I visited the Bergenfield Museum recently, a museum that I have to admit I never knew existed and I know almost all the museum in Bergen County and was surprised what an informative museum it was not just showcasing the history of Bergenfield but of Bergen County. Room by room the museum is filled with displays on the history of the town, and it has progressed through the last two hundred years.
The Bergenfield Museum at 100 Cooper Street
The museum is located in the back of Cooper Park towards the back of the pond. The museum is part of a complex of barns that were once small manufacturing companies owned by the families that owned the house. The grounds have the three barns that are not in use now and the home that overlooks the pond. This beautiful park was created during the Great Depression and is a wonderful place to just walk around in and relax from everyday life.
The history of the house and grounds of the Bergenfield Museum
Please note getting to the museum can be confusing as Google Maps and the museum diagram to get there are wrong. You will need to go down Ralph Road and then park before entering the complex. It is hard with the turnaround in the site to drive out with your car.
The entrance to the Bergenfield Museum at 100 Cooper Street
I was met with a very enthusiastic group of volunteers who are so proud of the house and the way it is presented to the public. When you enter the house, you are met in the foyer of the home which is filled with pictures and small displays and then led to what was the parlor room where the family would have all their entertainment and socializing. Inside the room there is a very interesting portrait of a mysterious woman, who even the museum docents do not who she is, located above the fireplace.
The room is decorated in period furnishings and even has one of the original phonographs. My docent, David, showed me how it worked and how you were able to get the volume up on the record player by opening one of the small doors in the cabinet.
The ‘starter’ organ in the Living Room
The room towards the back has an extensive collection of toys from the last one hundred years. There were several toys such a china dolls and metal ovens that were popular in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s to modern Fisher Price toys of the 1970’s that I remember growing up with as a kid. The site had once been a toy factory before the turn of the last century and these displays honor that history.
The Toy Room at the Bergenfield Museum is quite extensive
The museum is very much dedicated to the history of the Borough of Bergenfield, NJ. There are nice displays of the town’s school district and its history. The old school system pictures feature items from elementary school to high school and items that students would have used at the school. The elementary school featured in many of the pictures is still used by the town today according to my tour guide, David that afternoon. He told me he had attended the school growing up.
There was a small display of both the Bergenfield Fire and Police Departments and their progression through the years in the town. It is funny how much has changed cosmetically about the look of the job but the job itself is still the same. Helping people and keeping the town safe.
When you enter what was once the dining room, is the Chair Collection of Tunis Richard Cooper, whose factory was one of the barns on the property.
The Chair Factory rules
Some of the samples of the chairs manufactured at the barn factory
There were all sorts of makes and kinds of chairs throughout the room as well as many decorative pieces. The museum has an extensive collection of all the decorative furnishings that were made on the property including what the factory looked like and the rules and conduct of the employees working there.
The next room is the working kitchen of the original house with all sorts of kitchen equipment through the ages including a collection of toasters. There is also a working heart where the volunteers do some cooking.
Everything to keep a kitchen running
The hearth of the kitchen is where all the action was in the kitchen
The back room of the house has a large military display that includes local heroes of the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI and the Vietnam War. There are all sorts of memorabilia from the soldiers and their families.
The Military display describes Bergenfield’s contribution to military battle from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam
The Military Room showcases our contributions on freedom
The patriotic duties of the town of Bergenfield, NJ
Take time to walk the grounds and admire the park. This beautiful green space was built by the WPA during the Depression and the landscaped park includes Cooper’s pond, extensive gardens and paths of green lawn.
The grounds of the museum were once a farm and a working factory environment
The factory/barn on the Bergenfield Museum property
The grounds of the Bergenfield Museum in Cooper’s Pond Park
Cooper’s Pond Park is a quiet and very green oasis from the distractions of today. It is a nice patch of nature to just walk around in and relax and enjoy the beautiful sunny weather.
The History of the Bergenfield Museum:
Two Hundred years after the founding of the United States, local historian, Betty Schmelz began collecting artifacts that were essential for telling Bergenfield’s story. By 1988, her small collection had blossomed into full museum displays comprised of a century’s worth of wedding dresses, Camp Merritt and WWI memorabilia and testaments to the Bergenfield Music Department.
The Bergenfield Music Department display
From 2002 to 2014, the museum closed, and the collection was moved to storage until negotiations were settled with the Borough of Bergenfield. In July of 2013, volunteers reassembled the items for public viewing and began rehabilitation efforts.
The Museum House Timeline:
(From the museum’s pamphlet)
The tools to create those wonderful and decorative chairs
The Tunis R. Cooper property was originally owned by French Huguenot immigrants, the Demarest family. After years of changed ownership and purpose, the legacy of the property is now protected by the Bergenfield Museum Society:
The timeline of the town and its development
*1677-1693: The Demarest family negotiates a deed for the Cooper Property with local Native Americans and settles throughout Schraalenburgh (now known as Bergen County).
*1840: Richard Tunis Cooper purchases the property and begins hiring local farmers to manufacture chairs.
*1849-1890’s: Richard’s son, Tunis Richard Cooper, purchases the property and establishes a successful chair factory. A major warehouse is opened in New York City.
*1897-1997: Ownership of the estate changes several more times:
-1897: Toymaker Oskar Martin, purchased the property.
-1908: Amos Bergman holds ownership until his death.
-1949: Bergman housekeeper, Daisy Coringrato, sells the property to wool importers, Alec and Catherine Marchbank.
*1997: Marchbank family initiates efforts to preserve the remaining Cooper Chair Factory and surrounding land.
*2004: The Borough of Bergenfield purchases the property with the four remaining buildings and solidifies preservation efforts.
*2013: The Bergenfield Museum successfully opens with a collection of authentic Bergen County artifacts.
I visited the Historic New Bridge Landing in River Edge, New Jersey this afternoon for the “Under the Sad Moon Chwame Gischuch Lenape New Year”. I had wanted to see what a member of one of the New Jersey tribes had to say and thought it would be interesting to see. Unfortunately the Chief cancelled at the last minute so there was no lecture or song.
The rest of the afternoon I heard a lecture on the African Burial Grounds that are located in lower Manhattan and toured the historical homes on the property. It was a very interesting and informative afternoon. Some of the volunteers were in costume selling fresh doughnuts and hot cider, making Indian fry bread and making cornhusk dolls.
In 2022, I visited the Historical Society again for the “Chwame Gischuch: Under the Shad Moon” event and it was relatively quiet (things have recently reopened without masks). Still, you could tour all the homes and listen to a lecture the early use of plant fibers and demo flint-knapping. There were talks in all the buildings and refreshments in the Campbell-Christie House.
“Chwame Gischuch: Under the Shad Moon”
I then toured the historical homes on the property. The Steuben House is the main historical home on the site’s property which was built in 1752 which is by the Hackensack River and was used as a home and business in milling and shipping. Most of the Society’s artifacts are housed here. There are some interesting displays of Indian artifacts and a home doll display along with historical furniture.
The Van Steuben House at Christmas
The collection of historical items includes Native American household and hunting items, colonial items for the home and cooking. There are items used in battle like swords, muskets and cannon balls.
Colonial artifacts at the Steuben House
Colonial Cooking and Wardrobe items
Colonial Household items in the collection
Native American items in the collection
The Demarest House is a two-room home with period furniture and was considered in its day a large home.
The Demarest House on the Bergen County Historical Site
The Demarest House marker
The Campbell-Christie House where most of the action was going on as costume volunteers were cooking and serving food, making dolls and explaining the home’s use as both a private home and a tavern. In the out kitchen behind the home, a roaring fire was going while the costume volunteer was explaining how to make fry bread and a type of homemade pancake. It was an interesting afternoon.
The Campbell-Christi House
The Campbell-Christie House marker
I have also visited the Historical Society for the Dutch Christmas Holidays:
The Society held Christmas concerts as entertainment during the Revolutionary War era. They also had tours of the houses that evening, the engaging concerts and history of the holidays at that time and a pub opened for dinner during the event at the Campell-Christi House.
The Christmas music of Linda Russell
Christmas events at the Historical Society are a lot of fun.
Don’t miss their Revolutionary War Recreations in the Spring
I recently went on an architectural tour of the homes on the property and it was interesting to see how the homes were built, how they were designed with a certain Bergen County Dutch design to them with the tilted roofs and unique stonework. Some of these homes (and the barn) were moved from their original locations and placed here at the site. It was a testament to their construction.
There is a distinct design to “New Jersey Dutch” architecture
The tour also talked about the strategic location of the property during the war and how the bridge was one of the only ways to cross the river at that point of the war. Its destruction was one of the turning points of the war.
A recent fundraiser in December 2020 for Christmas, the Historical Society could not hold their usual fundraiser for the holidays so what they did and I thought this was original, they held an outdoor Christmas tour and sing along with singer/performer Linda Russell.
Singer Linda Russell lead the Historical Walking Tour in 2020
We started at the Steuben House with a discussion on the progression of Christmas in American first under the Dutch, then under the suppression of the Puritans denouncing the holiday and then the build up of the current way we celebrate the holiday under the Victorians.
The Steuben House decorated for the Christmas Celebration
They had actors singing and dancing during the early Dutch times and the house decorated for the holidays in that period. It was fun to see the actors in period dress and dancing to the music of that time period.
The Steuben House decorated for the Christmas Holidays circa 1780 in 2020
We next moved to the Demerest House and discussed the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas. Another actor discussed the night before the holiday as she put her children to bed and finished her cooking for the next day’s dinner. She discussed the wooden shoes outside the home as the children readied for St Nichols’s visit and wanted to feed the horses.
The Demerest House decorated for the Dutch Christmas Festival 2020
When we got to the Campbell-Christie House, we discussed the modern Christmas with Caroling through the ages and songs from different time periods and who wrote them. We then discussed the progression of the Christmas tree. I never realized that Christmas lights were created in New Jersey. Thomas Edison’s factory created and produced the first ones after the creation of the light bulb.
Singer Linda Russell leading the Historic Christmas Tour and singing and flute playing in 2020
Also through modern story telling and poems, the first stories of St. Nichols to the modern day Santa Claus was founded by writers and poets in New York and New Jersey. I never knew how much of the modern day Christmas was created in our two states.
The Campbell-Christie House decorated for the Dutch Christmas Festival & Tree Lighting 2020
We then sang many of the carols with Linda leading the way by flute and guitar and then we had the lighting of the tree outside the home and hot chocolate on the lawn (which by that point was almost cold). Still it was an interesting night of lecture, song and history as we walked the grounds of the Historical Society at New Bridge Landing.
The Bergen County Historical Society at New Bridge Landing
The Hackensack River Bend where the houses are located and was a major travel route during Colonial times.
The directory and timeline of the site
The only thing I would have changed that night was adding a fire pit. It went down to 39 degrees that night. Still, it was a nice way to celebrate Sinterklaas and Christmas in the COVID era.
In May 2021, I attended the “Pinkster Celebration” event for the Dutch holidays. It was a nice little event with an explanation and demonstration of the May Pole Dance. The ladies danced in a group to show how the May Pole was used. It was interesting how the event developed from dancing around a tree to the use of the pole.
The May Pole Dance at “Pinkster”
The rest of the afternoon they had tours of the house, cooking and workmanship demonstrations and Colonial games.
In 2022, we celebrated Washington’s Birthday with a traditional colonial ball with period music and dress and the dancers performed various dance routines of the time. There was music and merriment that the people enjoyed and a sense of comradery after a long war.
The colonial dance numbers
The Westervelt-Thomas Barn
In 2022, I went to visit the Westervelt-Thomas Barn again for the “Chwame Gischuch: under the Shad Moon” and listened to a talk on the barn. It is interesting how the barn was built with two entrances so that when the hay was unloaded, it was placed in the ceiling above and then the cart could go out the other entrance without having to back up. Not only that but since the animal pens were on both sides of the barn, you did not disturb the animals as well.
The barn also has a couple of different carriages (that need some repair) and all sorts of farm equipment on display. They were demonstrating how to make straw brooms and wedel wood for farm use.
The Demarest House and Westervelt-Thomas Barn on the site
History of Bergen County:
This is the information from the Bergen County Historical Society:
Historic New Bridge Landing: Bergen County, where America begins…
Experience history in on the storied places where it was made…
*Battleground in the American Revolution
*The Steuben House survived more of the American Revolution than any other home in America
*Washington’s headquarters for 16 days in 1780
*Distinctive Bergen County artifacts & architecture including 3 sandstone houses
*One of the last unspoiled vistas in the central valley of the Hackensack River
*Seven miles from the George Washington Bridge
*Two blocks from the New Bridge Landing Train Station on the Pascack Valley Line to Secaucus
Historic Buildings are open for special events: Check the website for the schedule.
The Historic New Bridge Landing is the Headquarters of the Bergen County Historical Society Walking Tour that contains:
The Steuben House: Jan and Annetjie (Ackerman) Zabriskie prospered as a miller and merchant at this site. They built a five-room stone cottage in 1752 and enlarged the house to the present size in 1767 by adding a second story along the rear and the entire north block with its paneled parlor and bed chamber. During the Revolutionary War, the Zabriskie’s sided with the Crown and fled to British held Manhattan. Washington made the house his headquarters for 16 days in 1780. The State of New Jersey presented the confiscated house to Major-General Baron von Steuben in 1783. It is the only extant as a “Large Mansion House containing twelve rooms built with stone with out-houses consisting of a Bake House, Smoke House, Coach House and two large barns, and a garden, forty acres of land consisting of Meadow land and two orchards.” Steuben’s aid-de-camp, Captain Benjamin Walker resided here, while Steuben made regular visits and summer retreats from his Manhattan lodgings. Steuben restored the war damaged home and this is largely the house that you see today. He sold it back to the Zabriskies in 1788. The house and one acre were purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1928. In 1939, BCHS was invited to display its collections at the museum. BCHS purchased the adjacent eight acres in 1944 thus preserving a fragment of Bergen Dutch countryside.
The Steuben House at night
2. New Bridge: A “New Bridge” with sliding draw was built here in 1745. Describing the American retreat from Fort Lee on November 20, 1776, eyewitness Thomas Paine wrote, “Our first object was to secure the bridge over the Hackensack…” memorializing the darkest hour in the hopes for American independence as the “times that try men’s souls.” This strategic crossing was in constant conflict during the war because it was the first bridge above Newark Bay. The present Pratt-type low-truss swing bridge opened February 2, 1889. One person alone could rotate the bridge to let the ships pass. Closed to auto traffic in 1956. Listed on NJ and National Registers by BCHS as the oldest highway swing-bridge in NJ.
The Bridge in New Bridge Landing
3. New Bridge Landing: A narrow mill landing built of log cribbing in 1744 could accommodate sloops of 40-ton burden. Local products were shipped south including iron which was brought overland from Ringwood and Long Pond Ironworks. Merchandise brought back from the city markets was in the Zabriskie store.
The New Bridge Landing site
4. Zabriskie’s Mills: Johannes Ackerman resided near the present intersection of Main Street and Elizabeth Court. He built a gristmill, 40×20 feet containing two pairs of grinding stones in 1714 at the outlet of Cole’s Brook. High tide was trapped behind the dam creating an artificial pond twice daily to run the waterwheel during ebb tide. Area farmers brought grain to be ground into flour for a more valuable commodity. Jan Zabriskie purchased the tide mill in 1745. The date stone lozenge set in the south end of the Zabriskie-Steuben House depicts the tide driven waterwheel. Jan’s grandson, John J. Zabriskie aged 25 died trying to free the waterwheel in 1793. The mill burned in 1852.
5. Demarest House Museum: the two-room sandstone cottage was built in 1794 for miller John Paulson at the time of his marriage to Altie Ely. The stove chimney in the east room is a technological advance over fireplaces. The house moved from its original site beside the French Burial Ground in New Milford in 1955-56. Demarest family and Bergen Dutch artifacts on display. Owned by the Blauvelt-Demarest Foundation it was restored in 2009.
The Demarest House
6. The Campbell-Christie House: Jacob Campbell, a mason, erected this gambrel-roofed, center hall, sandstone dwelling at River Road & Henley Avenue in New Milford in 1744 at the time of his marriage to Altche Westervelt. Jacob was a private in the Bergen Militia and the house was damaged in the Revolutionary War. John Christie a blacksmith purchased the house in 1795 and continued its operation as a tavern. J. Walter Christie, born in the house in 1865, is considered the ‘father of the modern tank’ and best known for developing the Christie Suspension System used in World War II. Threatened with demolition, the house was moved here onto BCHS land in 1977 by the County of Bergen. Operated & funded by BCHS and interpreted as a 18th century tavern. Refreshments, gift shop & rest room (when open).
The Campbell-Christie House
7. Westervelt-Thomas Barn: Built in 1889 by Peter J. Westervelt on his farm on Ridgewood Avenue in the Township of Washington. Henry Thomas purchased farm in 1906. Donated to BCHS and relocated in 1955.
The Westervelt-Thomas Barn
8. Out Kitchen: Authentic out-kitchen replicating the John R. Demarest out kitchen in Demarest. Built by BCHS in 1990 using antique materials, it includes a working beehive oven and smoke room. These separate kitchen structures kept the heat of cooking out of the main dwelling during summer and prevented oven fires consuming the home. Located nearby is an outhouse circa 1930 from Closter.
9. Brett Park: Part of the New Bridge Battleground during the American Revolution. Later site of Rekow’s Farm and Bensen’s Campgrounds. Named after the former Teaneck Mayor Clarence Brett in 1971. The Friends of the Hackensack Greenway through Teaneck maintain a southbound 3.5 mile pathway with access in Brett Park.
10. The Meadow: The auto-parts yard, completely remediated by 2010 is now an open meadow in HNBL.
11. The Site of the future BCHS Museum & Library Building: Elevated building planned to allow for exhibits and safe storage of the BCHS collections.
Prehistory: The clay flat on the west bank of the river was known as Tantaqua’s Plain, inhabited by Tantaqua, a Hackensack sachem and his kin (Steuben House location). Artifacts as old as 5,000 years been found here and may be on exhibit.
New Bridge served as a battleground, fort, encampment ground, military headquarters and intelligence-gathering post in every year of the American Revolutionary War.
The American Battleground: While a constant arena for conflict, the following significant Revolutionary War events are associated with New Bridge:
*British troops under Major General Vaughan attacked the American rear guard on November 21, 1776 and seized the New Bridge which American engineers were dismantling.
*British and Loyalist troops under command of Captain Patrick Fergusen attacked about 40 Bergen militiamen at New Bridge on May 18, 1779.
*Major Henry Lee led American troops from New Bridge on August 18, 1779.
*A force of Bergen Militia and Continental troops attacked 600 British troops and German auxiliaries at New Bridge on their retreat from Hackensack and Paramus on March 23, 1780, during the two hours it took for the British to repair and cross the New Bridge.
*A body of 312 British, Loyalist and German infantry attacked and overwhelmed an American outpost at new Bridge commanded by Lieutenant Bryson on April 15, 1780.
*Eight British soldiers were killed and several wounded by friendly fire when British troops attempted to attack a body of Bergen Militia in the Zabriskie-Steuben House at New Bridge on May 30, 1780.
*Brigadier General Anthony Wayne led American troops from New Bridge on a raid against the Bull’s Ferry Blackhouse on July 20, 1780.
*General Washington made his headquarters in the Zabriskie-Steuben House during the Steenrapie Encampment (along Kinderkamack Road) of the Continental Army encompassing 14,000 men on September 4-20, 1780.
There are also artifacts that were all made in Bergen County on display as well.
*Van Saun and Wolfkiel slip-decorated red ware and salt glazed pottery
*Quilts, 3 dozen, including the exceptional Betsey Haring applique quilt.
*Bergen Dutch ladder-back chairs
*English bacon settle dating to 1767
These are just some of the items featured in the collection.
The Bergen County Historical Society is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) all-volunteer organization founded in 1902. We are not a government agency. We do not seek public operating grants instead we rely on private donations and membership. We are raising funds to build a museum for extensive collections of artifacts and archives. BCHS is proud to be the lead member of the Historic new Bridge Landing Park Commission. 100% if your donation goes to our mission BergenCountyHistory.org.
*All of this information is taken from the Bergen County Historical Society’s pamphlet. Please check out their website for more information on events on the property. This is a must see for those of you interested in Revolutionary War history.