This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable”
in February 1980.
The occupation of Bergen County by the early settlers is most interesting. Bergen and most of Hudson were settled by the Holland Dutch. In 1664, when the British seized the land, it was deeded to the Board of Proprietors of East Jersey. Much of the area was available along very old Indian trails which usually followed the streams and other water areas. This was true of the Ramapo Turnpike, Paramus Road and the Plank Road over the meadows. It possibly started as an Indian trail. It was the stage coach route from up country to the city. Dobbins and Tuston of Middletown, N.Y. were given a coach franchise back in 1790. Much the same path was followed by the Erie Railroad when it came through in 1848.
The purchase of the Ramapough Tract from the Lenni Lenape in 1709 was a big event. It opened up 42,500 acres for purchase or lease. It ran from Torne Brook in Rockland County to the rock at Glen Rock, from the Ramapo Mountains east to Saddle River. The original transaction was promoted by Peter Sonmans, who claimed jurisdiction from the British branch of the Proprietors. This occasioned disputes with the American group and especially when his friend Fauconnier was authorized to sell land. He kept the money, lost his records and caused numerous suits by the Proprietors, who finally took over about 1720. His daughter was Mrs. M. Valleau, who claimed many areas. She gave Valleau Cemetery to the Paramus Church. The Minutes of the Proprietors is filled with Ramapough problems. Kierstead and the La Reaus were continually on the docket. Kierstead was a signer of the deed and built the Hopper-VanHorn house in 1720 and by 1760 was heavily in debt to the Proprietors. He had married a La Reau girl and they bailed him out. Because of litigation, the La Reau boundaries as shown on the 1762 map are extremely inaccurate and only became accurate as the area was settled.
I have a copy of the deed to the Ramapough Tract. Kierstad had a lot to do with getting the La Reaus to John Edsall of New York became owner by sheriff’s sale. In 1865 Edsall sold to John Petry of New York for $16,000, along with 138 acres. Petry was in the liquor business in New York. He borrowed $20,000 on the place and then assigned the mortgage to John Y. Dater. About 1870 Mr. Dater foreclosed on the property and thus became the owner. In 1876 Mr. Dater sold to DeCastro and Donner Sugar Refining Company.
In November 1877 Theodore A. Havemeyer rented the property and a little later bought the place and paid off all the various mortgages. He also bought the Bockee place, where his son Henry O. went to live after making extensive alterations. I have a picture of it and was in it many times. This beautiful house fell prey to arson. In 1965 Henry Havemeyer died, and in April the contents were sold at auction. R. O. Havemeyer was a member of the Yale class of 1900, was interested in the Brooklyn District Terminal Railway, which served all the pierheads of south Brooklyn. He was also one of the firm of Havemeyer and Elder which refined sugar in Brooklyn. There is still a Havemeyer Street in that area. He was a member of a sporting club which owned an island off the Carolina coast and used to summer in Newport, Rhode Island. Mr. Havemeyer build extensive buildings and operated Mountainside Farm for a number of years and which his son, Henry, kept up. He also built for his daughter the brick and stone mans; on where the Birchs used to live and is now owned by Ramapo College.
Going a bit south, there was Alfred B. Darling, who owned and operated the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York, who built in 1866 a very fine frame house and farm where the Reservation is now. Mr. Darling brought with him from Vermont, E. F. Carpenter, who became his superintendent and later became prominent in Ramsey. It was his daughter who married Allie Winters and established the Mahwah Library. When Darling died in the 90’s, the land was bought by George Crocker, whose family owned the Crocker National Bank in San Francisco. Mr. Crocker had moved to New York in connection with the banking business. He spent one million in building the brick Elizabethan-style mansion, finished in 1903. When he saw the site where he built, he said “it was the most beautiful building spot from Maine to California.” Mr. Crocker also built St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ramsey in memory of his wife, Emma. Mr. Carpenter gave the land for the building. Emerson MacMillin next owned the property, having made his money operating electric powered suburban railways across New Jersey.
The last and present owner of the property is the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark, who established there the Seminary and Church of the Immaculate Conception.
This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in October 1978. For the first installment, click here.
A synopsis of the first installment tells the story of the formation of the Society back in 1966. The first major project was the moving of the old 1871 Railroad Station and its restoration work started in 1967. It is located opposite Winter’s Pond and serves as a museum open to the public from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays through October.
After the roof there were a great many details to be accomplished such as special moulding for the outside, window glass Installed, doors repaired and the chimney. The partition separating the agent’s office from the waiting room had to be replaced as well as some of the flooring. A lot of the Interior work was done by the author. One day he was visited by one of the vice presidents of the Erie and the general superintendent who had heard what we were doing.
At last all was ready for the ceremony of dedication which took place Sept. 22, 1968. Of course, all the local officials were present. The principal speaker was Gov. Richard J. Hughes, now Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. Also present were Vice President M. F. Coffman of the Erie, R. J. Downing, General Superintendent, and George Eastland, their publicity man. It was a fine ceremony and well attended. Congressman William B. Widnail was also a guest.
Already In the station on exhibit was the 1 1/2 scale working model of a Pacific steam locomotive. This was made by apprentices of the Dunmore shops of the Erie about 1918. It was given to the Society by Stephen J. Birch, Jr., and it had been given to his father, S. J. Birch by the Erie. Mr. Birch was an active stockholder of the Erie and also an official of Kennecott Copper. The locomotive was operated on the Birch estate for young Steve. It is a very finely built model. In the museum are other railroad items, documents and exhibits which are changed periodically.
The Society itself meets monthly except during the summer in one of the school auditoriums. At first, meetings were held in the 1890 school in Darlington. While it had a lot of historical flavor, the acoustics were bad and so was the parking.
In 1970 plans were made to procure an old Erie caboose and locate it on trackage near the station. One was purchased that had been used as a club car In one of the western freight yards. The Erie brought It East, and it was stored on a siding of Abex in Mahwah. Ground was leveled off for the track, and Mr. Downing of the Erie donated ties and rails If we would pay the track crew to lay them. This was done, and the caboose moved over one Saturday. It was necessary to bring the trucks separately. These were the heaviest part of the car, and it was practical for the crane to handle in the half mile from Abex along local roads in two trips.
The history of the caboose was researched. It was built in Hoboken about 1910 according to the experts. Blueprints were secured for the Interior fittings, most of which had been removed. But it was finally painted up to use as additional museum display area. One of the main items is a topographical model of the main line of the Erie Lackawanna from Jersey City to Chicago showing all the major cities traversed ‘by the route. This was previously on display in the railroad president’s office, but it was given to us about the time they moved to Cleveland.
The Society co-sponsored an archaeological dig with the Board of Education of an 18th century house on Ridge Rd. Roland Robbins, a professional archaeologist of Lexington, Mass. had charge.
This article by Charles Anderson was first published in “The Old Station Timetable,” of January 1978.
The area in which Skylands is now located was a prime source of wood for the smelting operations at Ringwood during the 1700’s. Small farms were carved out of the stony hills where some level ground could be found. These were mostly along the Eagle Valley Road out of Sloatsburg (NY) and along the Wanaque Valley Road. The Ramapo Mountains were gradually cut up among small owners.
Around 1880, Stetson, a counsel for J.P. Morgan, with several associates bought up 1200 acres of these small holdings and established several large estates. Part of the Stetson property is now Skylands. His mansion was baronial and impressive. Sheep were grazed on the front lawn. A nine-hole golf course was laid out on land laboriously leveled. His wife was a paraplegic but could drive a buggy. Each year he cut additional miles of wood road through the estate so that she could travel about the property. Eventually, over 20 miles of road were cleared. Most of them are still available for hiking. They are easily distinguished from old wood roads used for lumbering by their easy grades, uniform width and solidly built stone bridges.
In the 1900’s Clarence Lewis bought property In Mahwah and lived here. He was a lawyer for the multi-million dollar firm owned by the Solomons of New York. Retiring a very wealthy man in 1933, aged 53, he was to live 30 years more. He owned a large piece of land east of the Birch property on the north side of the Ramapo River extending to a piece of Pierson property which extended west from the Glove and north to Pierson Ridge. Another large acreage owned by Lewis lay on both sides of the easterly third of Bear Swamp Pond, separated from the Stetson estate by a small piece of property owned by one Hines. When the Stetson property was up for sale, he bought it intending to join it with the Bear Swamp acreage. It is believed that Hines refused to sell, and he was not able to do this.
However, Skylands was his. He tore the house down. There are two stories giving a reason why, neither of which may be true. One states that his mother did not like the Stetson house, the other, that being a tallish man he bumped his head in several places while going through the house. At, any rate, the present building was put up in Jacobean style from stone quarried locally and embellished with interiors purchased from old castles in Europe. His mother died a year before the house was completed.
In the many years that he lived at Skylands, being an ardent horticulturist and well able to afford 60 gardeners, he developed an English style series of plantings complete with statuary and vistas, most of which are being restored today. Late in life he offered his estate to the New York Botanical Gardens. They insisted on a large endowment which he was unwilling to provide. The deal fell through. Later, he offered the property to Shelton College at a very reasonable price on condition that they follow his advice on management. They would not listen, he discontinued his help, and the college soon went bankrupt.
Developers were ready to purchase and carve the estate when Robert Roe purchased for the state 250 acres, the first acquisition of land under the Green Acres Program. House and grounds had been sadly neglected during the college ownership. Some restoration work was done on the house, and work was started In reclaiming the neglected gardens. However, with only ten gardeners, reclamation Is progressing slowly. The dedicated staff had made it possible for us to visualize the beauty of the gardens.’ Each year new discoveries of hidden beauties are made. Lewis’s dream of an estate extending from Skylands to the Ramapo has been realized. The boundaries of Ramapo Park have been extended past Bear Swamp Pond and now join with the wooded acreage of Skylands.