Rebuilding Downtown Jamesburg: Life After the Flood

July 17, 2005 Flooding on West Railroad Avenue Editor's Note: This article focuses on the recent flash floods that hit southern Middlesex County on July 17, 2005 and the aftermath. Jamesburg is slowly rebuilding and mopping up the floodwaters. The Jamesburg Network goes in depth to find out more about the sinkhole on the corner of West Railroad Avenue and Forsgate Drive and the efforts to rectify the problem and have the road reopened.

The Background
      Sunday, July 17, 2005 brought much devestation to downtown Jamesburg. Heavy rainfall dumped between eight and ten inches of rain in Jamesburg which caused fast moving flash floods and displaced hundreds of residents and businesses. Fortunately no injuries were reported. However, the water backed up the sewer systems, which would never have been capable of handling that much water in such a short period of time. The backed up water rose to heights of four feet in some locations of Jamesburg and caused the heaviest flooding on West Railroad Avenue, Willow Street, Forsgate Drive, Gatzmer Avenue, Pergola Avenue, Lake Street, and East Church Street.

      In the downtown, DiBrizzi's Pizzeria is a total loss and some speculate it may never reopen. All of the other busiesses with the exception of DiBrizzi's and Wright Travel have cleaned up and are once again operating. The effects of the flood did not go unnoticed. Once the waters The September 2004 Sinkhole receded, a large sinkhole on the corner of West Railroad Avenue and Forsgate Drive became visible. This was not the first sinkhole at that location, however. On September 29, 2004 heavy rains caused a smaller sinkhole to appear at the very same location. That sinkhole was repaired rather quickly with new storm sewer pipes, a new sewer grate at ground level, and backfill in the hole, which included stones.

Looking historically at this site, there is reasoning why the sinkhole appeared and reappeared. In the 1800s the configuration of present day Forsgate Drive, Buckelew Avenue, and West Railroad Avenue did not appear as it does today (see map below). East Railroad Avenue did not exist and all traffic on Buckelew Avenue went across a bridge between the present day railroad bridge and the dam, then forking between what is now Forsgate Drive (it was a continuation of Buckelew Avenue) and West Railroad Avenue. The Wigwam Brook also freely flowed down from Wigwam Pond behind Fernwood Cemetery. Wigwam Brook ran parallel to present day Forsgate Drive and terminated at the dam's spillway. Some time within the past 75-100 years the brook was piped. The brook ran through DiBrizzi's front yard (where the sinkhole is) and then crossed West Railroad Avenue and present day Forsgate Drive. According to a 1904 map, a shirt factory was also located between Forsgate Drive and brook on the site of DiBrizzi's. The sinkhole has revealed a partial brick foundation, which some speculate could possibly be part of that factory site.

The historical layout of Wigwam Brook

The Cleanup
Garbage and Debris Line West Railroad Avenue       Much garbage and debris filled the streets, lawns, and wooded areas after the flood waters receded. Two of DiBrizzi's dumpsters floated across the street to the lake and garbage got caught in the railroad tracks. Today, the cleanup in Jamesburg continues. The basements of many homes and businesses were ruined, including belongings and appliances such as washers, dryers, and furnaces. Piles of garbage lined West Railroad Avenue, Pergola Avenue, Willow Street, and East Church Street as the Borough arranged for a special bulk garbage pickup on July 23, 2005. With a large portion of the garbage cleaned up, the Borough is beginning to return to normal but it will be months before the busineses fully rebuild, even if it pertains to things behind the scenes. All businesses except DiBrizzi's and Wright Travel have reopened. As stated earlier, it is unclear but probable that DiBrizzi's will never reopen. Their building was under four feet of water and all of their refrigerators and pizza ovens were severely damaged by the water and mud. Wright Travel is temporarily operating out of their Cranbury, New Jersey office and it is unknown whether they will return.

And Forsgate Drive?
      As this article is being written, Forsgate Drive is beginning to be torn up. According to Jamesburg Police Chief David Lester, early estimates on the reopening of Forsgate Drive had ranged "from a couple weeks to a year." The problem at hand The July 17 Sinkhole is that engineers believe that the flood waters have undermined Forsgate Drive as far as the railroad tracks. It appears as if the reconstruction of Forsgate Drive will be a large project, which includes ripping up a large portion of the road, repairing pipes, rebuilding the subsurfaces, and then redoing the intersection. As far as the pipes are concerned, engineers needed to determine if the pipes had collapsed or burst under pressure. It was determined that the pipes did indeed collapse. From the looks of it, Forsgate Drive will be closed for at least four to five weeks. Middlesex County has hired a contractor to replace the pipes, which are approximately fourteen feet underground. The cost of the entire project is estimated at around $600,000. According to a recent Home News Tribune article, county engineers are suspicious of the old brick arch (see photos below) because it might be in jeopardy of collapsing. The county plans to replace the old arch with a new 60-inch concrete pipe. The new pipe will be more than 250 feet in length, stretching up Forsgate Drive and ending below the Manalapan dam in the spillway, near the hole in the street.

A detour has been set up from Buckelew Avenue that forces cars to continue along East Railroad Avenue until its terminus with Lincoln and Gatzmer Avenues. From there, turn left onto Gatzmer and continue down until you reach Forsgate Drive. If coming from the New Jersey Turnpike, turn left at the light for Half Acre Road and continue down until you see Jamesburg Gas on your left and Jamesburg Hardware directly in front of you. Make that left and cross the railroad tracks at large intersection. Turn right at the intersection onto East Railroad Avenue and continue down until you reach the stoplight for Forsgate Drive. Then continue as normal. The detour is pretty simple, yet slightly longer. There are quicker ways to get around that section of Forsgate Drive but that would require cutting through residential streets, which is frowned upon. The heavy amount of traffic on Jamesburg's residentials streets is already too much and because some drivers have cut across West Church Street, it has made the intersection of East and West Church Streets and East Railroad Avenue a nightmare to navigate during the morning and afternoon rush hours. So for the safety of local residents, children, and traffic jams, avoid taking shortcuts and please follow the posted detour.

The Jamesburg Network extends its sympathy to all those affected by the floods of July 17, 2005.
We wish everyone the very best in recovery. Jamesburg will rebuild, stronger than ever.

Click Photos for Larger View

The historic brick wall The historic shirt factory brick foundation
The historic brick wall hidden only inches under the soil and shirt factory foundation.

The 75 year old brick arch The arch and field stone/brick retaining walls
The very old brick arch for the Wigwam Brook and field stone/brick wall.

Tearing up Forsgate Drive Sixty (60) inch pipes have arrived
Repairs to Forsgate Drive begin.

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