Esternay Field in Chatham Township Opened as a Shale Pit in 1893

Esternay Field in Chatham Township was originally a shale pit Credits: TAP Chatham
Esternay Field gets plenty of use today for athletic events in Chatham Credits: TAP Chatham


that what is now Esternay Field was previously a shale pit? And that in the 1970's it was proposed that the natural contours of the pit would lend itself to building a 200-seat amphitheater?

The pit was opened in 1893 by Samuel Duries and produced fine sand and pebbles for use in road material. It was later purchased by the Ferber family and became known as Ferber Shale Pit, providing shale and fill for road construction projects including the foundation for the Garden State Parkway.

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By the mid-1960's, Ferber Shale Pit had been excavated to the limit allowed by Chatham Township and was left as a 14-plus-acre, carved-out, terraced parcel of land -- a favorite spot for riding mini-bikes illegally. Several developers expressed interest in the property for commercial use including indoor tennis courts and a skating rink, but pursuing the required zoning changes made the site unappealing. At one point the recreation department flooded the base of the pit to create an outdoor skating rink. This was unsuccessful because the soil was too sandy to hold water.

The Chatham Township Committee, always on the lookout for open space and in need of recreational facilities in that rapidly developing section of town, purchased the shale pit from the Ferbers in the early 1970s for $52,000.

In 1976, the town hired a recreational consultant to come up with options for using the shale pit. The consultant proposed a multi-purpose recreational area that would include a 200-seat amphitheater, four tennis courts, basketball courts, a picnic area, walking trails, look out points, a playground and a recreation building. The price tag: $500,000.

Although staggered by the cost, the Committee was optimistic that 50 percent of the cost could be derived from Green Acres funding and hoped to get the balance from the Federal Bureau of Recreation. Public concern was great: about the cost of the proposal, access to the pit (the entrance was a steep driveway off Fairmount Avenue just below what is now the Fairmount Country Store) and, of course, parking. Within the year, the idea was shelved until a time when it would be more economically feasible.

Other proposed ideas for the shale pit included paddle tennis courts, informal camping and a youth center that could make use of the steep terrain for rock climbing.

Finally, in 1978 using a $6,000 HUD grant the town leveled two tiers in the pit and constructed grassy playing fields, known as the Shale Pit fields. In 1987, the area was renamed Esternay Field in honor of Chatham’s sister city Esternay, France. Today, three seasons a year, the former shale pit is filled with the sounds of Chatham athletes playing, parents cheering and whistles blowing. And yes, parking is still a concern.

Local color is written by Sharon Knightly, who grew up in Chatham Township and returned years later with her husband, Jack, to raise their family here.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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