History of Hillsdale Part V

Population Explosion Rocks Town ‑ 1948-1973
by G.D. Graves Jr.

HILLSDALE – Explosive growth may be said to be the hallmark of the past quarter century of the history of Hillsdale, which covers the period from 1948 to the 75th anniversary year of the community, in 1973. James A. Tatem was mayor of Hillsdale in 1948 when the groundwork was laid for the Tandy and Allen development of more than 200 homes, which started Hillsdale on a building boom in 1949 and 1950 and one that has only very recently ground to a halt due to the fact that the only available lands in the community suitable for home sites are small lots scattered throughout the borough

Population figures published by the Bergen County Planning Board indicate Hillsdale’s population as being under 4,000 in the late 1940s. The population of the town tripled during the 25 years from 1948 to 1973. The building boom had its sharpest increase in the ten years from 1950 (population 4,127) to 1960 (population 8,734). The official population in 1972 was 12,035, making the community of only two square miles the most populous of the eight towns in the Pascack Valley.


The most immediate consequence of Hillsdale’s exploding population was the demand for new schools and educational facilities. In 1948, the elementary school enrollment was 496 students, all attending the George G. White School on Magnolia Avenue, which had been enlarged in 1921 and again in1938. A total of 155 Hillsdale High School students attended Westwood and Park Ridge high schools. Lindley Baxter served for 10 years as Superintendent of Schools, beginning in 1948, and E.C. Kenyon was president of the Board of Education. Shepard Cynamon became superintendent in 1962, and the school board president was Harold Keates, who was elected to that position in 1967.

In 1951, the residents of Hillsdale voted to form the Pascack Valley Regional High School District, to include River Vale, Woodcliff Lake and Montvale. Pascack Valley High School, on Piermont Avenue, Hillsdale, was opened in the fall of 1955. A second school, Pascack Hills High School, was opened in Montvale in September 1964. The Ann Blanche Smith School was opened on the west side of town, on Hillsdale Avenue, in 1955, and the Meadowbrook School was built on the east side of town, on Piermont Avenue in 1964, a short distance from the high school. A massive school expansion program was initiated in December, 1972, with the passage of a $1.45 million bond issue. Construction begun at that time included: four classrooms and an expanded library at Meadowbrook School: three classrooms, a double station gym, new library, conversion to a cafeteria, and conversion to two science labs at the White School.
The public school enrollment in 1973 was 1665 students. In 1955, St. John the Baptist Parochial School was constructed on Hillsdale Avenue to accommodate the large Catholic population in Hillsdale. St. John’s School had an enrollment of 560 students in 1973.

Local Government Change

In the fall of 1955, a split within the Republican Party in Hillsdale enabled John F. Dowd, a Democrat, to become the first member of his party to be elected Mayor of Hillsdale. Dowd served with distinction in 1956 and 1957 presiding over an all-Republican Council. His appointment of Walter T. Wittman as Borough Attorney continued for many years. Through the ‘60s, up to 1973, the Hillsdale Council included several Democrats, but up to that time, Dowd had been the only Democratic mayor.


During the ‘60s and ‘70s, Hillsdale’s municipal services began to take their present form. In 1948, William Diefenbach was foreman of the Road Department. He had responsibility for two men, a road grader, a truck, and a gasoline-operated street sweeper. The present borough garage was constructed in 1966 when Gilbert E. Busch was mayor and Robert Raute was the Superintendent of Public Works. In 1973, the department was headed by Joseph D’Amico, with 28 full-time employees, the largest in the Pascack Valley. At that time, the department owned seven trucks and eight other pieces of equipment. All maintenance of equipment, including the police and fire department vehicles, was performed on the premises of the Department of Public Works (DPW). In 1951, the borough began municipal garbage pickup. In August, 1972, six garbage trucks began twice weekly truck pickups, covering the entire community.

Studies aimed at a municipal sewer program were begun in 1959, under Mayor Lester E. Bremer. In 1973, the Borough Clerk-Administrator, S. Halloran, had been on the first sewer committee in 1959. Under Mayor Gilbert E. Busch, in 1968, four sewer contracts were let in rapid succession, backed by bond issues totaling $4,100,000. The entire community was sewered by 1970, at a great saving to the taxpayers. Councilmen Richard Butterworth and Ivan Sattem were instrumental in guiding the sewer program to its completion. The new firehouse on Hillsdale Avenue was completed in 1957 under Mayor Dowd and an addition of a second story was constructed in 1968, under Mayor Busch. The Hillsdale Ambulance Corps began operations on February 1, 1954, and the new building now owned by the corps, behind the firehouse on Washington Avenue, was completed in 1968.

Judge Walter J. McIntyre served as president of the Board of Trustees of the Hillsdale Free Public Library from 1948 until his retirement in 1972, the year in which an extensive expansion program was completed at the library, located on Hillsdale Avenue. At the beginning of 1973, the library had 50,000 volumes on its shelves. Mrs. Betty F. Malone was the full-time librarian in charge of a full staff comprised of several paid and volunteer assistants. Mrs. Dorothy H. Ward was president of the Board of Trustees at this time. The present United States Post Office building was opened in March 1960, with Calvin Piper as postmaster. In 1973, Herman Orfini, a long-time employee of the post office, became the acting postmaster following the retirement of Postmaster Piper early that year.


In 1948, the Hillsdale Police Dept. consisted of Chief R. Frank Stoeckel, patrolmen Frank Scott, J. Greve and Gerald Schmidt, and one patrol car. Headquarters was located in the rear of Borough Hall. Chief Stoeckel retired in 1969 and Captain Philip J. Varisco was appointed chief. The department, in 1973, consisted of Captain Robert Schramm and 21 other officers and men, with six police vehicles at their disposal. The headquarters was moved to the Municipal Building, adjoining Borough Hall, in late 1973.


The Hillsdale Fire Department was housed on the ground floor of the present Borough Hall in 1948. Robert S. Rawson was chief of the 38 member department in that year, and the equipment consisted of one pumper, and one hook and ladder engine. Oscar Bertalot of Hillsdale was president of the Pascack Valley Firemen’s Association in 1948. The department moved to its new building on Hillsdale Avenue in 1957, across the street from Borough Hall. Franklyn C. Glucker was chief in 1973, with Richard E. Schreiber captain of Hook and Ladder Co. 1 and Wallace G. Brindise captain of Hose Co. 1. At that time, the department had four large, modern engines, including a snorkel pumper, a chief’s car, and an emergency vehicle.


In 1973, George Schoonover was president of the Hillsdale Volunteer Ambulance Service. Rudolf C. Appeld was clerk of the Board of Fire Officers, and Dr. Gerald Dolan was the Fire Department Surgeon. In the fall of 1972, the fire department and ladies auxiliary won several first prizes for competitions in the annual parade and convention of the N.Y. and N.J. Firemen’s Association.


During the period following 1948, three new houses of worship were constructed in Hillsdale, as the parish membership outgrew the original churches. In 1954, Hillsdale Methodists built a new church on the corner of Magnolia and Hillsdale Avenues, on the site where the original church had burned to the ground. A church school building was constructed some years later. Rev. Lawrence Richards was the pastor of the congregation in 1973.

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church completed a new building around the original church on Hillsdale Avenue in 1966, next to the George G. White School. Rev. John S. Allen was rector of the congregation in 1973.

In 1968, the parish of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church, under the leadership of its pastor, Monsignor Thomas J. Duffy, completed a large new church, with an entrance off Patterson Street. The Rev. Father Thomas Finnegan was pastor of the parish in 1973. The parish also supports St. John the Baptist Parochial School.


In the late fall of 1972, under the leadership of Mayor Richard Englander, construction was started on a large new municipal building facing the firehouse on Hillsdale Avenue. The building was designed to house all borough offices, a meeting hall for the governing body, the Police Department, and Board of Health facilities. It was completed in late 1973.


From the earliest days, Hillsdale’s business district was confined almost wholly to the area surrounding the railroad station on Broadway and Hillsdale Avenue. In the years from 1960 to 1973, the business area pushed both northward and southward along Broadway and its side streets. Valley Fair opened the first shopping center in town in 1968, near the Woodcliff Lake boundary, in an abandoned sand pit. The burning of Koenig’s Hofbrau, long a Bergen County gathering place for Americans of German descent and a meeting place for local residents and civic affairs, in the late 1960s, opened an area east of the Pascack Brook, suitable for a large shopping center. The center was opened in 1970 along with a municipal parking lot made by the demolition of several houses on the south side of Hillsdale Avenue, west of the railroad tracks.

N.J. Bell Telephone Company built two new buildings on Broadway and several other new commercial buildings were constructed on both ends of the street. Both Pascack Valley Bank & Trust Company, formerly the Hillsdale National Bank, and Progressive Savings and Loan Association built new headquarters on Broadway, and the bank opened a branch office in Old Tappan. In 1973, the bank announced plans to merge with the Citizens First National Bank of Ridgewood. Liberty National Bank planned on opening for business in the former Pheifer’s County Hearth Building on Broadway, later that year.

The Hillsdale Business Association was reorganized into the Hillsdale Chamber of Commerce, which had been active in the community in recent years. The president in 1973 was Richard Kelley, president of the Pascack Valley Bank & Trust Co. Several new organizations were formed. A 50 Plus Club was organized by senior citizens, a Hillsdale Branch of the Pascack Valley Hospital Auxiliary was formed after the opening of the hospital, a Democratic Club was organized, and a Veteran’s Council was formed by the Gen. Leonard Wood Post of the American Legion and the recently chartered Hillsdale Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.


The Hillsdale Recreation organization greatly expanded its operations to include year-round activities in the late ‘60s, under a paid director, Joseph Talamo. The Memorial Park Little League Field off Hillsdale Avenue was improved. Beechwood Park recreation area was established with a nature trail and the music shell opened in the park in 1961, with a series of summer concerts. New playgrounds were opened in Glenbrook Park and a small plot of land off west Hillsdale Avenue was set aside as Halloran Park. In 1973, Mrs. Clifton S. Pruett was president of the Recreation Commission and John E. Stubbs chairman of the Environmental Commission, which had been established by the borough in 1969.