A Guide To Saddle River New Jersey
In 1675, Lenni Lenape tribal leaders sold a large amount of land on the Eastern side of the Saddle River (known as Werimus) to Albert Zabriskie. In 1708, Zabriskie sold this tract of land to Thomas Van Buskirk. The first house in Saddle River was built by the Van Buskirk family in 1709. The original Van Buskirk homestead still stands at 164 East Saddle River Road across from Borough Hall.
In 1709, the Lenni Lenape sold the land on the west side of the Saddle River to the English as part of the Ramapo Tract. Property on the west side of the Saddle River was acquired from this Tract throughout the 1700’s. The Ackerman Family was the most prolific buyer of these early Saddle River parcels and first settled on the West side of the Saddle River in 1745 when Johannes Ackerman acquired 245 acres.
Saddle River continued to grow and populate during the 18th century. Families such as the Van Buskirk’s, the Ackerman’s, the Achenbach’s, the Hopper’s, the Zabriskie’s, the Stilwell’s and the Baldwin’s farmed and developed the area. The first of many Saddle River mills was built in 1714 and the first school was constructed in 1720. Another early 18th century business was the blacksmith shop operated by the Ackerman family. Over the years, these 1st families built the quintessential “Old Dutch Homesteads” from actual sandstone that was found in town.
The Revolutionary War was a horrendous time for the residents of Saddle River. The townsfolk had spent the entire 18th century developing the area into a well established community and all growth essentially stopped during the war. Since the Jersey Dutch initially considered the revolution to be an English issue, it was particularly shocking when the fighting came to their backyards. From December 1776 until the end of the war, both American and British forces traveled through Saddle River and many times set up camp in the center of town. Residents were in constant fear of the British employed Hessian soldiers who would terrorize families by raiding the houses for food and then burning the fields before leaving. Although no major battles took place in Saddle River, there were small skirmishes to fend off raids and the Blue Mill on East Saddle River Road was destroyed. Even George Washington, the future father of our country, passed through Saddle River on multiple occasions and tradition has him staying overnight at the Ackerman Homestead on the East road.
When the Revolutionary War ended, Saddle River residents picked up right where they left off in terms of community and industry development. The Ackerman’s built a Foundry on what is now Waterford Gardens. Tice and Berdan both opened stores in town and the Bulls Head Tavern opened its doors to weary travelers in 1802. Old mills were re-opened and new ones such as Van Riper’s Saw Mill and Basket Factory were established. The post war growth continued for decades and culminated in the 1820s with the construction of the Zion Lutheran Church in 1821 and a new schoolhouse behind the church in 1825.
The decades leading up to the Civil War were very important in terms of the development of Saddle River. In the 1840s, residents were worried that a proposed Paterson-Ramapo Railroad would cut through town and ruin Saddle River’s rural character. At the same time, Saddle River had become well known for its produce (such as strawberries), and a railroad would be a major economic advantage. In the end, residents lobbied effectively and tracks were laid but they were one mile outside of town. Their amazing foresight allowed Saddle River to retain its rural character while still being able to maximize the economic benefits of a nearby railroad. In 1852, Saddle River took another important step forward when it was granted one of the first Post Offices in Bergen County. A final important pre Civil War development in Saddle River took place in 1855 when the school from the 1820s was torn down and a brick schoolhouse was constructed on its footprint.
It’s been said that all of America was touched by the Civil War and Saddle River was no exception. As was the case during the Revolutionary War, community and economic growth in Saddle River slowed down significantly. Saddle River residents such as Garret Augustus Ackerman joined the fight and tradition tells us that target practice was held in town for local soldiers before they shipped out.
In 1866, the Packer family established themselves in Saddle River by acquiring the Woodruff Foundry. Within a decade, W.W. Packer and Son were producing plows and farm implements on a large scale. Wanting to maximize profits from a foundry that could mass produce most metal parts, the Packer family shifted their business strategy and began producing carriages and sleighs. The Packer carriage business was extremely successful and they soon became the largest dealer of carriages and sleighs in the county. The red Packer Showroom stills stands in the center of town and is located across the street from the Hardware Store. The Packer Homestead and out buildings were acquired by concerned citizens in 1954 and the area is now known as Barnstable Court.
On July 4th, 1876, the residents of Saddle River honored America’s 100th birthday with a Centennial celebration that included a parade, music and fireworks.
In 1881, a well respected African American journalist named A.P. Smith published the first town newspaper called ‘The Landscape’. Smith printed ‘The Landscape’ from his home in Saddle River, located at 171 East Allendale Road. Featuring editorials, local and national news, poetry, philosophy and more, ‘The Landscape’ remained successful for over 20 years and publication only ended when Smith died in 1901. To think that Saddle River had a newspaper that was written, edited, published and printed by an African American journalist over 130 years ago bears testament to how special and forward thinking our community has always been.
On January 1st 1886, Saddle River joined 12 other towns to form Orvil Township. Orvil Township was named after Orville J. Victor, a noted abolitionist, inventor of the dime store novel and respected resident of Saddle River. Although Saddle River remained a part of Orvil Township for only eight years, two important buildings were erected during that time period. Association Hall was built in 1886 on the corner of Esler Lane and East Allendale Road and served as the town’s first Municipal Hall and first Fire House. Although Association Hall no longer stands, the original water pump can still be seen on the property and should be preserved to remind future generations of the important building that stood there in the past. In addition to Association Hall, a two room schoolhouse named ‘Saddle River School District #25’ was opened in 1890 and was used to teach local students for 29 years. The #25 Schoolhouse was located in the Wandell parking lot across the street from the current Saddle River Museum.