The History Of Paramus, NJ
Before The Settlers
Origins Of The Name Paramus
1800 Enter The Farming Community
Enter The 20th Century
Paramus Police Department
Paramus Public Library
The Paramus Post Office
Bergen County Alms House
Arcola Amusement Park
The Winds Of Change Blew Strong In 20s
The 1930s - The Great Depression
Post WWII To The Present
The Transition To The Commercial Hub Of Bergen County
The History Of Paramus, NJ
Before The SettlersWay before any Europeans made their way to the area, Paramus was settled on by Lenni Lenape tribe. It was an Algonquian speaking tribe. ‘Lenni Lenape’ translates to ‘true men’ in Algonquian. They were touted as the largest of the Native American tribes living in the Bergen County area. They used pictures and signs as opposed to the written alphabet. Aside from Lenni Lenape, they were also referred to as the Tappan or Hackensack Indians.
When the Europeans made inroads to the Bergen area, the Lenni Lenape were under the leadership of a powerful Native American chief by the name Oratam.
Origins Of The Name ParamusThe name has undergone a series of evolutions before it became the Paramus we know today. It was derived from the Lenni Lenape terms for loosely ‘area that is fertile’. This name can be traced to a deed in 1709 for land in the Northwest, referred to as the Ramapo Tract, where it got the name Perampsepus. The name ‘Parames’ appears in a transfer document in the year 1708. One of the reasons put forward for this discrepancy in name is on account of the sound those drafting the documents heard. For the Europeans who bought the land were dumbstruck and unfamiliar with the dialects and language in the area. In fact, there are several variations in the document because the names sounded different every time to the ones drafting the document. They include the following: Peramus, Peremessing, Perrymus, Peerems, Parliamus and Peremis. Since then, these variations became what we know as Paramus today.
Since the area was very fertile, the Lenni Lenape Indians planted maize. When the maize grew, it attracted a lot of wild turkeys in the area. For this reason, it was first named “place where wild turkeys abound”.
ColonialThe first influx of Europeans in the area was by fur traders who were looking for pelts. They set up a trading post on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River and by 1630, this trading post had grown tremendously attracting pelt traders from the New York area as well.
The Passaic, Hackensack and Saddle Rivers were utilized to open up the area. Later on, these rivers would serve as demarcations for land transactions in the later 17th and early 18th Centuries.
When 1669 rolled in, one Captain John Berry procured a large tract of land that comprised a majority of Bergen County. The area covered in his deed was approximately 1500 acres. He christened his new holding as New Barbadoes. This was after Barbadoes where he originated from. A majority of the settlers in the area were seamen of Dutch origin, most of whom sailed with Berry. Most of their family names are recognized in the region and they are as follows: Westervelts, Staggs, Kipps, Bantas, Ackermans, Voorhis and Hoppers.
Another European settler made inroads in the area and bought a 1076-acre tract of land from the Tappan and Hackensack Indians. Albert Soborisky, a Prussian made this tract of land his home. He later sold some of his holdings to Thomas Van Buskirk. A large chunk of these sold holdings would serve as the foundation for what would be modern-day Paramus.
Dutch influence became more apparent in the area with the architecture in the area drawing inspiration from how the Dutch designed their houses. This style would come to be known as Dutch Colonial. A common feature of this style would be the brown sandstone and gambrel roof.
The Old Paramus Church, originally The Paramus Dutch Reformed Church, was constructed in 1735 from the abundant brown sandstone in the area. It was remodeled in the 1872 and was utilized for numerous activities, religious and social.
Zabriskie is responsible for the first schoolhouse in the area. He donated a portion of his land in 1726 to actualize the construction of this school. This schools was quite remarkable in that it was a space where both white and African American kids learned together. It was located on the corner of Dunkerhook Road. However, the school does not exist today.
Dunkerhook Road was a dirt road on the west of Paramus Road. This was where the African American slaves were housed and there was an African American Church as well.
Revolutionary WarParamus is one of the major towns which played a great role in the American Revolutionary War. Major players in the Revolutionary War at some point made Paramus their home. They included the Marquis de Lafayette and Major General Anthony Wayne. At some point, over 300 soldiers were quartered in the Paramus area as recorded by the British.
The Continental Army created an outpost in the Old Paramus Church in 1777. America’s founding father and first president, George Washington, then a general, made this outpost his headquarters. This is evident in the numerous correspondences housed in the Library of Congress where letters addressed to him listed the outpost in Paramus as his headquarters. Other places worth noting in the Paramus area include the Old Dutch Church. This place was used as a hospital and barracks by the Continental Army. General Lee’s court martial was held in this place as well.
One of the leading lights of the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Aaron Burr came to the fore in 1777 in Paramus. A British raiding party had been discovered in the Paramus area and a militia was cobbled together quickly to deal with them. As this was going on, a rider was dispatched to alert the garrison in Fort Sidman under Burr. The good colonel then hastened to get to hastily cobbled up militia to lead them to the battle that made Burr’s career in the military. He observed the enemy and in one swift, surprise attack ‘gobbled’ them up. This battle was the only battle recorded within the boundaries of Paramus.
1800 Enter The Farming CommunityAfter the conclusion of the war of independence, Paramus transitioned into a farming area. Most of the produce was transported overland to New Milford where it was then shipped across the Hackensack River. The route they used to transport the produce to port was over a marshy area that was paved over with logs. The road was christened Century Road on account of the turn of the century.
The Paramus Road was constructed with cobblestones and was heavily utilized by early Americans. This road served as the major highway for large cattle drives for steers that were en route to New Jersey slaughterhouses. It served as the main route for people plying to Hoboken to Goshen.
In addition, there were a few taverns in the area where stage riders and workers from the iron mines in Ringwood stopped over for a few drinks. The most prominent tavern in the area was the Zabriskie House Tavern that was revered for its tasty applejack.
Most of the individuals who worked in Paramus prior to the Civil War were slaves. They were quartered in the Hook area, present day Dunkerhook Rd. This area was part of the Zabriskie land. In this land, as was mentioned above there was a schoolhouse and a church. Most of the slaves were reportedly freed prior to the outbreak of violence that heralded the Civil War.
Red Mill was a sawmill on the Zabriskie property along the Paramus road. It was painted in 1838. This mill served as a woolen mill and it churned out numerous army blankets. After the war ceased, the mill collapsed and died out completely.
The Behnke Family moved into the Paramus area and purchased a large tract of land that completely traversed from the Spring Valley Road to Paramus Road. They occupied this area in 1886.
As the 20th century beckoned, Paramus had cultivated a superb reputation of being the “celery capitol” of these United Stated. It had already established itself as the strawberry stronghold of America prior to the Civil War. In fact, over 5 acres in most farms were exclusively for growing strawberries thereby making Bergen County get the title of the “greatest strawberry county in America”.
The Midland Township that had been carved out from New Barbadoes in 1871 consisted of present day Paramus and other neighboring towns. The Borough Act of 1894 compelled that Midland Township be carved out to create new sections. These sections would create new towns: Maywood, River Edge, Milford and Oradell. Paramus and Rochelle Park would be excluded in this new dissection and would be part of smaller Midland. When the 20th Century came beckoning, Paramus came into being but it was far off from present-day Paramus.
Most of the locals preferred using nicknames to official names. One apt instance is where Spring Valley Road is referred to as “Sluckup”. It is often conjectured that the origin of the name “Sluckup” was as a result of a farmer’s shirt being purloined and subsequently swallowed by a cow as he laid on a bush and worked his land. “Sluckup” was used to denote the action of eating the shirt.
Enter The 20th CenturyAs the 20th Century kicked off, Paramus as a borough or town did not exist. At the time, there was only Midland Township that was formed in 1871 and it broke away as was highlighted above only leaving Rochelle Park and Paramus.
Rochelle Park was evolving into a residential suburb in the 20s and Paramus was still entrenched in agriculture then.
The dwindled Midland Township had to be broken up further. This break was attributed to the education system where residents of Rochelle Park desired to have all the schools merge to form one huge school. Residents of Paramus disavowed the idea because their children would have to endure long and tedious commutes to the school.
While schools were the hot-button issue that triggered the drive for separation, another miniscule but special issue of street lights installation in Rochelle Park. Residents of Rochelle Park felt that the proposal to have those lights in the area would leave them paying more taxes as opposed to those in Paramus who did not want to pay them.
With those and other hot-topic issues at the heart of a simmering conflict between Paramus and New Rochelle, separation was finally discussed, voted and ratified in 1922. It was then that Paramus and Rochelle Park became boroughs.
The Paramus borough created its first official fire department in 1923 although there were numerous fire stations in the area. In 1904, the first bucket brigade was established to deal with huge number of barn fires in the area.
In order to deal with the education crisis in the area, Paramus embarked on the construction of two four-room schoolhouses namely the Midland Avenue and Farview Avenue.
Borough Hall came into being after the conversion of 1876 Midland Avenue School. This place would serve as a police and is currently a branch library.
Paramus Police DepartmentBarney Martin became the first borough police chief. In fact, he was the only cop in the area and was on duty 24/7. He rode an Indian motorcycle.
The first police car was bought in 1928. Police HQ was on the front porch of Chief Martin’s home.
Paramus Public LibraryThe Paramus Public Library has been the fountain of knowledge in the borough of Paramus for over six decades. It was started in 1955 but it was a garage on the Howland property. As the years flew by, it was remodeled and it became the first public of Paramus on the corner of Spring Valley and Howland Avenue.
It was then expanded after the Midland Avenue Schoolhouse was purchased in 1958. In 1964, a new library was constructed on Century Road. It was named after Charles Reid and this library continues to grow even today.
The Paramus Post OfficeThis was the second post office to be created in Bergen County. It was ran by James H. Conrad. However, it was short lived on account of having limited users in the year 1903.
Therefore, it meant that people from Paramus had to use surrounding towns to make their postal interactions in the surrounding towns. It was not until 1950 that a new post office was opened to lighten the load of having to travel to the surrounding towns to get and post mail.
In the 1900s, there were a few landmarks that were conjured and developed in Paramus. They include the following:
Bergen PinesAt the turn of the 20th Century, there was a widespread tuberculosis epidemic. There was consensus among the medical fraternity that in order to alleviate the adverse effects of disease and treat it effectively, one needed to occupy a place with abundant sunshine and lots of fresh air. It is from this need that Bergen Pines was born. It was a sanatorium that was established in 1916. It was initially known as Bergen Isolation Hospital before generous donation of over 1,000 pine trees from Hackensack’s Pioneer Masonic Lodge resulted in a name change to Bergen Pines.
It was a medical hospital that earned numerous awards in at its peak before The Great Depression signaled terrible times to come. It had to convert from a special care center to a general hospital that was fraught with a lot challenges before it was acquired by the Solomon Health Group.
Bergen County Alms HouseThis was also known as the ‘County Poor House’. It is a historical landmark because its sturdy construction in the Colonial Revival Style made it stand out immaculately from the rest of the house in the Paramus area.
Arcola Amusement ParkThe Arcola Amusement Park came into being after the Midland Township split. It was established along the Hudson River along the Arcola section that comprised Rochelle Park and Paramus.
This 20-acre park houses numerous attractions that are guaranteed to tantalize, entertain and amaze. These included carousels, colossal swimming pools, Ferris wheels, an auditorium, a dance pavilion and convention hall.
However, this park was fraught with several tragedies. The first tragedy it encountered was in 1929 where the park was razed in a huge inferno that consumed everything but the swimming pool. The pool was run as the ‘Arcola Pool and Swim Club’ for forty years before tragedy struck in 1970 when a huge inferno wrecked it completely. The property was then sold to Ramada Inn which stands in place of the defunct park.
The Winds Of Change Blew Strong In 20sThe farm that was near the Arcola Park, Trautwein Farm, was converted to an airport. It was where the local flying circus held spellbinding shows that held audiences in thrall with audacious barrel rolls, wing walks and other daredevil antics that pushed the ante every time. When the shows were not going on, people could hitch rides on the planes for a time for a life altering experience. The most frequent user of the now defunct airport was Louise Klenk.
As The Great Depression hit the US hard in the early 30s, the airport had to be closed due to lack of funds to run it. In fact, The Great Depression and the years that followed would mark a tremendous point in Paramus’ history and continuous metamorphosis into the borough we know today. It will be explored in detail in the following section.
The 1930s - The Great DepressionWhen The Great Depression hit the United States, its impacts on Paramus was greatly reduced. Part of the reason attributed to this was the abundance of food and the enhanced self sufficiency of the farms. It is reported that the population of Paramus grew by a staggering 40 percent in the 1930.
While its impact was less pronounced in Paramus, The Great Depression nonetheless led to creation of Highways 4 and 17 as part of FDR’s New Deal.
The opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 impacted not only the Paramus area but the entire Bergen County as well. Its creation made the commuting of people between the Paramus and New York City easier. Most of the people flocked to Bergen County in search of affordable housing and beautiful places to live. This spurred increased real estate development that would continue until the present day.
Post WWII To The Present
The Transition To The Commercial Hub Of Bergen CountyWhen the war concluded and it was time for the boys to make their way back to the US, there were certain needs and priorities like finding housing and creating families that were at the forefront of their thinking. This meant the search for affordable and decent housing dominated the thinking at the time and the GI bill had made it easy for vets to borrow money at astronomically low rates. With the demand for houses at an all-time high and land for building being diminished, a few farms were sold to make way for housing developments.
The Behnke Farm was the first farm to sold off in 1949. It was an impressive 119 acres and was established in 1885. The farm covered Forest Avenue and present day Ridgewood Country Club. As the years rolled on, more and more farms were sold to make way for new homes that would permeate the borough.
Essentially, post-World War II heralded a shift from farming to commercial residential area. In fact, the developments that took place after the war made Paramus in effect the largest commercial center in the state of New Jersey and these United States. This was made entirely possible by the convenient location of highways that traversed the borough making it the epicenter of Bergen County. Plus, its close proximity to the New York City more or less guaranteed that Paramus would be affected by the commercial development euphoria that encapsulated New York City.