Forest Hill Historic District

Newark City, Essex County, NJ

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The Forest Hill Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]

The Forest Hill Historic District in north Newark, New Jersey, contains an excellent collection of period revival architecture dating mostly from 1890 to 1925, with some earlier and later exceptions. When Forest Hill's impressive architecture is combined with its wide, tree-lined thoroughfares, landscaped boulevards, and proximity to the National Register-listed Branch Brook Park, the feeling of a late nineteenth to early twentieth century suburban residential enclave, isolated from, yet within the city, is readily conveyed. In the areas of significance, the Forest Hill Historic District meets the National Register criteria for Architecture and Community Planning and Development. The Forest Hill Historic District is a unique sampler of late Victorian, historic revival and early modern architecture present at the turn of, and first quarter of the twentieth century; it is the only area left in the city of Newark where well-maintained mansions coexist with more modest middle class and working class housing. Three local industrial giants are primarily responsible for the community development of the District. They represent Heller Brothers Rasp and File Works, the P. Ballantine and Sons Brewery, and Clark Thread Works.

The Forest Hill Historic District is significant for its association with its three main developers, Elias G. Heller, Peter Ballantine and William Clark. The Heller Brothers Rasp and File works, founded by Elias Heller in 1836, was a noted Newark tool making concern. Heller's three sons, Lewis, Peter and Elias G. (Jr.), moved the tool works from West Orange to a site on the Greenwood Lake Railroad in the north end of Newark, where the relatively undeveloped portion of the city offered room for expansion and crucial transportation connections. In 1880 the company, seeking to control the quality of the steel that went into their operation, constructed their own large steel works immediately adjacent to the tool works. In succeeding decades, Heller Brothers expanded both their operation and products line, supplementing their line of files and rasps with various blacksmithing tools. Eventually the company abandoned its factory in Newark and relocated their tool making business to Ohio (Karschner 1985: 120).

Established in 1840, the P. Ballantine and Sons Company was Newark's most successful brewery and ranked among the top ten leading brewers in the nation until its closing in 1972. Peter Ballantine, founder of the company, was born in Scotland in 1791 and came to the United States around 1830, settling around Troy, New York. Ten years later, Ballantine moved to Newark and formed a brief partnership with Erastus Patterson before setting up his own brewery on the Passaic River. When business started growing, Ballantine brought his sons Peter Hood, John Holme and Robert into the business. When Robert, the youngest, came of age in 1857, the company became P. Ballantine and Sons. In 1879, the brewers adopted the interlocking three ring trademark of Ballantine, which was recognized throughout the United States. The company continued to diversify and grow until between 1937-1972, Ballantine was among the top ten breweries in the United States with annual sales well over four million barrels (Karschner 1985: 8).

From the last quarter of the 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, the Clark Thread Company and its descendent firms led the nation in the manufacture of cotton thread. Founded in 1864 by George A. Clark, the company rose to its position of dominance within a decade, thanks largely to the phenomenal success of "O.N.T." thread, which Clark developed specifically for the sewing machine. George A. Clark (b.1823) was the son of a leading Scottish thread manufacturer, John Clark, from Paisley. In 1856, George Clark came to the United States as an agent for the Clark's Paisley factory. Due to a high tariff duty on imported thread, and their desire to exploit the new market of sewing machine thread, George and his younger brother William established a thread factory in Newark. In 1866, George developed a new type of thread specifically designed for sewing machines. Advertised as "Our New Thread," or "O.N.T." Thread, this product eventually gained a nationwide reputation. By the time of George Clark's death in 1873, the Clark mills employed over 1,000 workers and was the nation's largest manufacturer of cotton sewing thread. By the time William Clark retired in 1897, the firm had almost doubled in size. By 1947 the Clark Thread Company had relocated to the south due to cheaper labor and operating costs, and in 1954, the Clark Thread Company merged with J. & P. Coats Company to create a new firm Coats and Clark Incorporated (Karschner 1985: 173).

The Forest Hill Historic District is significant for its architecture; the district is a sampler of historical revival styles popularized at the turn of, and the first two decades of the twentieth century, when most of the structures were built, 1890-1925. A number of buildings within the district were published in architectural periodicals of the day, as well as in various publications promoting Forest Hill. A wide range of late 19th and early 20th century styles is represented in the Forest Hill Historic District, including the Colonial Revival, with Georgian, Adam and Dutch Colonial Revival influences the most dominant, followed by the Craftsman style, Tudor, Shingle and Italian Renaissance Revival. There are also a good number of Romanesque Revival, Spanish/Mediterranean Revival, Neoclassical and Prairie structures. There is one Beaux Arts mansion and one French Chateau structure in the district. Among the older rowhouse structures at the north end of the district, the Queen Anne style predominates. Most of the structures are large upper-middle class dwellings, conspicuous symbols of wealth, which are notable for their quality of construction and for their ornamental detailing.

Earliest Description of the Area

The area now defined as the Forest Hill Historic District was a sparsely populated and little traveled agricultural region until the last quarter of the eighteenth century. An 1849 map indicates that local farms belonged to Adrian Scharff, Robert Smith, J.C. Barthold, J.M. Keene, Ebenezer Smith, and the Sidman family, and that the Old Road to Bloomfield (also called Long Hill Road) was its lone thoroughfare ("From the Forests Emerged North Newark," 1936: 19).

After 1870

Several pre-Revolutionary War farmhouses and other locally famous buildings ("From the Forests...," 1936: 19) lent Forest Hill, by virtue of its proximity to the adjoining Woodside neighborhood, a romantic aura that was celebrated by at least one author of the period. In Harper's New Monthly Magazine, of October 1876, Martha Lamb told readers, "The shores of the Passaic... northerly from the bridge, are lined with historical mansions and associations." She described a large estate with formal gardens and a deer park, told of "Cockloft Hall" (the residence of Gouverneur Kemble and the favorite resort of Washington Irving), called attention to the old Schuyler mansion as one of the most ancient landmarks of the surrounding area, and completed her picturesque essay with a reminder that "Frank Forester...came to his tragic end" among the gloomy cedars just north of Mt. Pleasant Cemetery (Lamb 1876: 676).

Romance aside, local residents looking for residential real estate might have known through personal experience (Cunningham 1966: 184) and official reports (Cunningham 1966: 224) that the Passaic River had already been contaminated by sewage and industrial wastes dumped by factories in Paterson, Passaic and Newark. Those with sufficient financial resources most likely chose the higher ground of Forest Hill over the riverfront lots of Woodside.

An 1873 map indicates that twenty-four years after the first map was drawn, the district was only slightly changed, still offering clean air, a river view, the spaciousness of open country combined with the relative proximity of the city's business center (Hopkins 1873: 72-73), and the possibility of buying a large tract of undeveloped land at reasonable prices. The property north of what later became Murphy's Lane was owned by Edward Corrager, Theodore Sanford, John Murphy, and Abner Beach. Other farm properties were in the possession of the estate of Robert Smith, J.M. Keene, R. and M. Smith, J.L. Keene, J.M. Sidman, Alfred Keene, Levi Coeyman, Joseph Gardner, and Joseph Black. Settlement was most dense near the intersection of the Old Road to Bloomfield and Fredonia Avenue (now Heller Parkway). Only the southeastern-most corner of the Forest Hill Historic District had been divided into (relatively large) residential lots with houses. These were owned by William D. Paterson and L.D. Baldwin, Albert H. Hagar, William Clark, Sylvester Battin, Adam Scharff, Thomas A. Roberts, and J.M. Littell. Peter Hood Ballantine and John Holme Ballantine (sons of Peter, the brewery founder) owned undeveloped property on Mt. Prospect Avenue (Hopkins 1873: 72-73).

The Eighth Ward (comprising Forest Hill and Woodside) was traversed by the Newark and Bloomfield Horse Railroad which connected to the Newark and Franklin Horse Railroad at Grafton and North Third Streets. Mt. Prospect Avenue seems to have been the only paved street in the ward. The Morris Canal was still in existence (Hopkins 1873: 72-73).

Changing Residential Patterns among Newark's Business Elite: 1870-1890

Prior to the early 1870s, Newark's small central business district, established by the founders on the western bank of the river, included the city's most desirable residential property. Businessmen whose establishments were in the center of the city preferred to live near (and sometimes above) the workplace. The convenience of living close to the hub of economic, social and religious activities, the security offered by good police protection, and the inadequate facilities for intra-city travel, combined to keep residential real estate in the inner wards expensive and exclusive. The outer wards, still mostly farm land and hill country, were sparsely populated regions and remained unappealing to the city's elite who preferred the gracious, cultured life of the city to the rough, peasant-like life of the farm. Newly arrived German and Irish immigrant families first began to settle the city's southern and eastern fringe, while the northern and western sections remained virtually unpopulated until the 1870s (Popper 1952: 160-161).

In the 1870s, a shift began to occur in the population distribution of Newark (and of many industrialized cities throughout the United States): high income groups began moving to the outer wards, while lower income groups migrated to the city's center (Popper 1952: 166). The introduction of railroads into the city beginning in the 1850s contributed to the reversal; by the 1870s much of Newark's economy was dependent on moving freight by one of the five railroad lines that entered the city from the east, west, and south. Although the train lines improved the economy of the city by linking Newark with markets throughout the country, they simultaneously degraded the immediate surroundings with noise, dirt, and visual pollution. Terminals, depots, warehouses, and industrial plants were erected near the tracks, resulting in a continuous belt of concentrated industry along the rights-of-way throughout the city (Drummond 1979: 115, 131). By the 1890s, many newly prosperous business executives and self-employed professionals began to flee to the outer fringes, preferring to endure the thirty minute trip by horse drawn or electrified street car from new middle class enclaves such as Roseville, Woodside, and Forest Hill to the congestion and the pollution of the central city (Drummond 1979: 195). As they fled the city, their former homes were bought or rented by newly arriving Eastern and Southern European immigrants, who unable to afford the high prices, were forced to tolerate as many as four families, visiting relatives, and boarders in what had been designed as a single family house (Drummond 1979: 146). The unhealthy conditions resulting from overcrowding caused further movement of the affluent to the suburbs.

An early indication of incipient suburban migration was the 1871 annexation of the rural township of Woodside, located north of the city, between the Passaic River and Mt. Prospect Avenue and immediately east of Forest Hill. Prior to the 1870-1900 building boom, the area had been primarily occupied by farms. A map of Woodside published circa 1846 shows large tracts owned by the King, Small, Sanford, Munn, Dougherty, Patterson, Stimis, Alexander, and Coeyman families. In addition, two small mills and a calico print factory (in existence from 1624-1855) had been established on the Passaic River near the Belleville border, and a white lead factory and a copper works had been in operation further to the west ("From the Forest...," 1936: 19; "North Newark — Its Industrial Past," 1949: 4). Although Woodside continued to be developed as a residential area throughout the nineteenth century, its proximity to the increasingly polluted Passaic River made it less desirable than the high ground that began west of Mt. Prospect Avenue, the area that is now known as Forest Hill.

The Importance of the Horse-drawn Train

The introduction of the horse-drawn trolley was an essential factor in the suburban migration. Eventually reaching from the center of the city to within a traveling distance of thirty minutes (at the rate of four to six miles per hour), the horse train gave access to the nearby suburbs. However, because of the relatively high fares in the early years, it was available primarily to the affluent. By 1870, Newark had seven horsecar routes (one branch running through the Eighth ward on Mt. Prospect Avenue) closely paralleled by suburban development. Houses were commonly built within a five minute walk of the nearest track. By the mid-1880s, the streetcars had changed Newark's residential living pattern drastically, and most places in the thirty minute radius had been fully developed (Drummond 1979: 184-195).

Along with the increased accessibility of the outer fringes came the increased demand for suburban home sites. Land prices rose and real estate speculators continued to profit. The exodus of the upper-middle class to the northern and western wards occurred so rapidly that on July 27, 1886 the Sentinel of Freedom reported the Eighth (including Forest Hill) and Eleventh wards...nearly filled (Popper 1952: 167).

The Migration to Forest Hill

Attracted by the availability of parcels of city land large enough to appropriately frame a baronial estate yet relatively low in price, the Ballantine and Clark families appear to have been among the first of the wealthy nineteenth century industrialists to migrate to the southeastern part of Forest Hill. In January 1873, Peter Hood and John Holme Ballantine bought the Robert Smith property for $217,000 ("From the Forests..." 1936: 19). According to the city directory spanning April 1870-April 1871, George and William Clark were listed as residing at 342 Mount Prospect Avenue (City Directories 1865-1882: various pages). The 1873 map confirms this, showing a house on the site of the slightly later Clark mansion (Hopkins 1873: 72-73). The Ballantines however, purchased property in Forest Hill but continued to reside near their industrial holdings on Front Street, at least until 1881 (City Directories, 1870-1882: various pages). Clark had good reasons for wanting to live in Forest Hill: the nearby family business, the Clark Thread Company established by brother George in 1866, was on the north Newark bank of the Passaic River within walking distance of his new house; William became sole proprietor and president of the Works in 1873, upon the death of his brother. The purchased properties of both families were located near the crossroads of the Old Road to Bloomfield and Mt. Prospect Avenue, along the route of the horse drawn railroad. Also in 1873, the Reverend William Hayes Ward, a Congregational minister, educator, and editor of the New York Independent, born in Abington, Massachusetts, had a brownstone house built nearby on Abington Avenue (one of the earliest extant nineteenth century houses in Forest Hill) (Newark Landmarks and Preservation Committee 1983: 2).

Almost simultaneous with the Ballantine, Clark, and Ward purchases, the Heller family began to develop the northeast part of the district, later expanding their activities to encompass more than the entire area popularly perceived as Forest Hill. The head of the family, Elias G. Heller, born in 1839 and the son of a Huguenot immigrant who came to Newark by way of Germany, appears to have been one of the first industrialists to take advantage of the fact that the Paterson-Newark branch of the Erie Railroad, opened in 1868, gave direct access from the Forest Hill area to New York markets by way of the Greenwood Lake Line. He relocated the rasp and file firm founded by his father to a new plant on Mt. Prospect Avenue near the Belleville border in 1874 (Urquhart 1913: 1867-87). The major problem linked with the new location was its remoteness; most workers traveled by horse drawn train to the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery stop, then walked a quarter of a mile on muddy roads to the factory. Whether motivated by the desire to help his workers overcome travel problems that caused absenteeism and rapid turnover, or by the desire to enter into the speculative real estate business as a separate venture, Heller, together with John F. McLagan and James Dodge, formed the Woodside Improvement Company to buy up property in the area and develop it as a workers' neighborhood. A dispute among the principals seems to have led to a break-up of the company and independent building activity on the part of McLagan. Although the business arrangements related to the first houses remain unclear, it is believed that they are located near the Erie Railroad tracks and Verona Avenue, from Branch Brook Park to Mt. Prospect Avenue (Prial 1961: n.p.).

Other industrialists followed this trend, including the Tiffany family, builders of the north Newark silverware factory, and owners of a fine house in Forest Hill and workers' houses nearby.

Forest Hill as a Speculative Development

According to an entry on Elias G. Heller in a late nineteenth century directory of Essex County industrial interests, Forest Hill was envisioned as a speculative development: "Forest Hill...appeared only 7 years ago [1890] as the mental vision of its founder and principal promoter, Mr. Elias G. Heller, a successful manufacturer residing in the district. To him belongs the credit of fringing this model enterprise into being. He resolved upon building up a suburb which would be entirely unobjectionable from every point of view. Therefore, the Forest Hill Association was organized and at once set to work upon well-considered and practical plans for developing the undertaking."

Buyers were required to obey certain restrictions: neither to occupy nor to sell their premises for the purpose of carrying on the manufacture of spirituous or malt liquors, fertilizers, or other undesirable occupations (Vail 1897: 227). Possibly preceded by the Tiffany family, the Hellers and other wealthy families led the way and settled a few blocks to the south in the area bounded by Second and Elwood Avenues, Mt. Prospect Avenue and the marshy area to the west (to become Branch Brook Park in 1895). An attempt was made to lure New York businessmen to the area by building suitable residences within walking distance of the Erie's Greenwood Lake Line (Prial 1961: n.p.).

Forest Hill as defined by historical research, however, is more extensive than the area described by Vail. Historic Forest Hill did not adhere to Heller's plan, but developed along many different lines of influence. It consists of late nineteenth century vestiges of industry along the railroad tracks; the no longer extant Forest Hill Station; workers' housing relating to the early activities of Heller, McLagan, and others; as well as the more affluent areas developed by the Hellers, Clarks, Ballantines, and others in the central and south parts of the district.

The history of the development of Forest Hill is intertwined with the capitalist ventures of the Heller, Ballantine and Clark families. All three had amassed great personal fortunes before buying large tracts of land in Newark's Eighth Ward. Although they were basically speculating, all three families settled in Forest Hill and built palatial homes for themselves and their relatives. Probably because they were all residents of the area, they seemed particularly concerned with the development of Forest Hill. Elias G. Heller was careful to place deed restrictions on all the land his real estate companies subdivided into lots, ensuring a uniform appearance to the area. Ballantine subdivided his holdings into large corner lots suitable for baronial homes, with smaller, yet attractive lots mid-block, also placing restrictions on the deeds. He contributed to the local community by donating a large tract of land for Branch Brook Park as well as the Carrere and Hastings designed Ballantine Gate.

While Heller developed land north of Grafton Avenue, the Ballantines were responsible for the layout and development of Forest Hill south of Grafton Avenue. Here the east-west streets were named in alphabetical order from south to north, starting with Abington Avenue, through Berkeley Avenue, Chester Avenue (now Ballantine Parkway, Delavan Avenue, Elwood Avenue, Fredonia Avenue (now Heller Parkway) and Grafton Avenue. All of the streets were restricted to residential development.

The Marketing of Forest Hill in the 20th Century

Advertising brochures and real estate ads of the early twentieth century clearly described the advantages of the area: it was situated only ten miles from Chambers or 23rd Streets in New York by way of train and within three miles of Broad and Market Streets in Newark by way of the Forest Hill trolley line; it was restricted against "all nuisances as well as to minimum cost of houses and minimum distance each house should be from the street line" (About Forest Hill, circa 1910: n.p.). It furthermore boasted ample police and fire protection, excellent mail and telephone service, well paved streets, a clean water supply from the Pequannock water shed, churches of all denominations, public and private schools, and a nearby public park complete with golf links, tennis courts, baseball and football grounds, and a club house with bowling alleys, billiard and pool tables, and a large assembly hall (About Forest Hill, circa 1910: n.p.).

By the early years of the 1920s, Forest Hill was almost entirely developed. Real properties either did not change hands frequently, or when they did change hands it was more a result of word-of-mouth than of advertising in the print media.

The Decline of Forest Hill

The exodus of Newark's well-to-do families can be traced to the 1920s, when residents began leaving in ever increasing numbers, taking up residence in such wealthy suburban communities as Maplewood, Montclair and Glen Ridge. Advances in transportation such as improved roadways, accessibility of the automobile and better commuter connections and facilities, coupled with the general attractiveness of the outlying suburbs, helped to facilitate this exodus.

Confined by limited boundaries, the physically small city of Newark was prevented from annexing new territories by strong resistance from surrounding suburban areas. The last successful annexation took place in 1905, when a hard-fought campaign succeeded in annexing the Vailsburg district (Stellhorn 1982: 26). With static civic boundaries and a seemingly endless population growth, Newark could no longer house its wealthier residents.

Forest Hill was particularly hard hit by this exodus of the well-to-do. Combined with losses suffered during the Depression, remaining families and new middle and lower middle class families could no longer maintain large palatial homes which required an army of servants to maintain. Gradually, the larger homes were converted to multi-family uses, were torn down or altered beyond recognition. In 1946, the twenty-four room Stanford White designed Heller home and the Percy Ballantine home, both on Mt. Prospect Avenue, were sold to the Prudential Insurance Company, who tore them down and built garden apartments in their place (Forest Hill Mansions...1946: n.p.). Soon other mansions followed and the southern extension of Mt. Prospect Avenue became almost lined with both low and high scale apartment buildings on both sides of the street. Only the Clark mansion remained as the Prospect Hill Country Day School.

Since its lowest period in the late 1960s, the Forest Hill neighborhood has not only stabilized, but is experiencing a tremendous interest in the restoration of its old homes.

‡ Ulana D. Zakalak, Zakalak Associates, Newark Preservation and Landmarks, Committee, Forest Hill Historic District, Essex County, NJ, nomination document, 1989, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
2nd Avenue • Abington Avenue • Ballantine Parkway • Berkeley Avenue • Clifton Avenue • DeGraw Avenue • Delavan Avenue • Elwood Avenue • Grafton Avenue • Heller Parkway • Highland Avenue • Lake Street • Long Hill Road • Montclair Avenue • Mt Prospect Avenue • Old Road to Bloomfield • Parker Street

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