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Friends of Ridgefield

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Office: 201-943-5215

604 Broad Avenue Ridgefield,
New Jersey 07657

Ridgefield History By Diane M. Pollock

In 1992 the Borough of Ridgefield marked its 100th anniversary of incorporation. Among the various activities to mark the year-long celebration was a contest to determine a Centennial Logo and Slogan.

The Centennial Logo, created by Matthew Genaro, then a senior at Ridgefield Memorial High School, depicted a tree in full bloom symbolizing growth and the continuance of life. The Centennial Slogan, created by Christa Finneran, then also a student at Ridgefield Memorial High School, was Stand Proud With Ridgefield. It reflected the pride felt by residents of our past history and the pride taken in what can be accomplished today and tomorrow.

The history of Ridgefield dates back before explorers from Europe discovered the area. The first “residents” of the borough were members of the Eastern Algonquian Confederacy. The Lenni Lenape, or the Original People, were part of that Confederacy and had called this area “home” for generations.

Ridgefield Township, from which the Borough of Ridgefield originated, was created from the southern portion of the old Hackensack Township about 270 years after the first white men came to the area.

English immigrants reportedly settled in what is now the Borough of Ridgefield as early as 1603. Within several years all of what we now know as East Bergen was dubbed the English Neighborhood. Ridgefield was the center of the Neighborhood, which covered about 10 square miles from the Hackensack River to the Hudson River and from what is now Hudson County line, north to Englewood.

Nothing is recorded about the very early settlers to the area. They probably moved about the area, seeking the company and protection of other settlers in other settlements.

The earliest known English settler to Ridgefield was Robert Earle. In 1650 he bought a tract of land between the two rivers. He planned to give parcels of land to other English immigrants so a permanent English settlement could be carved out of the marsh and woods.

About the same time, Lubbert Lubbertson and William Van Westervelt sailed from Holland and settled on Long Island. In 1662, the two Dutchmen moved their families to the banks of Overpeck Creek.

Another early settler to the area was Epke Jacob Banta, who settled in what is now Fairview.

Most of the early settlers came via land. Some traveled by sloop up the Overpeck Creek, which was navigable as far north as Englewood. Later on, the Overpeck Creek was used to ship freight north and for sailing excursions. Actually, in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the bands of the Overpeck Creek were dotted with summer cottages for “city folks” to escape the heat of the city for a taste of “country life” during the summer.

By 1675, families with such Dutch names as Zimmerman, Banta, Blauvelt, Westervelt, and Paulison, had settled into what is now Ridgefield. By the time the Revolutionary War was being waged, the area was largely settled by farmers; some with British sentiments and others yearning to form a new nation. Both the British and Washington troops crisscrossed the old English Neighborhood during the conflict.

With peace, more settlers moved into the area. The newcomers included wealthy and influential families as well as farmers and merchants. By 1800, the area had a population of 221; 40 years later, there were 12 families living in Ridgefield.

About the time of the Civil War, the area known as Ridgefield had about 15 buildings scattered along Grand Avenue and Edgewater Avenue West, the “main” section of the area. Two buildings are still standing: the English Neighborhood Reformed Church built-in 1793-94, and the Thomas H. Herring house on Charlotte Terrace.

Suburban development started for this area when the Northern Railroad of New Jersey began service I 1859. The line ran west of Grand Avenue, making Ridgefield, with its hilly terrain, a scenic wonder for the riders.

In March of 1871, the Township of Ridgefield was formed from Hackensack Township. The Township of Ridgefield was one of three townships created from Hackensack Township (the other two were Palisades and Englewood). Towns and villages in the Township included: Fort Lee, Coytesville, Edgewater, Pleasant Valley, Sunnyside, Bull’s Ferry, Fairview, Ridgefield, Leonia, Walton, Teaneck, Ridgefield Park, and Bogota.

Soon after Ridgefield became a township, Nicholas Jacobus, along with several other residents, went to Trenton to lobby for a special act to create a school district. In March 1873, School District 4½ was formed, with David Brower, Jacobus and John

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Brinkerhoff as trustees. The first schoolhouse was built in December of 1876 and had 32 students.

In 1876, the village Ridgefield had 40 buildings, including a clubhouse, a store, and a post office, a schoolhouse, a railroad depot and two churches. The store building still stands on Edgewater Avenue near the railroad tracks.

According to an 1875 census, Ridgefield Township has a population of 3,516, with a “value of livestock” estimated to be $69,860.

While the Township of Ridgefield was growing, the residents of the Village of Ridgefield were agitated. Some residents, mostly businessmen, wanted to separate from the township and start their own borough. They claimed that the Township government had not done anything for the village in several years, when the township widened, graded and straightened the English Neighborhood Road from where it joined Bergen Turnpike to Englewood. The road was renamed Grand Avenue.

There were other considerations for wanting a separate borough, including allocation of taxes and school costs.

Advocates for separation first brought the proposal before the electorate on July 2, 1889. The proposal was defeated.

Three years later they brought the proposal before the electorate again.

On May 10, 1892, a petition was filed in the Bergen County Court of Common Pleas requesting a special election. The petition outlined the boundaries for the proposed new borough as: commencing in the middle of the Hackensack River at a point opposite the mouth of Bellman’s Creek on the boundary line between the counties of Bergen and Hudson, running thence in an easterly direction generally, along said boundary line to the mouth of Wolf Creek or brook, thence to and along the centre of said creek or brook and the Mill Pond, to the southerly line of lands now owned by Mrs. E.B. Martling then easterly along said line and in prolongation thereof to a point 300 feet, easterly of the Dallytown Road, thence northerly and parallel with said road to the northerly line of lands belonging to the estate of Samuel Hammond deceased thence northwesterly along the northerly line of said lands and in prolongation thereof to low water mark on the westerly side of Overpeck Creek thence southerly and westerly along said low water mark to a point in the middle of the Hackensack River opposite said low water mark thence southerly along the middle of said river to the point or place of beginning embracing an area not exceeding four square miles and containing a population not exceeding 5,000.”

The boundaries of the proposed borough included the towns or villages of Ridgefield Park, Bogota, Leonia, Undercliff, Fairview, Cliffside Park, Teaneck, Overpeck, Palisades Park, Fort Lee, and Englewood.

The petition was granted. The special election was held on May 25, 1892. Seventh-four men cast their votes and gave a 72.9% mandate for incorporation. Judge Van Valen issued a certificate of incorporation and the Borough of Ridgefield was created!

A month later, on June 28, the organizational meeting of the new borough was held in the home of Peter Hall, who had been appointed mayor. The first officers of the new borough were: Peter A. Meserole and Elisha A. Pratt, appointed to three-year terms; J. R. Beam and Jacob V. Banta, for two-year terms; E. B. Meyrowitz and William B. Pugh, one-year terms.

The first regular meeting of the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Ridgefield was held on July 12, 1892, at the Wheelmen’s Club, where the governing body had rented a room for $120 a month. The first ordinances for the new borough were introduced and voted upon the same day but only after the council “suspended rules of order.” The first ordinances were for street lighting and the maintenance and construction of streets and sidewalks throughout the borough.

The first election for the council took place on March 14, 1893. The Borough’s first elected officials were: William B. Pugh, Mayor; J. V. Banta, Peter Meserole, W. R. Palmo Jr., J. R. Beam, and E. B. Meyrowitz, councilmen.

In 1893, the wooden sidewalks were removed from along Broad Avenue and replaced with bluestone flagging from Edgewater Avenue as far as the Bergen County Wheelmen’s Club on the east side of Broad Avenue.

By the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century, the Borough of Ridgefield boasted churches, schools, a hotel, post office, stores and shops, sewerage and water systems, street lighting, stone roads, and shaded sidewalks, and a population of 584!

Ridgefield is divided into four sections because of its geographical contour.

The
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oldest section, known as Ridgefield Proper, is located around the junction of Edgewater, Broad, and Grand Avenues. The second section is known as Morsemere Park and is at the northern part of the borough, north of Slocum Avenue. The third section is called the Ridgefield Heights, founded on the second hill at the extreme easterly end of the borough, adjacent to Cliffside Park and running north and south (this area was home to the borough’s famous, or infamous, Art Colony, in the late 1890s and early 1900s). The fourth section developed over the years and is called The Valley, because it is nestled at the bottom of both hills and runs north and south.

Among the noted people who owned property in the new borough was Samuel F. B. Morse. He owned property running from Morse Avenue east to Dallytown Road (Bergen Boulevard). Morse bought the property with the intention of building a home here. A barn was the only structure completed when the inventor died in1872. The barn was later converted into a house on Morse Avenue. The Morse Estate was subdivided into 66 lots at 25-feet wide, plus about 72 lots of over 50-feet and a strip of smaller lots on the north side of development, running east and west and sold. This venture proved extremely successful and paved the way for future real estate speculation and development.

Other developers included Theodore Hipple, the Columbia Investment Co., Oritani Building and Loan Association, Peter Beige and Alan Conor, Equitable Home Corp., Well-Built Homes Corp., John Weiss, and the Lancaster Realty Co., which developed the Shaler Boulevard area and was largely responsible for the garden apartment developments.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Ridgefield had a population of 584. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the Borough’s population was almost 10,000 and growing.

RIDGEFIELD’S OWN MOVIE FACTORY- THE GRANTWOOD STUDIO

The birth of the movie industry in America took place right here in Bergen County. Some may know that many silent films were made in Fort Lee but Ridgefield was also the site of a movie studio, the Grantwood Movie Studio. This studio was owned and operated by Mr. E.K. Lincoln, who was both an actor and movie maker. Many of the greats of the early film world worked out of this studio and used various spots in the Borough of Ridgefield for outside location work. After World War I many moviemakers headed out to Hollywood where the climate enables them to film outdoors all year round. Mr. Lincoln was among the group of filmmakers who headed west and he eventually resided in Malibu, California. After talkies came into being in 1927, the studio continued to be used to make foreign language films in both Italian and Polish. By the end of the Depression, the studio was no longer the site of movie-making. We have included a photo of Mr. Lincoln on our website as well as a photo of the Grantwood Studio which was located at the corner of Ray Avenue and Bergen Boulevard where a bank currently stands. Unfortunately, the old Grantwood Studio burned down in the Sixties.

WHO WAS THE HENDRICKS OF HENDRICKS CAUSEWAY?

As residents of Ridgefield, we are all familiar with Hendricks Causeway but how many of us know about “Uncle Sam” Hendricks, who gave his name to this road. Samuel E. Hendricks was known as Uncle Sam to all the borough’s residents. He lived in Ridgefield from 1904 until 1939. Sam Hendricks had volunteered to serve as a Union soldier in the Civil War at age fourteen. He was the first president of the Ridgefield National Bank and at the time of his death at age 90 in 1939, he was the vice president of the Thomas Publishing Company. He served on many town boards and was an eager volunteer for good works in the Borough. Hendricks was one of the businessmen who helped erect the doughboy soldier statue in the middle of town. Here is a photo of Uncle Sam in front of his home in Ridgefield.

THE LEAF HOG

It is not widely known that the Borough of Ridgefield was the site of an invention that became widespread during the Fifties and Sixties, namely the Leaf Hog. James N. Marshall was the Superintendant of Public Works who designed the Leaf Hog in 1945 and the sixteen-man Department of Public Works under his supervision built it. The machine quickly and efficiently cleaned Ridgefield’s streets of leaves and other debris. The fame of the Leaf Hog quickly spread both in the United States and abroad. The Leaf Hog became the standard method of leaf removal in the Fifties and Sixties. The basic design of the Leaf Hog influenced even the more sophisticated machines which are in use today.

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