Visiting Columbia, New Jersey: Crossings Over the Delaware River and Remembering Hurricane Diane
Explosive forces from the past
Everything has its equilibrium and hidden conflicts — human life, unseen forces, the natural world, communities small or large — and the Appalachians through which the great Delaware River runs are no exception.
Cutting a violent swathe through the natural equilibrium of the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions on August 18 and 19, 1955 came the tremendous Hurricane Diane, still acutely remembered decades later for the destruction unleashed in its wake.
At Columbia, New Jersey, on August 19, 1955, a covered bridge over the Delaware, dating from 1869, linking it to the Pennsylvanian riverbank, was overwhelmed by rising waters caused by Hurricane Diane and destroyed.
Extensive flooding occurred along the Delaware River and the wider region (see map, below).
The present structure by way of replacement over the Delaware was built in 1957 and improved in 1996.
A vehicular toll bridge at the Portland-Columbia crossing was also built in 1953 by the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, which in addition maintains other bridges in the region.
Columbia, New Jersey is an unincorporated community within Knowlton Township, named for Colonel Thomas Knowlton (1740-1776) (who fell at the Battle of Harlem Heights, Manhattan, a battle which proved to be General George Washngton's first victory while commanding the Continental Army in the War of Independence). This battle occurred during the New York and New Jersey Campaign of 1776-1777. Knowlton's Rangers, commanded by Colonel Knowlton, are regarded by historians as precursors of modern special forces such as Army Rangers and Delta Force. Indeed, the '1776' on the seal of the United States Army Intelligence Service (see below) refers to the foundation of Knowlton's Rangers (1). Interestingly, Captain Nathan Hale (1755-1776), executed as a spy by the British, and honoured with a statue by the CIA at its Langley, Va., headquarters, served under Colonel Thomas Knowlton's command.
Interestingly also, Director of Central Intelligence William Casey (1913-1987) maintained a keen, personal interest in the physical environment and history of the American War of Independence. Bob Woodward has written:
'...He has immersed himself in the main books on the Revolutionary War. ... The literature on Revolutionary intelligence operations, deception, and political warfare sparked particular attention ... Casey had his notes, his books, photocopies of the relevant maps, Boatner's Landmarks of the American Revolution. He went to the hilltops, walked the trails, carefully eyed the relics. ... Each time he wanted to go to the exact spot and unravel the Revolutionary geography as it was then ... .' (2)
Knowlton Township, with Columbia, forms part of Warren County, New Jersey. In Colonial times, the Delaware River served as the western border of West Jersey, with what is now Warren County being successively part of Burlington, Hunterdon, Sussex and Morris Counties, with Warren County being established by the New Jersey legislature in 1824.
Close to Columbia, New Jersey is the famed Delaware Water Gap, a natural phenomenon which is the focus of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The historic Appalachian Trail, which runs hundreds of miles north into Canada, passes through this area. Along the West Jersey bank of the Delaware there were various forts built to withstand attacks from Native American peoples.
I was deeply intrigued by this rugged, historic area. If, as per Desmond Morton, history is another name for experience, not least in its relation to the natural landscape (3), then the relationship of the various human actors with the Delaware Valley can historically appear to have been an series of sometimes tumultuous efforts to subdue both one another and the at times somewhat forbidding landscape and natural elements.
Stated differently perhaps, in quasi-intelligence terms, were the operators strenuously and successfully playing the natural forces, or were providential powers behind those natural forces playing and sometimes setting limits to the operators?
February 18, 2019
(1) The Order of Knowlton's Rangers is based at Penn State University, and has as its goal 'to promote scholarship, stimulate discourse, and prepare students for successful careers in foreign policy and national security'. http://sites.psu.edu/knowltonsrangers/
(2) Bob Woodward, Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA 1981-1987, New York et al.: Simon and Schuster, 1987, p. p. 136-137
(3) Desmond Morton, A Short History of Canada, Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1997, p.344.
Some sourcing: Wikipedia
Also worth seeing
In Knowlton Township itself, the Ramsaysburg Homestead (see also: http://www.ramsaysburg.org/ ), dating from circa 1795, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Worthington State Forest is located close to the Delaware Water Gap, and its Dunnfield Creek Natural Area, located within the Forest, is noted for the presence of wild trout.
How to get there:
New York Newark Airport, from which many car rental options are available, is 62 miles — 100 kilometres to the Delaware Water Gap area. The I-80 is the main approach from the New York City area to Columbia, New Jersey. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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