Garfield, situated at the junction of the Passaic and Saddle Rivers, was originally the home of the Hackensack Clan of the Leni Lenape Tribe of the Algonquin Indians who came here thousands of years ago. They were industrious and made wampum and articles for barter. The last known Indian, named Nachpunck, lived on the bank of the Saddle River opposite Cantacoy Brook.
In 1679 Jacques Cortelyou from New Utrecht, Long Island, sailed up the Passaic River and, taking a liking to the place, began negotiations with the Indians which resulted in the sale of a tract called Acqueyquinonke covering land from the Saddle River to the Great Rock (in Glen Rock) lying near the highlands and covered 5320 acres.
The Saddle River, which flows into the Passaic River, was named by two Scotsmen who came from Argilshire in Scotland, after a river Sadel, in Scotland.
The Passaic River was named after the Passaik Tribe of Indians whose hunting grounds were across the river.
Between Monroe Street and Sloughter Dam, a natural rock dam, named after Col. Henry Sloughter, where Dundee Dam was built later, were the Indians’ fishing waters. They built stone dams, traces of which are still visible, to trap shad. About 300 feet north of Menehenicke (Dundee Island) they constructed weirs to catch eels.
Garfield, north of Passaic Street, was a wilderness, inhabited by wild animals. In 1720 money was raised by taxation to pay for killing bears, panthers, wolves, foxes and wildcats.
The Acqueyquinonke tract was divided among purchasers who settled along the Passaic River and lived in peace and comfort until the beginning of the Revolutionary War.
Early in the war in November 1776, General George Washington fled Fort Lee and Hackensack and marched his American army across a bridge over the Hackensack River and a bridge over the Passaic River just north of where Gregory Avenue is today in Wallington. Washington and his men camped there for the night and later retreated into Pennsylvania before his historic crossing of the Delaware Christmas 1776.
The bridge over the Passaic River was destroyed by men led by John H. Post, a farmer’s boy. The British in pursuit of Washington arrived at the bridge and finding it destroyed, turned and followed the Passaic River until they arrived at Adrian Post’s farm and grist mill near Toer’s Lane (Outwater Lane) in present day Garfield where they could ford the river. They camped for the night in homes, barns and sheds along the river from Monroe Street to Toer’s Lane. Heavy rains prevented them from fording the river and they stayed for a week, finally crossing November 27, 1776 to the great relief of the farmers, all of whom, with one exception, were loyal Americans. A historical monument marks the spot on the riverbank near the corner of River Drive and Columbus Avenue. A historical marker is also on the Garfield YMCA Building at 33 Outwater Lane.
The Garfield hero of that war was Cornelius Van Vorst, who lived on Outwater Lane, about where the Garfield “Y” is today. He was a lieutenant colonel with the foot militia of Washington’s Army. He fought with such fervor and dedication that he became known as the “Dead Raiser”.
About 1800, Abram C. Zabriskie bought land bordering the Passaic and Saddle Rivers and erected a home, grist mill and general store at Peck Hook Landing at the intersection of Bear’s Nest Road (Midland Avenue) and Peck Hook Road (River Drive). Peck Hook Road lead to Peck Hook, later called Garfield Park, which was near that intersection.
Zabriskie built a dam, docks and ships to carry freight down the Passaic River to Newark and other points. The first ships were named “Olive Branch”, “Proprietor and Owner” and “Lodi”.
Adrian Post’s grist mill and saw mill, was served by a schooner named “Polly”, owned and operated by Henry F. Post, between Post’s Mill and Newark.
In 1851 Zabriskie sold land to a farmer named James Cadmus, between Peck Hook Road and Monroe Street. His melons became famous and Garfield became known as Cadmus’ Melon Patch.
Gilbert D. Bogart is often credited as having been the founder of “modern day” Garfield. When seven houses were constructed in 1873 between Monroe Street and Van Winkle Avenue, the area became known as “East Passaic”. He would later construct about three hundred more homes and the lower part of the Harrison Avenue area became known as “Bogart Heights”.
Had it not been for the panic in 1873 and the lack of ready funds before that, Garfield might have been developed into the bustling industrial City it was to eventually become, much sooner. In 1866 and 1867, the State Legislature passed a law permitting the building of the Saddle River Horse Car Railroad Company from Zabriskie’s dock on River Road to Paterson. It was designed to provide transportation for millworkers. Although similar horse car railroads were to be built to Paterson from Lodi and Passaic, they were given up because of the lack of funds and the 1873 financial panic which, it is reported by historians, was one of the worst in this country’s history.
Garfield almost had a horse trolley in 1890. It was to link Lodi, Garfield and Passaic at the Passaic Street bridge. Passaic’s line ended on its side of the bridge. At first, the objection was that the bridge could not sustain the trolley’s weight. When this objection was overcome, the Marsellus family (Marsellus Place named after it) which owned the land through which the trolley was to run, refused to give it up for that purpose. Allegedly, Henry Marsellus blocked the enterprise because he and Gilbert Bogart, one of the chief proponents for the new improvement, were bitter opponents on matters dealing with the development of Garfield. Eventually though, there were trolleys in Garfield and the dip in Passaic Street at the railroad trestle was dug out so that the trolley would avoid crossing the train tracks at a curve on the rail line.
Augustus Hasbrouck built the “Octagon House” at 23 Orchard Street, one of only two today remaining in all of Bergen County. When he sold his house and 275 acre produce farm to Daniel Van Winkle, prior to 1876, the new owner named it “Belmont” because it resembled a bell and he thus gave its name to a section of the City.
Veterans Bridge, connecting Ackerman Avenue in Clifton with Outwater Lane, was once known as Robertsford Bridge, and the Jewell Street area was once known as the Robertsford section of Garfield, which was named after James Roberts, who built the worsted mills at the corner of Outwater Lane and River Drive. The operation was later sold to Samuel Hird, who became a local philanthropist who built the YMCA as a gift to the people of Garfield.
Plauderville Avenue was named after “Plauder Ecke” (Gossip Corner), a Brooklyn German newspaper, by people who settled there. This section was also known as “Bear’s Nest” and Midland Avenue was called Bear’s Nest Road.
In 1881, a railroad shortcut, the Bergen County Railroad, was laid and a station built and called Garfield after President James A. Garfield who died that year. The first agent was James U. Lemon, a railroad conductor who had lost his arm in a railroad accident. A spur was built down Monroe Street into Dundee (Passaic) to serve that area. Passengers were carried down Monroe Street until about 1900.
The Passaic and New York Railroad was laid in 1886 from Passaic junction on the New York Susquehanna and Western Railroad to Dundee. Passengers were carried on that line until 1892. The station was at the foot of Belmont Avenue. In the 1980’s the City purchased the abandoned part of this line from Division Avenue to River Drive and erected a Fire House on this property next to City Hall on Outwater Lane. In 2006, the City sold off the portion of the abandoned railline between Botany Street and River Drive near Belmont Avenue.
Spring Tank, located in Bear’s Nest, near Belmont Avenue, replenished the water supply of locomotives on the Bergen County Short Cut of the New York, Lake Erie and Western Railroad, later known as the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, then Conrail, and now New Jersey Transit Railroad.
An early industry in Garfield was the Hall Fishing Tackle Company on Passaic Street, near what is now Cambridge Avenue, built in the early 1880’s. It was run by a George Little, whose forebearers were among the earliest settlers in the new world.
Around the turn of the 20th century, Garfield grew rapidly, not only in population, but in its industries as well. Although Garfield became predominantly a textile manufacturing community, other types of companies thrived here too. Fritzche Brothers, a German chemical company, started in 1873, is recognized as the first “modern” factory in Garfield and was located near the corner of River Drive and Hudson Street. They made oils and perfumes. By 1903, the Heyden Chemical Company had taken over the plant and the site was later occupied by Tenneco Chemical and Kalama Chemical. The Hammersley Manufacturing Plant was located on River Drive near Midland Avenue. Tradition has it that Seigfried Hammersley invented wax paper when a candle tipped over pouring wax onto paper.
Important worsted or woolen mills in Garfield included Samuel Hird, New Jersey Worsted, the Phoenix Mills, Hartmann Embroidery and the Forstmann Plant off Lanza Avenue which was the only early Garfield company to benefit from the Dundee Dam.
Garfield was once part of the Township of Saddle River, which was originally created in 1737. Garfield broke away to become a borough on March 15, 1898 and the State Legislature set Garfield’s same boundaries which exist today. On April 19, 1917, the borough became the City of Garfield.
In those early days of the founding of our City, the Third Ward became predominantly populated with immigrants from Italy, the Second Ward attracted the Slovaks, the First Ward drew mostly Russians and the Fourth, Italians, Poles, Slavs, and Hungarians. Today the First Ward has attracted many Hispanic immigrants. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, many new Polish immigrants have moved to Garfield, especially to the Fourth and Fifth Wards.
The booming woolen and silk mills blighted the Passaic River with waste matter, however, in recent years, this pollution has diminished somewhat and today the river has become much cleaner than it once was.
Politics had and still has an ethnic flavor. The big woolen mills for the most part are gone and industry and business diversified.
Since 1972, Garfield has been governed by a City Manager and a five member Council, one of who is selected by his or her Council colleagues to be the Mayor. All of the members of the City Council are elected at large for four year terms. The work of the City is carried on under the supervision of the appointed Department Heads and they, in turn, report to the City Manager.
The area of Garfield is 1,333 acres or 2.08 square miles with an elevation from 10 to 160 feet. The City has more than 20 places of worship, a YMCA, a Boys and Girls Club, City Recreation Center, Senior Citizens Center, Health Center, Public Library, five volunteer Fire Companies and a volunteer Ambulance Corps.
Garfield is twelve miles west of New York City, ten miles north of Newark, four miles south of Paterson and across the river from Passaic and Clifton. The population according to the 2000 census is 29,786. Garfield’s single largest employer, Garden State Paper, which was located at 950 River Drive, closed in 2002.
Garfield earned the nickname “City of Champions” because the 1939 Garfield High School Football Team was National Champions, the Holy Name/Garfield Cadets were frequently winning DCI/National Drum and Bugle Corps Championships, Tippy Larkin “the Garfield Gunner” was Junior Welterweight Boxing Champion of the World in 1946, and because of the exploits of other Garfield heroes.
Bergen County, in which Garfield is located, is at the top corner of New Jersey, across the Hudson River from New York City. The County seat is Hackensack. Bergen County has three cities, two villages, nine townships and 56 boroughs – for a total of 70 municipalities.
A history of Garfield can be found in "William Scott’s History of Passaic and it’s Environs, Volume II" at the Garfield Free Public Library, along with “Images of America – Garfield" by Howard D. Lanza.