School Days of the Past in River Edge
Journeys into River Edge
The crosswalks have a coat of fresh paint. New wardrobes are being purchased. So too are school supplies. Summer play and swim continue, but with the knowledge that they will soon be ended, replaced by a new start. School is almost here.
It’s a time of excitement for some, anxiety and dread for others. There is the anticipation of a new start, but there’s also transcendent, timeless quality to this time of year as well.
These days kids and their parents assemble on blacktop and near Roosevelt, Cherry Hill, St. Peter’s and River Dell. Monies dedicated to schools are substantial. So too is the level of commitment by parents and educators to try to prepare our kids for an increasingly competitive and uncertain world.
But this all is nothing new.
The faces, the family and school names may be different, but the essential focus remains the same. As Roosevelt, Cherry Hill, River Dell and St. Peter’s have educated generations of local children, it, at times, can be easy to overlook that schooling locally goes back much further.
The story is a long one and interesting one. Given constraints of time and space, we share with you here only a bit of what school used to be like around here:
• The first school in River Edge dates back to 1809 and was situated in the area between Lincoln and Washington Avenues west of Kinderkamack. For many years it was described simply as “The School in the Hollow”. Its official name changed to School No. 1 when a second school was added to the community in the south end of town. That School No. 2 was a fixture in the Cherry Hill Section (North Hackensack) from 1901 until 1931 when the State took part of the land to build Route 4. The building continued to be used as a meeting place by the American Legion and the VFW until 1940 when it was torn down. The land was then given to the borough, and was used as a small park (basketball courts at the intersection of Ackerson, Johnson and Grand) until the 1970’s. Today it is the site of the office building at the ramp from Route 4 to Grand Avenue headed towards Kinderkamack.
• While the School in the Hollow and School No. 2 were probably the longest standing schools (along with Roosevelt), the two shortest were the Woodland School which was built in 1952 and only lasted two years before being modified to become the River Dell Junior High School (now the River Dell Middle School). The Hollie M. Davis School opened in 1957 and lasted until 1977 (More below).
• The good old days were not always so good. Controversy also accompanied many a proposal for change or growth. For example, the school that eventually became Cherry Hill was first proposed in the early 1940’s. It was to be constructed at the southeast corner of Bogert and Howland, a spot now occupied by garden apartments, but it never came to be when that proposal was voted down. When it was finally passed, the school was ultimately built was built further to the north.
• Similarly, a high school for River Edge was originally proposed in the 1940’s. It was to be located along Continental Avenue but that proposal was also defeated. The proposed site is now Memorial Park. A High School would eventually come to serve us in 1960 but when it did the school was a regional institution – shared with Oradell, which, of course, would create a series of challenges of its own.
• The most recent physical addition to the community was the opening of the New Bridge Center. That new complex was built in response to a severe shortage of space in the schools – ironic since there was an additional elementary school – Hollie M. Davis, situated at the end of Eastbrook Drive and Coles Court, which was open for only about 20 years. It was closed among controversy when some had advanced that school enrollment was not nor would again be high enough to support three elementary school venues. It would not be that long before space would again become an issue. But by that time Hollie M. was gone – replaced by the residences that stand there now.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned – and not just in the classroom.
Additional note: BTW, here is an interesting article written in 1998 by our historian, the late Kevin Wright, on River Edge’s early school years. This link is a 2011 reprint that appeared in River Dell Patch
History Sources: The History of River Edge, 1693-1964, by Sigmund H. Umanski, Hauser Printing Company, 1965 and Musket Anchor and Plow - The Story of River Edge, Naomi Howitt and George Howitt, Arno Press, 1976