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  • Sue Tryforos, Borough Historian

1894. And All That.

The story of Glen Rock is familiar to those of us who have lived here for decades, especially if we were residents during the Big Birthday Bash, aka The Centennial Celebrations, in 1994. But since that was a while ago, and new residents are moving into our community every day, I thought it was time to write a bit about Glen Rock's earliest days. This will also set the stage for future posts about this year's 100th Anniversary of the Glen Rock Police Department (you will note that 1918 was 24 years after the incorporation of Glen Rock as an independent borough - which tells you something about how sleepy and sparsely settled this area was back then).

In the beginning, the Lenape people called this area of the country "home". The Lenape were traditional Eastern Woodlands native peoples who lived in a large area now encompassing parts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The English settlers later called the tribe "Delawares" because they lived near the Delaware River. There is no evidence that the Lenape had permanent villages in what is now Glen Rock, but they were known to hunt in this area (and in fact many arrowheads have been found here). Today's Rock Road is an old Native trail found on early maps of the area. The Glen Rock Rock was a marker along this trail and it was known to the natives as "pamachapuka", meaning a large stone "from the sky" that served as a trail marker. You may note that the current signage at The Rock has a typo in the spelling of the native name. This is an unfortunate mistake that dates to 1984 when the original sign (which was stolen) was replaced and nobody checked the spelling. Only about ten feet of The Rock stood above ground until 1912 when the southern spur of Doremus Avenue was developed and The Rock (saved by Councilman Bunce from being blasted out of the way by the developer) became an official borough park.

The first Europeans moved into what would become Bergen County in the 1600s, many of them Dutch farmers expanding westward from New Netherland. By the mid-1700s, the majority of the Lenape had been pushed out of New Jersey; their descendants are now primarily found in Oklahoma and Ontario. The incoming Dutch farmers were impressed with the richness of the soil and settled here to raise their crops - corn, melons, strawberries, barley and more - bringing their slaves with them to work the land. Bergen County would become the largest slaveholding county in New Jersey. The area became a quiet, sparsely populated community where Dutch was still widely spoken even in 1900.

By the 1890s, there were about 600 people living on 100 farms in what would become Glen Rock in 1894. There were a few shops (seed stores were important) and services (three blacksmiths, a couple of mills along the Diamond Brook) but generally people would go into Paterson for shopping. Most of the farms were of 25 acres or so, not terribly large but big enough to grow what was needed with any extra being sent to sell at market in Paterson (or to New York City for the bigger farms) or used for bartering with neighbors. It was a quiet life. The trains were here early (1840s for the Main Line, 1880s for the Bergen County Line) but commuters were infrequent and if you wanted the train to actually stop in Glen Rock, you would have to flag it down. The Main Line Train Station was built in 1905 but before that there was an open platform, called "Ferndale", near the intersection of today's Ferndale Avenue and Main Street.

Local government was handled by a township system, as was children's education. The Ridgewood-Grove School District #44 (aka The Little Red Schoolhouse, shown below, now part of a private home at the corner of Rock Road and Ackerman Avenue) served the area's needs adequately, although by 1894 it was getting quite crowded with 75+ students and one teacher in the one-room building. Still, the predominantly Dutch families did not take kindly when the governing body passed a law requiring the consolidation of the little one-room school populations into a fancy new centralized school on Beech Street (now Cottage Place in Ridgewood). Upset turned to rebellion when the new school's price tag of $50,000 became known. The farmers were not pleased about having their children travel over unpaved, rutted roads with no sidewalks or lighting to get to the new school but the costs of the new school helped drive them to action.

A house-to-house survey was quickly conducted by lantern light in preparation for filing papers to incorporate as an independent borough. The survey was pretty simple: if you wanted to become part of the new borough, the survey line would include your land; if you didn't want "in", the survey line would exclude your property. There was some zigging and zagging around properties in the north-east section but in the end, the survey included some 1,736 acres taken from what had been part of Ridgewood Township and part of Saddle River Township. The papers were filed in Hackensack just hours before a similar plan, including the Glen Rock area, was presented by Ridgewood. The new borough of Glen Rock was officially incorporated on September 14, 1894. Kudos to the town fathers who worked long hours to get this accomplished: Andrew Van Dien Snyder, John J. Storms, John Vanderbeck, Garret Hopper and Richard T. Snyder (who would be elected Glen Rock's very first Mayor).

As a quick aside, the year 1894 soon became known as the year of "borough-itis", especially in Bergen County where 26 independent boroughs incorporated just in that year. An 1894 law detailing the creation of a new borough required only 2 square miles of land with a minimum value of $100,000 plus a population not less than 200 persons (could include summer-only residents to hit that number). Incorporation enabled a borough to better control its tax monies and local education. Seeing the unintended consequences of this very liberal law, the state legislature quickly repealed it and put in place more stringent requirements to form a borough.

By the way, just a few years after incorporation, the new Glen Rockers realized that School #44 was no longer able to handle the education of the borough's children. The new School #1 was built in 1899, centrally located on Maple Avenue (where the Central School parking lot sits now). Unlike the fancy Beech Street School, which was made of brick for fire safety, School #1 was made of wood. The price tag was a much more palatable $3,400 for the building plus $600 for the land.

(1890, The Marinus sawmill along the Diamond Brook)

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