Here in a pleasant wilderness, Thy children, Lord, abide, And turn to Thee with thankfulness in this November-tide. Almighty God, Thy goodness grows More seemly, as Thou dost expose Thy purpose to our wondering eyes, Led hitherward by Thee.
Here by Passaak’s gentle flow our humble homes we rear; Unchafed by want, unsought by woe, we have no cause for fear. The painted savage peaceful prowls, The lurking wolf unheeded growls; With steadfastness we hold our way Uplifted, Lord, by Thee.
With pious zeal our task we took, and soon the virgin soil By coppice edge, by whimpering brook, hath blest our sober toil. Our log-built homes are filled with store From fruitful field, from wood and shore; Our hearts are filled with tuneful joy, With thankful hymns to Thee.
Frank Urquhart wished to convey the spirit of the early Puritan settlers with these verses, taken from his Short History of Newark.
Near the old lighthouse pagoda, lookin’ northward from the Kills, There’s a clumsy bridge a-squattin’ where the Bay wash backs and fills; And its serried ranks of piling in close order grimly stand While they buffet back the waters from the swiftly heaping sand.
On the roads to Newark Bay, Where the iron horses neigh, Where the meadow grasses murmur o’er the muskrats at their play; On the roads to Newark Bay, Where the railroads have their way, And the locomotives thunder, Eastward, Westward, night and day.
It is thirty years and over since those wooden soldiers filed, Sent a-scoutin’ by the Central when the people were beguiled Into thinkin’ ’twas campaignin’ for a year and a day— But they stuck, those wooden soldiers did, for they’d been sent to stay.
“Temporary,” Central said; “Open bridge, high overhead. “We will build a little later”—yes, they will, when we are dead; On the roads to Newark Bay, Where the railroads hold their sway, Where the regiments of piling shoulder closer day by day.
Go ye up beyond the marshes, where the river reaches low, Where ten thousand steamy bannerets announce the toil below; Where the forge fires’ labored breathings throb in rhythm with the roar Of a city hard at making things beside the oozy shore.
Go ye up from Newark Bay, Where they wait a better day, When the tides shall team with traffic on a deep, free waterway; When our craft shall seaward wing, And the coasters commerce bring; And the flags of many nations midst our factory smoke shall fling.
We are sick of wastin’ language on the men that rule the rail; For ’tis wheels, not keels, they’re runnin’, and our pleas do not avail; Though the West beats at our gateway, cryin’ “More room to the sea!” And the deep calls to the river, “Come ye closer unto me.”
Smilin’ face but clawlike hand; Law! too well we understand; They would rule upon the waters as they dominate the land. On the roads to Newark Bay, Where the railroads have their way, And the locomotives thunder, Eastward, Westward, night and day.
By 1892, three railroad companies—the Central of New Jersey, the Pennsylvania, and the Lehigh Valley—had bridged Newark Bay. This boatmen’s reproach of the rail barons appeared in the Newark Sunday Call of November 24, 1907, four years before the opening of direct passenger service to Newark from Manhattan.
The thing ye tread, although seeming dead, may turn and wound the heel, And words of brass that seem to pass may come back words of steel. The deeds of man are of boundless span, whether for good or ill, And much of his woe began ages ago, and will last for ages still.
Ye found me fair and as clear as air; ye were careless and dense and dumb. Ye have done thy will with my waters, until ye have made me a thing to shun. For greatness ye sought, and toiled and wrought, unmindful of what ye did To my tides that flow at thy feet, and so my sickening face I hid.
And ye grew in power, but hour by hour, unwitting, ye weakened, too. As ye piled thy wealth there stole by stealth a pall o’er my waters blue. Thy gold heaps grew, but the dross ye threw with wanton scorn to me. Now I bid ye cease; and give me release! Go carry thy scum to the sea!
On every bark I’ll place the mark of the unclean curse ye’ve given. ‘Round shop and stack my steaming wrack shall coil and writhe to heaven. From the sight of me thy people shall flee and hush their merry laughter; And my waters shall spread, with the fever they dread, the death that follows after.
The fouling of Passaic waters can be traced through centuries of human use along their entire 80-mile length. While the river as a whole has entered a period of recovery, mid-twentieth-century contamination of sediments in the lower Passaic so far seems beyond the powers of nature, or human ingenuity, to reverse.
Frank J. Urquhart is best known as the author of A Short History of Newark, first issued by the Newark Public Library in three parts and later collected and reprinted in book form. The work was used extensively in the city’s schools. “The Passaic’s Song of Reproach” appeared in the Newark Sunday Call on March 1, 1903.