A Brief History of Saddle Brook

The history of the 2.7 square miles that we know as our township experienced all of the geological transitions that took place in the present New York and northern New Jersey area.  At one time it was covered by sea water, and New York City was a chain of volcanoes.  At a later point in time, dinosaurs such as the Hadrasaur roamed the land as flying reptiles glided through the skies.

More recently, about 200,000 years ago, a succession of glaciers descended from Canada.  The last, the Wisconsin Glacier, retreated a brief 20,000 years ago.  Volumes of water from its melting façade cut channels in the land which formed a glacial lake, Lake Hackensack.  It had outer reaches as far north as Saddle Brook and ran south to Perth Amboy.  Over time, the lake drained leaving low-lying wetlands, a factor in today’s flooding problem.

Eventually, pristine forests grew and attracted wildlife:  fowl, deer, elk and mammoths.  This brought the first roving hunters-gatherers about 6,000 years ago.  In time, they formed permanent communities based on farming and hunting.  They were called the Lenni-Lenapes (original people).  The Ackensackies centered around Hackensack and the Aquakanonks centered around Passaic.  Both used the land which is now our township.

In the early 1600’s, the Dutch settled in Manhattan and westward into the northern New Jersey area around 1650.  The area thrived under the Dutch, but was invaded and taken over by the British in 1662.  Jacques Cortelyou, a surveyor, purchased the land which would become Garfield, Saddle Brook and the lands north from the Acquackanonks in 1680 and finalized the transaction with a patent granted by the British in 1685.

Boundaries moved constantly and present-day Saddle Brook was part of Essex County, Passaic County and finally Bergen County.  It was also part of a smaller county division called New Barbados.  Until 1709, Bergen County did not extend west of the Saddle River.  Saddle River Township is first mentioned in Bergen County records in 1716 in regard to bounties for killing wolves.  Over time, the Indians who succumbed to smallpox and other diseases brought by the Europeans and diminishing game, gradually disappeared.

Much of the Revolutionary War was fought in New Jersey, and its greatest figures Washington, Burr, Paine, Lafayette and Hamilton traversed Saddle River Township.  During Washington’s retreat from the British in 1776, Outwater Lane became an escape route and three future presidents Washington, Monroe and Madison were part of the retreat.

During the 1800’s, our area grew as the nation grew.  Agriculture continued to be the area’s mainstay.  Roadways were developed; and two railroads the Bergen County Short Cut, a branch of the Erie, and the New York Susquehanna began.

The Dutch culture and language, which had been dominant in the early period, diminished by 1825.  This period also witnessed the Civil War which grew out of economic rivalries and the issue of slavery.  Saddle River Township had slaves, but the practice was prohibited by State law in 1840.  Two members from our township, Samuel Vandalinda and John Ackerman, served the Union forces with distinction. 

Even though historical events have a way of overlapping, the turn of the Twentieth Century serves well as an entry point into modern times.  While still a farming community, a small business, industrial matrix grew on Market Street, Midland Avenue and Fifth Street.  Henry Fords’s “Tin Lizzie” replaced the horse-drawn vehicles, and increasingly more residents worked outside of Saddle Brook, especially in Passaic and Paterson.  Electric street lamps replaced gas lamps around 1930, and gas and oil furnaces began replacing coal furnaces.

The trolley, which traveled along South Broadway, was terminated in 1936, a victim of automobiles and Public Service busing.  Township churches, the First Reformed in the late 1890’s and Saint Philip the Apostle in 1953, would be the first of many. 

The professional police department would be formed in 1942, and schools beginning with Lincoln School in 1892 would be built to reflect educational needs.  Our Volunteer Ambulance Corps was founded in 1952 by members of our VFW Post 3484.  In 1911, men from Rochelle Park and Saddle River Township met to form the first fire company, The Rochelle Park Hook and Ladder and Hose Company.

The post World War II period would serve as a catalyst for growth as our soldiers were sent to Europe and the Pacific to destroy and returned to build, and build they did!  Farms were replaced by homes, and streets like Floral Lane which consisted of small farms and large greenhouses were almost immediately transformed.  Our own post office was dedicated in 1960, and service organizations proliferated.

Saddle River Township had grown smaller over time with Garfield seceding in 1898, East Paterson in 1916 and Fair Lawn in 1924.  Due to postal confusion with municipalities with similar names, Upper Saddle River and the Borough of Saddle River, townspeople voted to change our name to Saddle Brook. This took place in 1956.

Because of its proximity to the Garden State Parkway, Routes 46, 17, 4 and 80, our township uniquely benefits as a hub which provides townspeople with convenient access to numerous locations.  When our hotels-the Marriot, Howard Johnson and the Holiday Inn were built, people no longer had to ask where Saddle Brook was-it’s on the parkway by the Marriot!

The last existing marsh area in our township was filled with the construction of the 140 Mayhill Street Apartment Complex after the turn of this century.  Saddle Brook will continue to change with the times.  Challenges such as flooding, providing quality schooling, infrastructure, modernization and funding will be continuing endeavors.  Saddle Brook has a long history of townspeople who share and care, people who volunteer and donate.  This will continue to be our greatest asset as we face the coming years.

The Saddle Brook Historical Society is presently preparing a book containing much fascinating information, pictures and personal accounts of people who knew our township in the first half of the twentieth century.  Our amazing prehistory, the Lenapes, the Dutch, accounts of the first land purchaser as well as the evolution of our governmental and social organizations are also included.  Readers should find it an intriguing “looking glass” into our past.

Jack Wasdyke, Historian

Photography by, Howard Mulder

November 2011