PUNKIN DUSTER FINDS THE WOODCHUCK BOROUGH
A Centennial Review of Bergen County Borough Fever 1894-95
by Kevin Wright

Part Two

School districts embracing the old river and railroad hamlets of Oradell and New Milford, River Edge, Cherry Hill and New Bridge spanned the Hackensack River, thereby crossing township lines. In February 1893, citizens of New Milford and Peetzburgh, situated on opposite sides of the river, fought over division of Oradell School District No. 29. Peetzburgh, a suburban tract developed by Gustav Peetz and settled mainly by German immigrants, was ready for a school of its own. Oradell and New Milford residents were miffed however when Peetzburgh demanded all of the school district lying within Palisade Township and thus captured the Hackensack Water Works, the district's largest tax ratable, by a bare majority vote at a public meeting.1 In March 1893, Peetzburgh took another step toward Home Rule by forming one of the separate new road districts in Palisade Township, enabling it to spend its road tax to overcome mud roads that were hub-deep in some places and impassable to loaded vehicles.

Peetzburgh was left "the big fish in the little pond" of Palisade Township when Tenafly, its largest village, seceded in January 1894. As resentments simmered, fracture lines began to radiate outward from the new borough. On February 9, 1894, The Bergen Democrat reported that "Cresskill is beginning to sound the note of revolt against Peetzburgh domination, and the village will probably follow the example of Tenafly and leave the Dutch 'to flock by itself."2 Sixteen Cresskill property owners (representing $26,250 in valuation) applied for a borough referendum and departed Palisade Township on May 8, 1894. Almost immediately, the "more progressive residents" of Closter expressed their interest in "a form of government which will build up the place."

The boundaries of School District No. 61, Ridgewood, were considerably enlarged in March 1894 by addition of territory from the Midland Park and Ridgewood Grove Districts. In about a year's time, the Grove District was to be entirely abolished as Ridgewood absorbed that portion lying within Ridgewood Township and the Fairlawn School District absorbed that portion lying in Saddle River Township. Ridgewood planned to concentrate the consolidated district's scholars in a central, three-story, brick school house to be built on Beech Street (now Cottage Place) and Franklin Avenue.

The cost of road improvements also threatened to rupture the old townships through sectional discontent. Beginning about 1890, macadamized roads gained in favor throughout eastern Bergen County as the suburban townships of Englewood, Ridgefield and Palisade divided their territories into road districts, each district raising its own fund and thereby macadamizing the greater part of its highways.3 Townships in central and western Bergen County lagged far behind their eastern neighbors in this regard and so eagerly sought the County Freeholders, acting under the new state road law, to adopt certain leading highways as county roads and to bond the county for macadamizing them. This scheme was defeated by complaint of the eastern sections but the controversy hastened a general desire for macadamized roads. The total amount of road money raised by direct levy and bonding from 1890 to 1893 inclusive amounted to $651,535. The amount of bonded indebtedness directly for macadam included in that sum was $302,000, divided as follows: Hackensack, $60,000; Orvil, $30,000; Ridgewood, $50,000; Rutherford, $50,000; Saddle River, $90,000; Union, $42,000. Figures show that Bergen county raised $686,500 for roads in four years by direct tax and bonding, and an additional $80,000 was expended on public highways by private parties (most notably, by Theodore A. Havemeyer of Mountainside Farms in Mahwah and Judge W. W. Phelps of Teaneck).

Expenditure of road moneys was a source of discord in Boiling Springs Township where, in December 1893, sixteen residents called a public meeting to "cut loose from Carlton Hill" by incorporating a borough. These separatists believed that "Carlton Hill receives 1/2 the road appropriations whilst it paid 1/3." Carlton Hill4 possessed a school, a post office and other advantages of its own and residents' opposition to the borough scheme was encouraged by merchants in the City of Passaic, on the west side of the river, who wanted to control the trade of the hill district. Consequently, a counter offer proposed formation of a borough to include Carlton Hill, Passaic Park and Wallington on the river front in Bergen County; others suggested that Carlton Hill form a borough by itself. The township resisted subdivision, however, and the proposed new borough, to be called East Rutherford, extended between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers, bounded south by the Erie Railroad and north by the Paterson Plank Road. When voters of Boiling Springs Township, "anxious to attain the dignity of a borough and stand on an equal footing with Rutherford," 5 approved incorporation of East Rutherford on March 6, 1894 by vote of 240 to 37, "serenaders marched through town headed with drums and fish horns and the night was made hideous."

Beginning in October 1893, Midland Township was exercised by a proposal to complete the work of macadamizing its remaining twenty-two miles of dirt roads by bonding for $75,000. Four years earlier, the Midland Township Committee had discarded the old haphazard system of road maintenance and adopted a plan of raising the sum of $5,000 per annum by taxation to macadamize. Some taxpayers preferred to bond the township while others wanted to double the annual appropriation. Washington Township also began to talk of bonding while Franklin Township remained indifferent, offering "the excuse of natural gravel roads." 6

In February 1894, the Midland Township Committee abandoned the proposal to bond for $75,000, returning to their original plan of raising $50,000 to macadamize only the main highways. With reduction in the proposed mileage to be worked, engineer Leslie Menger attempted "to give each section of the township a fair proportion of the outlay." Under this plan, annual payments over twenty years averaged about $4,000. There was no pleasing everyone and this compromise proved short-lived. The Maywood section resented the exclusion of Maywood Avenue north of Essex Street. The Hackensack Republican flatly stated that "the proposition to bond Midland township for the purpose of macadamizing about fifteen miles of public highways does not meet the approval of certain citizens of New Milford and Oradell, for the reason as we are informed, that the schedule of roads to be worked does not recognize the two communities to the satisfaction of all the inhabitants, and the dissatisfied ones seek relief from what they believe will be onerous taxation by moving for incorporation as a borough." 7 According to the dissenters' calculations, the area within their proposed municipal limits "pays about $2,400 road tax and gets about $600 worth of road work, which is unsatisfactory to those who are moving for a borough; they point out that the borough will include the Hackensack Water Works, paying tax on a large assessment, which will make the general tax levy comparatively light." But some taxpayers within the proposed borough limits regarded incorporation "as a thing hedged about by mysteries" and feared its hidden costs. And what about a name? C. H. Storms suggested combining the last syllables of Oradell and New Milford but could not decide whether it should be spelled Delford or Dellford. Finally, on February 23, 1894, a petition with the requisite number of signatures was presented to Judge James M. Van Valen, Presiding Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and signed by him. Almost half ($15,000) of the taxable property represented on the Delford petition ($31,000) came from inclusion of the Oradell Land Improvement Company under the signatures of Elmer Blauvelt, president, and James C. Blauvelt, secretary.

On March 1, 1894, The Hackensack Republican observed that the macadamization question in Midland Township "appears to have produced a peculiar effect upon those residents who live along the River Road section.8 This includes all the principal villages: Cherry Hill, New Milford, River Edge, Oradell." The reporter explained that a "contest" had been going on for years "between the River Road and Paramus people for prestige in control of township affairs, with the advantage generally in favor of Paramus." Property owners along Kinderkamack Road opposed bonding and instead favored doubling the annual road tax for five years to achieve the same benefit without indebtedness. As New Milford and Oradell jointly sought borough incorporation, some of their neighbors to the south began agitating a similar movement to incorporate a borough out of parts of Fairmount, Cherry Hill, River Edge and New Bridge. Residents of Fairmount strongly opposed joining with River Edge and Cherry Hill, fearing higher taxes. Such fears did not dampen the enthusiasm of other communities and the Republican averred "the chief reason why Delford, Westwood, Hillsdale and Park Ridge want to become boroughs is that they may avoid what is feared will be heavy macadam tax." Unfortunately, it remained to be seen whether incorporation implied "a determination on the part of boroughites not to improve roads in their own limits." 9

On March 5, 1894 in the Oradell Lecture Room, voters of Oradell and New Milford voted (89 to 29) in favor of combining their villages into the borough of Delford. To settle the score and retrieve tax revenues on the Water Company property from Peetzburgh, this portion of Palisade Township lying east of the Hackensack River was included within Delford's limits and, for that reason, the legitimacy of Delford's birth was immediately called into question: Judge Van Valen held that there was no provision in the law sanctioning the formation of a borough from parts of more than one township. Delford, therefore, appeared to be stillborn until the State legislature revived its existence.

Whether the controversy of the moment dealt with schools or roads, suburban communities demanded exclusive management of their own revenues and resources. The so-called "old settlers" or Punkin Dusters (farmers for the most part) opposed boroughites out of fear of rising taxation for improvements that exclusively benefited commuter villages. Some feared such new financial devices as "bonding" with its connotations of borrowing against the future and living in debt. The divide was politicized as Commuters identified with the Republican party and many farmers clung to Jeffersonian-Jacksonian Democracy. The rush toward boroughization gained a new head of steam in April 1894 as the Legislature debated an act permitting the consolidation of two villages by popular referendum. On April 26th, the Republican announced "legislation is under way that will remove existing obstacles to forming the borough of Delford upon the original lines, and it is believed that this will soon be carried through." The consequences of casting special legislation under guise of a general law soon became patent. The Supplement to the Borough Act, enacted May 9, 1894, not only provided for the formation of a borough from parts of two or more townships, but it actually encouraged such civic cobbling by entitling composite municipalities to a representative on the County Board of Chosen Freeholders.10 Hungry partisans now helped themselves to slices of neighboring townships to form boroughs that guaranteed another Freeholder for their party and, by this means, Republicans and Democrats contested control of Bergen County government. On June 14, 1894, The Hackensack Republican noted that "borough mania continues to spread in Bergen County and the possibilities are that it will not be checked in some time." Boroughitis was "assuming the force of rivalry between communities to determine which shall be the big fish and swallow its smaller neighbor, the contest not tending toward a survival of the fittest, however, so much as demonstrating which community has the smartest leaders."

Political ambition enflamed Borough Fever in other ways. According to The Paterson Guardian, "the most potent cause for the change of government is the increased number of public offices created." The Guardian calculated that, within the span of only six weeks, attempts were made to incorporate "not less than 30 municipalities" from twelve out of the sixteen townships of Bergen County. Since each new borough would have at least eleven offices to fill, this created "220 additional posts for the bosses to hitch their followers to." Counting new Freeholders from each municipality and a host of minor appointive positions, the Guardian's mathematician came up with a "list of 250 servants of the people necessary to guide the affairs of these woodchuck boroughs, not including school trustees that each municipality will have to elect when the new school law goes into effect after July 1." The Bergen Index was even more expansive in its estimates on June 30, 1894: "Counting the boroughs already organized and those in prospect, Bergen county will have at least 300 more public office holders at the close of 1894 than she had at the beginning of the year."

There was no stopping the commuter train. In late April, citizens of Westwood filed a petition with Judge Van Valen seeking a borough referendum. On April 26th, The Hackensack Republican noted how Westwood boroughites had "carried their scheme through very quietly with the reported purpose of heading off Hillsdale and avoiding opposition that often follows agitation." It was "a feeling of dissatisfaction for a long period" that prompted Westwoodians: since "they paid a large proportion of the taxes levied, they wanted the management and use of their own funds." The borough election was held at Odd Fellows Hall, Westwood, on May 8th. In response, Hillsdale became "restless under the prestige gained by Westwood, and it is expected that some of its residents will apply to the legislature for a city charter." 11

On April 5, 1894, the Republican counted Fort Lee and Leonia among the communities seeking independence. An election in the last week of April to decide borough incorporation for Coytesville was defeated, 69 to 58. There was "much excitement over the matter and charges were made that illegal voters were run in from the [Susquehanna] tunnel." On June 4, 1894, the borough movement in Shadyside was "ploughed under by a majority of 32 [votes]..."

On April 13th, Park Ridge commuters filed papers for an election on the question of borough incorporation. This attempt "revealed considerable opposition on account of the boundaries." Montvale, part of the school district, was excluded from the limits of the proposed borough. The contest at Park Ridge was to be hard fought as the "old settlers object to a borough and will marshall their forces, while Justice [William B.] Smith is marshalling the boroughites." Naturally, opponents believed that Justice Smith "would not refuse the title of mayor." And so Park Ridge became "a camp where Punkin-Duster and Commuter brandish weapons at each other, jangling dreadful armor with all the din of horrid conflict." 12 The new comers, called Commuters, had always been worsted in battles at the polls until March, "when with the aid of the women, they carried the school election against the old-time natives, or Punkin-Dusters." Having tasted victory, the Commuters started a borough movement. On May 14, 1894, voters at Forresters Hall in Park Ridge chose borough incorporation by a vote of 95 to 49. Punkin Dusters were startled by the two-to-one victory. On May 25th, a local reporter for The Bergen Democrat observed that "Woodcliff is left out of the borough limits [of Park Ridge] and, we understand, the people are glad of it." But Washington Township had cracked asunder and everyone was out to grab the spoils. Over in Eastwood, posted notices announcing a borough referendum were suddenly torn down when a change in the proposed boundary lines was quietly made in the third week of May so as to include a part of Harrington Township and thereby gain a Freeholder. Eastwood's boundaries were the artwork of Edward C. Sarson, the rural Democratic boss. On May 31, 1894, The Hackensack Republican criticized this blatantly political concoction, reporting: "There is an idea abroad that the township lines have been run in zig-zag circuitousness to take in and exclude voters for partisan purposes: in other words, merely to meet the wishes of the Democratic clique that is hungry for office and sees no other method of gratifying its desires." The Bergen Index elaborated further:

A very peculiar feature of the Eastwood contest is the survey on which the dividing line for the new borough has been drawn. One has been taken to include the Midvale school house in the borough limits, but turns and angles, like an Ionian key, cut out the residences of colored people, so that only white people occupy the proposed borough. This boundary was defined by Edward Sarson, the Democratic boss. John J. Bogert, a Republican, who has negro tenants, to get even with the opposite party, has made arrangements to move the "n****r" tenement to another corner of his lot. This will enable his tenants to be voters. A large tenement will also be built by Farmer Bogert, as a color line protest against the Democrats.

The Eastwood election succeeded by vote of 56 to 23 but it was a noisy affair. Eastwood's twelve Republicans put up a fight and outsiders joined the fray. The gerrymandered new borough "excluded the house of John Heck and also several other staunch Republicans" who lived in the neighborhood. Heck, an active worker in Methodist societies, "threatened three hotelkeepers with a revocation of their licenses if they dared to vote for incorporation." On complaint of Blauvelt Post, Heck was arrested.

Republicans had worked hard to secure a majority of the Board of Chosen Freeholders by electing a Republican, Jacob Van Buskirk, from the new Borough of Delford. Eastwood's birth was therefore most timely; simply put, the guaranteed Democrat from Eastwood balanced the Republican from Delford "so that when the Freeholders meet in July they will be stronger by two votes, but the party standing will be the same." 13

Seeking to equalize educational opportunities among poorer or richer, rural or suburban school districts, the Township School Law, enacted May 25, 1894, provided for consolidation of all school districts within any township into a single consolidated district to be managed by a nine-member Board of Education. Each city, borough and incorporated town was to become a district unto itself. County Superintendents would apportion State school money to each consolidated district as follows: a sum equal to $200 for each full-time teacher; one-half of the remainder of the school moneys belonging to the county on the basis of the aggregate attendance of all children registered in a school district according to report of the State Superintendent; and the balance on the basis of the last public school census. This new system of apportionment replaced the payment of flat fees per teacher ($275) and per child ($375). The editor of The Hackensack Republican thought: "Some schools will fare well under this division while others will not do so well." Starting June 1894, Bergen County received $60,172.56 in State school money. Apportionment under the new school law allowed $270 per child to each district having less than 30 children, $310 per child to each district having 30 to 44 children, and $370 per child to each district having 45 or more children. Some wealthier suburban districts, however, circumvented the purpose of the law by using the amended Borough Act to incorporate separate municipalities and school districts.

Maywood was another booming suburban community agitated by the need for its own modern school house. On February 5, 1894, about 80 citizens met at the Spring Valley school house and voted to accept several lots offered by Gustav Peetz on Maywood Avenue and to move the school of District No. 28 (known as the Spring Valley School) to that location. Edgar D. Howland led the rural opposition, arguing that "the proposed location was far from the centre of population, on one side of the district, and would compel some of the children to travel a great distance." After two tied ballots, school trustees approved moving the school by majority of a single vote. Spring Valley residents refused to accept this outcome and joined residents of Maywood in petitioning for a division of the district. The new boundary line was set in the center of the (Spring Valley) road leading from Fairmount to Spring Valley. Being "troubled over the school matter," Maywood residents petitioned for a borough of their own encompassing that portion of Midland Township lately laid out and built up as Maywood Park by Gustav Peetz. Borough promoters won the special election at the Maywood Clubhouse on June 29, 1894 with ease; it was openly stated that the new township school law "prompted this election."

Summoned by their school trustees and the village board of Carlstadt, about 130 residents attended a public meeting on June 1, 1894, to consider the question of incorporation. Professor John Oehler denounced the proposed consolidation of all the school districts in each township and the centralization of their respective indebtedness and obligations by reciting a litany of reasons to seek "Home Rule":

Possibly the outside trustees might object to and decide against German being taught in the Carlstadt schools. Perhaps it may be objected that Carlstadt paid the principal more than the other principals received. Mediocrity would take the place of excellence. To unite in a joint scheme where other schools were deep in debt would be a financial disaster to Carlstadt.

In closing, Professor Oehler urged that they separate their school district from the remainder of the township and thereby secure the expenditure of local taxation at home. "This," he loudly protested, "was not a selfish movement but a question of expediency." On June 27, 1894, polls opened at the Carlstadt schools where 173 voted in favor of incorporation with 29 opposed. John Oehler, Carlstadt's champion of boroughism, was so absorbed in his thoughts on election day that he reportedly startled a waiter in a local restaurant by ordering "a plate of borough."

Carlstadt's independence movement troubled and inspired its neighbors. The people of Little Ferry suddenly felt their desire for a borough and, according to The Bergen Democrat, "there seems to be no end of the craze in Bergen County." Proponents in Little Ferry wanted to include the brickyards east of Sand Hill, running the boundary down to the Hackensack River and then to Bellman's Creek, to a point near the Moonachie road, thereby adding "part of the swamp" in New Barbadoes to their section of Lodi Township in order to secure the coveted Freeholder. They argued "that Little Ferry would have control of taxes raised in this section, where as heretofore Carlstadt has taken the bulk of the funds raised." When the new borough was formed, there would be nothing left of Lodi township but Lodi village and the Risers. Since Lodi was talking borough, Lodi Township would finally be reduced to the Risers and the editor concluded that "the swamp angels will have nobody to fight but themselves." Lemuel Lozier made the necessary survey with the understanding that he should follow the boundaries of the school district; he completed his work by August 1st. When the Little Ferry petition had nearly enough signatures, the people of Moonachie were reportedly anxious to join. The application was presented to Judge Van Valen on September 4th and the election for incorporation of the Borough of Little Ferry, encompassing 1.62 square miles, was held September 18, 1894, at Louis Bausbeck's (formerly Charles Marshall's) Hotel. The borough question carried by vote of 70 to 2.

According to the Democrat of June 19, 1894, borough fever also struck Woodridge, "but the intention is not to form an independent government." Citizens of Woodridge apparently hoped "to annex jointly with New Carlstadt and become part of the borough just created which would make it one of the largest in the county." New Carlstadt comprised that portion of the present Borough of Carlstadt lying northeast of Division Avenue and northwest of the Hackensack Road (Terrace Avenue). Borough advocates were also hard at work in Hasbrouck Heights where, according to report in The Bergen Democrat on June 22, 1894: "The new school law is at the bottom of it: some hold that this law obliges the township generally to assume the bonded indebtedness now existing upon districts, notably in the villages of Lodi and Little Ferry, while the home school house has little if any debt at all. The argument is gaining ground."

Loss of territory to the boroughs of Tenafly, Cresskill and Delford ignited a feeding frenzy over the carcass of Palisade township. Schraalenburgh wanted to become a borough, an act that would require including a part of Bergen Fields. Instinctively, the latter community "hustled itself" and on June 8, 1894, filed petition with Judge Van Valen praying for incorporation of the Borough of Bergenfield, thereby precluding any loss of territory to Schraalenburgh. An overwhelming majority (83 to 1) approved borough government for Bergenfield on Monday, June 25, 1894. Ex-Senator Cornelius S. Cooper, the prime mover behind the Schraalenburgh initiative, was now forced to looked westward in his search for suitable boundaries. Cooper proposed incorporation of the Borough of Kensington ("thus obliterating another good old native name"), encompassing what is now Dumont but extending westward to the Hackensack River, taking in the Peetzburgh and River Edge (or Old Bridge) sections of what is now New Milford, south to Henley Avenue. By including parts of Harrington and Palisade Townships, Kensington promoters tried to gain the much coveted Freeholder.14 In the election held at Andrew Stroh's meat market in Schraalenburgh on June 29, 1894, the proposed Borough of Kensington went down to defeat at the hands of Peetzburghers who wanted a borough of their own, the question losing 65 ayes to 73 nays.

On June 16, 1894, The Bergen Index reported that Cherry Hill and River Edge had also taken the necessary steps to form a borough which, upon incorporation, would be known as Riverside. It claimed that "the contention here is not the matter of electing a freeholder, but the school question." The Republican described the chain reaction:

River Edge is in labor over the important question [of borough incorporation]. Not so much because River Edge wants to be a borough as for the reason that Peetzburgh is holding meetings and squabbling over a borough proposition that includes a part of River Edge. If there is one thing River Edge is thrown into convulsions over it is the thought of having a part of its territory included in a municipality the controlling power of which lies east of the river. Therefore River Edge is awake, its leaders are doing some deep and quick thinking, keeping one eye and a half on the situation in Peetzburgh; and as an outcome we may expect to hear that River Edge will become a borough, electing Squire Webb mayor.

This morning papers have been prepared, and by tonight they will be signed, to form a borough out of River Edge and Cherry Hill, to be known as the borough of Riverside. The boundary will be: North by Delford borough line, east by Hackensack river, south by brook dividing New Barbadoes and Midland townships, west by the course of same brook. It was desired to take in a portion of Palisade Township, east of the river, but Kensington borough had already engulfed that section. Riverside will have water on three sides, and may be known as the marine borough of Bergen, with a navy and fleet collector, port warden, naval officer and all other dignitaries.

Citizens of River Edge and Cherry Hill voted at Bogert's Hall, River Edge, on Friday, June 29, 1894. According to the Index, "the vote was very light, but very emphatic, 37 favoring the change, to three voting in favor of the old system." The Borough of Riverside was born.

On June 26, 1894, voters of Hasbrouck Heights were called to Pioneer Hall by some of the leading citizens of the town "to discuss the advisability of cutting adrift from the wicked outside world which according to their geographical knowledge includes Lodi and Little Ferry." The Hackensack Republican thought that "the farmers were particularly hostile to the borough movement, claiming they were the heaviest taxpayers and had not been consulted in reference to issuing the call." Henry Lemmermann, president of the Mattson rubber works, was elected chairman of the meeting. Having recently relocated his company from New York to Hasbrouck Heights, he was quick to point out that Hasbrouck Heights paid 40% of the taxes raised in Lodi Township, but only 27% of that amount was returned to the town in benefits. Boroughites proposed inclusion of portions of Bergen and Lodi Townships to gain representation on the Board of Freeholders. Public meetings on the borough question at Hasbrouck Heights were soon "characterized by bitter personalities" and fights over the boundaries. In reaction, sentiment against incorporation grew.

1The Bergen Democrat, March 3, 1893

2In this instance, Dutch should be read Deutsch, meaning Germans, as in the case of the Pennsylvania Dutch.

3The macadam road was named in 1815 for John Loudon McAdam, surveyor general of the Bristol road district. He first introduced the construction of a hard-surfaced road by cementing compacted layers of gravel with a mixture of stone dust and water.

4Carlton Hill lies between Wallington and Rutherford, overlooking the Passaic River.

5The Bergen Democrat, March 30, 1894

6"Bergen County Roads," New York Evening Post, January 26, 1894, reprinted in The Bergen County Democrat of February 2, 1894

7"Another Borough Movement," The Hackensack Republican, February 22, 1894

8The "River Road" referred to is Kinderkamack Road, running along the river

9"The Boroughs are Coming," The Hackensack Republican, April 26, 1894

101894 Laws of New Jersey, Chapter CLXXVI

11The Bergen Democrat, April 27, 1894

12The Hackensack Republican, January 17, 1895

13"Bergen's Boroughs," The Bergen Index, June 7, 1894

14The Kensington Company of Schraalenburgh was incorporated in March 1893. Henry and Emily MacNamara and C. B. Schuyler were local shareholders.

Continue to Part Three