History of Hillsdale Part I


Hillsdale: Its name comes from a school and from its railroad station


HILLSDALE – The story of the evolution of the community known today as the Borough of Hillsdale, with its approximately 3000 homes, business community and a population of 11,700 persons (1975) saturating most of its roughly two square miles of territory, is a colorful one. The delineation of the boundaries of present-day Hillsdale involved a constant erosion of larger land divisions from 17th century colonial days to the final partitioning of eastern Hillsdale Township, to form the Township of River Vale in 1906. There were two eras of great metamorphosis in Hillsdale’s history—the advent of the railroad in 1870, which literally put the few scattered farms and country stores near the banks of the Pascack Brook “on the map,” and the opening of the George Washington Bridge in the early 1930s. Both events brought waves of migration by the masses from the crowded cities of New York, Paterson, and Jersey City. The new arrivals in both migratory waves sought identical goals: land, clean air, and water, in a rural atmosphere, located within reasonable distance to the job markets of the large cities. The first migration proceeded at a leisurely pace through World War I, increasing in tempo as the means of public transportation were improved by increased rail service and the establishment of bus routes. The second tide of migration came to a halt during World War II, but developed into an engulfing wave with the war’s end. This latter migration has today almost completely saturated Hillsdale’s available land space.



Although records are almost non-existent, it is believed that the Leni-Lenape Indians, members of the powerful Algonquin Nation, roamed the Hackensack River valley at the time of the arrival of the first Dutch explorers and settlers in 1630. A few Indian artifacts and the names of the Pascack and Musquapsink Brooks are all that remain from the centuries of Indian occupancy of the area.The Dutch settlers from the town of Bergen in Holland transferred the name of their fatherland community to the County of Bergen in 1630, and to the Village of Bergen in 1661, which is now part of Jersey City. In 1665, the village and its surrounding lands became an English colony.

The present State of New Jersey was divided into four counties by the British Crown on March 7, 1682: Essex, Middlesex, Monmouth and Bergen, the latter containing “all the land between Hudson’s River and the Hackensack River.” In 1693, the Colonial Assembly began the division of New Jersey’s counties into townships. Bergen County was divided into three townships, one of which was New Barbadoes Township, which included all the land between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers. The counties were re-divided in 1710 and Bergen County then comprised “all the land between Hudson’s River, and the Pequannock and the Passaic Rivers.” The present boundaries of Bergen County were established after the creation of Passaic County in 1837, and Hudson County in 1840.


In 1737, Saddle River Township was carved from New Barbadoes, and in 1775, just before the start of the Revolutionary War, Harrington Township was created from Saddle River. Thus, during that war, the area which is now Hillsdale was part of Harrington Township. The farms in the area were ravaged and plundered  by the armies of both the Americans, and the British and their mercenary Hessians. The Baylor Massacre on Sept. 28, 1778, at the Hering Farm on Rivervale Road, River Vale, took place on land that was part of Hillsdale from 1898 to 1906. During the war, many farmers in the area were sympathetic to the British Crown and fled to Canada. Some who were sympathetic remained; they were called “Tories.” Some spied for the British army, as in the case of the Rivervale Road farmers who betrayed Colonel Baylor.



On Jan. 30, 1840, Washington Township was created out of part of Harrington Township and included “that territory extending from New York Sate on the north to Soldier Hill Road, Oradell, on the south-between the Hackensack River and Saddle River.” In 1894, the Boroughs of Westwood, Park Ridge, Woodcliff Lake, Montvale and Old Tappan were formed, in that order. In 1898, just prior to the Spanish-American War, Washington Township had shrunk to the territory which now constitutes the communities of Hillsdale, River Vale, Emerson and Washington Township.



The state legislature was petitioned by the residents of “Hillsdale,” who had adopted the name from a school built on Pascack Road in 1856 and opened in 1870, for a separation from Washington Township. The legislature granted the petition, and incorporated Hillsdale Township in an act passed on March 25, 1898. The town was comprised of “all the territory between the Hackensack River on the east and Orvil Township (now Ho-Ho-Kus and Waldwick) on the west—between the boroughs of Woodcliff Lake, Park Ridge and the New York State line on the north, and the borough of Westwood and an imaginary line due west on the south.”

Credit for sparking the movement to incorporated Hillsdale has been given to Orin S. Trall (later the tax collector), John H. Riley (later a freeholder), A.C. Holdrum (State Assemblyman during the period), John F. Winters, David H. Demarest, Herridon Rohrs, and the following members of the first official family: Sanford Bogert, Chairman (mayor); George Seaman, treasurer; township committeeman Edmund Greenin; William W. Banta, clerk; Arthur J. Stever, freeholder; John A. Storms, assessor, and Ernest Koester, township counsel.



The first election of local officials was held in April 1898, in the former Hillsdale Manor House off upper Broadway, since torn down. Meetings of the township committee were held there until March 1899, held in a room over the Abram C. Hering store (now Pascack Board of Realtors building) at 150 Broadway, until March 1901. The township was divided into three road districts early in 1898. The rate for roadwork was fixed at $1.25 per day, for nine hour’s work, and $4.00 a day (nine hours) for one man and a team of horses. Each of the three township committeemen had charge of one road district.

David Patterson had donated the land for Magnolia Avenue in 1850 and in 1871, donated the land in the center of Hillsdale which is now Memorial Park. The Hillsdale Board of Education was organized on April 23, 1898, with A.C. Holdrum as president and William Blauvelt as clerk. There were three schools in Hillsdale in 1898: No. 1, which was the former School #1 in River Vale: No. 2, on Magnolia Avenue, and No. 3, on Pascack Road, built in 1856. The two latter schools have been torn down. High school children attended schools in Park Ridge, Westwood or Hackensack prior to the Pascack Valley Regional High School being built in 1955.

The tavern of Peter A. Jersey in Pascack (Woodcliff Lake) was the repository for mail addressed to Hillsdale on a once-a-week basis until March of 1870, when the railroad was extended to Hillsdale. At that time, mail was delivered daily to the post office, which was established in the present Leddy Building on Hillsdale Avenue, just west of the railroad tracks. Henry G. Hering, the storekeeper, was appointed the first postmaster, at a salary of $12 per year. He was one of the leading citizens of early Hillsdale for a long period of time. In addition to his storekeeper-postmaster duties, Hering served as stationmaster, secretary of the railroad, township clerk, state assemblyman, under-sheriff of the county from 1881 to 1886, former supervisor and tax assessor for Washington Township before Hillsdale was created, and was a civil engineer and surveyor. He laid out most of the roads in Bergen County and owned and developed most of Hillsdale Manor.

Other early postmasters included school principal W. W. Banta and John W. Kinmouth, who moved the post office to his store on Broadway, now the Cala Brothers Building. At the time of the incorporation of Hillsdale in 1898, the post office was moved back to the Leddy Building, then owned by John W. Winters, who became postmaster.



Prior to 1908, public safety in Hillsdale was maintained by constables elected each year.  There was no organized fire-fighting unit in the community until the formation of the Hillsdale Fire Association in 1902. In the early days, bucket brigades comprised of local residents fought fires after arriving on the scene on foot or by wagons. The Town did, however, have one of the best fire alarm systems in the county. Since the railroad car shops and roundhouse were in Hillsdale, there were usually several engines parked in Hillsdale. The blowing of the whistles of all the engines in town signaled the outbreak of a fire and could be heard for miles around the countryside. This alarm method was used until the employment of several huge iron rings at various locations in the town, shortly after the turn of the century.



As mentioned previously, the advent of the railroad effected a great change in the character of Hillsdale and its relation to the outside world. A charter was granted by the State on March 14, 1856, to the Hackensack and New York Railroad Company, which began construction of a 21-mile line in the spring of 1869. On Christmas Day of that year, the first engine crossed what is now Hillsdale Avenue, forming a link with the Erie Railway junction south of Carlstadt to a point just west of Hillsdale Avenue, which was its temporary terminus. When Hillsdale Station was opened for public use on March 4, 1870, there were only six houses within a half-mile radius of the site. Hillsdale residents were prominent in the organization of the pioneer railroad. Its president was David P. Patterson. Henry G. Hering was first secretary, and John Alfred Storms was the agent  for the first station. Equipment was primitive, with wooden, open-platform cars for passengers and wood burning stoves at either end of the car for heat. The tiny railroad’s first engines were wood-burners, built in Paterson. They remained in service until 1879. Coal burning engines were introduced in 1874, and one engine, No. 2, was adorned with the name “Hillsdale” on its sides.

Shortly after 1870, the 21 miles of track were extended northward from Hillsdale, to Haverstraw, NY, and was known as the Hackensack and New York Extension Railroad. In 1873, the two lines were merged into the New Jersey and New York Railroad Co. An 1879 timetable indicates five round trips were run per day, between Jersey City and Hillsdale, and one round-trip freight train. The cost of commuting between Hillsdale and New York (using the ferry) was $14.50 per month, with a one-way fare costing 75 cents. In 1896, the NY and NJ Railroad was leased to the Erie Railroad.

When Hillsdale became a township in its own right in 1898, the railroad’s engine roundhouse and car shops were located in the town. Two local residents, Rubin W. Jepson and L.B. Van Wagonen were, respectively, superintendent of motive power and superintendent of the car shops. The railroad’s water tank, coaling station and turntable were all located in Hillsdale and were a healthy stimulant to the economy of the community.

The rooms above the railroad station were first used as the superintendent’s office, and later served a multitude of purposes in Hillsdale: the Fire Association and Improvement Association met there; it was the site of early services for the Episcopal Church; local political organizations used the offices; and they were later converted into a real estate and insurance office. By the turn of the 20th century, the first phase of Hillsdale’s growth was well under way, due in large part to the coming of the railroad and the prominent part the town played in its operation.