Doorway on the Passaic River

In the realm of industrial history along the Passaic River in Northern New Jersey lies a captivating tale of an oil company's struggle for survival against the evolving landscape of progress.

Amidst the modernization of Route 21 in the 1950s, the Riverbank Petroleum Company later renamed to Northern New Jersey Oil Company stood as a fierce opponent to the development. Their existence pivoted on the river's access, a lifeline for their business. Relinquishing it meant demise, so they fiercely contested the eminent domain battles. Ultimately, a compromise was reached: a tunnel beneath McCarter Highway, enabling oil transportation without disrupting the flow of the newly expanded route. Riverbank Petroleum Company Wharf had its last recorded shipment of under 2,000 tons of fuel oils in 1997.

Time has seen the oil company fade into history, leaving behind an abandoned, flooded tunnel. However, a peculiar sight remains – a doorway, a relic from the past, etched onto the side of Route 21. Presently, the property hosts a new enterprise – an Enterprise Rent-A-Car parking lot. The intriguing question arises whether this modern business sealed off the flooded entrance, now irrelevant to their operations. Similarly, an aggregate construction material business cohabits the site, yet neither seems to harness any advantage from this Passaic River wharf door.

Thick wild vegetation blocked any view of the doorway.

Reflecting on my previous explorations, the intricate network of pipelines hidden beneath the McCarter Highway was a revelation. It slipped my attention then, failing to connect the dots on the river access crucial to the oil company's operations. Despite multiple visits (2016, 2017) and even a winter venture, the river infrastructure escaped my notice. I navigated cautiously, avoiding the highway's busy lanes, unaware of the historical significance concealed within the property's bounds.

It was a serendipitous encounter with Wheeler Antabanez's documentary, "Walking The Newark Branch - The Movie," that unveiled the enigmatic wharf entrance. Seeing another explorer's discovery underscored the magnitude of what I had overlooked in my past revisits to explore the property. Regret and a sense of loss washed over me. I realized how such a pivotal part of the oil company's operations eluded my scrutiny, despite scrutinizing Google Maps during its abandoned phase when exploration was more accessible.

In the grand mosaic of life, sometimes the smallest yet pivotal details evade our vision. Such is the nature of exploration, where even amidst scrutiny, certain aspects elude us, leaving us awash with missed revelations.


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