Monday, January 3, 2011

Snake Hill

Snake Hill seen from the Laurel Hill Park
Snake Hill (known officially as Laurel Hill) is a 150 foot tall (46 m) rock sticking up in the middle of the Meadowlands. This igneous rock intrusion jutting up from the floor of the Meadowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey is the site of a glacial lake, Lake Hackensack, that only started receding in 8000 B.C. The rock along the Hackensack River bank is the highest point on Laurel Hill which was formed by volcanic action over 150 million years ago.

In Colonial times, people kept away from the peculiar sloped hill because of the many large black snakes found there and the area was nicknamed “Snake Hill.”

From 1855 to 1962 there were Hudson County penal and charitable institutions on Snake Hill. The Almshouse, Penitentiary, Quarry and Hospital for the Insane, Contagious Diseases Hospital, and Tuberculosis Sanatorium, were all grouped on the north side of Snake Hill. Hundreds of people lived at Snake Hill at any given time. The Hudson County Burial Grounds is a Potter's Field associated with the numerous institutions, which had long been forgotten. They were unearthed during the addition to the New Jersey Turnpike for access to Secaucus Junction at exit 15X.

In 1962 Hudson County finished closing their facilities on the site. The County entered into a 20 year contract with Callanan Industries to level much of the hill and the rock formation was largely obliterated by quarrying in the 1960s that reduced its height by one-quarter and its base area by four fifths. The diabase rock was used as building material in growing areas like Jersey City. In the 1960s and 70's, Gallo Asphalt had 4 asphalt plants, side by side, adjacent to the quarry and supplied paving materials throughout the surrounding urban region. Production ended in 1982.

The graffiti-covered remains of Snake Hill are a familiar landmark to travelers on the New Jersey Turnpike's Eastern Spur, which skirts its southern edge.

The rock is most often referred to as Laurel or Snake Hill (Slangenbergh in Dutch) but has also been called Fraternity Rock (because of the Greek letters painted on it presumably by local college fraternities), Long Neck (because it is a volcanic neck), Graffiti Rock and Mt. Pinhorne (after 17th century plantation owner William Pinhorne). The name changed from Snake Hill to Laurel Hill in 1926, when Hudson County freeholder Katherine Whelan Brown said that it was the "crowning Laurel of Hudson County" because of its unusual height prominence in the low lying meadowlands.

Most of the original 184-acre (0.74 km2) parcel is currently being utilized as Laurel Hill County Park, which includes a portion of Hackensack RiverWalk.

Laurel Hill Park is home to the Hackensack Riverkeeper's Field Office and Paddling Center. The Hackensack Riverkeeper also conducts many of its Eco-Cruises from this park.

There is a narrow Ridge Trail along the top of the hill.

View from Ridge Trail atop Snake Hill

The rock is a 61 meter (203 ft) high pipe-like diabase intrusive, which is believed to be an offshoot of the nearby Palisades Sill. It may have been what is known as a volcano plug. Mineralized shales and sandstones, intruded by the diabase, are visible in the north and southwest sections of the property.

Legend has it that a NY advertising executive, passing the hill on a train, is said to have drawn from it the inspiration for the Prudential "Rock of Gibraltar" logo in the 1890s.

The mineral Petersite was discovered at Snake Hill in June 1981 by Nicholas Facciolla, who took it to the Paterson Museum. In 1982 the mineral was recognized as a new discovery and named for Thomas Peters and Joseph Peters curators of minerals at the Paterson, New Jersey, museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, respectively.

Birding, paddling and wildlife trail walking is available at Laurel Hill County Park & Saw Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area. The Saw Mill Creek Trail takes you near the vast mudflat and wide-open space of the Saw Mill Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The base of the trail was initially built in the 1920’s and 1930’s as an access road for what are now high tension electric lines. It was reconstructed as a walking trail in 2001. Stone and soil were added, and six seating areas were incorporated. Native plants were used
and there are beautifully-designed entrance gates at the trailheads.

Laurel Hill Park is home to the Hackensack Riverkeeper's Field Office and Paddling Center, which is open weekends from April thru October and weekdays by appointment. Hackensack Riverkeeper also conducts many of its Eco-Cruises from this park.

During this winter season, hiding along the channels and main creek, using the reeds as windbreaks on cold winter days, you will find Common and Hooded Mergansers, Common Pintail, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Bufflehead, Blue-winged and Green-winged Teals, Canada Goose and Mute Swan, some of which also breed in the Meadowlands. A glance at the electrical towers near the Turnpike may turn up a Peregrine Falcon or Red-tailed Hawk. Look across the marsh where the vegetation has died back and see the 3-foot tall dome-shaped lodges made by the common muskrat. Great Cormorants and Bald Eagles may also be seen.

Directions: Follow County Avenue south from Secaucus. Bear right on New County Road just before the New Jersey Turnpike overpass. Follow for about one mile past the county jail complex (on the left) into Laurel Hill Park. Get driving directions via Google Maps


1 comment:

  1. Some more history on Snake Hill at