The Northwest Bergen History Coalition
6th Annual History Day
Theme: Spreading the News: Rail, Mail & the Press in Days Gone By
Special Exhibitions at each Museum
Come discover how we communicated when letter were left at the local inn, when postcards were our ‘twitter feed’ and the operator listened to all our calls on the party line. See how mail was delivered by train and what our local newspapers were like in 1900.
I took a day out of touring in the city to tour my own county, Bergen County, New Jersey is rich in Revolutionary, Civil and WWI &II history yet we still have a big link to our Colonial past in each town in Bergen County.
The unfortunate part of this tour is that it only covers a small portion of the county and it was hard to get to all of the sites in one day and really see them once a docent took over. I just didn’t want to leave the sites quickly because each tour was special in its own way.
I got off to a late start and got lost in Ridgewood because the Map Quest was not very good in describing the location of the first site on the west side of Route 17 South on the Ridgewood side of the highway. From there it just got easier.
My first stop was at the Schoolhouse Museum at 650 East Glen Avenue in Ridgewood, NJ (see my reviews on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). This quirky little school house sits at the edge of a vast cemetery next to Route 17 South in Ridgewood.
The School House Museum, built in 1872, is maintained by the Ridgewood Historical Society. This year’s exhibit is ‘Farm to Home: Exploring Our Agrarian Roots with Artifacts from the 18th and 19th Centuries’. Objects on display include early Dutch artifacts, farm tools, home furnishings, quilts, coverlets, pottery and tin ware. During the Spring, there will also be a special small exhibit featuring letters and writing tools as well as newspapers communicating important events. For History Day only, a letter from George Washington will be on display. The current exhibition is called ‘Farm & Home: Exploring our Agrarian Roots with Artifacts from the 18th & 19th centuries’. The museum is open from 1:00pm-3:00pm on Thursdays and Saturdays and 2:00pm-4:00pm on Sundays.
Schoolhouse Museum in Ridgewood
I bought my pass here to start the tour and a nice donation of $10.00 let me into all the sites on the tour. Since I was the first one to the museum, I got a personal tour by Dot, a retired teacher from Ridgewood who taught in Hasbrouck Heights. It’s a small world.
The Schoolhouse Museum is a step back into Bergen County’s rural past with many interesting displays from the Lenape Indians who first lived in the area and taught the Dutch how to farm and fish to early Colonial clothing and its purpose when working. The displays were beautifully presented and well noted by their cards. The section on cooking utensils and their changes over time with modernization was interesting. How to bake on an open hearth versus a modern cast iron grill is the difference from a rotary phone to a smartphone.
The fact that many of these items came from people’s basements and private dwellings was the most interesting part. That people kept these heirlooms for so long and then gave them up when they moved and donated them to the museum really tells the story of Ridgewood’s farming past.
We had good conversation for over an hour and the ladies volunteering that day invited me back in the future and then provided me with chocolate bites and bottled water, which I thought was a nice touch.
My next stop on the tour was The Hermitage located at 335 North Franklin Turnpike in Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey (see my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The old homestead sits on a rather large parcel in the middle of a residential and commercial area that shows how time has progressed on in this town.
The Hermitage in Ho Ho Kus, NJ
The Hermitage, a National Historic Landmark and house museum, incorporates an 18th century stone house that was visited during the Revolutionary War by General George Washington. It was also the site of the marriage of Aaron Burr and Theodosia Prevost. Its picturesque Gothic Design dates to the 1847-48 Gothic Revival renovation by architect William Ranlett for Elijah Rosencrantz. The house was willed to the State of New Jersey by his granddaughter Mary Elizabeth in 1970 and is furnished as it appeared in the 1890’s. A special exhibition in the 1888 summer kitchen honors the legacy of Bergen County historian, Claire K. Tholl. Her maps, books and drawings are on display.
Bumping your head on some of these tours is easy as parts of the homes visited were built when people must have been smaller. When you start the tour of the Hermitage, you enter through the kitchen which was built in the late 1700’s and it is small. The rest of the house was built before the Civil War with high ceilings and a more Victorian flair. The rest of the house had been modernized in the 1920’s.
The later history was hardly the glory days of when Aaron Burr married there. The last of the Rosencrantz descendants had gone broke after the Crash and their source of income which was a tearoom to traveling tourists from New York City when the Franklin Turnpike was a major thoroughfare, had dried up as fewer cars were traveling through the area. It had gotten to the point where the family was living in the back room of the house and the rest of the house was shut down. The house is still in need of a lot of repairs so donations are accepted by the foundation. It is an unique house with an interesting history so take the time and tour the house in detail.
The next home on the tour was The John Fell House at 475 Franklin Turnpike in Allendale, New Jersey (see my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The house was vacated by the former owner and was scheduled to be knocked down for townhouses. The community rallied together and saved the house from the wrecking ball. Now the house is being renovated room by room to its former glory.
The John Fell House in Allendale, NJ
The historic John Fell House is named in recognition of Founding Father, John Fell, a revolutionary war patriot, who purchased the property circa 1766. The house was also home to Colonel Joseph Warner Allen, a Civil War hero for whom Allendale is named.
This 22 room Colonial Revival mansion was home to a Founding Father, a Civil War Colonel and a Sunday School that led to the first church in Allendale. The stately house is set on a hill on 2.8 acres near the center of town. The property also includes a late 19th Century Barn, exceptional wetlands and a stand of old-growth.
The history is very unique. John Fell led the local resistance movement against the British. He was arrested at the house by 25 armed Loyalist and imprisoned in New York City, where he kept a secret diary documenting the British Army’s horrific treatment of American prisoners of war. Located across the street from the house is the Celery Farm Natural Area, 107 acres of wetlands and woods originally known as “Wolf Swamp” and later “Fell’s Meadows”, which was originally part of the Fell estate.
The home, which was built circa 1760 and originally called Peterfield, has had several subsequent owners, including John H. Thompson, John G. Ackerman, the Stephen Cable family and the Joseph B. Taylor family, who enlarged it in the Colonial Revival style in the early 1900’s. Colonel Joseph Warner Allen for whom Allendale is named, stayed at the house while he surveyed the route for the Paterson-Ramapo Railroad. He was a key New Jersey figure at the beginning of the Civil War. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Exhibits will include recreations of early 18th and 19th century broadsides, early local 20th century newspapers featuring historic military news, copies of historic letters, photos and railroad news. Jim Wright gave a brief talk and a slide show on “Revolutionary Communications: Getting the Word Out in John Fell’s Day.”
The Fell House is owned and operated by the Concerned Citizens of Allendale, a 501(c) 3 nonprofit group, which saved the house looked mostly modern to me as it had just been lived in by a family before the sale. The exterior of the house needs lots of work saved the property from being bulldozed to make way for a controversial townhouse development. The house is home to a tearoom, community events, school events, nature programs and an annual holiday open house.
The organization has also developed several history programs that inform the public and students about the history of the John Fell House, including reenactments of his arrest at the house. During every open house, docents inform visitors of the timeline of the house and its important role in American history. Historic preservationists have studied the house and produced a Preservation Plan that document the history of the home, barn and landscape while suggesting how to best restore, preserve and maintain the house and property. As a member of the Northwest Bergen History Coalition, the organization works with eight other historical sites to encourage both children and adults to learn about the region’s amazing history. (The Historic John Fell House Pamphlet)
The house tour was very interesting and the docents lead some of us to the outside grounds to show some of us some new discoveries such as an old well that was discovered. The only problem with the tour was that house was modernized for current times as it was a private home until just recently and needs more period furniture and decorations to it. While the outside looks historical on the outside, the interior is quite modern. The Fell House has a rich history but is a work in progress. It is still worth the trip just to see the grounds and hear about its rich history.
The next site on the tour was The Waldwick Signal Tower, which had just finished a renovation (see my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). The tower sits in a rather obscure place by the railroad tracks up the tracks from the station. You have to make several twists and turns to get to the tower.
Waldwick Signal Tower in Waldwick, NJ
Built in 1890 by the New York Lake Erie and Western Railroad, the Waldwick Signal Tower was the key to the movement of railroad traffic within the newly created yard facility. Eventually it also handled 4 tracks of heavy m service on the Erie’s route between New York and Chicago. Manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week for over 50 years, it was also the hub for maintenance of the signal systems between Ridgewood, NJ and Suffern, NY. The tower museum is dedicated to the railroad workers of the area and educates visitors about the variety of jobs and operations of the Waldwick Facility. Check http://www.allaboardwaldwick.org for a schedule of events. (Historical pamphlet)
Waldwick’s Train Signal tower is both historically and architecturally significant. It is a rare historical treasure for its residents and railroad enthusiasts from far and wide. Before the turn of 20th Century, the Waldwick rail yard was an active repair depot and turn station for the Erie Main Line from Jersey City, NJ to Port Jervis, NY and was a major employer in Waldwick thus contributing to the bough’s residential and commercial growth.
The ornate Queen Anne style building was built in 1890 and housed the mechanism connecting switches and signals allowing trains to safely move from one track to another. The tower men who operated the switches by hand had a great power indeed in their time. By the mid 1980’s upgrades in computerized signal equipment warranted the elimination of the tower.
The tower was slated for demolition in June 1987. The Waldwick Historical Society members led by Kay Williams campaigned to place the tower on The National Registry of Historical Places. This accomplishment allowed the tower to at least stay dormant till the next wave of enthusiasts came along in 1999. Michael Brunkhorst and Glen Corbett banded together a group of citizens to form the All Aboard committee of Waldwick’s Historical Society. Curtis Springstead of Wanaque who is the great-great grandson of the reknowned locomotive engineer Harvey Springstead, got wind of the tower’s trials. He stepped up to the plate and purchased the tower for $6,000 then gave the Tower to the Borough of Waldwick as a gift to preserve for future generations in honor of the trainman’s family name. The small All Aboard group set out to create awareness of the tower’s existence and it’s plight.
Before long, fund drives were organized and grant applications were filed. The response of the number of supporters including Mr. Robert Keeble have given this project a solid start. Meticulous measures are currently being made can now be witnessed at the track end of Bohnert Place, to maintain the tower’s historic authenticity. Attention is being given to the placement of exact shaped decorative shingles and the repair and replacement of the original slate roof are among the initial stage of it’s restoration.
Mission Statement: The All Aboard continues seeking membership and financial support to complete the tower with the vision of becoming “The Harvey Springstead Memorial Tower at Waldwick” for generations of Waldwick citizens and for rail enthusiasts everywhere. If funding continues the tower is sure to be the pride of Waldwick with time and care. (All Aboard Pamphlet of the Waldwick Historical Society).
I was the only one at the tower that part of the afternoon. It was a colorfully decorated tower full of pictures and timelines. The docent who was there that afternoon could not believe the number of visitors that the tower was getting that afternoon. I told him if it were not for the tour, I would have never known the tower even existed. The history of the tower and how it played a role in the town of Waldwick. It was considered very innovative at that time. The fact that it was still being used into the 80’s was pretty amazing. Now they want to bring back some of the equipment that was being used at the time that is just sitting in warehouses. It will be an interesting place to revisit once those items are put into place.
I double backed on the tour with only an hour left and I went to the Zabriskie House at 421 Franklin Avenue in Wyckoff, New Jersey (See my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). This old home is a combination of historic home and modern day living as it was in the family’s hands until 1973.
Zabriskie House in Wyckoff, NJ
The original stone structure of the house was built by William Van Voor Haze in 1730 on a 550 acre of tract of land and is believed to be the oldest house in Wyckoff. Prior to 1806, a small parcel of land was purchased from William’s son and heir, Albert, to build the Wyckoff Reformed Church. In 1824, Albert completed a major addition to the house in the classically Dutch Colonial style and the original section of the home became the dining room.
The house was purchased by Uriah Quackenbush in 1867 and was willed to his granddaughter, Grace Quackenbush Zabriskie, the wife of the late County Judge John B. Zabriskie. In 1964, Mrs. Zabriskie, the last resident owner, donated the pond and the surrounding acreage to the township of Wyckoff. Upon her death in 1973, she bequeathed the house and the antique furnishings to the town. Throughout its history, the Zabriskie House has been used, at different times, as a village store, a candy store, a tavern, a hotel and a ballroom.
Under the guidance of the house’s Trustees, the Zabriskie House is continuing restoration for future generations to enjoy. The Trustees have recently overseen extensive work on the porch and stairs, re-oiling of the roof, stone step repairs and limited gutter installation. Children can try colonial toys and all can guess the at the ‘What It’ table.
This was one of the quickest tours I went on as the house was closing down for the day and I was in the kitchen looking at one of the docent’s daughter’s wedding pictures. I excused myself and walked through out the house. It had been left the way it had when Mrs. Zabriskie was still living there. There were many antiques mixed in with the modern furniture. Nothing remains of the original owners but the docents told me that a clock was still in the house from the Quackenbush family. Most everything left in the house was owned by Mrs. Zabriskie.
The docents described all the rooms to me and how the house was added on through the years. Watch your head as some of the places have low ceilings. The kitchen really gives you an idea of how old the home really is in comparison to the rest of the house. It was a nice mix of the old and the new. At the end of the tour, the members of their Friends group had the nicest selection of homemade treats and lemonade. It was nice to talk to members and what goals they have for the house. It looks over the pond in the park next door and is a picturesque view.
I had just enough time to visit my last house, the Van Allen House at 3 Franklin Avenue (corner of Route 202 & Franklin Avenue) in Oakland, New Jersey. Most of the volunteers were leaving for the day but let me still walk around as many of them were talking around a table. The house is falling apart and the grounds are over-grown.
Van Allen House in Oakland, NJ
The Van Allen House was host to George Washington and troops on July 14, 1777 and helped get word to his field officers by allowing him to compose documents there which were dispatched by carriers along the Ramapo Valley trail, now Route 202. In 1915-1919 owners of the Van Allen House and builders of the Stream House adjacent were the publishers and editors of the Sussex Register of Newton, NJ. Edward Page often published trade and economic articles in the NY Times, inspiring his son Allen to take over the Sussex Register until Allen’s death in 1917, passing on ownership to the father Edward until he died 12/26/1918. The Sussex Register joined the NJ Herald in 1928. (Tour Pamphlet)
I was able to tour the Van Allen House and grounds on my own. Most of the docents were relaxing after a long day. I walked up and around the house and there was not much to see as the house needed a serious renovation. The new roof had just been put on the house but there still were leeks in it. The grounds were loaded with weeds and was in need of a good landscaper. The one thing the house had going for it was their gift shop. They had the most interesting sewn dolls that one of the members makes and they had a beautiful selection of Christmas ornaments.
One the Van Allen house goes through some form of restoration, it will really be a jewel on the tour as it sits on a nice piece of land that was part of the original estate.
Overall it was a nice tour of the historical sites and gave me a real insight to old Bergen County when it was still called Franklin Township that was formed in 1771. The population was small. The families who lived here all knew one another , worshipped together and intermarried. It showed the important role that Bergen County played in the American Revolution. If you are able to take time out to visit these sites, you will be pleasantly surprised on what you will learn. I did not realize how much history was right in the neighborhood. (Tour Pamphlet)
Don’t miss this amazing tour of Historical sites in Northern Bergen Country each May.