Mahwah Cemeteries of the Past

This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in the “The Old Station Timetable” in March 1983.

For the most part churchyard cemeteries were the last resting places for the early farmers of the Ramapo Valley. Ordinarily they would attend the nearest church. The state line was no barrier to the people who lived at Suffern or in the Clove. The Ramapo Reformed churchyard holds many of the workers from Pierson’s Iron Works, and the miners and woodcutters who labored for the various local iron mines.

The choices were few. Those in the Masonicus area took their families to the Reformed Church in Saddle River. Those living in the Fardale section attended the Wyckoff Reformed Church or the Ponds Church in Oakland. Farmers in the upper Ramapo Valley went to the Reformed Church on Island Road in Mahwah. In each of these old cemeteries can be found grave markers inscribed with the names of oldtime landowners – at Wyckoff, Van Gelder, Ackerman and Terhune; at Saddle River, Doremus and Van Blarcom and De Baun; in Mahwah, the Wanamaker, Hennion and Hopper; and names from north of the line, Pierson, Suffern and Townsend.

Predating the Reformed churches was the Lutheran Church started by early incomers about 1724. It was a log, then wooden structure located on Island Road near Moffatt Road. It served the local families until 1785 when the Ramapo Reformed Church was formed. On Moffatt Road there is a very old cemetery. Since it is located in the old church area and there is a deed for a cemetery given to the Lutheran Church by a Maysinger, this is probably the old Lutheran Church burying ground and certainly many of the graves hold people who attended that church.

The earliest decipherable burial is 1770, only initials being given. Much earlier are the rough field stones with no inscriptions serving the purpose of marking before any gravestone worker appeared. There were over seventy burials and probably more. Many belong to the Wanamaker, Maysineer, Carlough, Bevans and Fox families. A notable stone marks the grave of John Suffern, infant son of John and Mary Suffern. Until Route 17 pushed through Mahwah, this was a pleasant rural countryside. The site of the cemetery on a sandy hill overlooked farms and pastures, a quiet, serene resting place.

The highway cut into the hillside almost to the graves at the edge. Moffatt Road was lined with new homes. Brush grew into trees, vandalism wreaked havoc among the stones, erosion wore down the steep gouged-out slope, threatening a final destruction of hundred year old graves. Today, this is a neglected place, reflecting the callous indifference of the town. A site that should be a monument to pioneer ancestors is a testimonial to historic insensibility.

The Ramapo mountain people did not come down into the valley for burials. We know about two small hidden cemeteries marked with field stones up in the hills. One was obliterated when the pipeline gouged through the mountains, the other is recognized as a burial place only by those who have hunted it out. The population was never very large and there may be more lonely forgotten unmarked graves scattered through the hills.

Throughout the valley some small plots of ground were set aside on the farms for a family cemetery where the graves were marked, kept in good condition and probably visited often. There are only a few under the bulldozer. A few were spared, known t6 town planners, with builders forbidden to disturb them. What is left of the family plot of the Youngs who farmed along Youngs Road lies between two houses in the Fawn Hill development. Anna and James and two of their children lie here with Pulis neighbors.

The new Apple Ridge townhouses on Airmount Ave. are being built around a small fenced family plot. Protected for years by its obscure location, it may be the last unprotected family cemetery in Mahwah.

Two local family cemeteries have survived in good condition because they have not been entirely neglected. The best known is the Hopper plot which is located on the grounds of the historic Hopper house on Valley Road. Because it is so near the road, it is an easy target for vandals, but for the same reason there is a measure of protection. Here are found graves marked with early names in the valley and the earliest known grave of a Bartholf. It may be that of the very first Bartholf to locate here.

Even more fortunate is the Bogert family cemetery on Chapel Road. Here an unknown number of Bogerts, Hoppers and Pulises are buried. The earliest date known is 1799, but there are a number of simple fieldstones which may predate that. The original plot is well cared for and this is a fair sample of what the Lutheran cemetery on Moffatt Road should look like. An additional area is the property of the Lutheran Redeemer Church of Ramsey.

There may be other small private burial sites hidden in brush covered field and not yet ploughed under. All of these early cemeteries provide us with a continuity with the past; a reminder of those early settlers who cleared the land, endured the rigors of pioneer life, lived through the raids and alarms of the Revolution, and left their names to many of the present inhabitants of Mahwah.


Historic Sites

This article, by Elaine Rod, was first published in  “The Old Station Timetable” in June 1979.

OldStationLogoThe Historic Sites Committee is finishing its research of 18th and 19th century historical houses and landmarks in Mahwah. The Committee, appointed by the Township Committee, began its work more than a year ago by selecting all those homes built in the 1700’s, those having representative Victorian architecture, and any 20th century houses having significant features, such as the Joyce Kilmer home on Airmount Road.

To date, about 50 sites have been surveyed, and it is anticipated that another 40-50 will be researched in the coming year.

Later this summer, upon completion of this first phase, a historic site marker featuring, the Old Station logo, will be presented to each site owner.

The biggest single undertaking of the Committee has been to prepare the Hopper Gristmill-Sawmill site for inclusion on the National Register. Initial research on the site was done by Edward Rutsch and Joanne Cotz for the Northwest Bergen County Sewer Authority. Since then, Eagle Scout candidate, Steve Elich, Mahwah Troop 50, has assumed the responsibility of cleaning and landscaping the site located on the banks of the Ramapo River behind the United Auto Workers Union building on Ramapo Valley Road.

A Bergen County Historic Marker will be installed at the gristmill site using funds provided by a State grant and the Mahwah Historical Society.

Future projects of the Committee include the establishment of historic districts in the Fardale and Cragmere/Masonicus areas, Ramapo Valley Road and Island Road, entering as many sites on the National Register as may qualify. Also, the Committee will provide assistance to local residents interested in preserving an historic site.



Mahwah Historical Society History: Second Installment

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.