Mayor reconfirms commitment to Sybil's Cave. But project is bigger and will take much longer than originally thought

Mayor reconfirms commitment to Sybil's Cave

But project is bigger and will take much longer than originally thought
10/23/2005 Hoboken Reporter 

Mayor David Roberts said Tuesday afternoon that he is still committed to restoring Sybil's Cave, and to opening a half-acre park that will include benches and a historical marker. But he did acknowledge that task is much bigger than originally anticipated and will have to be completed over two phases which could take up to two years to complete.

Starting in January, construction crews cleared brush and earthen dirt from the base of Castle Point on Sinatra Drive. The excavation was the first step toward the reopening of Sybil's Cave, which is located off of Sinatra Drive on the property of Stevens Institute of Technology, across from the Castle Point Park fishing pier. The work crew even erected a sign on the site that announced the project.

Since May, however, little work has been done, and gangly weeds have grown on the site. That has caused some in the community to question the mayor's commitment to the project.

Roberts said Tuesday that reopening Sybil's Cave is still a major objective of his administration, and it is something that is going to happen, but it's going to take time.

About Sybil's Cave

In the cave's storied history, it has been a site for picnics, a source of water for health seekers, and the inspiration for an Edgar Allan Poe detective story.

Starting in 1832, local merchants would sell water that came from the cave's freshwater spring. Thousands of glasses were sold for a penny apiece. The spring water was said to have medicinal properties. But in the 1880s, local health boards were formed. According to historical documents, chemists found traces of sewage, and the water was declared unfit for human consumption.

According to an Aug. 9, 1934 story in the Hoboken Dispatch, Fred Eckstein opened a tavern at the site. The actual cave was used as storage and was locked behind a huge metal door.

Eventually, the cave was filled in due to safety concerns. Over time, vegetation and earthen debris has hidden where the cave once was.

A bigger project than thought

Roberts said that when he first decided to find Sybil's Cave, he didn't know exactly what they were going to find, or what the project would entail.

"This has been a real journey," Roberts said from City Hall Tuesday.

Originally, last year, the plans for the cave were relatively modest, Roberts said. The plans were to excavate the cave's opening, find the fresh water spring and place a historic marker near the cave. The whole project was originally only expected to cost about $25,000, which would have been paid for by Roberts himself and local donations.

But since then the project has grown.

In May, Roberts announced his plans for a historic recreation of the cave's archway. The original arch was made from hand-crafted stone. Blocks of the stone arch have been found scattered at the site. The new arch will be made of wood, Roberts said.

There are also plans to place a dozen or more picnic benches on the half-acre piece of land near the mouth of the cave, so that Hoboken families and visitors to the city can enjoy the waterfront and the cave, Roberts said.

Another new aspect of the plan that Roberts announced was to possibly build a historic recreation of the small building - a tavern - that used to be adjacent to the cave.

As the 1800s turned into the 1900s, Hoboken was turning from a place of leisure into an industrial town littered with factory workers and rowdy longshoremen. The tavern became a "gin mill" for dockworkers. It was torn down in the 1930s. The vacant site quickly became a favorite location for squatters.

Be patient, says Roberts

The project has essentially gone from clearing the mouth of the cave, with a small marker, to being a full-fledged park with a dozen picnic benches and maybe a new building, Roberts said. Also, the full cave is about 20 feet deep and about five-and-a-half feet high. While the exact location of the cave was discovered in January, the city had to fill it in as a safety precaution.

According to Roberts, an engineer from Schoor DePalma has been at the site and has raised some issues about some of the rocks that overhang the cave and their structural integrity. According to Roberts, the city will have to devise an engineering plan to ensure the cave is stable.

"Our prime concern is safety," Roberts said.

These two issues have created a whole new set of logistics. The city is currently working with the city's building department to develop a two-phase plan to complete the work, Roberts added.

First phase

Roberts said that the first phase will be to clear out the weeds and secure the property. This will include the construction of two fences. The first will be a close perimeter of the cave. Roberts said that it hasn't been determined what kind of fence it will be, but did say that it won't block the public's view of the cave area.

Roberts said that a second wooden fence will be directly in front of the cave. It will act as a doorway for the cave area that will keep people out. But also, Roberts hopes to retain a local artist to paint a recreation of the original archway of the cave.

"The rendering will give the public a sense of size and scale of the Sybil's Cave," Roberts said. Roberts said that the first phase will be completed by the end of the year.

Second phase

According to Roberts, the second phase will include the rest of the project, including a traffic study, detailed engineering reports, planning approvals from either the Planning or Zoning Board, and construction of the park.

Anyone who is familiar with planning these types of municipal projects knows that this type of municipal planning is a slow, drawn-out process.

Roberts estimated that the second phase will take nearly two years to complete. He added that because the project's scope has grown in size, it is also going to cost significantly more than first thought. He said the entire project could cost upwards of $1 million. The city will apply for state Green Acres funding, Roberts said.

The mayor also hopes to get significant private contributions. Stevens Institute of Technology, which owns the property, has agreed to allow the city to build the park. Local developers George Vallone and Daniel Gans of the Hoboken Brownstone Company have personally contributed equipment, time and expertise to the project. Local architect Dean Marchetto has also volunteered his time to draw up a preliminary design for the park.

Also this week, Roberts named Hoboken veteran and local historian Vinny Wassman as the citizen liaison for the Sybil's Cave project.

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