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Millburn: 1857 - 1957
It Started a Million Years Ago

By the Millburn Centennial Committee

Originally appeared in 1957
This Web version, copyright 2004

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It has been just a century since Millburn Township was created. One hundred years is a goodly time as the days of man are reckoned, but the pre-birth days recede into the limitless past, and who can tell how it was at the be- ginning! We know a little from the learned ones, searching the answers in curious marks on boulders, in erosion, in the composition of rocks, and in the disclosed outcrop.

This pleasant land of gentle hills and valleys was for millions of years the center of natural disturbances of titanic proportions.

More than once in ages past, oceans flowed across the land, channelling and eroding. but also building up, as they left behind them as they disappeared, deep deposits of sedimentary materials, and mud and sand. which in the processes of time became the bedrock shale and sandstone. Across the mud the giant reptiles walked, leaving their footprints forever impressed in the hardening rock.

Interbedded with the shale and sandstone now are thick sheets of basalt (traprock). The trapock is harrd, fine=grained and dense, and was formed by the cooling of great masses of molten lava which, in three or more periods of volcanic activity, flowed over the softer rock, and was in turn buried under younger sediments. These three lava layers primarily compose the two Watchung ridges of which First Mountain is a part.

Sometime, too, in that dimly seen prehistoric age, a raging river coursing from the north, estimated to be 475 feet below the present surface, and now believed to be the ancient Hudson diverted from its course by a slow process of erosion, cut gaps and passes in the vulnerable rock. Some such relentless and timeless struggle between water and rock tore a two-mile gap in the ridge and separated First (or South) Mountain from the Watchung range, leaving between the two heights an undulating plain. One end of that great cleavage, rising more than 500 feet above the future village, would, one day, be called "Washington Rock", but that day was still millions of years away.

But the land was not yet ready for the coming of man.

The great ice sheets moved down in three successive stages, grindng and scouring the hills and valleys, and pushing before them mountains of gravel, sand, and other glacial debris known generally as the terminal moraine. Later as the drifts of moraine filled the Short Hills' and other gaps, and blocked the flow of rivers, and melting ice, water backed up in the great basin thus formed, and Lake Passaic came into being. It occupied all the upper Passaic Valley between the Highlands on the northwest and Second Watchung Mountain on the south, and east. As the ice retreated the gap at Little Falls re-appeared, and Lake Passaic became extinct.

In the glacial ages many strange animals inhabited the land wwe call New Jersey, and followed the retreating ice northward. The bones and skulls of mastodons, walrus, reindeer, and Canadian elk have been found in nearby places.

Finally, the air grew warmer and the last vestige of ice disappeared, leaving behind it, in its wake, masses of terminal moraine, kettle holes and ridges, and those knobby rises called, as soon as names were given to topographical landmarks, "the short hills."

We may presume that upon this land, finally tamed by water, volcano, and glacier, the forests sprang up and man stalked among the trees.


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