“Remember the Maine!”

The intersection of the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike and Wanaque Avenue, in Pompton Lakes, has featured several noteworthy structures. Here’s one of them.

During the Revolutionary War, a house known as the Yellow Tavern stood in the middle of the intersection where the present-day Federal Square memorial now stands on a triangle of land. The tavern welcomed visitors on their journeys throughout north NJ, including General George Washington and his officers and men. It was razed about 1890 “to permit the changing [widening] of the roads,” as an old manuscript put it. (The Ramapo Valley House survived… but that’s another article.)

The Yellow Tavern, from an 18th Century drawing.

A memorial consisting of a cannon (Civil War, perhaps?) and a stack of cannonballs stood upon the triangle of land at the historic intersection until 1914, when a town memorial was dedicated on the site, on Labor Day, to honor several Pompton Lakes residents who lost their lives when the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Cuba’s Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. This tragedy cost 260 American lives and later led to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The site was used as a war memorial for many years before the Maine memorial was erected.
Click for full-sized image.

Consisting of a raised round platform and a fieldstone-and-concrete tower, the monument on the triangle — also known, for some reason, as Federal Square — “contains a copper ventilator from the Maine battleship. The ventilator was transported to Pompton Lakes by Harry Hershfield, a Pompton Lakes Mayor who went on to become a state Senator.” As you can see in the photo below, the existing memorial was incorporated into the design, and a chain was draped around the raised platform.

This photo was taken about 1918. Click for full-sized image.
The plaque on the memorial, in honor of the local members of the Council of the Jr. Order of the United American Mechanics. Click for full-sized image.

Since then, few changes have been made to the memorial site, which now features nice greenery and a historic marker denoting the site of “Washington’s Headquarters”. The cannonballs were removed at some point, and a Liberty Bell was donated by the Elks Club.

The Liberty Bell was donated by the Elks Club in memory of the men who lost their lives in Havana Harbor during the Spanish American War. Click for full-sized image.

And so the Maine monument at Federal Square has remained, nearly untouched, although time is taking a toll.


The copper ventilator, unprotected from the elements, has been slowly disappearing over the past century. Click for full-sized image.

Why is this article titled “Remember the Maine!” ? The actual cause of the explosion will likely never be known, but the theory that a Spanish mine in the harbor was the reason she sank (never mind that she was riding at anchor) caught fire with the press:

[P]opular opinion in the U.S., fanned by inflammatory articles printed in the “yellow press” by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, blamed Spain. The phrase, “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”, became a rallying cry for action, which came with the Spanish–American War later that year. While the sinking of Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse between the U.S. and Spain.

Wikipedia

Later investigations would plausibly suggest that the explosion was more likely caused by a magazine explosion within the vessel, possibly caused by a coal fire.