THE SMITH-SINGER COMPANY

July 7, 2017

As the Borough Historian, I receive many questions from residents who want to know when their house was built or when their street was developed.  One of the major developers of early Glen Rock in the first decades of the 20th Century was the Smith-Singer Company, founded in 1908.  Smith-Singer homes were well designed and of sturdy construction; postcards of some of the finished houses were used to promote the borough, especially to families living in New York City looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life ("healthful, malaria-free air" was a big selling point for moving to Glen Rock and environs).  Following is a history written by Henry C. Smith (the "Smith" in "Smith-Singer") in 1950 recounting those heady early days when he and his partner, John Singer, were changing the face of this quiet farming community.  The document is part of the Glen Rock Historical & Preservation Society archives.  Any edits to the original are placed in brackets.

 

"Referring back to the incorporation of the Borough of Glen Rock it was thought by many especially by the people of Ridgewood that this was a decided step back as there was very little building in the Borough for several years following 1894, the year in which Glen Rock was incorporated.  Not until 1908 when the Smith-Singer Company was organized by Henry C. Smith and Dr. John G. Singer who both resided on South Maple Avenue, the latter on the Ridgewood side and facing Glen Rock while the former lived on the Glen Rock side.  This company started building in the Borough immediately and continued until the latter part of 1933.  This found the nation in the worst depression this country had ever known and it was thought best to dissolve the company.  The assets were divided equally between Dr. Singer and Mr. Smith, while Mr. Smith immediately formed the Henry C. Smith & Sons Company which at present [1950] is owned and operated by a son George H. Smith, while the lumber business was acquired by another son, William B. Smith and Fred H. Young, who operate this branch as the West Bergen Lumber and Supply Company.

 

During the twenty five years from 1908 to 1933, the Smith-Singer Company built about 700 houses and stores.

 

What was known as the Smith-Singer building, located corner of Rock Road and Main Street, and acquired by Dr. Singer, was built in 1912 and is a three-story building [currently a two-story building due to fire in 1973] with three stores and was in the corner store and now occupied by N. J. Schuring, while the other two stores were occupied by Simone Iudica, who was then a Shoemaker, and the other store was occupied by John Geils, as a Grocery store.  The second floor of the building contained a large public hall with stage and a dressing room on each side of same, also a Borough Clerk's office. The Borough leased the hall and police quarters on the rear of first floor for a period of five years at the rate of $400 per year together with the exclusive use of the Clerk's room. The lease covered the use of the hall every Monday night, where all public meetings were held.  Up to this time all Borough Council and School [Board] meetings were held in the old frame school house on Maple Avenue, since destroyed [the wooden School #1, where the Central School parking lot is today; it was demolished in 1939 after the Junior High School on Harristown Road was opened].

 

The hall was the general meeting place for all gatherings, social, civic, dances, etc.

 

The first property purchased and developed by the company was the Maria Ackerman property on the Northwest corner of Maple and Ackerman Avenue and the old homestead then facing Maple Avenue was moved and modernized by the company to face on Ackerman Avenue, and then sold to Mr. Frank A. Waldron who has since resided there [present house at 393 Ackerman Avenue].

 

Clifton Place was cut through from Maple to Ackerman Avenue.

 

The second and third tracts were purchased from Mrs. Agnes Walraven, about five acres on Maple Avenue, nearly opposite Clifton Place and including what is now known as Central Avenue, extension, North of Ackerman Avenue, and also ten acres located on South Highwood Avenue, extending through to and including what is now known as Sycamore Terrace.

 

The fourth tract purchased by the company was the Edwards farm consisting of 34 acres having a frontage of about 1,200 feet on Edwards Lane, then 20 feet wide later widened and renamed by the Mayor and Council Hamilton Avenue [Edwards Lane was the section of Hamilton between Rock Road and Harristown Road; the section between Maple Avenue and Broad Street was known as Eagan's Lane].  The property also had a frontage of about 1,100 feet on Harristown Road and about 450 feet on Rock Road, and through the center of this 450 feet Berkeley Place was extended from Rock Road to Emerson Road.

 

The first house built on the tract was Mr. and Mrs. Joseph J. Robinson on the corner of Berkeley Place and Emerson Road who have occupied the house ever since.

 

The fifth tract purchased by the company was from John Andrew Marinus, an old family name in Glen Rock, in the year 1911.  This tract consisted of 24 acres and had a frontage on the Eastside of Maple Avenue from Ackerman Avenue to Rock Road, and through which Carlton Place and Central Avenue were opened and Berkeley Place started.  Also Parkview Place from Maple Avenue to Central.  The first house built on Central Avenue was for Mr. & Mrs. John H. Anderson in 1915.  The triangle occupied by All Saints Church was sold to that organization in 1917.

 

The sixth tract was known as the Wilson Tract, bought from the Wilson Estate.  Through this Bedford Place was cut and the first house built thereon was for Mr. & Mrs. John Bushman in May 1921; and is still owned and occupied by Mr. Bushman [1950].

 

The seventh tract of 110 acres was purchased from the Star Eagle Company, a corporation consisting of several New York business men who had held the property for several years awaiting a development around the Main Line Station or for a profit on their investments.  George F. Brownell, Vice President of the Erie Railroad was the principal owner and President of the Star Eagle Company.

 

The Glen Rock Company, a former Real Estate Company with some holdings in Glen Rock, had built the Main Line Station without cost to the Railroad hoping to get some sort of train service, which did not materialize as there had been little building near the Main Line up to that time.

 

 

This purchase consisted of several tracts rather scattered and all West of the Bergen County tracks.  The first streets to be opened were Main and Rodney Streets.  Rock Road was very poorly paved at that time.  Bradford and Birchwood Road were next to be improved followed by Doremus Avenue, first North of Rock Road and later South of the big rock.  Then came Concord Avenue and Rutland Road to the Brook.  Then Harding Road to Hamilton Avenue, Valley Road, Austin and Sterling Place, and Oxford Place to the Brook as there was no bridge there at that time, West Main Street is also laid out from Rock Road southerly to land of the Erie Railroad Company.  This parallels Main Street only west of the tracks.

On each of these streets as soon as improved at the expense of Smith-Singer Company building operations were started and on an average the company built from 25 to 30 houses each year.

 

It was the policy of the company to continue building during good and slow times and rather than turn away a desirable prospect the company would rent the party in order that they might try out the town.  In this way many of our older and leading citizens today located in Glen Rock.

 

In all the company built about 21 stores on Rock Road and Main Street.

 

The company laid out and maintained for many years the Main Street Park [now Veterans Park] on which they erected a band stand where concerts were held on each Saturday evening during the Summer months.  These concerts were financed by public subscription.  A large sign "Watch Glen Rock Grow" on the property facing the station became a by-word and slogan.  This park was later acquired by the Borough of Glen Rock.

 

In later years the company purchased the property through which Harding Road was extended to Ackerman Avenue and Bedford Place continued to Harding Road and the creation of Ashton Place.

 

Later the Hopper tract was secured and through which Tonawanda Road, Cumberland Road, Roxbury Place, and Aberdeen Place were opened and developed.  Still later the property through which Van Allen Road passes was acquired by the company and the street named after former Mayor Charles P. Van Allen.  Of the thirty streets named by the Company, Van Allen Road is the only street named in honor of a former Glen Rock citizen.

 

Henry C. Smith was born in Brooklyn, New York, August 1st, 1870.  Moving to Ridgewood in April 1901 with his wife and three children while in 1908 the family moved across the street on South Maple Avenue, and into Glen Rock where they lived until 1915 when the company purchased the Cobb fruit farm on Rock Road adjoining the Community Church.  Three additional children were born, two in Ridgewood, and one in Glen Rock.

 

A son George H. Smith living on Oxford Place since 1921, was elected Borough Assessor and also appointed Building Inspector by the Mayor and Council in 1945, succeeding Mr. A. J. Hubschmitt who had served the Borough in this capacity for years.

 

Dr. John G. Singer and family moved to Ridgewood in 1907 from Brooklyn, New York and now [1950] resides on Rutland Road, Glen Rock.

 

As heretofore stated they formed the Smith-Singer Company in 1908."

 

 

[signed] Henry C. Smith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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