Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hackensack River / Race Track

As it is yet today, River Vale has at its' Northern and Eastern boundaries the Hackensack River. There presently seems to be a big lake at the North end of town running from Popular Road to the state border and then some. When I was growing up, this was all woodlands with the Hackensack River winding all through the countryside from Rockland County, south to the Harrington Park section of the Oradell Reservoir.

This river provided a year round playground for any young fellows who loved the outdoors as much as some of us did. In normal times, it was a great place for swimming and fishing. There were along its' banks several sandy swimming spots that provided free, clean, safe swimming holes for those people that knew of them. Especially on weekends, many families would head through the woods to their favorite swimming hole and spend the day at the "beach". For the most part, the water was clean enough to see the bottom in all but the deepest spots. The kids, like myself, would drink the water from the river with no reservations. I never knew of any one of us getting sick from it.

There were more exciting times on this normally peaceful river, though. There was no flood control of any kind, because there were no dams in the river all the way up to New York State. In the spring, when the rains would come, the river would flood its' banks and sometimes even come up to the back yards of houses along New Street and River Vale Road by the firehouse. The river would occasionally come up to within feet of the white church at the end of Echo Glen Road. These were great times for us. We would be in the river all day long with its' rushing, muddy, debris filled water. We would always be able to get a free inner tube from Mr. Holdrum at his service station and we would often float from Kessler's bridge down to behind the Blakeney or Artz property. This might have taken a couple of hours with several spills along the way and several harmless encounters with the large black snakes that were also driven out of their homes by the flood. In looking back at this I've often thought how dangerous this was, and wondered why anyone would let little kids do these things. Sure was great fun, though.

The Race Track

Sometime around the year 1934 or '35, someone brought a large parcel of property on Piermont Avenue and proceeded to start constructing a complex of stables, a race track and a big grandstand for the purpose of having horse races there. I can remember my grandfather pulling a little wagon with my brother and I sitting in the thing and going over there to see the place being built. Never before had we ever seen these huge construction machines and the whole thing was quite a thrilling experience. They had bulldozers and shovels moving dirt all over the place. There was almost too much activity for a four or five year old to watch at one time. The place never really caught on as a race track, probably at a time other than in the middle of "The Great Depression" it would have fared much better. I do remember seeing sulky racing over there once or twice and one time saw an outdoor night boxing match there, also. The big event on those grounds was the yearly River Vale Firemen's fireworks display that was held right in the center of the big oval. The place was sold once or twice and then became a private stable. The stables burned down and then the entire complex was sold to become what is presently the Holiday Farms development.

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