Saddle River Center Historic District
The Saddle River Center Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. 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 Saddle River Center Historic District contains the most highly intact concentration of historic sites in Saddle River and is one of two districts remaining in Bergen County retaining pre-1930 architectural integrity as rural commercial/residential hamlets. The Saddle River Center Historic District was part of a larger 19th and early 20th century crossroad community. While the historic Saddle River hamlet grew up around and between the crossing of both East and West Saddle River Roads with East Allendale Road, only the western part of this area today retains a strong sense of a preserved village with an architectural continuity of historic resources without visually dominant modern intrusions.
The Saddle River Center Historic District contains elements associated with the continuing history of the Saddle River hamlet, from its establishment in the early 19th century as the center of an agricultural area with some small scale hydro-powered industry located along the Saddle River, to its evolution in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the village center of an area with a growing country estate constituency. While some agricultural functions continue within the district to the present, the small-scale hydro-powered industries became obsolete in the late 19th century. Most industrial buildings have disappeared, but the mill pond and dam and several industrial buildings reused for commercial functions continue to provide visual evidence of the area's industrial past.
A hamlet at this location developed in the early 19th century. Prior to this date farms and mills had been established at scattered sites on both the east and west sides of the Saddle River, but within today's Saddle River Borough there was no concentration of buildings. Revolutionary War maps show that while there was a road crossing the Saddle River and linking East and West Saddle River Roads here, it was not a through crossroad. Connection to the east was not made until 1811 when Woodcliff Lake Road was built (McMahon, "History of A.P. Ackerman House," 1981) and to the west until 1828 when today's East Allendale Road was extended through Allendale (CKT, "Early Days of Allendale", 1974 map). Chestnut Ridge Road, a north-south connector, was not surveyed until 1825 (McMahon "Ackerman House," 1981). The crossroad community did not develop until the road system was in place, which made the area a crossroads. It is not surprising that Bull's Head Tavern (119 W. Saddle River Road) which functioned as an inn in the early 19th century is located on the outskirts of the district as it pre-exists the hamlet. Later in the 1860's and 70's the local hostelry was the Saddle River Hotel (69 E. Allendale Road) located in the center of the crossroads community.
About 1815 a school house (not extant) was built on the site of the Osborn House at 88-90 E. Allendale Road in the eastern section of the future hamlet and in 1820-21 the Lutheran Church building was built near the school. The Ackermans had a mill and a trip hammer foundry where agricultural implements were made (not extant) on the site of 70 E. Allendale Road. These structures and some farm houses formed the nucleus of the crossroads hamlet. While Henry Osborn says that the area was called "Lutherville" in 1820, this name does not appear in the 1834 Gordon's A Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, nor is a hamlet at this site mentioned. Gordon does describe the Saddle River, noting that "mills are strung thickly along its banks" (p.229). By 1840 the name Saddle River is applied to the area on a U.S. Coast Survey map and a slight concentration of buildings exists around the crossroads. In 1852 Saddle River received a post office, the fourth oldest in Bergen County (Inskeep map). The post office was located from 1852 to 1885 in the Henry Esler-John George Esler House (171 W. Saddle River Road) at the northern edge of the Saddle River Center Historic District. It was located at various other sites within the district until 1956.
By 1861, when the Hopkins wall map of Bergen and Passaic counties was published, a crossroads hamlet exists with post office, church, school, stores, mills, foundry, shoemaker, and residences. Interestingly this map does not label the hamlet by name. Perhaps this lack of nomenclature is a response to the divided political jurisdiction of the community. Until 1886 the Saddle River was a township line resulting in location of the hamlet within two townships. The lack of name on the map also may be due to the fact that the hamlet had no railroad station. It had already been by-passed by the Paterson and Ramapo Railroad which was built west of it in the late 1840's.
The absence of the railroad allowed the Saddle River hamlet to maintain its rural character. Its 19th century agricultural heritage is well represented by early farmhouses with related outbuildings and by existing planting fields. The hamlet had a number of hydro-powered industries along the Saddle River in the 19th century, but these industries remained comparatively small in scale. While the Packer enterprises which manufactured farm implements and fruit and vegetable baskets expanded in the late 19th century, Packer never became a large-scale manufactory which a rail connection might have allowed it to become. A book on industries in New Jersey in 1883 mentions the presence of a foundry, a woolen mill (probably the O'Blenis mill at 229 East Saddle River Road, non-extant, outside the district), and an edge tool factory (not extant, formerly at 255-261 East Saddle River Road, outside the district) for the Saddle River area, but these factories were not considered significant enough to merit further description (Industries of New Jersey, Part VI, Hudson, Passaic and Bergen Counties, 1883). By the turn-of-the-century the merchandising of sleighs and carriages became more important to W.W. Packer and Son than the manufacturing end of their company. While the 1901 Industrial Directory of New Jersey is incorrect when it states Saddle River had no factories, the existing industries were small in scale. The 1909 edition of the Industrial Directory acknowledges the presence of small industries there, stating that farm implements, fruit baskets (probably Smith's at 170 West Saddle River Road, factory building not extant), fireworks, and bread moulding machines were made, but that together these industries employed 25 persons.
Old photographs reveal that the large frame buildings of the Packer enterprises were significant in Saddle River's landscape in the late 19th century. However industry was never so dominant there that it transformed the rural hamlet into a factory town. When the large industrial buildings disappeared in the early 20th century, the rural hamlet remained. Today the foundry building (70 E. Allendale Road), the mill pond and its raceways, and a few storage buildings (71 and 73 E. Allendale Road) are visual evidence of Saddle River's 19th century industrial heritage.
The Esler nursery located within the Saddle River Center Historic District between 1873-1924 was a large-scale florist and a leading Saddle River industry. While the nursery's greenhouses were demolished in 1924, two architecturally interesting houses associated with the Esler family are in the district (163 W. Saddle River Road and 171 W. Saddle River Road). The floral industry, an important one in Bergen County well into the 20th century, is still actively represented in the Saddle River Center Historic District. The William Tricker Inc. Water Gardens (74 East Allendale Road) which moved there in 1926 continue to raise water lilies. This enterprise is important in horticultural history as Tricker is the oldest commercial grower of aquatic plants in the United States.
In the early 20th century the Saddle River hamlet functioned as the commercial, governmental, and social center for a sprawling community of "country houses and of farmsteads. Two commercial buildings erected in the early decade of the 20th century, the DeBaun Grocery (67 East Allendale Road) and the Mowerson Store (146 W. Saddle River Road), contribute to the district's rural village ambiance. Both are small, one-story unpretentious frame structures of vernacular "country store" character. During the 1910's, 20's and 30's, with the demise of local industries, the district became progressively more residential in character. A number of suburban houses were erected within its boundaries. These buildings were built on infill lots and contribute to the village character of the Saddle River Center Historic District by increasing the density of historic structures. Their designs, most in Dutch Colonial Revival idioms, are compatible with earlier architecture, although several of the 20th century buildings are more architecturally elaborate than is typical in the district.
The Saddle River Center Historic District's earliest buildings were originally unadorned frame houses or industrial buildings. The houses frequently have an upper range of knee high windows, a typical feature of Bergen County's early 19th century domestic architecture. The late 19th century buildings in the district are eclectic, but are vernacular, less ornate examples of their architectural styles. A number of the early houses have embellishments added during their continuing construction history.
In 1954 Barnstable Court, a shopping and office complex in the center of the district, opened. It is one of Bergen County's most interesting preservation projects. Buildings formerly associated with Packer industries or the Packer house were adaptively reused in a way which intentionally enhanced their historic ambiance. The mill pond was a focal point of the project and the complex was organized around an informal courtyard surrounded by accessory buildings of the William Packer House. While preservation techniques used do not conform with current standards, Barnstable Court is an important landmark in the history of preservation in Bergen County. There is no other project in the county where a complex of historic buildings was reused commercially, utilizing industrial and accessory buildings as well as houses. About the same time the historic foundry building (70 E. Allendale Road) was adapted for continuing commercial uses. Recently a number of houses have been modified for office space while maintaining the architectural integrity of the exteriors.
Today the Saddle River Center Historic District is a cohesive area with a human scale. It does not have visually dominant focal buildings of particular architectural distinction, as the Lutheran Church and Municipal Building are located in the eastern part of the hamlet excluded from the district. The Saddle River Center Historic District's importance is due to its totality — as a whole, in its scale, proximity of structures, basic linear plan and variety of vernacular architecture, it represents a rural crossroads hamlet as it developed between the early 19th and early 20th centuries. While the district does contain some non-historic buildings and recent modifications to historic structures, its basic architectural integrity is intact, a rare condition in Bergen County which has and is undergoing rapid 20th century development.
A twentieth century property is of special interest for the landscaping and walls and towers built by Lucien Sellet. Mr. Sellet, during his ownership from c.1939 to 1975 of the relatively modest Tudor Revival house at 167 West Saddle River Road, added these features which are outstanding examples of folk fantasy architecture.
1840, U. S. Coast Survey Map, #132.
1861, Hopkins Map.
1876, Walker Atlas.
1902, Robinson's Map,
1913, Bromley Atlas.
1964, Inskeep Map.
Reginald McMahon, "History of the Abraham P. Ackerman House, 136 Chestnut Ridge Road," July, 1981, Copy in SRHC files.
J. Hosey Osborn, Life in the Old Dutch Homesteads, Saddle River, NJ 2nd ed., Paramus: Paramus Highway Printing Co., 1967.
Thomas F. Gordon, A Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey, Trenton: Daniel Fenton, 1834.
The Industrial Directory of New Jersey, 1901, 1909.
Industries of New Jersey, Part VI, Hudson, Passaic and Bergen Counties, 1883
Claire K. Tholl, "Early Days of Allendale," 10-1974, published map.
† New Jersey Office of Cultural and Environmental Services, Saddle River Center Historic District, Bergen County, New Jersey, nomination document, 1986, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.