A Brief History of Ridgewood
In 1698, when Johannes Van Emburgh and David Provoast purchased 250 acres of land, Ridgewood was a wilderness of trees and streams. The area was called Hochaos (now Ho-Ho-Kus) after the Native American name of the brook that runs through the Village. By 1725 the area was known as Paramus and there were enough families in the area to establish a congregation of the Reformed Church. The first church was a strategic military point during the American Revolution with troops encamped here throughout the war. George Washington visited and wrote letters here, and the Patriots and the British skirmished in the churchyard.
The area around the church and across the Saddle River (at the intersection of today's East Saddle River Road and East Glen Avenue) was the center of activity in the area for 150 years. The Old Paramus Reformed Church (built in 1800) and four other historic building still stand there today.
Ridgewood was settled primary by Jersey Dutch people who traced their ancestors to the Netherlands as well as immigrants from other European countries, who assimilated into the Dutch American culture. Their way of life was agricultural, growing crops and raising livestock to support their families and to trade in markets as far away as New York. Ridgewood had a blacksmith and there were small grist and saw mills along the streams.
Partner with the Genealogical Society of Bergen County
The first harbinger of change was the 1848 opening of the Paterson and Ramapo railroad through Ridgewood. It provided easy access to New York City making this area more attractive to wealthy businessmen and their families. In 1853, the Van Emburgh estate (greatly enlarged from that first purchase of 250 acres) came on the market and Samuel Dayton of New York City bought a large plot of the land. He built a farming estate for himself and sold land to his sons-in-law, Benjamin Franklin Robinson and Samuel Graydon, who also built large estates. Others followed quickly, taking advantage of the clean air, the healthy environment, and the beautiful surroundings.
At first the closest station was at Ho-Ho-Kus, but with the influx of commuters and the desire of owners of the Wortendyke Mill for a nearby depot, a stop was established at Ridgewood Avenue and named Godwinville Station in 1853. At the urging of Cornelia Dayton, daughter-in-law of Samuel Dayton, residents lobbied to change the name to Ridgewood. Their first success was with the Post Office Department, which established the Ridgewood Post Office in 1865. The Erie finally followed suit in 1866, changing the name of the Godwinville Station to Ridgewood and setting Ridgewood well on its way to becoming the suburb it is today.
With the coming of the railroad, the center of town moved from the Paramus Church area to the intersection of Ridgewood Avenue and the railroad tracks. Commerical development clustered east of the station. Ridgewood grew steadily, slowly supplanting farms with houses and stores.
The Village Grows
As Ridgewood grew, so too did the amenities of the Village, including the establishment of a bank in 1899. Live entertainment and movies were popular at three venues: the Opera House, the Playhouse, and the Warner Theater, which is still in use today. Graydon Park, home of Graydon Pool, was established in 1910 and is still a popular summer destination.
The first lending library was established in 1898 by a group of volunteers. The volunteer library was succeeded by a Village-supported library when the George L. Pease Memorial Library was opened in 1923. In 1962 a new library building opened to meet the growing needs of the community. That building was renovated and reopened in 1998 and today serves as a center of community life. Each year the library offers more than a thousand programs for adults and children and circulates more than 400,000 items.
The Village government has been housed in many locations over the years, but currently makes its home in the former Elks building. Ridgewood is known for its excellent school system and is still using the Beech Street School, built in 1894 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, as its administrative headquarters. Ridgewood's houses of worship have grown from 1 in 1735 to about 25 congregations today.
Downtown Historic District
The downtown historic district, built in the early twentieth century, is centered on the 1916 Mission Style Railroad station buildings. At the time the station was built, traffic was diverted from the dangerous grade crossings to an underpass on Franklin Avenue. This has served to keep the heart of the commercial district spacious and beautiful. Anchoring the western end of the district is the George L. Pease Memorial Library built in the Italian Renaissance style, and shaping the eastern side of the tracks are the Moore and Wilsey buildings, each with a distinctive tower. Farther east on Ridgewood Avenue is the Archibald-Vroom house, a rare survivor of an eighteenth century sandstone house in the downtown area. Today, the downtown historic district forms the backdrop to a vibrant shopping area, serving a population of almost 25,000.
Ridgewood's residential areas were fully developed by 1970 and all vestiges of its agricultural past were gone, replaced by housing for commuters. Many styles of residential architecture are evident in the neighborhoods. Striking individual examples include an eighteenth century Dutch sandstone house, a home designed by Henry Hudson Holly (a noted architect), and the James Rose House (built by an influential landscape architect). Streetscapes of similar or harmonious houses exist all over the Village, encompassing styles as diverse as late nineteenth century Tudor revivals and post-war cape cods. Ridgewood's history reflects in many ways, the history of our country and the history of the railroad suburbs in New Jersey.