Remembering The Past: More Clay Pit Memories

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by Diane Norek Harrison

WOODBRIDGE-Here are some memories from Giff Kucsma after my March 27 column where I asked  “if any reader knows where Maurer, Engleswood or Spa Spring as referred in the material is located”:

“Diane, I was born in Fords in 1942 and grew up there and in Woodbridge proper. Spa Springs was the Cutter family farm. It was generally in an area bounded on the south by Florida Grove Road, west of Convery Boulevard/Amboy Avenue, and bounded on the north by the present-day NJ Turnpike in Woodbridge. Ephraim Cutter was born at the Cutter family farm in Woodbridge, New Jersey, August 11, 1854, this farm having been the home of his father and grandfather, the farm being known for many years as the Spa Spring Farm. Much later (into my lifetime), this area was referred to as ‘Cutter’s Woods’, or the Cutter clay banks.

“’Maurer’ was an area radiating around the junction of today’s Maurer Road and Amboy Avenue, on the boundary between Woodbridge and Perth Amboy. Henry Maurer, a native of Germany, came to Perth Amboy in 1875 from New York, where he had been in business for many years, and purchased the fire-brick works of Joseph Forbes, near the mouth of Woodbridge Creek. Maurer was at one time a stop on the railroad between Woodbridge and Perth Amboy.

“My maternal grandfather was Otto Maier, who was the general superintendent of Seaboard Refractories, in the Keasbey section of town. They specialized in firebrick and similar (high temperature) clay products.

“When I was a kid, most all of the clay pits had closed down, and my friends and I frequented many of them as swimming holes. There were several in the vicinity of the Hess building in Woodbridge that I recall best. We’d occasionally amuse ourselves, while swimming, by tying rocks to cherry bombs and ash cans, and exploding them under water. Once lit, the fuses would continue to burn even while submerged.

“The area was turned into Woodbridge Center had a lot of sandy cliffs, and our sport there was to leap off the precipices and land and tumble in the soft sand. In the Fords area, much of the abandon pits south of town were referred to as the ‘Sand Hills.’ It was a place to go traipsing around and even camp overnight. Some of my friends supplemented whatever meager allowance, if any, that they received by trapping muskrats and selling the skins.

“Another pass time was the collection of cattails or, as we called them ‘punks.’ When dried to just the right point, they would burn like a cigar. Of course they couldn’t be smoked, but we still liked the smell of their burning, and would pretend to smoke them by sticking the stub of the stalk between our teeth. It had a pleasant flavor, and the smoke was marginally effective at keeping mosquitoes at bay. Just as ‘progress’ obliterated Cutter’s Woods and the area of Woodbridge Center, the construction of the NJ Turnpike and the Garden State Parkway, and later the extension of Interstate 287/440, changed the landscape forever.

“I wonder if there are any areas today where kids can roam and romp as we did, rather than become mall rats and bored youths who can’t live without their I-Pods. I am not a historian, but I am a nostalgia buff. It saddens me to think that there was once a time when fish and shellfish could be taken from the Raritan Bay and consumed without concern-a time when seagoing vessels came all the way up Woodbridge Creek to load bricks at Cutter’s Dock and Maurer’s, for shipment up and down the east coast. I haven’t lived in Woodbridge since I left for the Army in 1961. A few years ago I happened to find the Atom Tabloid on-line, and was pleased to find your column on it.”
My thanks to Giff for contributing to my column!

If you have your own memories or past information for Carteret, Edison, Metuchen, Perth Amboy, Sayreville, South Amboy or Woodbridge you can email me at dianenorekharrison@juno.com or send copies of your material to me c/o CMD Media, 1139 East Jersey St., Suite 503, Elizabeth NJ, 07201.


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