THE GHOSTS OF GULLY ROAD

One of the most haunted roads in American history was located here in New Jersey. The exact whereabouts of this road has become shrouded in mystery over the years, and even the town where it was located, Woodside, has been forgotten by most. Surprisingly this town and road were not located in the mountains of the northeast, or in the desolate barrens of the pinelands. Instead, it was located in the heart of one of the most urbanized areas in New Jersey. After much research and legwork, we are pleased to report that not only have we found the site where the ghostly lane called Gully Road was located, but we have also discovered that this lane still exists.

Woodside was an area located between Newark and Belleville along the Passaic River. Early in its history its was governed by the former, but when the latter broke away in the early 1800's, it followed and became part of Belleville. Woodside was a beautiful village with wide tree-lined streets and avenues, and longed to govern itself. In 1869 its dream of self-government was fulfilled and it was organized as a separate and distinct municipality. Its dream was short-lived however, and in 1871 it was returned to its first ruler, Newark, supposedly at the urging of the powerful Erie Railroad.

Gully Road was located in the southern portion of Woodside. It was a natural path that led down to the Passaic River and connected Washington Avenue (now Broadway) to River Road that led north along the river to Belleville. Although some of Gully Road, and all of River Road, have been destroyed and covered over by Route 21 and the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad tracks, a portion of former is now known as Herbert Place. The well-used path was originally formed as the result of erosion by a stream or water run-off, which resulted in the gully for which the road was named. It appeared on the town's earliest maps, and was used by its earliest settlers. Even before the Europeans arrived, the Lenni-Lenapes used the gully as a path to the river.

Perhaps it was the road's age, or the perpetual darkness caused by its depressed bed, but Gully Road was always considered haunted, and only the bravest residents of Woodside would transverse it after daylight. The first ghost reported on the lane was an old couple who's home once stood at the junction of Gully Road and Washington Avenue (now Broadway). When the early settlers of the village decided to widen the road to allow the passage of wagons to the river, the couple refused to vacate or move their cottage. Finally some of the townspeople became impatient, and one evening the house was torn down with the defenseless inhabitants inside. Neither survived, but they still refused to leave their beloved home, and could often be seen wandering Gully Road, perhaps searching for their lost cottage.

The unhappy couple were soon joined by another spirit, this one a British spy. Legend says that a Tory was captured by a party of Americans during the Revolutionary War as he spying on the shipping along the river. He was tried on the spot and sentence was immediately carried out. The unfortunate loyalist was hung from a large tree at the bend in the road. He must have been a jolly fellow in life, for he was a jolly ghost in death, and was known playing pranks on anyone who crossed his path.

Another unhappy denizen of the dead that occupied Gully Road was the witch, Old Moll DeGrow. DeGrow (also known as Mary Rowe) was the terror of Woodside in life, and she aptly lived along the haunted thoroughfare. So undesirable was her presence, many of the villagers wanted her burned at the stake. Her death in 1844 saved them the trouble. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, at the time of her death Mount Pleasant Cemetery had just opened for business along the southern side of Gully Road. Old Moll was one of the first burials in the new graveyard, and was interred just yards from her previous home. Her ghost was rarely viewed, but her mere presence along the lane was enough to frighten anyone who knew of her reputation.

It would not be too surprising if Moll DeGrow worshipped the devil in her cottage on Gully Road, for the devil has appeared there on at least one occasion. In the 1860's, a schooner was held up in Newark by a raging storm, and the captain of the ship, along with one of his mates, decided to walk home to Belleville. Used to inclement weather, the torrents of rain and gusts of wind did not faze them. As they approached the cursed lane, the sailor hesitated, but his captain forced him on with a steady stream of profanities. The captain continued loudly cursing and cussing as they walked, and the sailor became aware that they were not alone. He glanced back and a flash of lightning revealed a man dressed as a minister following them, chuckling every time the captain swore. Oddly, his clothing seemed dry despite the teeming rain. The next flash alarmed the sailor even more, for it seemed the stranger was burning from the inside out. Steam was seen escaping from every crevice, and yet he continued to laugh, louder and louder. By now the captain was aware of the man following them, and the next bolt from the sky enabled them to see that their unknown companion was walking on hoofs. Both men ran to the relative safety of River Road as fast their shaking legs could carry them. The sailor later settled in Woodside, but he never again stepped foot in Gully Lane, often going a half-mile out of his way to avoid it.

At the turn of the century, Gully Road was partially filled in, lessening the depression of the roadbed. It was later paved and lit with streetlights. Its name was changed to Herbert Place, after its most famous non-ghostly resident, the writer Henry William Herbert. Herbert was a talented and popular writer of fiction, history and sporting books. He wrote under the name of Frank N. Forrester and has been described as a man who possessed no good virtues during his life. He was a fitting occupant of the ghostly lane during his life, and was buried after his death at the cemetery adjoining it.

Today if you walk down Herbert Place, the road still causes unease. It appears darker than the surrounding streets and the depressed roadway prevents you from peering in any direction but straight ahead. Also, of course, Mount Pleasant Cemetery still lies along one side. But it more than that that causes the anxiety. Perhaps the legends have traveled through history and remain here, mostly forgotten, but not extinguished, patiently awaiting their next victim.

SOURCES

Indian Trails and City Streets
By: Edward S. Ranken
The Globe Press, 1927

Woodside
By: C.G. Hine
Hine's Annual, 1909



SPECIAL THANKS TO

The New Jersey Historical Society
Newark, NJ

 

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