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  • Writer's pictureThis Is Rutherford

Steamboats and Bridges on and over the Passaic River

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

By Rod Leith, Rutherford Historian


In the late 19th Century vessels sailed from Rutherford to Newark. Among the most important names in shipbuilding on the Passaic River were Cornelius Joralemon and John Stevens.


According to Jim Hands, whose historical research of Rutherford and New Barbadoes produced both a historical text and a classic map, Cornelius Joralemon and his sons, built some of the earliest two masted schooners before Cornelius died during the Civil War. Joralemon was among a group of shipbuilders in what is now Lyndhurst. Cornelius Joralemon is credited with building a schooner with a 70-foot keel in 1873. His successors, Albert and Warren Joralemon operated as Joralemon Brothers at 411 2nd Avenue, Lyndhurst. Today travelers will find Bloomfield Avenue becomes Joralemon Street in Belleville.


According to Harry Emerson Wildes, author of “Twin Rivers,” John Stevens (1749-1838) used Nicholas Roosevelt’s foundry in Second River (Belleville) to build the “Polacca,” a 60-foot steamer. The “Polacca” took its trial trip on the Passaic River on October 21, 1798. Stevens, a lawyer and inventor, relied on the building skills of Robert Livingston and technical advice of Josiah Hornblower, who is credited with introducing the first steam engine to America. The Hoboken Historical Museum holds an archive of data about the Stevens family, including John’s steamboat exploits.


According to Jim Hands historic map of New Barbadoes area 1650 to 1897, Rutherford Avenue Bridge was built in 1872. However, the New Jersey Department of Transportation states that the first bridge to connect Rutherford with the Delawanna section of Clifton was built in 1870. The NJDOT called it the “Rutherford Avenue Bridge.”


Historically, the area now called Rutherford and Lyndhurst was known as New Barbadoes Neck. On July 4, 1668, Lords Berkeley and Carteret sold an enormous tract of land to Captain William Sandford of Barbadoes. Sandford was acting on behalf of Nathaniel Kingsland. Originally the area was known by the Indians as Meghgectecock, meaning a place where May apples grow. It later became Pegawack and then the English called it New Barbadoes Neck.


One of the earliest Dutch settlers was Arent Schuyler, who arrived in 1695. He settled in New Barbadoes Neck in 1710. His wealth came largely from the discovery of copper. Of course, historians have always known that Indians of the Lenape Nation, such as the Minisi Tribe, travelled by canoe in ancient times over the waters of the Passaic River to reach the Boiling Spring and their hunting and fishing grounds of the Hackensack Meadows.


More recent history has focused on the descendants of Joralemon and Arent Schuyler who led the way in the industrialization of the area known as Barbadoes and Boiling Spring. Sailing on the Passaic moved from a largely commercial mode to sports sailing. The sport was generated by clubs like Nereid Boat Club, formed in the late 1860’s. Enthusiasts persuaded the State Legislature to establish Nereid Boat Club, originally headquartered in Newark and more recently established in Nutley, Belleville and Rutherford.

As can be seen in this 1928 photo from the Rutherford American, boating was highly popular in the days of the Rutherford Yacht Club.

More recent history showed a turn from shipbuilding to sports boating on the Passaic River. Rutherford’s own Louis Huessmann collaborated with builder Clarence Harding when the two designed and built the modern facility for the Rutherford Yacht in 1928. This structure later fell into serious disrepair and was eventually abandoned. Through the efforts of a young rower named Erik King the old yacht club facility was restored in the early 1990’s.

Erik King sought to revive the original 1868 Nereid Club with the assistance of Homer Zink, an old timer who had been part of the club when it was in Belleville, in Essex County.

This is an image of the original yacht club on the Passaic River where Nereid Boat Club's structure stands at 350 Riverside Avenue. It was built in 1928 by Clarence J. Hardin, a woodworker who lived at 303 Carmita Avenue with his wife, Ella May. Hardin used the drawings of architect Louis B. Huesmann, who lived at 22 West Park Place with his wife, Gertrude.

The Erik King restoration effort was supported by leaders of the Passaic River Coalition, including Ella Fillapone. King and his colleagues who won the support of Rutherford and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres funds. With combined efforts of Willard Reenstra of Rutherford the old boat house was successfully restored and the the Nereid Boat House at 350 Riverside Avenue enjoyed its new home.. The Nereid Boat Club officially celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2018. As a tribute to his work, bolstered by Marjorie Reenstra, his wife, a park was established in 2018 on Riverside Avenue in honor of Marjorie and Willard Reenstra. Reenstra Riverside Park and Nereid Boat Club’s headquarters are considered historic landmarks.

Newspaper excerpt about a regatta

Note: Further reading and research of the subject area can be found in “Pre-Revolutionary Dutch Houses,” Rosalie Fellows Bailey; and “Old Houses of Rutherford, New Jersey,” by Agnes B. Concklin and Helen J. Swenson. In addition, there is helpful information found in “Pre Revolutionary Roads in Northern New Jersey,” by Dr. Samuel Pleasants.

Current photo of Nereid Boat Club

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Adriana Otoole
Adriana Otoole
Mar 17, 2023

would like to talk toRod Leith about doing a program for our NNJ Victorian society chapter

this monday, at 7 pm in Montclair please call me, 973 650 6039, Adriana Otoole , program chair..we can pay $150 adrianaotoole80@gmail.com...March 20, 2023, at Montclair Women's club,82 Union St

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