. Within 2 years, Curtis Aeroplane and Motor Company and Wright Aeronautical merged to form Curtis Wright.

During the 30’s the corporation forged many new design elements in aircraft engines, including the air cooled engine and the radial engine. CW was eventually tapped to design the engines for the B-17 flying fortress. Eventually they began designing the aircraft themselves and soon were given the largest peacetime aircraft order ever placed: They built the Curtis P36 Hawk Fighter and it successor the P40 Warhawk which was used extensively in WWII. As jet fighters became the norm, CW withdrew from building aircraft and focused solely on engines.

CW engines could soon be found on commercial planes such as the Douglas DEC models and the Lockheed Super Constellation. By the 1950’s propeller driven civilian airplanes were giving way to the jet engine much like they had in military aircraft. CW was forced to transform itself to avoid obsolescence. They began manufacturing plastics, nuclear rod control equipment, and in the 60’s developed sophisticated electronics for the space industry. They also continued working on hydraulics, actuators, and later, safety and relief values used in submarines. by the 70’s CW helped further develop the Wankel rotary engine which wound up powering the Mazda RX-7. In the 80’s the company continued to expand the lineup of components, providing machinery for nuclear power plants as well as nuclear powered Navy ships. As of now there are 3 main divisions at CW: motion control such as actuators are sold primarily to the aerospace and airline industries. Metal treatment and flow control are the other divisions. They supply parts and machinery to chemical companies, nuclear facilities and the US Navy.

CW’s ties to NJ begin with an automobile company called Simplex, in New Brunswick. This company merged with Wright in 1915. Together Wright-Martin manufactured many airplane engines in New Brunswick and most European Allies used them in their fighters. During WWI Wright-Martin employed 15,000 people, but by the end of the war, government contracts ended and the work force dropped to a mere 300. The company moved the remaining operations to Paterson. The partnership dissolved and Martin went on to be a successful airplane manufacturer. Meanwhile Curtis’s Corporation was taking orders from England for flying boats, as were the US Navy and Army. A manufacturing plant opened in Buffalo and in Toronto. Curtis & Wright merged in 1929 and by the end of the 30’s had facilities across the country, including one in Patterson, and a propeller division in Clifton, NJ which eventually moved to Caldwell. The Paterson plant would eventually expand to Woodridge at the start of WW II.

In researching this article I spoke with several local residents as well as Mayor Paul Sarlo who filled in the blanks on the history of CW as related to the town of Woodridge, as well as the future of the property. The facility in Woodridge employed at its peak over 27,000 people and functioned 24 hours a day in what could best be described as a mini city. On CW property was a hospital, a day care center, as well as police and fire units.

Despite the numerous buildings above ground, a lot of work went on underground. Many employees were female (the image of Rosie the Riveter could’ve easily been taken from a picture of the work line at CW during WWII) With the increase in employment, came the requisite surge in housing and many new developments sprung up. Across the street a 7 block section of 40 x 100 lots was built, known as Sunshine City. It is impossible to overstate how important CW was to the US during WW II. Major steps were taken to insure the security of the facility. Buildings were designed with 3 foot thick concrete walls. This served two purposes. It protected the facility from any sort of aerial attack, and would contain any sort of explosion that might occur.

The fear of foreign attack was so strong that they installed anti-aircraft guns on the property. They also built fake buildings on the roof of the larger buildings, as well as fake roads, even grass in order to camouflage the buildings from the air. The guns are long gone, but the mounts remain. After WWII ended, CW still produced engines here, and later components used in nuclear submarines. By the end of the Korean War many of the government contracts expired and by the early 1970’s the Woodridge facility slowed down production before finally shutting down in the late 1970’s. Since then they have leased some of the buildings to various companies, which remains the situation today. Prior to the closing of the plant, the federal government paid the taxes on the property, but once the contract dried up, CW had to pay it themselves, and thus began nearly 30 years of fighting over the amount of taxes owed. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize what the shutting down of this facility would do to the local economy in terms of job loss, and the resulting impact on housing, local businesses, but most of all to the tax base. According to the mayor there was an increase in crime and a drop in property values. The loss of tax revenue and the failure to replace it with something else substantive was a major blow.

The fight over taxes went on for 30+ years but recently came to a resolution. Curtis Wright sold the complex to Wood-Ridge Industrial Property Owner L.L.C. for $51 Million, in December 2001. The complex comprises approximately 2.3 million square feet of rental space on 138 acres of land. CW continues to be responsible for the environmental redemption efforts. I spoke recently with mayor (and Senator) Paul Sarlo and he said that they plan to turn the large parking lot areas to the east of the buildings into townhouses. This makes some sense as the only thing there is pavement, but I wonder if contamination is still an issue. Mr Sarlo stated that upper area had some contamination but it was the lower southern end that’s where most of it was. That area will be developed commercially.

Groundbreaking is 2004, phase 1 will take 5 years and will see the development of some lower priced units. Phase 2 involves the building of denser construction as well as the development of open space and a transit stop. With 140 acres of usable property, 70 acres will provide space for 700 townhomes. If they are sold for an average of 500K, that could generate taxes based on nearly 350 million dollars. That’s a lot of ratables flowing into the town coffers. Not bad for a property that generated little tax revenue for the past 30 years. The hope is that it will drive local property values up, as well as breathe new life into the businesses on Passaic Ave.

Mr Sarlo confirmed that there were underground facilities, one tunnel of which is over 1/2 mile long…. A person who recently went exploring did locate the tunnels and told me where to find them. One thing I have not made a real discussion of here is the environmental cleanup that occurred in the 80’s. I have sketchy information at best, so if anyone has solid information about this part of the CW story, I’d love to hear it and add it to the site.

Everything you just read was written in 2005. At that time, I explored the site (with permission) but have not gone back. As we all know, the economy has gone south, particularly the housing sector. I plan to post an update on the CW situation in the coming months.