The City of Bridgeton, like most communities in the 18th and 19th centuries, formed itself around its rivers and bodies of water; both as a means of commerce and by way of defining and branding itself in an agricultural America. In fact, in its earliest iterations on the banks of the Cohansey River, Bridgeton was briefly known as "Cohansey Township".
Thus the river, which divides the city in the center, was established as the furthest point of navigable water for commercial shipping during that time and it also began to be viewed as a source of recreation and leisure as well. One of the giants of its time in terms of industrial Bridgeton, the Cumberland Nail & Iron Works, situated at what is now the entrance to City Park, erected a dam that would result in the creation of Tumbling Dam Lake, now called Sunset Lake, positioned near the northern boundary of the city.
In addition to the lake, starting around 1811, a father and son team dug a one-and-a-half-mile long raceway by hand as a way to direct water from the dam to the old factory site; near what is today the park entrance on Washington Street. The raceway remains a prominent feature in the city park today, so much so that when an August 2011 storm brought flooding rains that blew out key parts of the raceway and draining Sunset Lake, the City worked with both State and Federal agencies to ensure funding to restore both the lake and the raceway. Both are expected back in 2014.
Restoring these waterways can't come soon enough considering the fact that these tributaries, along with Mary Elmer Lake, have served generations dating back to 1903 when the City of Bridgeton initially purchased the land of what was the Cumberland Nail & Iron Works, a company that went bankrupt in 1899. Aside from the relationship to industry over the early years of Bridgeton's history; the Cohansey River, Sunset Lake, Mary Elmer Lake, and the Raceway have allowed countless multitudes to enjoy boating, fishing, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing.
This is as it should be and residents and visitors alike are invited to not only enjoy our waterways, but in this day of heightened environmental awareness, to appreciate and care for them as the delicate and vulnerable resource they've become.
Spend Hours of Enjoyment on Our Lakes
"As if we needed another reason to get out onto the water, the fact remains that whether you are looking for it or not, paddling canoes and kayaks provides a great form of exercise in a usually beautiful setting. There are few activities available to us that give such a balanced approach to our cardiovascular system and our upper body strength as paddling does. These health benefits are often a side effect of simply doing what you love most" - George Sayour Paddling Guide