Wednesday, July 8, 2020

An Excerpt from "A Rock Solid History of Hawthorne, New Jersey"

An Excerpt from A Rock Solid History of Hawthorne, New Jersey
Written by Veronica MacDonald Ditko

Hawthorne may be the place where you live or visit, but did you know that the ground and many things surrounding you tell a story of the land that goes back billions of years?

It is through the science of rocks, geology, that you can learn about this history. And what an interesting history it is. The rocks are pretty awesome too.

The land here was formed from volcanoes. But they were not the cone volcanoes you see in Hawaii, Japan, or Pompeii, Italy; rather the lava oozed out of fissures, or cracks, in the Ramapo Mountains.

Imagine living in a desert about 200 million years ago, with alps rising far to the east and to the west, and small dinosaurs running around, too. That is what Hawthorne looked like.

This large plain would have resembled the Serengeti Desert plain in Kenya. It likely spanned from North Carolina up to Prince Edward Island, Canada, or about 1,500 miles. It may have been even longer than that, geologists think.

All the land in the world was also one big mass at that time, called Pangaea. That means Morocco in Africa would have been just a short car ride away.

This area was a dry grassland, since fossils of trees have never been found. Fossils are considered rocks too. There was a dry season and wet season with monsoons, which caused heavy rains that flooded the land because it was too dry to absorb it. (See fossils here from the Goffle Brook in Hawthorne and Duck Pond in Ridgewood!)

It is in the reddish brown stone and brown sandstone rock (also called arkose rock) where smaller dinosaurs made their footprints and left their bones behind when they died. This was just the beginning of the evolution of the dinosaurs before they became great, colossal giants.

When people found dinosaur bones way back when, they didn’t know what they were. Some thought they were dragons while others thought the bones were just rocks, nothing more.

Many small dinosaurs used to roam Northern New Jersey, such as the Hadrosaurus (see to the right, photo courtesy of the Library of Congress), which had a bill like a duck and powerful hind legs. The Hadrosaurus is the state dinosaur of New Jersey.

Dinosaur tracks from this time period were the size of elephants’, but most were smaller, like antelope hoof prints. Dinosaur footprints were revealed recently during construction in the nearby towns of Montclair and Woodland Park. This can happen any time rock ridges are cut to make way for housing.

Later, during the Ice Age, glaciers sailed slowly across the land, moving rocks and forming ridges and valleys. Lafayette Avenue is actually a glacial canyon. Many rocks found in the Goffle Brook, both large and small, were brought here by glaciers long ago.

Hawthorne grew to be part of the first range of the Watchung Mountains. Here, the mountains are mostly basalt rock, a reddish-purple rock some say casts a lovely purple glow on summer evenings.
The picture to the left features basalt rocks in the Ashley Heights area of Hawthorne.

2 When Humans Arrived
New Jersey today is one of the most densely populated states in the country. It wasn’t always this way. A few thousand years ago, Native Americans, also called “Indians,” mostly from the Lenape tribe, lived in this area. The three clans that lived in the area were the Tappan, Aquakannok, and Achensachys or Hackensack.

Slowly, Europeans came across the Atlantic Ocean in large ships and purchased or took the land from the Indians. These people in Northern New Jersey were mostly from England and The Netherlands. They are also known as the British and the Dutch.

Native Americans lived off the land differently than the Europeans. They lived in a hunting and gathering way. That means they hunted the animals they needed and also gathered food from the land as needed, such as berries and other plants. Indians also moved often to find the foods or water they needed.

Large rocks, such as the Glen Rock at the corner of Doremus Avenue and Rock Road in the nearby town of Glen Rock, were used as landmarks and meeting places to help guide Native Americans from place to place.

A boulder along the Passaic River in the town of Garfield has a bear paw print and a fish. It dates back several hundred years, however some feel it is fake. This petroglyph may have helped Native Americans find food.

Rocks were also used as places of shelter by the Native Americans from rain, snow, and wind. Broken slabs of rock on Garret Mountain in Woodland Park slid down the side of the mountain and created natural tents that the Indians used for shelter. Caves were also like little homes where Indians could camp out.

How do we know Native American’s lived here? Well, they left behind many things that are actually rocks. These included arrowheads (also called projectile points) they sharpened out of rocks and used for many purposes including spearing animals and fish.

About 6,000 projectile points were found by Max Schrabisch in the Passaic River and are now in the Paterson Museum. (See to the left some of Schrabisch’s projectile points in the collection at the Paterson Museum.) Many pieces of pottery and Indian arrowheads have been found in the Goffle Brook too. A small island next to the Rea Avenue bridge is believed to have been where Native Americans once camped.

The Lenape also built walls called fishing weirs in rivers, which helped them catch fish to eat. There are two in the Passaic River in the town of Fair Lawn, one is between the Fair Lawn Avenue Bridge and Maple Avenue Bridge. The other is across from Fair Lawn Memorial Middle School. (See below a photo of the weir across from the middle school, courtesy of Tony DeCondo.)

It is not known if Native Americans built the weirs, or if Europeans copied Native Americans when they built them.

As many as 11 fishing weirs once existed in the Passaic River, but due the building of factories and homes along the river, most of them were destroyed. If you look at an aerial satellite map of the Passaic River in Fair Lawn, you can see the outlines of the two fishing weirs still remaining.

A wampum bead factory was thought to have operated on Goffle Hill Road (or possibly Goffle Road by Braen Avenue) by a Dutch family by the name of Stolz near the boundary with Bergen County from about 1700 to 1770.

Wampum beads were made from the white, blue, and purple hearts of the clamshell. These shells probably came from Long Island in New York! Then they were tied onto strings made of native hemp, which is a long grass, and woven into belts.

Wampum was important because it was presented to European settlers like the French and British to help agreements be made, and were re-strung and traded back to Native Americans when European officers wanted to give gifts.

About the Book
Children learn best through tangible objects like rocks. “A Rock Solid History of Hawthorne, New Jersey” explores the history of Hawthorne, New Jersey through rocks, and inspires school-aged youngsters to look at their surroundings, learn from what they can touch and see, and keep searching for more. The book runs through prehistoric times to present day in Hawthorne with compelling language, photos, and go-get-‘em encouragement. Children will not even realize they are absorbing history and learning some earth science along the way.

Where to Buy the Book
211 E Ridgewood Avenue
Ridgewood, NJ 07450
Phone: 201-445-0726

The Curious Reader
229 Rock Road
Glen Rock, NJ 07452
Phone: 201-444-1918


Barnes & Noble

About the Author
Veronica MacDonald Ditko is a lover of history and has written many articles of local historical interest in New Jersey in publications such as Weird New Jersey and The Jewish Standard. Even more important to her is sharing this information in compelling language for both adults and children. Her first published book is “A Rock Solid History of Hawthorne, New Jersey,” where she illustrates local history for school-aged children through something tangible – rocks. Veronica has also written for newspapers in Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as mainstream, business and trade magazines. She is the face behind the longtime “An Accidental Anthropologist” blog in Northern New Jersey where she explored why we do what we do with Seinfeld-esque humor. You can learn more about her at or follow her at @authorditko on Facebook and Instagram. 

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