Note: The Skylands Manor is decorated for the holidays during the first week of December and only for one weekend as it used for a banquet facility the rest of the time and as a hotel. The first weekend of December is when local Gardening groups are assigned one room to decorate and they have one week to put it together, display their ideas and explain how they did it to the public. The best day to go is the Thursday afternoon opening as it is the quietest day of the four day event with Saturday being the busiest.
Each of the eleven rooms that were decorated for the event were amazing each with their own decor, docents and gardeners and theme to the room. The Entrance Hall was elegant with its garland and potted plants, the Octagon Hall used its space wisely with a series of trees and hot house flowers. The women who decorated it had a phenomenal sense of space.
The Teaneck Garden Club did a great job decorating the Library with an elegant Christmas Tree and vintage ornaments. Some of the gardeners also came in vintage clothing of the area.
Each room had its own personality and was a combination of Christmas decorations and holiday plants.
In 2019, the decorations were not as elaborate as the previous two years. The snow storm before the event may have put a damper on a few of the groups decorating. Still the best day to visit the manor is Thursday afternoon as it is the quietest time and you can take the best pictures.
The two best rooms in the manor in 2019 were the Entrance Hall and Grand Staircase decorated by the Magnificent Seven, a group of volunteers whose theme was ‘The Secret Life of Gnomes’ and the trees and staircases were studded with gnomes, large and small, on the trees and wreathes surrounding the stairs.
The other room that was very impressive was the Center Hall whose theme was the “Enchanted Forest, full of little fairies and painted rocks and jeweled winged ornaments. When you looked at the detail work of the trees and table displays you could see the work that went into the decor. Each little fairy on the stands and trees had immense detail and took a lot of time. This display was done by the Friends of Laurelwood Arboretum in Wayne, NJ.
Skylands Manor in 2019
The rest of the rooms in the manor were really pared down from 2018 and did not have the same elaborate details to them. The Library and Study did not have half of the display items that they did in the past.
The fee to enter the home is still $10.00. The carriage house is being used for a cafe with Chicken Salad sandwiches and hot dogs with toppings. There are all sorts of crafts for sale.
Watch the calendar for 2020 in early December for the next display.
History of the Skylands Manor & People:
Clarence McKenzie Lewis bought Skylands in 1922 from the estate of Francis Lynde Stetson, who founded Skylands in 1891. Mr. Lewis was educated in England and Germany. While he was there, his widowed mother, Helen Forbes Lewis married William Salomon, founder of the New York banking house. Upon his return, Lewis attended Columbia University, where he received a Civil Engineering degree in 1898. In 1908, he married and bought a country place in Mahwah; it was there that Lewis became interested in horticulture.
Helen Lewis Salomon, the mother of Clarence Lewis, was widowed in 1919. Not only thereafter, she and her bereaved son agreed to a joint project; she wanted a Tudor-style showplace; he wanted plants and gardens. Mrs. Salomon worked closely with the architect on Skylands Manor but she died in 1927 before its completion.
John Russell Pope (1874-1937) “an architect born to work, in the grand style” was educated at City College, Columbia University, the American Academy in Rome and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He trained under Bruce Price, the master builder of Tuxedo Park. Pope designed many outstanding public buildings, such as the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art.
Tutor Architecture originated in England in the late Gothic period and continued to be popular into the Renaissance. It features half-timbering on the exterior, crenelated walls, large groups of rectangular windows, oriel or bay windows and intricate chimney complexes The interiors usually had large central halls, wood paneling, molded plaster ceilings and elaborately carved staircases. Tudor Revival became a popular style for the elegant country houses of wealthy Americans.
The builder of Skylands was the Elliot C. Brown Co., of New York City, which also built the country homes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt at Hyde Park and E. Roland Harriman (Arden House).
Samuel Yellin (1885-1940) decorative metal designer and craftsman, who performed to call himself “the blacksmith”, fashioned the lanterns. electrical fixtures, lamps, gate, and spiral staircase rail for Skylands Manor.
Native Granite for the exterior walls of Skylands was quarried at Pierson Ridge above Emerald Pond in the eastern part of the property in Bergen County.
Mrs. Salomon purchased a collection of antique Stained Glass Medallions from an English collector. The 16th century German, Bavarian and Swiss panes were set in leaded windows by Heinegke & Smith of New York City.
Disclaimer: This information on the details of the history of Skylands Manor was taken directly from their pamphlet and I give them full credit for it. Please call the manor for times that it is open as it is used a banquet/catering facility and a B & B.
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.
In December of 2022, the Historical Society brought back their indoor concerts for Christmas including opening the Blackhorse Pub (The Campbell-Christie House) for dinner before and after the concerts. It was so nice to come to this again. The crowds were a little light at the second concert at 7:45pm on a Sunday night but it made it more fun that we could still socially distance from each other and there was plenty of space to spread out.
I started the evening early at the pub eating my dinner before the concert. The pub had a limited but very nice menu based on what foods that may have been served at the time period (with a modern twist of course). There was Shepard’s Pie, a Ploughman’s Plate, Onion Pie, Trifle and Dutch Cookies and desserts on the menu.
The Campbell-Christie House was used as the “Blackhorse Tavern” for the evening where pub food could be ordered for dinner. It was really beautiful that night with all the tables a glow from the candles and the room decorated with holly, garland and wreaths for the holidays.
The “Blackhorse Tavern” for Christmas dinner
The menu at the pub that evening
I thought the menu was very reasonable for the amount of food that you got that evening. The portion sizes were very fair and the food, which had been catered in, was delicious. I chose the Shepard’s Pie with a salad on the recommendation of my waitress. When I came here back in 2019, you could not move in the pub and everything was sold out immediately. This time, I had the whole pub to myself while most other people were at the 6:00pm concert. A couple people came in for light refreshments and drinks. It was nice to just relax and enjoy my dinner before the concert.
My dinner: The Shepards Pie with a salad, roll and a glass of Apple Cider
Dining in the pub for dinner before the concert
Dessert was a Dutch “Sweet Plate” with all sorts of traditional cookies of the season
The “Dutch Cookie Plate” was the perfect way to end the meal
After dinner was over, I had plenty of time to explore the gift shop and wonder around the property to see the other decorations. The other buildings on the property were closed that evening but still decorated so I followed the lantern filled pathway and looked at the decorations.
The Gift Shop at the back of the Campbell-Christie House
I wondered through the dark path on my way to the Steuben House where that evening’s concert would be held. Since I got there a little early before my concert time, I was able to visit the museum. There are all sorts of things to see and buy to support the Historical Society so when you finish your meal you can wonder over.
The Demarest House was decorated for Christmas but closed that evening
Before the second concert that evening that I would be attending at 7:45pm I wondered around the museum part of the Steuben House where the concerts were taking place. The exhibits were set up with a holiday/Christmas theme in mind. One display was on a candy maker who once had a store in Downtown Hackensack.
Bogert’s Candy Shop in Downtown Hackensack closed in 1934
Bogart’s specialized in Rock candy
Another was a display on the “Twas the Night before Christmas”.
Christmas started to change in the Victorian era
The ‘History of Christmas’ at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a display on Dutch baking during the Christmas holidays. There were all sorts of traditional treats for the holidays including breads and chocolate numbers and letters.
Dutch Baking during the holidays was very extensive and time consuming
There was a display of toys that lucky children would have received during the holidays.
Decorating the house both during the Revolutionary War and during the Victorian Age was a very extensive affair of preparing the house for entertainment. Garland, holly and pine would have been important to decorate with but it was the Christmas ornaments of the Victorian age and trimming trees with ornaments that would have made the tree very festive.
There were also displays on entertaining during that time period and soldiers lives while the war was going on and what would be needed. It could be lonely at the holidays.
Entertaining and Tea Time
Items during the Revolution
Decorating took a turn after the war with more entertaining and merriment so people would decorate with garlands, fruits and things from nature like pinecones. Mistletoe had become part of the tradition and was the decorations. Both rooms were decorated for the holidays.
Decorating the Entertainment Room of what was once the house’s ballroom
The doorways were adorned with fruit
Mistletoe, fruit and pine give the rooms a wonderful smell as they still do today
We started to settle in as the second concert was about to start. The room was decorated for the holidays with a combination of Victorian and Revolutionary decorations.
The ballroom at the Steuben House
We were then treated to a concert by the great Linda Russell whose interpretations of Revolutionary Christmas songs is well known. We had a hour long concert of favorite songs, talks about the times and a history of the music itself. She shared with us her insights towards the holidays of New Jersey versus New England and their Puritan ways. Thank God we knew how to party then too.
Linda Russell (to the far left) and her group entertained us for the evening with songs, talks, a few jokes and a wonderful night of excellent music.
We were entertained for about an hour and got time during the intermission to talk with the musicians who shared their experiences with us and about the musical equipment that they were using that evening. It was an interesting talk and a wonderful concert. I highly recommend visiting the Bergen County Historical Society during this time of the year. They do a nice job with this concert and the site is so beautifully decorated for the Christmas holiday season.
Linda Russell and Company during the Christmas holidays at the Bergen County Historical Society
The Revolutionary War Reenactments:
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.