The 20th Century   

Beginning the Spring Planting in East Northvale...
Jacob Haring  & Caroline Haring, c. 1890

East Northvale


A Rockleigh Borough

World War II

A Boro Hall

Fire Department

Police Protection

Ladies Auxiliary

Rose Haven School

Rockleigh in 1973

End of 20th Century

          By the turn of the century surrounding communities in Harrington Township sought independence and "Boroughs" were formed with local councils or their own. In 1916 the last unincorporated portion of Harington Township incorporated as the Borough of Northvale and Harington Township ceased to exist. The new Borough of Northvale consisted of present-day Northvale and East Northvale, formerly Rockland, which lay east of Horse Hill, beyond Ludlow's Ditch and the swamplands of the Sparkill. Separated by these natural barriers the two communities developed independently of each other. The East Northvale lands were part of the old Lockhart Patent of 1687 while Northvale proper came out of the Tappan Patent. The total population of the area at the time was 827.

          Progress would again come to the community in 1919 when the Hackensack Water Company offered to run water lines into the Borough of Northvale. Most Northvale residents wanted water lines and their Council was in favor of the project. However, East Northvale was too far away to make the water lines economically feasible for its few residents. Heated Council meetings and a good deal of squabbling went on over the next two years.

          By 1922, the question of water supply went to public referendum-and on its passing, a Water Bond for $25,000 was issued in January of 1923. Northvale now distinguished itself by having the highest tax rate in Bergen County. The tax rate was $6.78!

          The twenties saw prosperity and change...All school children in the United States learned two poems. One by John McCrae about "crosses row on row"...the other, by Sigfried Sassoon, to the effect that "suddenly the whole world burst out singing." The first poem described World War I; the second...the state of euphoria that seized the country the day the Armistice was signed.

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


East Northvale Secedes



As late as 1995, this was still making headlines (see Press Items)

          In the midst of this euphoria Rockleigh was born. "On January 23, 1923, an advertisement appeared in the Englewood Press giving notice that an application will be made to the legislature of the State of New Jersey...for the passage of an act to incorporate the Borough of Rockleigh in the County of Bergen." A hearing was held in Trenton on the proposed Borough of Rockleigh, and Northvale sent out a call for volunteers to attend the meeting. The ringing of the Fire Alarm was the signal...then on to Trenton to defeat the bill. Twenty-three men responded to the call, but alas...the cause was lost. East Northvale became Rockleigh Borough on April 12, 1923. Secession they had wanted and secession they had!

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


A Rockleigh Borough


Tallman's Garage circa 1930

         Without the dignity of even a firehouse, the community set upon the task of governing itself and held its first council meeting. For this auspicious occasion the Founding Fathers met in Tallman's Garage on the east side of Carterette Road. Rent for the "Borough Hall" was $10.00 a year. With Mayor William Tait presiding, the new Borough was named Rockleigh (after both the Tait family estate near Norfolk, VA, and to the origins of the area as Rockland) respective boards were elected. Improvements were begun within the area and throughout the coming years and the citizens of Rockleigh envisioned with pride the progress of their young borough. However, not too much progress was ever desired!  While Northvale chose to grow into a modern-day community, Rockleigh chose to remain rural and preserve that atmosphere. The resident population in 1930 was 86.

          To illustrate how times moves in Rockleigh, it is interesting to note that in 1930 the Borough Council advised the Board of Freeholders that there should be a "synchronizing light" at Paris Avenue and Carterette Road because of the dangerous traffic conditions. Carterette Road has long since become Piermont Road, and in 1973 the Board of Freeholders finally agreed that the "synchronizing light" requested in 1930 would be installed. Yet, to this day (2003) there is no traffic light at the intersection.

          By the early 1930's the singing was over, and the somberness of the Depression reached even here. The Town Marshal, Philip Rower, was named Overseer of the Poor. Rockleigh had to request aid from the Emergency Relief Administration for help with the cost of preparing a Tax Map. The Council was forced to put off the "installation of water lines, the widening and clearing of ditches and the construction of a Municipal Building" because of the uncertainties of many affairs at this time. Prohibition ended. The Old Well Tavern and the Pegasus Club were granted liquor licenses by the Council because they needed even these tiny fees.

          Rockleigh, New Jersey: April 22, 1930: "The Pegasus Club of Rockleigh earns a berth in the national polo championships and is ranked the best in the East." [The Bergen Record] The posh Pegasus Club consisted of an out-door field where prestigious horse shows were held, a polo field as well as an indoor Polo Field (now Carlee Corp. building), an Olympic sized swimming pool, and an elegant old home that served as the Club's Executive Office (now Wollard Residence). The horse gentry gathered at the Pegasus from Long Island, Westchester, and South Jersey for all important events.  In the fall of 1939,  a newspaper item announced "Tito and his Swingettes are on the bandstand this weekend at the Pegasus Club in Rockleigh N.J." [The Weekly Magazine: Jazz Information. Vol I, No. 4 of Oct 3, 1939] A croupier called out "Faites vos jeux". Members and their guests wined and dined  in the beautiful Sunbeau Room, named in honor of the famous race horse of that era. 

          While couples glided across the dance floors of America to the strains of "Dancing in the Dark"...Europe marched to the tune of a different drummer... 

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


World War II


Eleven went off to war. Henry Happel did not return.


Henry Happel did not come home

         The late 1930's saw Hitler invade Poland and the Depression end. Nations united with a rare zeal to rid the world of injustice and famine. The young men of Rockleigh went into the Armed Services; the older men went to work in Defense Plants. The Pegasus Club fell victim to the war effort and was purchased by Aero Muffler Company (now Carlee Corp.). The Club's executive offices became the home of Edgar Parks Snow, the noted author of Red Star Over China. When Mr. Snow died in 1973 he left a letter which express his feelings toward the places that were so much a part of his life...

"I loved China. I should like part of me to stay here after death as it always did during life. America fostered and nourished me. I should like part of me placed in the Hudson River before it enters the Atlantic to touch Europe and all the shores of mankind of which I have felt a part, as I knew good men in almost every land."
Edger Parks Snow

         "Victory Gardens" sprouted up all over the town to relieve the food shortage. Once again cocks crowed in the morning, eggs were plentiful; there were ducks and geese about; some residents even raised sheep and goats. But the pigs became a problem. According to town records..."On Dec. 7, 1943—Several reports were received of pigs wandering loose on the highways and private properties in the Borough. It was suggested by the Borough Attorney that the owners of pigs be found and notice posted or sent that the pigs will be impounded" ...On Jan. 3, 1944 —A report received of dead pigs lying in the woods. Borough Attorney to contact the Attorney of the owner of the pigs to have satisfactory steps taken to remedy the condition." ...On April 4, 1944—Dead pigs still in woods causing health menace." And on "May 2, 1944—Carcasses of dead pigs to be removed." It took quite a while to solve that problem. 

          The ladies of Rockleigh joined the Red Cross, knit sweaters, socks and mufflers, wound bandages and did things that the Red Cross Ladies did during World War II. Local Girl Scouts collected pots and pans for the Scrap Metal Drive and dutifully turned them over to the Norwood Police.

          The tiny Borough sent 11 of its sons into the armed forces: Fred Waller, Santo Squadrito, Dewitt Hunt, George Topp, Henry Happel, Charles DeMartini, Howard S Kniffin, Chester A Bullinger,  Delmer W Carroll, Edward A Flieger, and Byron Ratto. When piece finally came 10 young men returned home...Henry Happel had given his life in the defense of his country.

          At long last the Second World War was over. On VE Day and VJ Day, joyous citizens danced and sang in the streets of America...but there would be no 10-year celebration this time. The United States had lost its innocence. Life was real and the Country was earnest.

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


A Borough Hall


The First Seat of Government

         Now that peace had finally come, one of the first things Rockleigh did was to look for a site for a permanent Borough Hall. By 1947, the Borough had received two generous in the way of a 200 x 150-foot plot of land, and the other in the form of a tiny building...15 x 29-foot. At the time Councilman Fred Swanson called for a town meeting and summed up his thoughts with..."Folks, with a little dressing up—a coat of paint and perhaps some landscaping—Rockleigh can get itself out of the "Chicken Coop" and into a small but attractive home of its own. The plot was cleared, and the building moved from the east side of Piermont Road, to its new home on Rockleigh Road....

          That tiny building now stands on Rockleigh Road today. It is the central core of the Borough Hall, expanded to house the Rockleigh Fire Department and Borough offices, and dedicated in 1973 by Mayor Gordon Hutcheon.

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department

Rockleigh Firemen and Mack Quad, 1973


Rockleigh Fire Company, lead by Chief George Kershaw,  lines up for inspection at the Annual Fireman's Parade -  October 1973

          As the Borough developed on its own, the need for a Fire Department became evident. Since 1923 Rockleigh has relied on the neighboring towns of Northvale and Norwood for fire assistance and paid an annual fee for their aid and cooperation. In 1932 the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department was organized and incorporated and requested that they be recognized as the official Borough fire fighters. With the approval of all concerned they received financial assistance from the Borough to purchase a Mack truck and equipment from the Ridgefield Park Fire Company for $200.00. Rockleigh had truly progressed! But what would they do with the fire engine...there was no Fire House! Tallman's garage was "re-dedicated" as the official "Fire House." Over the next few years, they would disband and reorganize again in 1944. Within their history, it is possible that they were the only fire company in Bergen County to boast of having a "Lady Fireman" in their ranks. Mrs. Pauline Hinson Muzzio was a full-fledged member of the department and even drove the engine!

          Recruitment for the Fire Department had always been a problem. Most Rockleigh men left for work outside the Borough, leaving the town undermanned in the event of fire. A solution to the problem came in the 1950's when male employees of Astral Industries and the Carlee Corporation volunteered their service for fire duty during the daylight hours. Hence, the Industrial Brigade of the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department was born. Although the Industrial Brigade was not officially formed until 1964, it had long been recognized as a vital part of the Department. Today, its volunteers come from many firms in the Rockleigh Commercial Park. The commercial Park is the vital bridge that joins the commercial and residential communities in the daily life of the Borough. 

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


Bergen County Police


           As part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration, the Borough also dedicates the new Rockleigh Sub-Station of the Bergen County Police. Last year, when the addition to the Borough Hall was completed, the Borough found that they had ample space for themselves. Additional space was offered to the County Police, who accepted the offer and relocated to the new facilities in the Municipal Building. The Bergen County Police served Rockleigh Borough through 2003.


Ladies Auxiliary


          On October 5, 1950, the women of Rockleigh organized to assist the Rockleigh Fire Department. The new auxiliary was sponsored by the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knickerbocker Hook & Ladder Company of Closter, New Jersey. The Rockleigh Auxiliary boasted seventeen Charter Members. Through the years they have helped raise funds for the Fire Department through annual social events held at the Fire House. On May 19, 1963, the Ladies Auxiliary sponsored a Horse Show which was held at the Pegasus Riding Club. It was one of the most successful events of the season. When the Borough Hall and Fire House were remodeled, the Ladies Auxiliary donated the kitchen. Their "Pot Luck Suppers" are always enjoyed by all as the Ladies are all excellent cooks.

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


Rose Haven School


The Rose Haven School For Girls in the 1950's

          From 1930, Miss Ruth Van Strum and Miss Mary Brichard ran the exclusive Rose Haven School for girls in the former home of Mayor Tait (Abraham D. Haring House). Daughters of many notable people attended Rose Haven over the next 50 years. The many bedrooms on the second floor of the manor house provided comfortable living space for the girls. An adjacent building contained several classrooms. In the mid 1950's a teacher at the school, Agnes Boyd, purchased the school and property to establish the Rose Haven Country Day School. The private school closed in 1983 upon the retirement of Agnes Boyd.



Retailing in Rockleigh


 M & R  ESSO

          Tallman's Garage had evolved. In the 1950's the garage was run by Byron Ratto and still housed the Rockleigh Fire Engine. In 1952 a retail enterprise in Rockleigh Borough began with an ordinance passed by the Mayor and Council permitting the opening of a country-style grocery store on Piermont Road next to Ratto's garage. The store was owned and operated by Sam Lee. This little retail complex continued until 1968 when Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, envisioning an increase of traffic along Piermont Road, bought out Ratto's station and built a modern service station. The country store was converted to a residence, but the new ESSO Service Station became an integral part of Rockleigh Borough.... 

          Subsequent operators of the service station were Michael Devlin & Richard Bush in the 1970's - 1980's, Charles Argenti in the 1980's, and Joseph Speccavento in the 1990's. One common thread is that all of the operators of the service center, going back to Tallman, have been active members of the Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department. Another continues to be the excellent specialty service of foreign cars. With 80% of their work coming from employees of the Rockleigh McBride Office and Technical Park, the service center traditionally has been open on Saturdays for local residents. 

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]



Boro Hall (center) with RVFD in 1973


Rockleigh Municipal Building in 1973
Old Borough Hall is flanked by the R.V.F.D. and Borough Offices

          The "great migration from the cities to the suburbs" brought many "new families" to the Borough over the past 25 years. Modern residences with well-groomed lawns and swimming pools now contrast Rockleigh's Historic Old Homes. The planned blending of the old and new have made this tiny community unique in modern-day New Jersey. If you approach the Borough from south Piermont Road you will pass Knockeen Farm where thoroughbred Irish horses graze by the roadside. If you come down the road from New York State you will pass by the Rockleigh Commercial Park. The Park is situated on 110 acres of countryside, wooded acres, and groomed flower gardens. The Borough is one-square mile, adjacent to the New York border, and is situated in the north-eastern corner of Bergen County. [Map of Rockleigh

Show at Knockeen Farm, circa 1973

             The Pegasus Club left a legacy in Rockleigh which lay dormant in Pegasus Farm. In the 1960's,  Irish champion of steeplechase and breeder of thoroughbreds, Richard Widger, purchased the property and founded , named after a family horse farm in Ireland. Knockeen's reputation in the Hunt and Show was enviable as prestigious horse shows returned to Rockleigh. Two horse farms in Rockleigh contribute a rural ambiance and the reminder of an older, more relaxed way of life.

           Golf is another recreational activity enthusiastically embraced by this community. The Rockleigh-Bergen County Golf Course spreads over 264 acres. It is one of the most beautiful public courses in this part of the country. Its rolling "greens" add immeasurably to the open nature of the Rockleigh environment. 

            Rockleigh, long recognized for its beautiful country atmosphere, has been included in the State of New Jersey long range "Open Space Plan" as a "green area" worth preserving for future generations. The Rockleigh-McBride Office & Technical Park, was designed and built in the early 1960's on the "Open Space" Concept. The Office & Technical Park has won many awards for architectural achievement. It is one of the outstanding planned industrial areas in the State of New Jersey today. 


         As a community, Rockleigh is dedicated to preserving its own identity. The Borough is an example to the fact that the inclusion of commercial and industrial activity within an area need not detract, depress, nor disrupt the life-style of a region or its topography, but as in our case can do much to enhance all aspects of community living and commercial work patterns.

[50th Anniversary - Borough of Rockleigh, NJ - 1923-1973]


The end of the 20th Century

Boro Hall (center) with RVFD in 1973


The Rockleigh Municipal Building was about to change


         During the the lst quarter of the century, several of the larger farm properties were subdivided for development. The Borough fathers instated two-acre lot size in the residential zone and adopting Historic Guidelines for construction within the Rockleigh National Historic District. This ensured an orderly progression of development compatible with the historic nature of the Borough. 

         A portion of the Riker-Mabie-Conklin-Sneden Farm was saved from development through a Green Acres purchase. Subsequently, a contiguous 70 acre tract at the base of the Palisades uplands was purchased from the Boy Scouts of America and maintained as a natural habitat. This purchase was followed by a consortium of Rockleigh, Alpine and Bergen County to purchase 134 acres of former Boy Scout Property ("Lamont Track") to the east of Rockleigh on the  western slope of the Palasades.

         To oversee the Borough Nature Sanctuary and woodlands a borough Parks Commission was established. The Sneden Ice Pond was cleared of trees and brush, dredged, and the dam repaired. The adjacent meadow was cleared. This area provides a pleasant ramble through historic farm lands. Old woods roads were discovered, including the Skunk Hollow track, and opened as hiking trails. Rockleigh Borough has not only been proactive in historic preservation, but proactive in environmental areas as well.

        The Rockleigh Volunteer Fire Department was revitalized in the early 1980's by the purchase of three new pieces of apparatus, a Mini-Pumper and Two Maxi-Pumpers. Increasingly stringent requirements for safety, qualifications, and firefighter training brought the capabilities of the volunteer firemen to an impressive new level.

         A s the Century turned, Rockleigh was in the unique position of being the second-smallest borough in the state, yet had managed to broadly control it's destiny for the welfare and quality of life of it's residents.


Compiled by E. W. April, 2002

Background Music: "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" Courtesy of Barry Taylor

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