Nestled in the southern corner of Bergen County, New Jersey, is the tiny Borough of Wallington. The Passaic and Saddle Rivers meander along its northwestern boundaries, giving the town the curious shape of a heart. Although only one-square mile, Wallington's size belies its unique and rich, 100-year history. December 31, 1894, officially marks the beginning of Wallington; however, its history prior to that reveals a wealth of information which leads to understanding its present.
Eons ago, in prehistoric times, the Passaic River was much greater, so much that it extended to the higher ridge of land know as Shueehank Hill. All of the lower-lying areas were actually the bottom of the river. Then, as the geography changed, a branch of the Passaic River caused part of Wallington, between the Gregory Avenue Bridge and the Locust Lane, to form an island. Eventually, that island became part of the mainland. Indians, of course, occupied this territory before Europeans ever stepped foot on American soil, and one of their villages was in the area of what is now Lodi. Although the Indians never settled on the land that is now Wallington, probably because the river's floods and freshets, the Shaueehanks, a tribe of the Lenni Lenape, fished the Passaic River, camped along it, and hunted along the ridge of Shaueehank Hill, which is the higher ridge of land extending across Wallington from the County Park to Park Row.
Many old arrowheads, which were found by modern-day residents, scattered the bank of the Passaic River just north of Main Avenue. Decades ago, the freelance historian Michael J. Kopak wrote that Indian implements and some French coins had been discovered near the Alden farm at the foot of Shaueehank Hill. Indian relics, gun barrels, stone mortars, pestles, and other utensils cropped up in the same area, and clay potteries were found along the banks of the river on the Bergen side. Kopka also asserted that Indians had been buried on the Julius Roehrs tract, and he quoted Michael Van Winkle as stating that Indian huts were still visible in 1815 in the rear of the Tades and Prentiss farm along with the Acquacknonk Indians holding basket parties along this side of the Passaic River in the 1850s. Thus, these various relics and stories attest to the long history of Indian activity.
The history of Europeans developing our area begins in 1668. Three men-Captain Jon Berry, William Sanford, and Robert Vauquellin-toured the land between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers. Berry bought the upper half, and Sanford purchased the lower half. Sanford's deed was obtained from Governor Carteret on July 4, 1668, and then from the Indians 16 days later, but Berry used political influence to obtain a deed for all the land between the rivers. He received the land from his friend, Governor Carteret, on June 10, 1669. The present area of Wallington was then part of the township of New Barbadoes, which was in the county of Essex.
In 1687 a gentleman from the Netherlands, Walling Jocobse Van Winkle, completed the purchase of a large tract of land which was then known as Acquacknonk. He built a house on the corner of what is now Paterson Avenue and Main Avenue by the Gregory Avenue (County) Bridge. The Van Winkle house became the center of public meetings and various conferences of those interested in effective government. Eventually there were two farms: the Van Winkle Plantation and the Tades Plantation.
Through most of the 1700's the farming life in this area remained in status quo. Farmers were busy with their crops, cattle and sheep thrived, and the sheep were sheared along the river's edge. Then, the American Revolution caused quite a stir, directly affecting the serenity of this area. It was on November 21, 1776, that the retreat of General Washington's army followed the Passaic River. It is said that he briefly stopped at the Van Winkle house for road information, was received by Mr. Van Winkle who provided information, and then crossed the Passaic River at the Acquacknonk (Gregory Ave./County) Bridge. The bridge was destroyed once the army safely crossed, thus preventing the British from following too closely, but not preventing them from ransacking the Van Winkle home not only then but also in 1780. On that same day, Ebenezer Roark, a British Tory spy, was hanged in the rear of the abandoned stone house of Michael Tades. His remains were buried behind "Hangman's Oak Tree" below Shaueehank Hill.
The Revolution ended, and during the 1800's the citizens saw a blossoming of the area in which they lived. This growth began with slaves on the plantations being freed in the early 1800s. The growth also prompted the building of more major roads. Paterson Avenue (Paterson Plank Road) was completed in 1841; Locust Lane was ready for travel in 1859. Two more bridges were needed because the Acquacknonk Bridge was not enough. Thus, Second Street Bridge was completed on March 26, 1895, but it could not be used by vehicles because no roads led to it. In 1899 it was finally agreed that a road would be built.
Throughout the nineteenth century floods and freshets were constant danger; they occurred in 1804, 1810, 1852, 1855, 1878, 1881, 1882, and 1893. It was the flooding that prompted the installation of the first telephone in Passaic in 1881 as a means for early flood warning.
Despite these floods, people were buying and selling the land in this area, which was then known as Passaic Park, and for good reason. The soil was exceptionally rich, due in part to its prehistoric geography and, more recently, to the many floods. Jobs were also readily available in nearby Passaic. Then, in 1869 the Kingsland family discovered mineral springs, which doctors called "Miracle Water", on the farm below Shueehank Ridge. Growth was evident when Mr. David Anderson, who became owner of the Walling Van Winkle land and who converted the property to orchards divided his tract of land in 1870. (His widow, Rebecca Anderson lived in a house at the southeast corner of the present Anderson Avenue.) Another Gentleman, Mr. Alden, subdivided his property, and the result was the first group of row homes now known as Park Row. In 1874 a gentleman by the name of Hugh McCleerey purchased a parcel of land between what is now Main Avenue, Hathaway Street, and Wallington Avenue. Developers produced elaborate sales brochures during this decade, but the brochures were not as successful as they had wanted.
The growth of the Wallington area really burgeoned around 1890, with most of the early population being Dutch, then Irish. By April of 1890 there were twelve one-family houses and a private school between the Passaic River and Locust Lane. The school, which is still standing, was at the northeast corner of Maple Street and Union Place. In 1892 the first public school, known as both School Number 1 and Lincoln School, was built on Union Boulevard. Two annexes were needed and built, one in 1900 and the other in 1907. By this time some of the major roads had already been built.
In 1893 an act of the Legislature caused the first separation from the older townships, the first of which was the township of New Barbadoes. From 1668 to 1825 this area was in the county of Essex, which extended to the Hackensack River. Part was in the township of Lodi from 1825 to 1893, and part was in the township of Saddle River from 1679 to 1833. February 21, 1893, marked the day of the first separation, and the territory was incorporated into a new political division named "Township of Bergen."
Mr. Hugh McCleerey, the Scotch-Irish landowner mentioned above, had a successful wheelwright and blacksmith business. He truly enjoyed and loved the area in which he lived and wanted to rename it after its first settlers. During his research, he found approximately eight settlers with the name Walling. Although some citizens wanted to name the town Andersonville, Wallington (meaning the town of Walling) was the favorite because the other proposed name was a reindeer of the infamous Civil War camp. To this day, Mr. Hugh McCleerey is credited with the naming of Wallington.
In 1894 much happened. The building of the Market Street Bridge caused tremendous growth in the area, and a trolley was constructed by the Passaic, Rutherford and Carlstadt Railway company. It was during this year that Wallington was incorporated. Lawyer Walter Kip represented the group of men who wanted to form a borough under the General Boroughs Acts. He presented a petition signed by 35 men (who owned at least ten percent of the value of the real estate) to the Bergen County law judge on December 12, 1894, at the real estate office of James Reid. With 99 of the 113 votes cast in favor and only 14 against, the Borough of Wallington came into existence on the following day, January 1, 1895.
The first election for the positions of Mayor and Council was held in March 1895. Jacob Wagner was Wallington's first mayor, and the first members of the council were: Bernard Koster, Charles R. Stewart, Walter F. Schmitt, Thomas R. Collins, John Baker, and Robert Engle. Edward Vandervliet took the place of Mr. Stewart, who resigned in August of 1897. The mayor's initial term of one year was extended to two after being reelected, and the council members' terms would be three years, after staggering the terms of the first election. Other offices were agreed upon: recorder, clerk, superintendent of streets, assessor of taxes, collector, attorney, chief of fire department, assistant chief of police department, and patrolmen, all of whom were appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
One of the first major developments of the Borough of Wallington was to officially organize the Fire Department in 1895, after it had been formed on October 10, 1894, on land donated by the Passaic Land Company. Hose Company #1 remains at its original location on Union Boulevard, with a large bell at its front. The bell, originally used by the New York Steam Engine Company, was donated by the New York Belting and Packing Company in Passaic. Accepted by the Borough of Wallington, it was placed at the fire house and used as an alarm bell. At the time of the signing of the Armistice of the World War, the bell was rung continuously until the following day.
Another development that brought people together was religion. The Reverend Philip F. Leavens, D.D., was the first to see the need for a church, which he suggested to a group of men in his own congregation. They organized the Wallington Presbyterian Society and filed for incorporation on May 23, 1896. On July 17, trustees raised money to purchase land on Hathaway Street from Levi H. Alden and his wife; shortly afterwards they proceeded with the building of the house of worship, whose cornerstone was laid on July 21, 1896. The church was completed by November 17 of that same year. It was during this year, also, that the Ladies' Aid Society was formed.
One of the greatest early accomplishments of the Borough of Wallington stemmed from several complaints in 1899 about the Hackensack, Water Company, which was at that time furnishing us with our water supply system. After much discussion and debate and the perseverance of Bernard Koster, the town decided to construct its own water supply system for domestic and public use. Since there were no municipally-owned water systems in Bergen County at that time, the Wallingtonians had to depend on their own resources to develop their own guidelines.
First, a bond was issued for the amount of $30,000. Then pipes were laid, and an acre of land containing a strong spring of pure water was bought for $250 from Levi Alden. After a street was made passable, the standpipe (60 feet high, 22 feet in diameter) was built on the highest point in Wallington-what is now Reservoir Avenue-where pressure was maintained by gravity.
The opening day was October 5, 1901. A grand parade celebrated the event and even the school children were given the opportunity to participate: they had the honor of pulling the rope that started the engine to pump. Only two years later a second engine and pump were installed, and by 1910 another well had to be dug to keep up with the demand for water. As it turned out, Wallington's water supply system was a huge success that also happened to be a money-maker. The townspeople were able to pay off the debt completely by February 1921.
The increasing demand for a supply of domestic and public water manifested the growth of the town of Wallington. It seems as though the early Dutch settlers-followed by the Germans, Italians, Poles, Austrians, Russians, Hungarians, and others-knew this would be a place in which they would enjoy living.
Just after the turn of the century, though, two great floods occurred in 1902 and 1903. The flood of 1903, on October 7, came after a foot of rain fell. "Wallington village was entirely covered with several feet of water-a raging, rushing, tossing torrent." The Acquacknonk Bridge was destroyed; water raged four feet above its roadway and the bridge toppled. Another bridge at Second Street was damaged but not completely destroyed.
Nevertheless, the town continued to attract citizens. The construction of bridges and trolley car service helped the town expand. Many new residents worked at Garfield Manufacturing, Prescott, the Manhattan Belt Company, or the Anderson Lumber Yard, whose timber originated from the Anderson plantation in Virginia. Wallington attracted hard-working immigrants-Poles, Hungarians, and Germans-who were willing to work long hours. Eventually, though, disputes between the upper class and lower class caused the upper class to sell much of their land. The lower class developed the town by starting businesses and trade shops. A self-supporting community was created, with the population growing from 1,812 in 1890 to 3,448 in 1910, and by 1920 Wallington was the fourth largest borough in Bergen Count with a population of 5,715.
Community buildings and services increased also. In 1910 our town employed it first full-timed patrolman, Charles Neilley, and Public Service Electric & Gas installed gas lines. 1913 saw the fire department add a second company, and then a third one was built in 1923. Jefferson School (School #2) was constructed in 1914, and only ten years later the third school, then named Washington was built. Unsuccessful attempts were made to establish a secondary school during the 1930s; however, in 1949 the High School passed, and Wallington was able to house it high school students in Washington School, subsequently renamed as Wallington High School.
Houses of worship increased. The Polish National Catholic Church of Transfiguration opened in 1925, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church was built in 1942, and the First Presbyterian Church of Passaic merged with the Christ Presbyterian Church in 1945 to create the Wallington Presbyterian Church.
City Hall had different home. Initially, it was at its most impressive site, 190 Main Avenue; however, the financial burden could not be met, the building was sold, and City Hall moved to its next location at Hose Company #1 on Union Boulevard. In 1913 it moved once again to its present location in the Borough Hall on Union Boulevard.
A third bridge, the Eighth Street Bridge, promoted further growth of the community with its construction in 1915. It was the bridge that completed a direct route to Newark and New York from the large industries in the Dundee section of Passaic. In addition, the bridge helped to attract many Polish mill workers to Wallington, thus moving the "center" of town from Locust Avenue to Pulaski Avenue. To this day Wallington continues to be a beacon for these immigrants.
Business flourished in Wallington, too. In addition to the Anderson & Post Lumber Company and the Anderson Chemical Company, there were other businesses, ones which took advantage of Wallington' s rich soil. Mr. Julius Roehrs, a native of Germany, was the proprietor of the mammoth flower garden near the crest of Shaueehank Hill on Paterson Plank Road. Approximately forty men were employed. In 1913 the Roehrs nursery was a booming business with 100 greenhouses that increased to 125 by 1955. The company left Wallington, though, when it moved entirely to Howell Township in 1969.
Other business existed. C. Van Howling and Sons was a Wallington-based house-moving firm which was popular enough to have an article about it in the newspaper. George C. Woolson, a florist of Woolson & Co., Wallington, made his residence in the town. He served the community by acting as a school trustee and district clerk and was the first in this part of the country to engage in the cultivation of hardy perennial plants for commercial purposes. Finally, at the merging of the Passaic and Saddle Rivers was the site of the Zabriskie grist mill (at which a bloody battle had occurred between the Hessian and Continental troops during the Revolutionary War).
On a more positive note, the Passaic and Saddle Rivers provided beaches that were popular gathering places, especially during the 1920s. At that time the rivers were clean and full of fish, providing enjoyment for many. During the late 1950s and mid-1960s, construction changed the course of the Passaic River in order to build a major highway, Route 21. Wallington relinquished an entire street, Scott Street, to provide for this.
Another aspect of this town is its patriotism, especially during the World Wars. In 1917 the Home Defense League organized itself, followed shortly thereafter by the Red Cross, Home Guard (volunteer citizens to quell any riots or disturbances in the borough), censorship committee, and press committee. Several loan drives were held, some in cooperation with Passaic but the last few were from Wallington only. At that time, a tremendous amount of money, $271,000 was raised-almost double the assigned quota. The women of Wallington sewed and knitted sweaters, garments, slings, and pillows, and they made comfort kits. School children helped by sewing different articles. Finally, the V.F.W. boasted over the largest number of servicemen in the nation, over 2,300-with overseas duty.
Many residents today recall the role that Shaueehank Hill played in protecting the East Coast during World War II. As one of the higher points in the region, it was a strategic location for anti-aircraft guns. The area of the Little League Field was laden with radar equipment, while additional guns were posted against the houses. The soldiers stationed along the ridge enjoyed the Post Exchange built on the land just below Shaueehank Hill, near where Gavlak School now stands. Thankfully, neither these soldiers nor the equipment saw any action.
Wallington citizens provided for the memory of those who served in the armed forces. An honor roll, framing the names of all the men in service, is still displayed in the council chamber of the municipal building. Also, a monument was erected at Union Boulevard and Paterson Avenue to serve as an expression of gratitude, respect, and remembrance to those who severed in the "Great War" and, named after two Wallington war heroes, the V.F.W. Pavlick-Koster Post 1640 was formed in 1932 with forty World War I veterans.
Midway through the twentieth century, a gentleman who loved the town of Wallington was responsible not only for Wallington to be one of the first schools to require immunizations, but also for the growth of Alden Street, from King Street to where it ends. This man, Dr. Stephen Lesko, had purchased farmland above Shueehank Hill and developed it in the 1950's with one-story houses. At this time in Wallington's history, a town planning board did not exist, Dr. Lesko's foresight resulted in a residential area with houses built on properties that were larger than most. Lined with maple trees, Mt. Pleasant Avenue was most appropriately named; it is still a pleasant street on which to live or to simply take a stroll.
Wallington continued to develop, and residences and industries are now intermixed. The quick housing boom gave little attention to proper development, with no central malls. In 1960 a master plan for the town of Wallington was completed by the Passaic Valley Citizens Planning Association, Consultants, in a report for the relatively new Planning Board. Although not all of the recommendations were implemented, the town has continued to grow to its capacity.
Wallington transformed from its agrarian origins. The area originally yielded fruits, flowers, shrubs, lumber, and farm produce that were either floated down the Passaic River to Newark Bay or transported in wagons along Paterson Plank Road to New York City. We had several working farms: Ciliento, Reimel, VanKruinengen, VanBussum, Knoles, and Piechota-to name only a few. Krug's property, Farmland Dairies moved into Wallington in 1970 and at the present is the only working dairy business.
Although Wallington has many small businesses and a dozen or so larger ones, most of which are now nonagrarian, the borough is primary residential and not without it parks. Two men, Mr. Dul and Mr. Nelkin (Wallington's youngest mayor), wanted this town to retain some of its natural beauty and at the same time please its residents. Both donated tracts of land. Today, youngsters thrive on playing ball at Dul's filed, and Wallingtonians are able to enjoy some of the original landscape of the town in the largest of its parks. The Samuel Nelkin County Park. During each season of each year, residents enjoy the pond, the playground, the sports areas, or simply the beauty of that park.
As of 1991, the residents number 10,828, a manifestation of the growth of a town that is only one-square mile, with 4,785 housing units and two garden apartments, both built by James Nuckle in the late 1960s: Mt. Pleasant Village Apartments and the Jasontown Apartments. To accommodate this expansion, a branch of the U.S. Post Office was opened in 1966 on Maple Avenue. We now have two public elementary schools, Jefferson and Frank W. Gavlak; one private elementary school at Sacred Heart; and one high school. Unfortunately, Lincoln School did not survive the test of time and was razed in the name of progress. However, in its place we do have a modern Civic Center which houses some of the municipal offices and serves as a home-away-from home for our senior citizens. Many Civic organizations have been created, one which further promote the community spirit that is evidenced in the town. Of course, with the growth of the town the police department expanded to a force comprised of 12 patrolmen, 3 sergeants, 2 lieutenants, a captain, and a chief, along with a staff of auxiliary police and crossing guards.
If we look closely enough. Wallington's past is still very much in its present. Although streets and houses line Shaueehank Hill, the hill remains partly untouched in places like the Nelkin County Park. Indians may not exist, but their arrowheads and some utensils are safely reserved and occasionally displayed. Paterson Avenue may not have planks or trolleys and may not have wagons transporting fruits and flowers, but it is still a major roadway employed by both businesses and commuters, and people travel into the town to purchase mouth-watering kielbasi and pierogi. The orchards and nurseries may have transferred to other locations, but their memory lives in the names of some of our streets: Iris Lilac, Roehrs, Azalea, Ivy, and more. And although the cows no longer graze the fields here, one can cross our state's borders and find the products of Farmland Dairies, Wallington, N.J. at the supermarket or on restaurant tables.
After a century, this tiny, heart-shaped borough still prides itself on its community: Its parks, where people can be seen playing soccer, football, and baseball, flying kites, strolling around the pond, fishing, or having fun with their youngsters in the playground. Its Little League Field, which shouts of children, cheers of fans, and the echoes from the 1968 and 1971 State Championship seasons. Its fine schools and its businesses, both of which are well-know beyond Wallington's borders. And finally, its residents, whose backgrounds blend to form a community that prides itself on both the traditions it has kept and on the progress it has made throughout the past one-hundred years.
Researched and authenticated by Anthony Godomski, Local Town Historian written by Diane Jarotski, Wallington Historical Society Secretary