The lore of Basking Ridge’s Sand Pit – The History
STILL LOOKING FOR ANY PHOTOS!!!! As with all Mr. Local History retrospectives, we often update the post when we learn stories and are sent photos from our community. We will continue to expand this piece as information becomes available. The story is expanding as we learn more about the family.Mr. Local History Project
It’s been talked about over the years in hushed circles down at Brush’s deli. It’s been talked about as a racing playground, a car junkyard, and a playground for kids over the decades. Now it’s time to tell what happened to what might just be a geological remnant of the ice age, or simply a car dumping ground for debaucherious youths. While the spot was known as “the sand pit”, the destination was actually what we’re calling “Sand Pit Hill.”
The Mr. Local History Project is actively searching for stories and the history of what has become known as the “sand pit” in Basking Ridge. If you know anything, or remember it, please get in touch with us. Or at least post a comment. Let’s see where this takes us.
Sand Pit Hill
The area we’re talking about was up behind what is now Bellgrove Court, a development in the north west corner of the Basking Ridge section of Bernards Township. French for grand grove, the development was named for the area feature known for its beautiful wooded grove of trees and shrubs. If it were up to us, we would have recommended it be called Sand Pit Drive! Now the area to over a dozen million dollar 3,000 sq. ft homes each on a 1/2 acre, this place was once the playground for thrill seekers, dirt bikers, BMXers and car joy riders.
Sand Pit Origins – The Ice Age
Generally speaking, if you see a sandpit it’s a good bet there may have been a giant pool of melted glacier water in that spot tens of thousands of years ago. Lake Passaic is the name given by Professor Cook in 1880 to an extinct glacial lake supposed to have existed in northern New Jersey during the last glacial epoch (ice age). That glacial lake ran from the rocks of Buck Garden over to the Great Swamp and then up to Parsippany, New Jersey. The remnants of this glacial phenomenon is all around us as the Passaic river and the Watchung Mountains are also remnants from the same period. But it was these sand pits that sprinkled New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and other states as the silt was pushed southward by these glaciers.
Fast forward from the ice age to the early 1900s when there was some action on the hill. Bernards Township was expanding and Bernardsville wanted to separate and start its own official borough. As with any community growth, discussions focused on two infrastructure staples; schools and cemeteries. With the strategic location of the sand pit situated between Bernardsville and Basking Ridge, there were discussions in the early 1900s to develop a school on the property. There was almost 10 acres to play with and the roads were already nearby. As objections were raised, the school project got bogged down in the details and never happened.
While the sand pit remained undeveloped, population growth continued in the two towns. You had the 1872 railroad built that cut right next to the sand pit, and road development began around as well. Nearby harness racing was held on the Boulevard in front of the pit in 1907, and yes even the Klan found time to use the height of the pit in 1923.
In the late 1930s, with the sand pit sitting idle there came an idea to expand either the St. Bernards cemetery or the nearby Evergreen cemetery. A group called Ridgeland Cemetery Association sought Bernards Township approval to convert the area to a cemetery. After back and forth in 1939, the board approved the cemetery permit. But it didn’t end there. Local residents took Ridgeland Cemetery all the way to the New Jersey state supreme court to block the effort. While the residents lost that case, for whatever reason the Ridgeland cemetery was never built.
It wasn’t until the 1950s until the sand pit hill area change forever. It was President Eisenhower who signed the federal highway act and US Route 287 became a reality. The highway cut nearby Washington Street from Washington Avenue and obliterated Conkling Avenue from North Finley to Mount Airy Road. The highway, which was actually bulldozed almost twenty feet below the current street level, there was no doubt that the area was changing. Now the sand pit had four distinct boundaries; the railroad to the north, Route 287 to the east, Washington Ave to the South and St. Bernards Cemetery to the west.
Daredevils and Car Racers
From the 60s to the 90s the sand pit hill area became the unofficial playground for the area’s youth. Bike trails, car racing, bonfires, and youth gatherings were all part of the sand pit culture during the period. As you can see from the comments below, kids that grew up in the two towns had great admiration and great memories of their time at the sand pit. And the parents didn’t enjoy the unsupervised play area.
We used to go to the sand pit to visit with men who rode the tracks. They often slept there and had a fire for cooking. They told us stories. Of course, we never told our parents because it was forbidden territory.Judith Pasnic – Basking Ridge
Fast Forward to 2022 – Sand Pit Hill Today
Anything to add? Share your story by posting your comment below:
We used to bring cars up to the sandpit off Washington Ave, that were on their last legs, and run them around the track at the top, till they died, and then leave them there. Before they developed it there were probably 20-30 junks up there. If you needed a part that was the first place to go. The rumor was there were even some stolen cars up there.Jimmy Vilade
In the late 80’s my boys and their cousins from Bridgewater used to ride their bikes over there and have a blast on the trails! They referred to the place as “the sand pits”.Mona Shaw
Way back when, they cut through the sand pits “mountain” to build 287, that winter we snow winged down the hill, from the top, down to the bottom of where the road bed was. It was an incredible angle and a long ride. The speed was beyond belief and extremely dangerous. It really is something of a miracle nobody was killed. But, “what a ride!” When we were kids we used to pull the radios out of those old rusted junkers to see if we could get them to work. They had tubes in them.Ed Trowbridge
If you walked the tracks toward Bernardsville there was a path on the left that went up the hill and led to the sand pit, We were too young to drive and/or deposit any beaters up there. We did come up with a couple of grand plans to get one running.Michael Allen
Used to ride bikes there. Everyone did.Andrew Fowler
We lived up the street, and by the late 80s, early 90s, I don’t remember any junked cars. But there were extensive BMX bike trails and a few fire pits. It was definitely a cool place to hang out for teenagers.Caroline Ruth Weaver
Other Sand Pits from around New Jersey
Live like the kids did on the Basking Ridge sand pit hill. It may be gone, but it sure looked like fun.