Top Secret – The Cannonball Road

By John D. Quackenbush, Jr.
 PCHS  45th Anniversary Publication – 1971

There is growing evidence that one of the most secret military projects of the Revolution was carried out right in our own locality.  This was a hidden military road that would enable the Americans to quickly shift their limited forces.  They could counter any British attempt to advance against the Pompton Iron Works and supporting complex of mines, furnaces, forges, charcoal burnings, etc. in Northwestern New Jersey.  Primarily it would enable the American reserves camped in the Totowa-Preakness areas to promptly support the limited force guarding the Northern approach.

This construction is known as the Cannonball Road.  Tradition says it was built as an alternate route to assure there would be no interruption in the flow of raw materials to the iron works.  Very likely this tale was a deliberate plan, given out to deceive the British as to the true purpose of the road.

I have found reference to and evidence of a number of unrelated segments of Cannonball Roads.  However, if these separate sections were extended they would easily join up to form one continuous road, from the old Totowa section of Paterson to the Ramapo area in New York State.  A glance at the map will show this clearly, and the various segments are as follows:

cannonball2(1) Many years ago an old dirt road ran northwest from Water Street, cut behind the Second Reformed Church property and then turned uphill through the woods toward the Hamburg Turnpike.  This road was called “Cannonball Road.”

(2) A dirt road entered the woods from the northern side of the Hamburg Turnpike, passed through the present North Jersey Country Club land, and thence ran north along a valley to Franklin Lake.  I have walked along the northern portion of this trail and Bob Mills has told me that the old-timers in the area spoke of this as the “Cannonball Road.”

(3) An old map of Oakland showing a short stretch of straight road running north from near the present railroad station.  This also had the name “Cannonball Road: and ended near the east bank of the Ramapo River.  At this point my hypothetical road would require a river crossing.  I assume a boat was used.  Several years ago a small canal boat type craft was found below the Pompton Falls.  It could have been swept downstream in some forgotten flood, and may be the craft used at this crossing.

(4) This trail starts north of the bungalow colony at Skyline Drive and due west of the end of (3) and runs along the west bank of the Ramapo and at the base of the mountain for some distance.  There the trail bends away from the river, going up an easy slope toward a low area in the hills and in the direction of the present Bear Pond.  About 40 years ago I hiked along this trail several times.

(5)  A dirt wood road running along the surprisingly level top of the Ramapos near Bear Pond.  This runs northeasterly in the direction of Ramapo, N.Y.  (I think the station there is now called Southfields.)  Many years ago I hiked along parts of this trail, bur never had time to follow it to the northern end.  It is known as the “Cannonball Trail.”

The various Cannonball Roads of which I have personal knowledge were all of very similar nature.  About 4 or 5 feet wide, no steep grades, high portions dug away and low spots filled in with stones covered with dirt.

To guard the Pompton Iron Works against an attack from the North, earthworks were erected which blocked both the large pass at the East and the smaller pass to the West.  I recall that portions of both fortifications were still standing in the early 1930s.  My belief is that Cannonball Road came to this spot, about 18 miles from Totowa.

It is possible that the road system was even more extensive than shown on the map.  A branch may have gone to the West, since there is a Cannonball Road in Pompton Lakes, and also North of Ramapo a Cannonball Road comes out of the woods and intersects the road over the mountains from Sloatsburgh.

To date I have not found a single fact to verify when all this construction took place.  Perhaps someone with a desire to some original research will track this matter down.

John D. Quackenbush, Jr.
June 13, 1971