BALLARO: Unseeming local park holds deep corporate history
Column: Thoughts from the LX
“No, it is really interesting, I swear”
“I really do not-”
“Seriously, if you look into it-”
“Anthony, I do not get why you are still hung up on Deiner Park?”
It was 1:39 a.m. when I was trying to explain Deiner Park to my roommate while we were riding back to College Avenue on the LX bus. I heard other conversations talking about a 300 to 100-party ratio, and someone was asking if King Neptune Knight was a “non-dating event,” but I had other things on my mind.
Two weeks ago on “Thoughts from the LX,” I talked about my investigation into Deiner Park. To recap: Deiner (rhymes with “miner”) Park is a rectangular patch of concrete and grass located behind Campbell Hall and Millerdoller Hall on the College Avenue campus.
It is built on a deck hanging over Route 18 and faces the Raritan River. Supposedly, Deiner Park exists to “integrate” the College Avenue campus with the river via a bridge built over Route 18 that leads to a footpath.
The bridge is blocked by a locked fence door and the only way to get to the footpath at the river involves a convoluted path where you have to run through the highway twice. Whatever its reason for existence, Deiner Park seems to fall short of being either a good park or a connection to the Raritan River.
How did it get here? Why was Deiner Park here? What was the problem that made Deiner Park the solution? With these questions in mind, we come back to the present.
I had Deiner Park on the brain. No one I knew seemed to have any leads. It was off to Alexander Library! Surfing the catalog, I was led to the deepest catacombs of the library.
And by that, I mean special collections. It is a special collection of papers, pamphlets, poems and posters and whatever else they could fit in the basement of the library. It is a site to see — or smell, rather. The air is crisp and dry and smells like old carpet and book pulp.
It is climate-controlled to preserve its treasures. To break its silence felt like a sin. With a key and token in hand, it was time for the big leagues: primary sources. With the help of the wonderful librarians, to whom I owe the biggest thanks, I plunged into my search.
Dusty papers, strange articles, river-day pamphlets and stapled children’s books, I sifted through all of these. No Deiner Park, but so much more. Stories about the Raritan River tasting sour, colonial America, local guides on lamprey and then letters. Letters from the Homeowners Association of Piscataway, typed big bold print.
It is about something with Route 18. The Landing Lane bridge: “IT’S TIME TO STOP BLACK TOPPING AND START THINGS ABOUT THE HEALTH — SAFETY — AND WELFARE OF THE WHOLE TOWN OF PISCATAWAY. MAYBE, AS SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T LIVE HERE, YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND THE DEVASTATING, LONG TERM EFFECTS THIS WOULD HAVE ON THE WHOLE AREA." There is urgency. I flit through the dates, Aug. 9, 1973. It is 46 years too late.
Still, I had nothing on Deiner Park. I went to special collections looking for answers, but I only left with more questions. The park was getting me nowhere, but then I realized I needed only to look at its foundations. Route 18! Deiner Park’s existence was predicated on being built over Route 18. No Route 18, no Deiner Park.
An article on April 16, 1977: “Old Raritan Canal Lock Is Focus of a Classic Dispute," according to The New York Times. “Environmentalists are fighting one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical companies and the State Transportation Department in a classic history‐on‐highways dispute involving the clover-covered banks of the 143‐year‐old Delaware and Raritan Canal”. Everything clicked. Johnson & Johnson.
It strong-armed the state to install Route 18, which would facilitate access to its headquarters. It did not matter it was at the cost of the historic canal. It did not matter it was against the wishes of people like the Homeowners Association of Piscataway.
It did not matter that Johnson & Johnson would fill the air with smoke and the din of machines. It said the area was “unsightly and unpopular. Building the road would be an improvement down there.” Then I found it: "To mitigate the environmental damages of the highway, a park would be built atop a deck spanning one section of the road behind three Rutgers University dormitories."
And like that, I had found an answer. But not one I was satisfied with. How in the end could it just be about “profit-making schemes for already prosperous businessmen?”
While I had closed the end of one chapter, I had opened the beginning of a new book titled “Johnson & Johnson.” But that will have to wait for another day.
Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "Thoughts from the LX," runs on alternate Thursdays.
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