The Cannonball Trail: Tracing the Footsteps of American History


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New Jersey is renowned for its hiking trails and nature walks; however, trail goers at some of Bergen and Passaic County’s most popular parks could be walking in the footsteps of Continental Soldiers. The forests now known for their serene views and candid glimpses of wildlife, once roared to the thunderous metronome of Patriot soldiers. During some of the most disheartening months of the American Revolution, Washington and regiments of Patriots sought refuge in the river valleys of the Ramapo mountains. This area was predominantly Dutch, and this meant that Patriot personnel could freely conduct business without fear of Loyalist interference. The towns Along the Ramapo River between West Point and Paterson became a vital part of the Continental Army’s supply, intelligence, and maneuvering infrastructure. It was dubbed the “Cannonball Road” and ran throughout Mahwah, Oakland, Franklin Lakes, Haledon, Hawthorne, and Paterson following the banks of the Ramapo and Passaic rivers.  Between 1776 and 1781 over 25 skirmishes took place in Bergen and Passaic counties. By 1779 the Continental Army was spread thin, under supplied, and losing ground. The use of the Cannonball Road was vital to the American war effort, providing a more discreet means of transporting supplies as well as facilitating the guerrilla tactics of the Continental Army. The fighting moved away from the region around 1781, but the Cannonball Road is forever a part of New Jersey history.

photo-1Today the Cannonball Road does not survive in its original form, only remnants of this testament to American resolve and perseverance remain. Sections of the historic road run adjacent to hiking trails and roadways, while some of the road has been lost to history, one of the sections of the Cannonball trail crosses over N.J. route 287 and has become  very popular among hikers. Due to the discretionary nature of warfare, some of the details of the Cannonball Road are not completely clear; this is an important piece of New Jersey and American history that requires further investigation to insure that any remaining evidence can be discovered, properly preserved, and studied. The intent of this project is to spread awareness about the Cannonball Road, and offer new data.  I will be utilizing both digital sources as well as data gathered in the field, or “on the trail” in this case, collecting both GPS coordinates and photographic evidence to illustrate the importance of the Cannonball Road to the Continental war effort during the American Revolution and the need for steps to be taken to guarantee the preservation of the this historic part of New Jersey.

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9 Responses to The Cannonball Trail: Tracing the Footsteps of American History

  1. MissO says:

    Very interesting piece of history. I spoke to my father about it and he remembered that the road leading up to Garret Mountain was called Cannonball (Road/Trail, not sure). I guess it makes sense that it was used by the army for transporting supplies. I’m really curious as to what the unused pieces of the road look like today.

    • michael cartier says:

      its gravelly as though someone was preserving it. it seems otherwise undisturbed in mahwah, nj borders nys but wasnt there since the 90s, i have pictures and will post them on facebook if i find them.

  2. aceinthesun says:

    This is an excellent project for History teachers to show their students. It will show the importance New Jersey had on the American Revolution, helping students find more personal connections to the war. I also like the idea of a comparative photography display from the American Revolution and 2013, connecting the past to the present.

  3. Susan says:

    I mistakenly always thought the Revolutionary soldiers only got as far north as Morristown; I’m so happy to know this! Your informative article makes me want to roam those woods again, thank you.

  4. Ed says:

    The Cannonball Trail went through Camp Yaw Paw in Mahwah, NJ (A Boyscout Camp) We used to hike the trail north to NY State. It was also know as the Red Trail.

  5. Tom Magura says:

    North Eighth Street in Prospect Park was a part of
    Cannonball Road connecting Goffle Road to the
    Hamburg Turnpike.

  6. Ilene Potoak says:

    There is a marker in Goffle Brook Park in Hawthorne where the Ryerson House once stood. The Home was built in about 1721 and during the war served as LaFayette’s Headquarters along the Cannonball Road. The house burned to the ground in 1950. Two years later the Passaic County Parks Department erected a wall, made from the homes original stone foundation, and added a plaque comemerating the troops encampment and LaFayette’s use of the Ryerson home.

  7. paul grzybowski says:

    I have read with interest your write up about the Cannonball Trail , here, and in the booklet that goes along with the BSA Camp Yaw Paw hiking trail award. I would like to pass on to you some research that I have been doing (on and off… mostly off now) since I first hiked the trail as a Scout back in 1976. Back then that had required me to travel to many libraries in northern NJ. Now, much more is available on line, in the form of newspaper archives, etc… Within Camp Yaw Paw itself, the Yahley farm family who had lived there since pre-Civil War days had always considered the trail/road that went past their farmhouse as part of the “Old Cannonball Road”. Historians recorded people in Pompton Plains finding cannon balls embedded in old woods roads. A photo exists of an elder of the Ramapough Mountain People holding a cannonball found in the mountains, perhaps in the Stag Hill area of Mahwah. Further north along the legendary route a friend of mine told me that his sister had found a cannonball in the mountains above Theills NY, above the Hudson River. To me, these lucky finds help me to believe that the Road is more than a legend! Whenever I had hiked the traditional route from Camp Glen Gray north I had always had one eye on the lookout for a rusted, round object, weathering out of the trail, or laying in the woods just off of it. I’d still like to find a cannonball! As I have moved to MA I will have to be content (for now) by diving back into my research. Thank you for keeping the story alive for Scouts, hikers and everyone else interested. I would look forward to hearing from you at my email address. P.Grzybowski

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