History of Saddle River

The first humans to inhabit the area now known as Saddle River were the Lenni Lenape Native Americans. The Lenni Lenape settled here approximately 10,000 years ago and stayed until the mid 18th century. In 1756, the entire tribe permanently left Saddle River, leaving only one lone tribesman named Mashier to watch over their burial grounds. Although nothing built by the Lenni Lenape remains in Saddle River today, a massive boulder (known as Indian Rock) was a sacred Native American meeting place and still sits in the woods off Twin Brooks Road.

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.

One of the most important things to happen to Saddle River during the 19th century occurred in the mid 1890s. On December 8th 1894, the Borough of Saddle River was officially formed, thereby marking the beginning of our own independent town government which is still recognized to this day.

In 1900, Saddle River started negotiations and soon brought electricity and road lights to the borough. In 1908, John Hosey Osborn published the first comprehensive book about Saddle River entitled ‘Life in the Old Dutch Homesteads’. In 1912, the all volunteer Saddle River Fire Department was officially established. Telephone service came to Saddle River in 1913 and it was in that same year that Sunnyside Dairy Farms opened for business on the land that would later be developed into High Ridge. During World War I, injured soldiers traveled to the Chestnut Ridge Rest Home (17 Woodcliff Lake Road) to recuperate from their injuries. In 1919, Wandell School was officially opened to students and the District #25 schoolhouse was torn down.

In 1925, the Joe Jefferson Fishing Club built its wooden clubhouse on the East road. Tradition tells us that in later years, the great Ernest Hemingway would visit the Joe Jefferson club to experience the local fresh water fishing action. In 1926, Grassy Forks (owners of the largest Goldfish farm in America) opened up an Eastern branch on West Saddle River Road. The “Grassy Forks” sign can still be seen in the front yard of the property. Tricker’s Water Gardens moved operations to Saddle River in August 1927. Well known across the country, Tricker’s was the largest and oldest firm of water garden specialists in America.

Although recreational activities such as fishing, ice skating and horseback riding were always popular, the 1920’s and 1930’s were a particularly active time for organized sports in Saddle River. From 1924-1935, the Saddle River Polo Club competed successfully on a field that was located at the bottom of Oak Road. Additionally, the Saddle River Falcons were a semi pro hockey team that competed in town during the 20’s and 30’s. In 1928, a semi-pro baseball club named the Saddle River Blue Jays formed and played games on the field behind Wandell School. In July 1938, the Blue Jays had a great surprise when Babe Ruth showed up at Wandell to take in a few innings of baseball. 

Although the growth of Saddle River (and America) slowed down considerably during the Great Depression, the 1930’s was still an important decade. In 1930, the Borough adopted official Zoning Laws to reduce fears that the George Washington Bridge would result in the over development of Saddle River. In 1932, the 100% female owned and operated “Colonial Door” teahouse opened in the barn that currently houses the Saddle River Museum. In 1934, the Bergen Evening Record featured the “Colonial Door” in an article about old barns in Bergen County being adapted for new purposes. Construction work on a new Borough Hall was finally completed on December 15th 1937 and it was opened for business in 1938. Last but not least, the Saddle River Garden Club was established in 1939. At their suggestion, the Saddle River Mayor and Council passed a resolution making the Pink Dogwood tree the official flower of the borough to honor all those from the local area who served in any war in which this Nation has been involved. The Pink Dogwood has become an important symbol of our community and is currently one of the four scenes chosen to represent Saddle River on the official Borough Seal.

As a result of World War Two, the Borough of Saddle River did not change significantly.  Residents saw the establishment of a town Planning Board and the adoption of a one acre minimum lot size requirement. In 1949, the Justice of the Peace system was also changed to a Municipal Court.

The second half of the 20th century was an eventful time for Saddle River. The current Wandell School building was opened in 1950. To safeguard the pastoral nature of the town, Saddle River changed its minimum lot size requirement from one acre to two acres in 1951. The Church of St. Gabriel opened in 1952. In 1956, the Saddle River Post Office moved to its current location and Saddle River Day School opened in 1957.

In the early 1960’s, Rindlaub Park was created on the 23 acres behind Borough Hall. In 1965, the antiquated Marshal System was replaced by the current Saddle River Police Department. In 1967, Mayor and Council established the Saddle River Historical Committee.

In the 1970’s, Saddle River growth hit a plateau due to political and economic uncertainty in America. By the end of the decade, conditions were better and builders broke ground on a new development called Burning Hollow.

In 1981, Saddle River was thrown into the national spotlight when former President Richard Nixon moved into town. Additionally, the area known as Sammy’s Hill (the former Sunnyside Dairy Farm) was turned into “High Ridge” in the early 1980s. In 1984, the Saddle River Historical Committee changed its name to the Saddle River Landmarks Commission. To this day, ‘Landmarks’ members play an important role by documenting the Borough’s extensive history and working to preserve buildings of historical significance. In 1986, the 65 acre ‘Saddle River Historic District’ was awarded a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Lastly, the Borough built a modern Police Station and Firehouse in 1989.

In 1992, concerned residents established the Bishop House Foundation to restore and maintain the Ackerman-Dewsnap-Bishop House located across the street from the Post Office at 176 East Saddle River Road. In 1994, the Borough of Saddle River celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a series of town events. The culmination was a huge Saddle River Centennial Fair held at Rindlaub Park. Between 1994 and 1995, the Borough acquired several 18th Century documents including the original contract between the Lenni Lenape and Albert Zabriskie for the land that includes present day Saddle River. In 1996, Sandra VanBenschoten wrote The History of Saddle River. In 1998, the old Wandell School building was torn down after it was deemed too expensive to repair & maintain.

Congratulations! You now know the basic story of our town, from the Native Americans to the new millennium.

Thank you for reading my Condensed History of Saddle River. I believe that every generation has a responsibility to preserve the unique character of Saddle River and knowing our past is the first step in protecting our future. My goal in writing this was to provide current and potential residents with enough information to give them a sense of our incredible past. That being said, this is not intended to be a complete history of Saddle River and many people, visitors, businesses and events have been left out in order to keep it pithy. I encourage my fellow residents to make an effort to rediscover Saddle River. Take time to visit the Saddle River Museum and the variety of historic landmarks that can be found throughout the Borough. Thank you again for taking the time to learn about Saddle River and don’t forget that you have a Historian here to answer any questions you may have about our past.

Jon Kurpis
Saddle River Historian

100 E Allendale Rd. Saddle River, NJ 07458 | (p) 201-327-2609 | (f) 201-327-0168