Thursday, October 2, 2014

Marking irrelevant boundaries on Divident Hill

Stroll around the slim section of Newark's Weequahic Park that's north of Route 22, and you might come upon an elegant domed pavilion atop a hill. Nearly a century old, the Greco-Roman shelter seems a bit elegant for a park that was designed in the more naturalistic style of the Olmsted Brothers. A temple to a celebrated Newarker, perhaps? A gift from one of the city's 19th century industrial barons?

The design of the structure, as it turns out, doesn't relate very much to the inspiration for its placement at the highest point within the park. In fact, if you consider the story a certain way, it pretty much replaced a tree that stood on the spot 350 years ago. And it marks a geographic point that's no longer relevant.

As boundaries often go, it seems the dividing line between the old cities of Elizabeth and Newark was in question in the earliest years of New Jersey's status as an English colony. Elizabeth share's the state's 1664 birthday, while Newark was founded just two years later. Within a few years, both communities' leaders realized that the settlements were bound to overlap eventually if a boundary wasn't established. On May 20, 1668, commissioners from both communities met at the highest spot in current day Weequahic Park to determine a dividing line.

The line settled was: "the top of the little round hill named Divident Hill; and from thence to run upon a Northwest line into the country" until it met Watchung Mountain. To set the mark, the men carved an "N" into the northern side of an oak standing on the hill, and an "E" on the southern side. Other trees along the line were marked in a similar fashion.

Still, though, the hill is now decisively within Newark boundaries. What happened?

In 1834, Elizabeth gave up its portion of what's now Weequahic Park, and a bit more, for the formation of the township of Clinton. That small, marshy and somewhat rural community was absorbed by Newark in 1902, extending the city's boundaries southward against the portion of Union Township that eventually became Hillside. Union was once part of Elizabeth itself, breaking away in the early 1800s.

The irony is that the pavilion commemorating the boundary-setting was dedicated long after it became irrelevant at the point where it's celebrated. As part of Newark's grand 250th anniversary in 1916, the city commissioned famed architects Carrere and Hastings to design and build this ornate monument to the foresight of the neighboring cities' founding leaders. A memorial plaque was placed, fittingly enough, by students from both South Side High School in Newark and Battin High School in Elizabeth.

So there you have it; a memorial placed by history-minded students at a place that no longer stands for what it once was, marked by a grand piece of architecture. What better Hidden New Jersey could there be?

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