The Elizabeth River

by Charles McGrath


The Elizabeth River had one of its origin from a spring on Brookwood Street near South Orange Avenue. This river flowed southerly across South Orange Avenue to Brookdale Avenue and then to Valley Street. Since circa 1900 this portion of the River was piped underground. It surfaced at Valley Street and as a river it flowed through Irvington, Union, Hillside, Elizabeth, Arthur Kill, then Raritan Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. All the water from the streets in Vailsburg and Ivy Hill entered storm sewers and flowed into the Elizabeth River. We could honestly say that all the water from our streets is literally discharged into the Atlantic Ocean.

No one in Vailsburg every called it the Elizabeth River. Everyone always referred to it by its functional name the "Trunk Sewer".

Back in the late 1930's my parents lived on Underwood Street. It was a dead end street because of the Trunk Sewer. See the attached picture. One summer night around 2:00 A.M. they heard a terrifying scream from an old Italian man. This poor soul had drank to much wine and on his way home from the club mistakenly walked down Underwood Street. He cut across in the darkness what he thought was a vacant lot. Much to his surprise he fell into the Trunk Sewer. The water was up to his chin and he was fighting for his life. He was yelling as loud as he could " Helpa me I'ma drowning ". My father who was a Newark Policeman got out of his bed and went down to the Trunk Sewer with a flashlight. He saved his life by telling the man to standup and walk to the side of the bank where he pulled him out. The water was 18" deep. That's a true story from 64 years ago.


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