WHEN WASHINGTON CAME TO TOWN.
By Kevin Wright, River Edge Borough Historian.
In an attempt to draw the British out of Manhattan, the American army advanced into Teaneck in late August 1780. After collecting provisions “from the disaffected inhabitants on the lines,” General Washington encamped his troops in the fields along Kinderkamack road from New Bridge northward to Westwood on September 4, 1780. He first made his headquarters in the Zabriskie-Steuben House at New Bridge Landing.
Since that time, an old bridge that carried Sluckup Lane (now Howland Avenue) over the the small brook near Elm Avenue in River Edge became the source of ghostly legends. In 1903, Cornelius H. Banta claimed that seventeen Continental soldiers who stood guard at Spook Bridge were treacherously murdered by a Tory who gave them poisoned cider to drink. Cornelius’ grandfather (also named Cornelius), when only a boy, was said to have seen “the frozen bodies of these unfortunate men beside the dead embers of their camp-fire.” He also claimed to have witnessed their burial “on the westerly slope of Brower Hill” where a “rough board then marked the spot, but the plough has long furrowed the ground over the last resting place and all traces of it have long since disappeared.” Ever afterwards, it was said “that no horse would cross that brook because the spirits of these murdered soldiers hovered around the spot!” Cornelius Banta, who “believed in spirits and ghosts as firmly as did his Dutch ancestors,” assured his listeners in 1903 “that he had tried to cross it one night many years ago, but his horse became frightened and refused to cross, and he was compelled to go home through a lane farther to the north.”
Hendrick Banta, Cornelius’ great-grandfather, then owned a cider mill at Steenraupie (River Edge) and sold a barrel of cider to the troops “every other day.” Cornelius’ grandfather, only fourteen years old, “saugh Washington three times on his hors.” The Commander-in-Chief’s presence hereabout gave rise to the name of the Washington Spring in Van Saun Park.