Fresh from our greater white-fronted goose sighting, Ivan and I spotted a small truss bridge and historical marker on the side of the road. Wait! Stop! Turn back! Tiny bridges have always brought interesting stories, and I didn't want to pass this one up.
A Hibernia Mine bridge in Raritan? Isn't that Morris County territory? Had we stumbled on a Hidden New Jersey gem linking two non-contiguous counties? Ivan started reading the marker through his binoculars, but I couldn't help myself. I got out of the car to find out.
Talk about a span with a history! Not only is this an old bridge, it's survived its own obsolescence twice. Originally, it was part of a railroad started in 1863 to move ore from the Hibernia iron mines in Morris County to the Morris Canal and later to the Central Railroad of New Jersey (CRRNJ) at Wharton. The mines were pretty much tapped out by 1916 and closed in 1930, the same year CRRNJ bought the line to serve the area's industries.
By then, though, the bridge had gone on to its second use as a vehicular passageway across a railroad right of way in Hillsborough. It served that purpose for more than 100 years before being dismantled and stored. For the past four years, it's been exclusively a footbridge within the Somerset County Park System, enabling pedestrians to easily cross the Raritan Water Power Canal.
The what canal? When we were in Duke Island Park, we'd wondered if the canal we crossed was simply a portion of the Delaware and Raritan Canal, or maybe a feeder, given the proximity of the Raritan River. I didn't know of any other canal in central New Jersey, so when I read the Hibernia bridge marker, I was stumped. Logic and lessons learned from my many visits to Paterson's Great Falls led me to reason that water had been shunted for industrial purposes, but that's as far as I could figure when we were standing at the bridge. I doubt the Raritan ever supplied the mighty wattage of the falling Passaic River waters, but heck, I could be wrong.
Further research cemented the link: Alexander Hamilton. According to the Raritan Borough website, Hamilton visited the community after the Revolutionary War and thought the river's power could be harnessed to bring industry to the community. Local leaders were less than convinced, but the idea stayed alive and the three-mile long Raritan Water Power Canal was constructed in 1840. Predictably, factories started springing up along the river, taking advantage of cheap power and the proximity of the railroad. That's our link to Passaic County, courtesy of our first Secretary of the Treasury.
Raritan hosted one of the country's largest textile manufacturers, the Raritan Woolen Mills, which supplied the army during the Civil War and World War I. I can't find a direct source confirming the mill used water power, but it was located close to the Raritan, making it likely the Water Power Canal was a factor in its operation. Today, the property is site of a condominium complex. I wonder how many of its residents know their tenuous connection to Alexander Hamilton?