The Celery Farms of Paramus

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The Celery Farms of Paramus

A Journey into Paramus

The short history of Paramus is that before shopping centers, celery farms dominated the local scene.

Of course, there is more to it than that (And we hope to get to that all in time).

But what about those celery farms ?

According to local histories,in the borough's early days, celery farming was a major source of income due to Paramus' rich black soil, called "muck."

In fact, so prominent was the role of these farms that Paramus was back then nicknamed the "Celery Capital of the World."

In addition to the celery, other farm crops in the area included acres of corn, tomatoes, spinach, eggplant, and peppers.

You can get an idea what it was like back then at the The Fritz Behnke Historical Museum.

Fritz Behnke, who was actually born in Paramus in 1919. His family has lived in Paramus since 1886, and Fritz grew up on his father’s vegetable farm until it was sold in 1951. At that time, Fritz and his two brothers Walter & Donald started “Behnke’s Paramus Building Supply” on Route 17 & Century Road.

For many years, Fritz enjoyed being the official Historian of Paramus, and was the driving force behind the creation of the museum. His goal was to preserve the memories of the past by showing people the way life was lived many years ago. Although Fritz passed away in April 2012 at the age of 93, his memory and passion for this museum lives on.

Today, Fritz’s son Fred, along with many other volunteers, proudly gives tours and shares their personal experiences about the way things used to be.

Of course, the opening of the G.W. Bridge and the post-war development that ensued changed Paramus from a farming community to what exists there today.

But at the museum you can get a glimpse of artifacts from that earlier time. They include  furnishings of the farmhouse, including the utensils used for cooking and cleaning, washing, ironing, and sewing, which were all part of a housewife’s daily chores. One of the first electric washing machines is on display, a duplicate of which is currently in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC. Other items on display include an old ice box (refrigerator), a wood-burning stove, and an early gas stove. Take notice of the many toys that the children played with, such as dollhouses, scooters, toy tractors and board games. There is also a radio on display - set in the parlor room, it was the only real contact with the outside world. And, the only entertainment of that time was sitting around listening to records on the RCA Victor-Victrola, also on display in the museum.