© 2010 Bob Stockton. Excerpted from 'Listening to Ghosts' by Bob Stockton. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.
Five streets south of and running parallel with Broad Street was Overlook Avenue. The street was aptly named as it overlooked a rather overgrown and unkempt wooded area we knew only as “The Lake.” From Overlook Avenue there was a sloping drop of some two hundred feet to a spring fed lake of some twenty plus acres. Several businessmen who hadn’t bothered to keep the property in any semblance of repair owned the acreage, nor was there any effort to keep the lake clean and algae free. As kids we roamed this jungle like area constantly, unaware of the history of this topographical urban anomaly.
During the winter months after a snowfall we brought our sleds to the eastern end of Overlook to a wildly eroded, tortuous trail that reached the lakefront some two hundred feet below. We called it “Devil’s Bend.” We’d get a running start, belly flop on top of our sleds and careen wildly to the lakefront at the bottom of the trail. It was an exhilarating ride if you made it to the bottom. Often we would slide wildly off the eroded trail and separate from the sled. Hell, that was fun, too. The kid with the worst wipeout would have the bragging rights until the next ride.
The Lake wasn’t always an overgrown neglected area. It had once been one of the preferred resort and recreation areas in the entire state. During the late nineteenth century it was a prime area for picnicking with tables and benches, a suspension bridge over the “Boiling Spring” area where ice cold spring water fed the lake, and on Saturdays an orchestra performed for the picnickers’ dining and dancing pleasure. The park was easily accessible as an electric trolley stopped at the foot of Harrison Avenue at the park’s main entrance. One would then walk down ornate stone steps to the park below. This was the case until 1907 when a group of investors formed a company known as the White City Company to develop the area into an amusement park. A roller coaster was constructed, as were a dance hall, merry go round and other attractions. The finished park was named “The White City Amusement Park” - all the rides and buildings were painted white - and the price of admission was the princely sum of one thin dime. At the park’s heyday as many as twenty thousand visitors per week would board the Trenton Traction Company trolley for the ride to the park, but by the 1920’s the park was abandoned as the public’s obsession for the automobile grew. There was simply no place to park the visitors’ cars. Over the years lumber salvagers tore down the rides and buildings and the park, once the garden spot of Central New Jersey became overgrown with weeds and debris. Only the stone staircase was left.
We didn’t care. We had Devil’s Bend.