Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District
The Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The "Upper Closter" or Alpine Historic District is significant in Bergen County as it is one of two areas in the County which retain the character of a late 19th to early 20th century rural hamlet. Located atop the Palisades, the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District has a history which is linked to its proximity to the Hudson River. It developed as a service and residential hamlet for people involved in maritime and stone quarrying activities in the area at the edge of the river below and for employees of the large estates on the crest of the Palisades. The "Upper Closter" Hamlet has been the civic, commercial and religious center of Alpine from the 1860's until the present time. The Alpine Community Church, a building of high aesthetic quality designed by J. Cleveland Cady; the Alpine School building; the J. DuBois former general store and post office building; the Gecox Family cemetery, and twenty-five modest-sized, pre-1920 houses create the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District which retains to a large degree its pre-1930 ambiance. The relative density of these properties distinguishes the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District as a physical entity from the rest of the Borough, and the area preserves the character and is clearly recognizable as a hamlet. Almost all the houses are relatively unadorned vernacular designs. However, some incorporate stylistic trends popular elsewhere in Bergen County such as Greek Revival, Italianate, Downingesque, Second Empire, and Queen Anne architectural styles.
The "Upper Closter" or Alpine Historic District in the late 19th century was a relatively isolated linear settlement situated at about an elevation of 450' on the crest of the Palisades cliffs. It was a residential community located along the transportation route linking the river port below to the farming villages of the interior Northern Valley. The area containing the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District did not develop as a hamlet until the mid 19th century since the poor soil cover and underlying trap rock of the vicinity was poor for farming. Historically the areas below the Palisades along the Hudson River were the only feasible places for initial settlement and economic activity in the Borough of Alpine. By 1876 (Walker's Atlas), this narrow strip of land area along the river was lined with fishing villages, docks, wharves and tidal-water wheel-powered industries such as a bone factory and a cereal mill.
The main thoroughfare passing through the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District, today Closter Dock and Old Dock Road, zig-zagged down the cliffs to the Upper Closter Landing, a shipping port on the Hudson River. This transportation artery was established in pre-Revolutionary War times and continued as the main thoroughfare to the Landing into the 20th century. The Watkin's 1778 Revolutionary War period map shows the roads. While buildings are shown elsewhere, no buildings are indicated in the area of the District atop the Palisades (Map V). The U.S. Coast Guard Survey Map of 1839 shows only three buildings along this roadway in the area of the future hamlet. The vicinity of the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District was referred to as "Closter Mountain" in 19th century deeds, and was commonly known as "Upper Closter," because of its location on the high ridge above Closter Village, which was about two miles to the west.
In the last half of the 19th century two major trends were responsible for attracting population to the area of Alpine and for the initial growth of the Historic District. By the mid-19th century rock quarrying of the Palisades cliffs was becoming a lucrative business and quarries proliferated along the river during the remainder of the 19th century. The rustic settings and breathtaking vistas of the Palisades ridge were also being discovered by New Yorkers as a place for a healthful summer reprieve from the heat of the crowded city. Beginning in the mid 1860's wealthy and prominent New York businessmen built large estate houses atop the Palisades near the District. During this time the District developed as a linear settlement on the crest of the Palisades and it became a small residential, religious, commercial and civic center for the surrounding area. The majority of the modest houses there were constructed during the last half of the 19th century for people involved in marine activities or quarrying or for those employed in service occupations at the large estates.
According to Hopkin's Map of 1861 (Map VII), there were about fourteen buildings in the area of the hamlet, including non-extant store and school buildings. At this time the Gecox and Tavinere families owned considerable land within the District. Included among the modest-sized houses from the pre-Civil War period is a 1-1/2 story local interpretation of the Greek Revival style, one of the Tavinere Houses on Old Dock Road. Probably built before 1850, the small second-story eyebrow windows are characteristic local Greek Revival elements. The Gecox House, also on Old Dock Road, is a circa 1850 vernacular interpretation of the Italianate style, with characteristic blocky massing, a low pitched roof, and cornice brackets. The Gecox family originally owned the property upon which the cemetery is situated and by the 1850's were selling private cemetery plots.
From 1866 to 1871, the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District's most architecturally distinguished building, the Alpine Community Church edifice, was built funded by estate owners. In 1866 a young New York City architect, J. Cleveland Cady, designed the High Victorian Gothic Revival style building which he modeled after small rural English country churches. The building is impressively sited and with its tall, gable turret, is the visual focal point of the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District. By combining local hard blue igneous trap rock with a soft gray stone to accent trim areas, Cady achieved attractive polychromy. Cady, a very religious man, was extremely interested in designing ecclesiastical buildings and with the design of the Covenant Memorial Chapel in New York City in 1870 became one of the United States' leading designers of churches. The Alpine Community Church building is significant in architectural history as the first known ecclesiastical edifice designed by him. Cady's practice was not limited to churches and some of his firm's later projects include the non-extant Metropolitan Opera House and the Romanesque Revival wings of the Museum of Natural History. Cady had strong ties to Alpine as he maintained a (non-extant) summer estate here on the crest of the Palisades.
References to the District as "Closter Mountain" or "Upper Closter" were abandoned in the late 19th century. The name Alpine was adopted in 1870 when the post office was first established here. In 1871 the post office was moved to the Second Empire style J. Du Bois store building at the juncture of Closter Dock and Old Dock Roads. The area is referred to as "Alpine P.O." in Walker's 1876 Atlas (Map VIII) and was described as a "hamlet in Harrington Township." By this time there were about seventeen buildings in the District, including houses, a general store with post office, the church, and the cemetery. A non-extant school house was located in the hamlet but outside the present boundaries of the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District. Houses built during the 1860's and 1870's continued to be modest in size and vernacular in design. Several houses and the store building have the mansard roof and square cubic massing of the Second Empire style. The early section of the Older House with picturesque porch scroll brackets and a Tavinere House with elaborate decorative verge-board trim, are examples of the romantic Downingesque style. Walker's 1876 Atlas also shows that one of the houses on Closter Dock Road was owned by Obidiah Jordan. Obidiah owned a sloop, the Gratitude, which was engaged in the business of hauling trap rock from the quarries along the Palisades across the Hudson River to New York. The earlier section of his house probably dates to soon after the mid-19th century. The house received an attractive gambrel roofed west addition with porch during the early 20th century.
Several of the houses of later construction dates, circa 1880's-1890's, employed the shingle patterning and porches common to the Queen Anne style. In 1895 a new Queen Anne style school edifice was built on Church Street, and it remains the oldest extant building in Alpine erected for educational purposes. The school is of true distinction in the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District as it is the only building there which has had a continuous public function, first as a school and then as the municipal office building. It is also one of the few relatively little altered examples of Queen Anne style educational architecture which have survived in Bergen County.
In 1903 the Borough of Alpine was formed from greater Harrington Township and the District continued to function as the religious, civic and commercial center of the newly created municipality. By the time Bromley published his 1912 Atlas (Map XI), there were 24 principal buildings within the boundaries of the present District. This atlas shows that the large mansard-roofed Second Empire style former residence on Forest Street was operating as a hotel. It is known that the area of Alpine was becoming a popular summer resort area for middle class New Yorkers during the early 20th century. The Yonker's Ferry operated from the Former Upper Closter Landing until the 1930's and the automobile afforded additional accessibility. In the late 19th century the Palisades were threatened with annihilation by the increased blasting of the rapidly multiplying rock quarries. The Palisades Park Commission was created in 1900 to insure the survival of the Palisades. Sponsored by the states of New York and New Jersey this commission purchased 14 miles along the Hudson River between Fort Lee, New Jersey, and Piermont, New York, from 1900-1909. With the purchase of the waterfront for the park the undercliff settlements and quarrying operations were abandoned. By the 1930's the Palisades Interstate Park Commission had confiscated the property of the large estates on the crest of the Palisades and had begun to systematically demolish these mansions. The Alpine hamlet ceased being the service community to the estates and a residential neighborhood for persons with quarry and marine interests. The Borough of Alpine lost population. The 1910 U.S. Census recorded a population of 377 persons for the entire Borough. The population declined to 350 persons in 1920. Only about two buildings were erected in the District in the early 20th century.
The present appearance of the Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District to a large degree was established before 1930. While individual buildings have been modified and some recent buildings erected, the District as a whole maintains its early 20th century character. It also continues to be the civic, religious, and commercial center of the Borough of Alpine. The Borough is now a residential area which in 1980 had a population of 1,549 and in 1979 had the highest average gross income for homeowners in Bergen County.
Aug., 1778, Captain John Watkins. Map made for General Washington. Map No. 26, part 3.
1839, U.S. Coast Survey Map No. 96, Surveyed by J.A. Jenkins. Map at the Office of Cultural and Historic Affairs. Original in Archives of the National Oceanographic Survey, U.S. Department of Congress, Rockville, Maryland.
1861, G.M. Hopkins. Map of the Counties of Bergen and Passaic, New Jersey. Philadelphia: G.H. Corey.
1876, A.H. Walker, compiler. Atlas of Bergen County, 1776-1876. Plate 97. Reading, P.A.: C.C. Pease.
c.1891, Frederick W. Beers. Atlas of Hudson River Valley from New York City to Troy, New York. Section 5. Watson and Co.
1902, D. Robinson, compiler. Map of Bergen County, New Jersey with a portion of Passaic County and New York. E. Robinson and Co.
1912, George W. and Walter S. Bromley. Atlas of Bergen County, New Jersey. Vol. I, Plate 25. Philadelphia: G.W. Bromley and Co.
1976, Bradley, Stanley. Crossroads of History: The Story of Alpine, New Jersey. Alpine Bicentennial Committee, Harrington Press, Harrington Park, New Jersey.
1971-present, Brown, T.R. Ongoing unpublished research on J. Cleveland Cady.
1897, Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Works of Cady, Berg and See." The Architectural Record, Vol. 6, pp. 517-552.
1975, Spring, John. "The 1776 British Landing at Closter." Bergen County History, 1975 Annual, The Bergen Historical Society, pp. 27-42. River Edge, New Jersey.
1970, Withey, H.F. and E.R. Bibliographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased), p.104. Hennessey and Ingalls, Inc., Los Angeles, California.
† Patricia Gable; Alpine Citizens for Preservation Incorporated; Bergen County Office of Cultural and Historic Affairs, Upper Closter-Alpine Historic District, nomination document, 1984, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.