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  • Sue Tryforos, Borough Historian


Glen Rock Historical & Preservation Society (GRHPS) Board Members Anne Ciliberti and Barbara Schineller recently did an analysis of the 1900 Federal Census and the 1915 New Jersey State Census for our recent History Day focusing on immigration and the railroad's role in bringing people to Bergen County. This got me to thinking about how life in Glen Rock was radically changing during the early 20th century.

In 1900, Glen Rock was a fledgeling community, having incorporated as an independent borough just six years before. There were officially 613 Glen Rockers counted in the Federal Census that year. The great majority worked family farms producing fruits, vegetables, dairy and poultry that kept them fed and, for most, enabled them to sell any excess at markets in Paterson and, for the larger farms, New York City. Many surnames reflected the local Dutch heritage, which still exists hereabouts mostly in street names: Doremus, Ackerman, Berdan, Marinus. Glen Rock's farmers hauled their crops in typical Dutch wagons hitched to a team of horses (the original "teamsters"), such as shown in this 1911 photograph of David Courter and Richard DeYoung (at the reins). Courter was born in New Jersey, as were both of his parents, but DeYoung immigrated from Holland in 1880 to begin life again as a New Jersey farmer.

In the 1900 Census, 97 of the 170 foreign-born residents immigrated from Holland. They would have felt right at home in Bergen County since the rich agricultural soil here was what had initially drawn Dutch settlers to this area from New Netherland (especially from today's New York) in the 1700s and several local Dutch Reformed Churches were still holding services in the Dutch language at the start of the 20th century. Although farming was the most popular occupation listed for our Dutch-born residents, the silk trade in nearby Paterson was also starting to entice this population. The silk trade, with its many specialized jobs, was popular as well with the second largest group of foreign-born Glen Rockers in 1900, namely the English who provided one or two farmers but were more likely to go into shop businesses such as florist or confectioner. We can thank France for our lone Frenchman listed in the 1900 Census: Charles Viel, who is credited with coming up with the name of Glen Rock for the paperwork filed in 1894 to incorporate the borough as an independent entity. The original plan by the town fathers was to call the borough South Ridgewood but on second thought they were concerned that this could cause confusion with our neighbor so Monsieur Viel offered his alternative, which was immediately accepted.

Glen Rock's population swelled to 1,790 in 1915, when New Jersey conducted a statewide census. Whereas the 1900 federal census counted 170 foreign-born residents coming from 11 countries (9 western European countries plus Canada and Russia), the 1915 NJ census shows 308 foreign-born residents from 25 different countries, including black families from Barbados, Brazil and Panama. African-Americans have been a part of Bergen County and Glen Rock culture since the 1700s, when the Dutch settlers brought slave labor to work the farm lands. The 1900 census includes 11 black residents of Glen Rock, all but one born in New Jersey (the one other being born in Virginia). Ten of these residents were from two separate families (living on opposite sides of town), who worked as farm laborers, with the eleventh being the lady born in Virginia, who lived and worked as a maid for a white family on Lincoln Avenue. The start of the Great Migration of African-Americans brought families and individuals to Glen Rock from Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. In 1915, there were 84 blacks living in Glen Rock in homes they owned or rented in neighborhoods along Hamilton Avenue, Bergen Street and Zabriskie Avenue (now Broad Street). Several were still living in white households as maids or laborers, but occupations now also included laundress, clerk, repairman and hospital matron.

There was an influx of German immigrants early on, which is not surprising when you consider that German-Americans are the largest immigrant ethnic group in the United States. Many came to work the land but others also worked in commercial business. John Geils, born in Germany, ran a successful grocery in the Smith-Singer Building (opened in 1912) at the corner of Rock Road and Main Street. Here he stands proudly in his white apron, pleased that Glen Rockers could shop at his local business instead of trekking all the way to Paterson; the increased population by 1915 meant increased prosperity for many.

Although Glen Rock was rapidly changing by 1915 from a rural, agricultural community to a modern, suburban community - nudged along this route by neighborhood developers like the Smith-Singer Realty Company - there was still a need for farm labor and provisions. Men were still immigrating from Holland and Germany to work the land, joined by Belgians and Poles. With the greater prosperity and population growth at this time, there was an increased need and desire for maids and cooks; women from Ireland, Poland and Sweden filled those jobs. Skilled masons from Italy were also in demand, and Glen Rock welcomed a Scottish family who took up horse breeding and stud grooming. Engineers, printers and electricians moved here, as did one artist from Japan. Andrew Van Dien Snyder (Glen Rock's second Mayor; his cousin Richard T. Snyder was the first) ran a successful seed store on Maple Avenue (photo below) - very important for the local farmers as well as the new suburbanites who wanted nice green lawns. This store was the polling place for Glen Rock's first municipal election, held on October 2, 1894. Snyder was helped in the store by German-born Harry Sinkway (left, in the photograph), whose family would soon go into the plumbing business. Sinkway Plumbing is still in business in 2018 but the seed store has been replaced by a Medical Arts building.

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