The Township of Nutley is located in the Northern quadrant of Essex County and enjoys a unique picturesque suburban existence in close proximity to New York City. It is conveniently located near the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike, Route 3 and Route 21. Even with a population of approximately 27,000, this bedroom community enjoys a small town ambiance throughout its quiet, well-maintained tree lined streets.
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The parks in Nutley are considered the “crown jewel” of the Essex County park systems. The Township prides itself in maintaining a commendable level of conservation while safeguarding this pristine natural resource from impending and unnecessary sprawl. The latest surveys list the Township as maintaining over 10,000 trees and over 100 acres of recreational land. No home in Nutley is more than one half mile from a park or playground.
Since the arrival of Robert Treat in 1666, the character of the men and women who have lived in Nutley in the past 300 plus years has influenced our town. Our forefathers quarried the brownstone from the mines along the Passaic River to provide the raw materials for expansion of our great cities, and they toiled in the mills that lay along the Third River to manufacture the basic necessities of life. Living in the Enclosure area, they created the paintings and authored the writings that contributed to our appreciation of the arts, and in more recent times they have established homes and schools, and created neighborhoods that give Nutley the characteristics of a small town in a metropolitan environment.
Nutley has been recognized as a town blessed with residents who take an active role in maintaining and improving the quality of life here. Although we may think this is something unique to modern times, a history of Nutley written in 1925 as part of the history of Essex County states “seldom can one find so deep a public spirit, so complete a participation in public affairs, so unselfish an affection for a place, as is shown by its people.”
This spirit of volunteerism has been demonstrated by many of distinguished residents. In 1894, Annie Oakley and Henry Cuyler Bunner, a renowned author and editor of the famous Puck magazine, spearheaded a community effort to benefit the American Red Cross with a performance of the Nutley Amateur Circus (See 1894 The Illustrated American magazine article) . Held at Eaton Stone Circus headquarters on Kingsland Road, prominent residents volunteered as performers and roustabouts. Later, in 1917, Col. H. G. Prout, editor of the Railroad Gazette, became the first president of the Red Cross when it became affiliated with the American Red Cross.
In the early 1900’s, John Bouvier, a successful New York trial lawyer, took an active role in Nutley organizations by serving as president of the Nutley Board of Education, president of the Nutley Field Club, trustee of St. Mary’s RC Church, and others. This characteristic of volunteerism was reflected in the life of his granddaughter, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, and is similarly shown today in the lives of many people living here. Whether those families have lived in Nutley for generations or for a few years, the civic involvement here in Nutley is infectious.
Nutley derived its name from the large estate of the Satterthwaite family, established in 1844, which stretched along the banks of the Passaic River. In 1902, the quaint town of Franklin, New Jersey, once the northeast corner of Newark, changed its name to Nutley when a growth in population prompted a change in the form of government from Township to Mayor/Council. Prior to this event, the geographical area now called Nutley had a colorful 236 years of recorded history.
Since no photographs and little actual recorded data that describe life in Nutley in its earliest days are available, our knowledge dating back to 1666 must be inferred from other resources. These include paintings, old maps, wills, estate inventories, and most important, contemporary photographs of historic buildings in Nutley that survived the ages and today stand as a living and vibrant part of Nutley’s heritage. The fact that so many historic buildings exist bodes well for the people of Nutley and those in local government positions, for it is the Township of Nutley that has acquired ownership of three historic sites: Kingsland Manor, Van Riper House, Church Street School ( Nutley Museum). In addition to these the Vreeland Homestead and 12 homes within the Enclosure Historic District are listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places and are maintained by local homeowners.
The Lenni Lenape Indian tribe first inhabited the wilderness that greeted Robert Treat and a group of Puritans form Connecticut in 1666. They deeded to the Puritans a land filled with wildlife: pristine rivers and lakes stocked with abundant fish.
As the Village of Newark developed, its inhabitants did not wander far from their settlement and the town grew slowly, with few men, known as planters, acquiring land as far north as the Third River where Nutley is located today. However, at this same time, the Dutch began to settle along the Passaic River just north of the Third River at Acquackanonck (now Passaic) and established farms, saw mills and gristmills. The earliest recorded presence of a Dutch planter in the Nutley area was recorded in the minutes of the Newark town meeting held March 5, 1693, which admitted Bastian Van Giesen. The Van Giesen home, which still stands today on Chestnut Street (The Women’s Club) exhibits the characteristic masonry of the Bergen County Dutch, while the façade and floor plan embody the influence of the English settlers of Essex County. This combination, extremely rare among the 219 stone houses in the area, highlights the use of transitional building features in a transitional geographical location.
In 1695, John Treat acquired land adjacent to VanGiesen, and in 1698 Thomas Stagg purchased another adjacent lot. These transactions signified the beginning of land development in Nutley in which people of different nationalities could live and work together.
Although it is not known when the first quarry was opened in the Nutley area, the existence of stone houses dating back to the early 1700’s gives credence that quarry operations had begun at that time. Located close to the Passaic River, which provided a mode of transportation for the stone, the quarries became the first major industry. Unfortunately, as the quarries were dug ever deeper, water seepage caused them to become uneconomical and they were abandoned in the early 1900’s.
A recently discovered map (drawn in 1792) of property along the Third River in an area now known as Memorial Park I, shows the beginning g of a small industry to meet the growing need of local inhabitants. It pictures a dam and pond; a home, gristmill, sawmill and a log yard operated by John and Thomas Speer. Mills located along the Third River became the second major industry in the mid 1800’s Joseph Kingsland operated a paper mill near Kingsland Road that produced a high grade safety paper used by banks throughout the world. Henry Duncan built mills at several locations, the largest being the Essex Mills located near Chestnut Street. Here he built his own home and helped to establish the quaint village of Franklinville. It consisted of about 30 small homes, a bakery, boarding house for bachelor workers, and the Franklin Hotel, later called Military Hall. Today only one of the original circa1850 mill structures exists, which has been adapted for use as our town hall. Workers spent 12 hours per day, six days a week eking out a living. In 1884, the lowering of tariffs against imported woolens destroyed the mill’s major business and ended this industry in Nutley.
In 1870, railroad service came to Nutley with three stations located within the town’s borders: Franklin Avenue station on High Street, Nutley station on Highfield Lane and Walnut Street station on Walnut Street.
With the advent of the railroad to towns surrounding New York, came a need for a true suburban home for commuters. William Lambert, president of the Nutley Realty and a noted architect and author of a book entitled Suburban Architecture, met this need. He is credited with giving Nutley much of its unique character. Lambert’s style, beauty, originality and reasonable cost met this need as exemplified by the 500+ homes he built in sections of town known as Prospect Heights, Nutley Park and Nutley Heights. Other structures included St. Paul’s Congregational Church, Nutley Post Office (now Starbucks) and High Street railroad station (now demolished). As the mills and quarries were phased out as the town’s major industries, these homes enabled Franklin/Nutley to become a haven for New York commuters, and a new spirit of camaraderie was born.
Another 19 th century land developer in Nutley was James Hay, who, in 1873, purchased the circa 1812 John Mason house located by Cotton Mill Pond, now known as the “Mudhole” in Memorial Park I. This house, which stands today, is of Federal design and is one of Nutley’s most architecturally significant buildings. It is now part of the Enclosure Historic District that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
Mr. Hay was instrumental in enticing scores of artists, authors and magazine editors to make the Enclosure and its environs their home.. Among the list of notables who lived in Nutley were painters Frank Fowler, Frederic Dorr Steele, Frederick Dana Marsh and his wife, Alice Randall, Albert Sterner, Arthur Hoeber, Earl Stetson-Crawford and his wife, Brenetta and Ferdinand Lungren; authors Frank Stockton, Henry C. Brunner, and editors of such prominent magazines as Puck, Century, Judge and The Railroad Gazette. Even the famous sharp shooter Annie Oakley took up residence in 1892 in a house on Grant Avenue (since demolished). In 1894, she and Henry C. Butler, the editor of Puck magazine, with many other town residents, volunteered their services to produce the Nutley Amateur Circus on the grounds of the Eaton Stone Circus Headquarters on Kingsland Road to benefit the American Red Cross. Special trains arrived from New York bringing in people to witness the event. (The spirit shown by these people lives on today as shown by the benevolent work of today’s residents).
Starting in the latter part of the 19 th century and continuing throughout the 20 th century, civic groups were organized to help enhance the quality of life for the residents of Franklin/Nutley. Some organizations were purely recreational and catered to the social elite, while others were conceived solely to solve social and economic problems of the day.
Typical of the latter was the Yanticaw Improvement Association, organized in the spring of 1892. It strove to interest property owners and tenants in beautifying their residences, including such mundane concerns as the disposition of garbage and debris. Apparently the objectives were met, for the Association gave out yearly monetary awards for the best kept grounds in the town, and garbage dumping became regulated at sites like the large dump on John Street. Also, several old barrack structures on Washington Avenue near Grant Avenue, which housed quarry workers were in such deplorable condition that 200 citizens of Franklin attacked the buildings with disinfectant solutions in March 1893. They later raised enough money to purchase the structures and apply the kindling torch. Such was the character of our forefathers and their concern in maintaining a high standard of living.
Together with the Nutley Civic Society, both organizations strongly opposed buggy racing on Washington Avenue, the nuisance created at the Masonic Hall by boys loafing around the corner of Franklin and High Streets, the number of saloon licenses issued, slot machines in candy stores and whiskey drops on sale to minors, to name just a few of the turn-of-the-century social concerns. Question: were they successful? Answer: do we still have these problems?
The first of another type of organization in pre 1902 Nutley concerned the welfare of residents was the Granite Council No. 51, Order of United Friends that held its meetings in Rusby Hall, located on the second floor of Rusby’s grocery store. Founded in 1882, it was the only lodge at the time for mutual benevolent purposes. Today we have numerous groups that car4ry on the work started over 100 years ago.
Social organizations started with the Franklin Archery Club organized in June 1878. With the advent of tennis, the club evolved into lawn tennis and eventually became the Nutley Field Club located between the railroad tracks and what is now Tennis Place. The clubhouse became the focal place for the social events among the rich and famous of the day. Among the presidents of the Nutley Field Club was John Bouvier, grandfather of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who commuted to New York via the Erie train and lived on Nutley Avenue in the estate named Woodcroft.
Other civic groups also dedicated to improving life in Franklin/Nutley have disappeared over the years, including the Nutley Association, Nutley Civic & Improvement Association, First Ward Association, North End Association, Men’s Civic Association and the Fortnightly Club, whose altered clubhouse still stands on Franklin Avenue.
As would be expected of a town with such a spirit of volunteerism, in 1894 an all volunteer fire department was organized. Named the Yantacaw Hose and Truck Co., it was housed in the west end of our present town hall. In 1895 the Avondale Company was formed and in 1898 its headquarters was built on Park Avenue in a building still standing today. In later years, the Nutley Sun wrote: “Manned by men who not only had a sense of civic duty, but also the adventurous spirits of firefighters, the companies have been centers of neighborhood activities since the beginning of the town’s history.” An example of such neighborliness has been demonstrated over the years by the long hours firemen spend repairing broken toys for several months before Christmas. Remembering the events of 9 -11-01, we salute and thank all of our police and firefighters for the humanitarian efforts shown each and every day.
With the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th, came a time of change like to other in the history of man. No millennium change had caused as much stress and apprehension. Events had occurred and were occurring that would affect man socially and environmentally in profound ways.
In America, the 1890 census called the frontier closed: all of the lands explored claimed and settled. The death of Queen Victoria in 1901 was not only the end of a monarch but also an end to the era named for her. By 1911 the earth’s north and south poles would be reached. The end of the 19th century closed the first great chapter in American history.
Just six months before the township of Franklin, NJ changed its name to Nutley the world was shocked by the assassination of President William McKinley. He was succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt, a charismatic man with boundless energy and progressive politics. In the years prior to 1902, Nutley was a blue collar community whose major industries were stone quarries, woolen mills and paper manufacturing. With the advent of the railroad in the late 1860’s, the town became a town of commuters. The caliber of its residents created the need for independence from the more provincial town of Belleville. The division established the Township of Franklin in 1874 and the geographical boundaries we have today.