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Newark, NJ: Mill Brook/First River “the past is never dead… it’s not even past.

Newark, New
Mill Brook/First River Jersey was
founded as a
Newark, NJ town in 1666,
and minutes of
the earliest town meetings show that a primary concern of the sixty or
so founding landowners was to build a water-powered grain mill. The
town council eventually decided that the mill was “to be set upon the
Little Brook Called the Mill Brook,” and in 1670 they contracted to
have it built along “with suitable Necessary's, and Making the Damns,
and all other Provisions Needful for and Belonging to the sd Mill
[sic].”
The watercourse that the town
These archival map images
founders called Mill Brook was also
show how Newark grew over
referred to as First River, because it was the small Mill Stream or First
the first of three streams from the north River in the 19th century. The
of the town as it was laid out in the 17th image on the left shows the
century. Mill Brook was not needed for area where the stream flows
drinking water; in Newark’s earliest into the Passaic River in 1806.
days, this was already adequately (The stream is to the left of
supplied by two other streams that the arrows; you can also see
united near the center of town. Those the label for the “Mill Lot”
near the center, one of the
streams however were too small to drive
mills that gave the stream its
a mill, and the estuarial Passaic River name). On the right is an
along which the town was built is image (with a slightly wider
affected by significant tides. This left view) from 1895, with the
Mill Brook as the only nearby site for stream completely covered by
the watermills that were vital in the 17th buildings and the Clay
and 18th centuries. St/Central Ave bridge.
The small town grew slowly
until the 1830s, when the Morris Canal opened, carrying coal and iron ore for the region’s burgeoning industries. Newark’s
population tripled in in the following fifteen years, and by 1860 it had a claim to being the most important industrial center
in the country. By this time the city had grown so much beyond its 1666 borders that Mill Brook was nearly in the center of
town, rather than the outskirts.
Newark began to
build sewers in the 1850s
and enclosed most of Mill
Brook in the early 1890s.
Well upstream, and
outside the original limits
of the village of Newark,
the headwaters of the
Brook still supply the lakes
in today’s Mill Brook Park.
But between the park and
the Passaic River, this
waterway that powered early Newark’s mills is hidden underground in in two parallel seven-foot-high sewer tunnels.
The tunnels open onto the river directly beneath the Clay Street Bridge. During normal flow periods, the sewage the
stream carries is diverted to a treatment plant further inland, and so often at low tide the smaller outfall tunnels—which can
completely fill up with water at high tide—are relatively dry, and visible to curious boaters on the Passaic.