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  • Sue Tryforos, Borough Historian

Early Days and Save the Rock

For this year's Quasquicentennial Celebration, The Rock Recorder Blog will post a chronological (as much as possible) history of Glen Rock, NJ. My main source for framing this series is an unpublished manuscript in the Glen Rock Historical & Preservation Society's archive, which was written by George Hubschmitt. This is Part #2 of the series.

In 1675, East Jersey was first sub-divided into four counties: Bergen, Essex, Middlesex and Monmouth. In 1837, Passaic County was cut out of Bergen (with some additional land being taken from Essex) and in 1840, Hudson County was also separated. Later on, a part of Hudson County was re-annexed to Bergen, leaving Bergen County as we know it today. At one point, Bergen County covered the area from the New York State line to Newark Bay and New York Bay, and from the Hudson River west to the Pompton area.

Early townships in the area were Hackensack and Bergen. Seven townships were subsequently formed out of these two: Franklin, Saddle River, Harrington, Hackensack, New Barbadoes, Washington and Lodi. The present Glen Rock area was partly in Franklin Township (in 1876, Franklin Township was split into Franklin and Ridgewood Townships, with the Glen Rock land located in the Ridgewood Township slice) and partly in Saddle River Township. The township system was useful for administrative and judicial matters since the population of the area was very small.

Early settlers in the Glen Rock area spilled over from the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (New York City). Early families to these parts included Hopper, Vanderbeck, Snyder, Marinus and Berdan. The Vanderbecks and Hoppers settled in the eastern part of the future Glen Rock starting in the 1700s, while the Snyder and Marinus families moved into the western sections around the same time. The Berdans followed in the early 19th century. The claims of the Snyders swept up from the Passaic River to the present Rodney Street area.

At first, home was the log cabin. By the mid-18th century, a number of more permanent homes were built using the local sandstone and strong oak framing. Glen Rock is fortunate to have four Dutch sandstone homes from this period still standing, all originally belonging to branches of the Hopper family. These well-constructed farmhouses were set on sprawling family farms, now long gone, and oriented to the southeast to catch the sun's rays for light and warmth. All four of Glen Rock's Dutch sandstone homes are listed on both the New Jersey and the National Registers of Historic Places.

[The Ackerman-Hopper House, one of Glen Rock's four Dutch sandstone houses]

As old as the Hopper homes are, they are youngsters compared to Glen Rock's oldest historic artifact: The Great Rock, which was carried to its current location by the Wisconsin Glacier about 15,000 years ago. Geologists believe that The Rock originated in the Upper Hudson River Valley in New York State. Technically The Rock is a glacial erratic composed of gray granite weighing approximately 596 tons. The native Lenape who roamed the area were very familiar with The Rock, which they called "pamachapuka", meaning "large rock, along a trail, that fell from the sky". The trail is now Rock Road, and it was a well-traveled route reaching from Arcola and Hackensack to Pompton and Ramapo. It is possible that The Rock was used as a meeting place for the Lenape, although stories about sending smoke signals there are most likely legend since the surrounding area was dense woodlands and only the top ten feet of The Rock was visible until it was excavated to develop the southern spur of Doremus Avenue around 1912.

The Rock served as a surveying point for virtually all of the nearby properties. It also helped determine the boundary between East and West Jersey and, later, the 42,500 acres of the Ramapo Tract (which dubbed it "The Great Rock"). It was a convenient point to measure distances for setting property boundaries. As a prominent (and easily found) landmark, it appeared on maps drawn by Robert Erskine for George Washington during the American Revolution.

The greatest danger to The Rock happened around 1912, when the southern part of Doremus Avenue was being planned. One of the neighbors, John Walter, had title to The Rock itself, which was on his property, and he was considering an offer from the developer to sell that piece of land. The developer, being a developer, planned to blow up the Rock to make it easier and more direct to continue Doremus Avenue across Rock Road. Luckily for posterity, Glen Rock Councilman J. Oscar Bunce realized that part of The Rock (18" to be exact) jutted out into Rock Road, which was county property. The Rock was saved when Mr. Bunce told the developer that he could destroy The Rock only if he did no damage to that 18". Cooler heads prevailed and The Rock was turned into one of Glen Rock's first borough parks. It now serves as the symbol of our borough as well as the borough's World War I Memorial. I like to think that the outline of the borough of Glen Rock reflects the shape of our favorite landmark (maybe if you squint a little bit).

[The Rock circa 1890 with Rock Road in the foreground]

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