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History records that the area we now call Fair Lawn was originally part of a larger area inhabited by the native tribe, Lenni-Lenapi. As Dutch fur traders made their way up the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers to trade with the Hackinghaesaky Indians of the Lenni-Lenape tribe, they established trading posts driving the Lenni-Lenapi further West.
The Indians left behind many relics but perhaps none as interesting as the Fair Lawn/Paterson Fishweir (or fish trap) in the Passaic River. The weir can be seen approximately 200 feet North of the Fair Lawn Avenue Bridge during times when the water level is low. The trap consists of two rows of stones forming a V-shaped dam into which the Indians drove the fish during migration. After the fish entered the trap, the opening was closed with weighted nets. The Dutch who settled there called this the "slotendam", or "sloterdam" from the verb sluiten, meaning to shut. In fact, Fair Lawn was known as Slooterdam until about 1791.
River Road, one of the oldest roads in the Eastern part of the country, was once an Indian trail leading to the "Great Rock" tribal council site in Glen Rock. This road was originally known as Slauterdam Road prior to the Civil War.
After the capture of New Amsterdam in 1664, England acquired title to the area. Land grants were issued, though the settlers who received them were mainly Dutch. The Dutch settlers brought with them their "Flemish Colonial Style" of building, which can still be seen throughout the area.
The oldest example still standing today is the Garreston Forge and Farm Restoration, on River Road. The Restoration is run by volunteers at present, who have tried to preserve the way of life that existed in the 1700s.
Another example of an early Dutch home is the Naugle House, built in the 18th Century by Jacob Vandebeck's son-in-law, a paymaster to General Lafayette's troops. The General himself stayed in the house for several days in 1824 when he returned to the country after the Revolutionary War.
Another old structure is the Thomas Cadmus House, circa 1815, which operates as a museum next door to the Radburn Train Station off of Fair Lawn Avenue today.
The Fair Lawn area saw a few minor battles during the Revolutionary War. Notably, when Washington and his troops retreated across NJ to PA in 1776, John Post of Sloterdam dismantled the bridge across the Passaic River to prevent the pursuit of Washington's troops by Cornwallis.
The General of the Bergen Militia was Andrew Hopper, whose family had settled in Fair Lawn in 1711 and had owned large tracts of land in the area. Hopper Avenue was named in honor of his service.
As the 19th Century progressed, the large farms which had existed were sold and divided into smaller lots. By 1861, there were about 80 homes, most of them farmhouses. Fair Lawn became known as "Small Lots". One of the farmhouses still standing today is the Garret-Hopper-Bogert house built in the early 1800s, and two Terhune houses on Saddle River Road. The site of a house built during this era by Henry Hopper, a Sheriff of Bergen County, along what is now a ramp to Route 208 is commemorated by a monumemt and garden.
At the end of the 19th Century, the city of Paterson became industrialized and homes were built along the Passaic River in Fair Lawn to house workers for Paterson's mills and factories. Additional homes were built for workers of the Textile Dyeing and Finishing Co. on Wagaraw Road.
In the early 1900s, a unique planned community was conceived as the "Town for the Motor Age". This later became known as Radburn. Unfortunately, the Great Depression put a damper on plans and the hoped for 25,000 residents never materialized. The Radburn Plan was to build "superblocks" consisting of continuous interior parks and separate pedestrian paths. The Radburn area today consists of two superblocks and is a vital part of the Fair Lawn community. It is visited each year by planners, architects and students.
During the 1950s, Fair Lawn's Industrial Park was developed and it has attracted such internationally known companies as Nabisco, Kodak and Lee and Perins. The last farm, a 20 acre corn field off of Route 208, is designated to be the site of a new 352 home developement in the near future.
This history is based on the
book "Fair Lawn: Know Your Town", published by the
League of Women Voters, Fair Lawn, N.J., 1994, edited by Jane
Lyle Diepeveen. For further information about the League of Women
Voters of New Jersey, write to:League of Women Voters of
204 State Street
Trenton, N.J. 08608
Tel: 609-792-3303 or 800-792-VOTE
The Historic Garreston Forge and Farm, 4-02 River Road, seeks volunteers to help weed and maintain vegetable gardens on the grounds. All produce from the garden will be delivered to the food pantry at St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Broadway in Paterson. Please call 797-1775 to volunteer.
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Copyright © 1996 Larry Schwartz. All rights reserved. Please read the disclaimer.
Last updated on September 12, 1996