Snake Hill

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Laurel Hill County Park

Snake Hill (known officially as Laurel Hill and sometimes called Fraternity Rock) is an igneous rock intrusion jutting some 150 feet (46 m) up from the floor of the Meadowlands in southern Secaucus, New Jersey, USA. It was largely obliterated by quarrying in the 1960s that reduced its height by one-quarter and its base area by four fifths.[1] The diabase rock was used as building material in growing areas like Jersey City. The graffiti-covered remains of Snake Hill are a familiar landmark to travelers on the New Jersey Turnpike's Eastern Spur, which skirts its southern edge. The large protruding rock along the Hackensack River bank is the highest point on Laurel Hill.

Laurel Hill was formed by the same intrusion of magma that created the Palisades cliffs roughly 200 million years ago. Much later, colonists kept away from the peculiar sloped hill because of the many large black snakes found there and coined the nickname "Snake Hill".

Laurel Hill County Park[edit]

A panoramic view of Snake Hill and the Laurel Hill County Park athletic fields

In the early first decade of the 21st century, further blasting occurred along the New Jersey Turnpike. Most of the original 184-acre (0.74 km2) parcel is currently being utilized as Laurel Hill County Park, which includes a portion of Hackensack RiverWalk.[2]

Laurel Hill Park is home to the Hackensack Riverkeeper's Field Office and Paddling Center, which is open weekends from April through October and weekdays by appointment. Hackensack Riverkeeper also conducts many of its Eco-Cruises from this park. There is a narrow Ridge Trail along the top of the hill.

Field Station: Dinosaurs[edit]


Field Station: Dinosaurs is an educational exhibit featuring more than 30 life-sized, animatronic dinosaurs utilizing the terrain to reflect the pre-historic era scheduled to open in May 2012.[3][4][5][6][7][8] New Jersey's official state dinosaur, named in 1991, is the Hadrosaurus,[9] discovered at the Hadrosaurus Foulkii Leidy Site in 1838.[10][11]


From 1855 to 1962 there were Hudson County penal and charitable institutions on Snake Hill, which was essentially a self-contained city in which hundreds of people lived at any given time. The grounds had its own support facilities that included a sewer system, reservoir, electricity plant and incinerator. The on-site institutions included two almshouses, which provided shelter for the poor and elderly, a penitentiary, quarry and a number of medical facilities, all grouped on the north side of Snake Hill. The medical facilities included a Contagious Diseases Hospital, a Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and the Hudson County Lunatic Asylum, which existed from 1873 - 1939.[12][13]

When the Asylum opened it had a capacity of 140 patients. Different wings were designated for men and women, and each room held several beds. People admitted to the Asylum were not restricted to the mentally ill, and whose conditions ranged from schizophrenia to syphilis, and according to a 2013 Union City Reporter article, many people were admitted to the hospital "who had no reason to be there: healthy residents who had been determined by their relatives to be a burden." Residents sometimes signed in their elderly relatives when they could no longer afford to take care of them. At the time, it was not difficult to sign in a patient, but harder for one to leave the hospital. According to Secaucus Town Historian Dan McDonough, "Anybody could sign somebody in. However, you would need three doctors to sign you out." The causes of death of many patients were not recorded, because the patients had been given pauper's funeral in the potter's field on the grounds, which is known as the Hudson County Burial Grounds. In the 1930s it adopted the name Mental Disease Hospital, as it was believed to be a less offensive name. At the end of that decade, the hospital was moved to County Avenue in Secaucus, at the location where Meadowview Psychiatric Hospital now exists. [In 1939, the Mental Disease Hospital, which by then housed 1,872 people, ceased operations upon the opening of Meadowview Hospital. [Patients were moved to the new hospital, at what is now the Meadowview Complex, in January 1927. They were transported in buses and ambulances, according to a contemporary NEWARK EVENING NEWS article. The Hudson County Hospital for Mental Diseases was renamed Hudson County Meadowview Hospital in 1967.] By the 1950s, many of the properties were abandoned and had fallen into disrepair, and much of the actual hill had been leveled for the construction of sections of the New Jersey Turnpike. In 2003, more than 4,500 bodies of poor people, prisoners and patients were moved from the grounds to make way for the Turnpike's Exit 15X ramp, which would serve Secaucus Junction. When the graves were discovered, they were tested and found to have come from the facilities. Records of the mental hospital were also discovered. As of 2013, one of the old almshouses remains the only building still standing on the grounds.[12][13]

USGS Map from 1900
USGS Map from 1940

The rock is a 61-meter (203 ft) high pipe-like diabase intrusive, which is believed to be an offshoot of the nearby Palisades Sill. Mineralized shales and sandstones, intruded by the diabase, are visible in the north and southwest sections of the property. Minerals were found in veins in both the diabase and metamorphosed sediments. Quarrying took place from the late 19th century to the 1950s, when a section of the land was utilized as a prison Penetentiary Quarry. In 1962 Hudson County finished closing their facilities on the site, which included the county prison and the insane asylum. The County entered into a 20-year contract with Callanan Industries to level much of the hill. In the 1960s and 70's Gallo Asphalt had 4 asphalt plants, side by side, adjacent to the quarry and supplied paving materials throughout the surrounding urban region. Production ended on schedule in 1982. Ref:Refs.:

Snake Hill has had a modest, if largely anonymous, impact on the popular consciousness. A New York advertising executive, passing the hill on a train, is said to have drawn from it the inspiration for the Prudential "Rock of Gibraltar" logo in the 1890s.[14] Its rugged landscapes also feature prominently in artist Robert Smithson's 1968 work Untitled (6 Stops on a Section).[15]

The Turnpike bridge over the Hackensack River and Newark Skyline seen from the Laurel Hill Ridge Trail

The mineral was discovered at Snake Hill in June 1981 by Nicholas Facciolla, who took it to the Paterson Museum. In 1982 the mineral was recognized as a new discovery and named for Thomas A. Peters (1947-) and Joseph Peters (1951-), curators of minerals at the Paterson, New Jersey, museum and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, respectively.[16][17]

The hill and the area between Snake Hill and the Hackensack River today comprise Laurel Hill County Park.

The rock most often referred to as Laurel or Snake Hill (Slangenbergh in Dutch) has also been called Fraternity Rock (because of the greek letters painted on it presumably by local college fraternities), Long Neck (because it is a volcanic neck), Graffiti Rock[18] and Mt. Pinhorne (after plantation owner William Pinhorne [19]) by a 17th-century owner.[citation needed]

The name changed from Snake Hill to Laurel Hill in 1926, when Hudson County freeholder Katherine Whelan Brown[20] said that it was the "crowning Laurel of Hudson County" because of its prominence in the low lying meadowlands.[18][21]


  1. ^ Sullivan, Robert L. The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City. New York: Scribner, 1998.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Zernike, Kate (April 27, 2012), "Where Dinosaurs Roar Back", The New York Times, retrieved 2012-05-15 
  4. ^ Field Station Dinosaurs website
  5. ^ "Jurassic Secaucus? Huge dinosaur exhibit coming to park in spring". The Hudson Reporter. December 4, 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-07. 
  6. ^ Kowash, Kate (December 4, 2011), "Dinosaur exhibit gives a sneak peak of its future site at Secaucus County Park", The Jersey Journal, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  7. ^ Kowash, Kate (December 4, 2011), "Dinosaur boards Secaucus NJ Transit shuttle alongside Giants fans for MetLife Stadium to promote upcoming science exhibit in Secaucus", The Jersey Journal 
  8. ^ Frankel, Jeff (January 27, 2012). "Bloomfield man could win money for Secaucus dinosaur park".
  9. ^ "The Hadrosaur (Hadrosaurus Foulkii): The Official State Dinosaur". New Jersey Legislation on State Dinosaur. June 13, 1991. The Official Website for the State of New Jersey.
  10. ^ "Hadrosaurus Foulkii Leidy Site". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2008-06-23. 
  11. ^ Haddon, Heather (April 14, 2012). "31 Prehistoric Creatures Invading N.J." The Wall Street Journal. (PDF)
  12. ^ a b Jones, Richard Lezin (March 31, 2002). "Secaucus Journal; Humbled Mountain Offers a Mine of History, and Prehistory". The New York Times. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Passantino, Joseph (October 20, 2013). "Creepy history of Snake Hill". The Union City Reporter. pp. 1 and 9.
  14. ^ Quinn, John R. Fields of Sun and Grass. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1997.
  15. ^ Graziani, Ron (April 5, 2004). Robert Smithson and the American Landscape. Cambridge University Press. p. 85. Google Books. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  16. ^ "Petersite-(Y) Mineral Data". Mineralogy Database. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  17. ^ Peacor, Donald R.; Dunn, Pete J. (182). "Petersite, a REE and phosphate analog of mixite". American Mineralogist, Volume 67, pp. 1039 - 1042.
  18. ^ a b "Small Wonders of Midgetville". Weird NJ. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  19. ^ Dunlap, William, History of the New Netherlands, province of New York, and state of New York, to the adoption of the federal Constitution, New York : Carter & Thorp, 1839. Cf, p.215
  20. ^ Gordon, Felice D. "After Winning: The Legacy of the New Jersey Suffragists, 1920-1947". New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1986.
  21. ^ Quinn, John. R. "Fields of Sun and Grass: An Artist's Journal of the New Jersey Meadowlands". New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997.

Further reading[edit]

  • Facciolla, N. (1981) Minerals of Laurel Hill, Secaucus, New Jersey.
  • Manchester, J.G. (1931) The Minerals of New York City and Its Environs. New York Mineralogical Club Bulletin, 3:58-9.
  • Peacor, D.R. & Dunn, P.J. (1982) American Mineralogist, 67:1039-42.
  • Puffer, J. & Peters, J. (1974) Economic Geology. Magnetite Veins in Diabase of Laurel Hill, New Jersey, 69:1294-99.
  • Tschernich, R. (1992) Zeolites of the World, 66, 116 p.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°45′33″N 74°05′13″W / 40.759204°N 74.086819°W / 40.759204; -74.086819