Uniquely River Edge: The Historic Old Bridge of River Edge
Journeys into River Edge
River Edge is known for being the home of “the Bridge that Saved the Nation”. The Bridge at New Bridge Landing was one of history. The modern day structure at the spot, though closed to traffic since 1956 remains a one of a kind bridge locally.
The name News Bridge came in 1745 to distinguish it from a bridge, 1-1 ½ miles to the north.
The bridge, that predates the New Bridge, was popularly called Old Bridge, and it has a history as well.
The area was first settled by Europeans in 1683. The Demarest family, whose name would become associated with the neighborhood and other parts in Bergen County, first sailed to the area in 1677and purchased lands there in the 1680’s.
According to A History by Kevin W. Wright,( Edited and Published by Deborah Powell © 2020, originally Published © 1994), the first house in which David Des Marest resided was located “on the East side of the Hackensack and doubtless very near to his mills at the Old Bridge,” probably on the south side of River Edge Avenue in New Milford, just east of the present bridge.
The first river crossing at the location was built in 1720 at the gristmill hamlet of Old Bridge (by the present River Edge train station) in 1720. It was a couple of decades later (1744) that a bridge was added at New Bridge. That definitive history of the area (by Kevin Wright) tells us that the name New Bridge did not come into use until after the Paulus Hook Ferry was established in 1764.
So, the Old Bridge was located where River Edge Road crosses into New Milford. The original 1720 bridge at Old Bridge was destroyed by fire in the revolution (Rebuilds occurring again in 1887, 1913 and the 1970’s).
For a long time the bridge was tended by bridge tender.
The site, also called Demarest Landing, would become a major transportation and commercial hub, and later it became known as one of the stops along the Hackensack & New York Railroad (later to become part of the Erie).
It was the railroad that caused the name of River Edge to be first used for that part of developers trying to entice folks to move in to newly built homes.
For many years the borough was called Riverside - until 1930 in 1930 it was changed to River Edge (more on that in a future Journey into River Edge). It appears that there was not much of a stomach locally to engage in another fight of the name “Old Bridge”.
In the meantime, in Middlesex County there is a community that had appropriated Old Bridge name for itself. That location was originally part of the South Amboy Township, incorporated in 1684. Among the first permanent settlers were John and Susannah Brown, who obtained a 1,000-acre a British royal land grant in 1737 and settled in an area that still bears the name Browntown. In 1869, what is now Old Bridge split from South Amboy, which had refused to support a poorhouse, schools and road improvements in rural areas.
Adopting the name Madison, the new township remained a quiet farming community until 1950 when the postwar building boom hit. Within a decade, the population more than tripled to 22,772. By 1980, it had reached 51,406 and since then about 9,500 have been added.
In a highly contested 1975 referendum, the name was changed to Old Bridge to differentiate the township from another Madison in the state, in Morris County.
Some old timers there remained upset about the name change from Madison long after it had occurred (Sort of like Brooklynites upset about the Dodgers abandoning their borough decades later).
As significantly the 2000 newspaper article quoted Alvia Martin, 76 at the time who had lived there for 54 years. She argued that no had any idea what bridge the township was actually named for.
“They took the name of a great president and traded it in for the name of a bridge that no one can identify,'' Ms. Martin grumbled.
With that acknowledgement in mind, it is not too far-fetched to consider River Edge as the home of the original and popularly designated Old Bridge.
Today locally just historians and a few old timers refer to Old Bridge.
Mostly it is known as “the bridge to New Milford by the train station”. Still, call it what you will, the bridge’s history remains and is worth recalling – another spot in town that is uniquely River Edge.
For more, see: A SHORT HISTORY OF RIVER EDGE, NJ @ https://www.riveredgenj.org/.../River%20Edge.../History.pdf
Also: The History of Rive Edge, 1693-1964, Sigmund H. Uminski, 1965, Hauser Printing Company
And Musket, Anchor & Plow, Naomi Howitt & George Howitt, 1976, Arno Press