After 50 years

By A. Thornton Bishop, Chairman, Planning Board

The Sunday Sun, February 17, 1946


A brief view of the first fifty years of Teaneck, and a look into the future is given in Mr. Bishop's work, the first installment of which appears below. Other installment will be published on this page from week to week. 


In recording the growth of a community, there are many stories to be told.  This is because a community grows in many ways. To relate only the physical development -- the construction of roads and sewers, the erection of public buildings, the increase of population, the expansion of business -- without mention of the growth of the social and spiritual life in the community would render a rather drab and factual statement.

Historical narratives, on the other hand, are likely to romanticize events and, when they make pleasant reading, a sequence of happenings in the relatively distant past offers frequently not even a faint spectre of the dominant purpose which pulsated throughout the community and gave It spirit. This spirit becomes the theme of any narrative that truly records the growth of the commonweal.

In some cases the impetus is derived from religious activity, in others from industrial progress, and, in still others, from educational sources. A blending of these interests may produce a purpose distinctly singular.

In the growth of Teaneck and in the enlightenment of its citizens, the schools, the churches, its social life, and its commerce have played their parts. However to tell each story in detail would deviate from the main theme. It has been the intention of this narrator to seek that singular strain of purpose which has directed the settlers and their descendants, as well as those who have come more recently to live among us, in the molding of the community's character. This purpose, older by far than the Township itself, is our heritage.


On February 13, 1945, the attention of every American was divided between the entry of American troops into Manila, the progress around Aachen in the deep snow of a severe winter, and in the conference at Yalta. Few Teaneck people, at least, noticed an account in their evening paper that the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of their Township, which occurred on that day, would be observed fittingly on a later date.  The war was in its closing phase in Europe, but its end in the Pacific was anybody's guess and "post-war plans" were as much a household hope as a national problem.

Fifty years! What did they mean? There was not time to reminisce; no one was in a mood for celebrating' the good old days, or stop even to regard fondly the milestone of the Township's half century of autonomy. There was still a job to do, and everybody went about his business of winning the war.

When General MacArthur entered Tokyo the situation was different. Postwar plans were suddenly transmitted into the work schedule of that day and of the days which would follow so rapidly. Indulgence In visionary schemes which were engaged in while time cushioned us against the realities, was ended abruptly. The score as it stood today was what mattered. Could the Nation reverse its gears; mentally as well as industrially, and build for peace as it had so formidably built for war?

Municipalities are no different from other highly organized corporations, in that they must be prepared to meet the exigencies of circumstances in order to protect their citizens from the impact of social and economic dislocations. Teaneck had prepared, and now looks forward to its second half-century with the confidence of a war-tried veteran.

Town Has Won Many Battles

It has won many battles during its past fifty years -- struggles with the ebullition of rapid growth, conflicts with trends that sought to change its homey character, and circumstances which sapped the vitality of its stalwart purposes. It had stunned the easy road of indiscriminate development chosen by so many other promising suburban communities. The residents who had selected Teaneck for their home because of its predominately sylvan atmosphere have guarded this treasure with a fervid vigilance.

With the war behind them, they pick up where they left off on that fateful Sunday in December 1941, but their interest is keener and their vigilance is a bit sharper. Activity in the various branches of civilian defense has helped to increase the alertness of the body politic. The pressure of the war's demands upon everyone engaged in business and industry has left, as its aftermath, a stepped-up tempo in the civilian routine.  The war shook homebodies loose from their fireside comforts, and introduced them to their neighbors in the first-aid classes, in the air-raid drills, in the block canvasses, and in the many meetings occasioned by their training for some branch of the home-guard service.

Responsibility on the Citizens

The prospect for Teaneck resuming its course of expansion should stimulate the citizens into a deep regard fort he shape this growth will take.  The responsibility will rest with them.  In the section of his message to congress on September 6th referring to housing, President Truman said, "House construction and financing for the overwhelming majority of our citizens should be done by private enterprise."  Then commenting on the transition of veterans from military to civilian activities, the President pointed out that "Government can help chiefly through organization and over-all planning,  but the real work must be done in each community."

It does not sound as though the citizen is expected to sit back and watch the machinations of an omniscient and omnipotent Federal Government in operation at the local level.  The challenge it  presents is at one a charge of responsibility and an opportunity.  One should not forget so quickly the experiences that have taught us to what degree the authority to conduct one's affairs in local government are sacrificed when a grant is accepted from a government at a high level.    

Centralization of power, as a device to effectively wage war, was a grant from the people to the Federal Government in the interest of the general welfare.  The power was loaned and, according to President Truman's statement, it is now being returned to them.  The power carried responsibility which the Federal Government had to accept in all phases of the war's progress.  With its return to the people it still imposes a like responsibility.  Communities will control the development of their futures to the extent they accept this responsibility.  They must accept it in the establishment of sanitary needs, social needs, recreational needs, and economic needs.  The kind of community Teaneck desire may be attained if the quantity of interest and the quality of thought and energy which exemplified the citizen's effort in the war emergency are applied with understanding in the coming period of peace.

Home Building Major Post War Activity

The building of home will probably constitute the major industrial activity in Teaneck during the next few years.  There are not many areas large enough to attract the developer of extensive projects.  Most of the properties suitable for residences are in tracts of sufficient size to accommodate only small group of homes.  This situation promises to result in a variety of types of houses that has signalized Teaneck as a community of homes having individual character.

Many properties are owned by the Township and, with a foresight for postwar values, the Township Council has during recent years weighed carefully each proposal to purchase land.  Deed restrictions accompanied practically every conveyance to a purchase, carrying with them a tactic guarantee for the Township that the property would be so used as to  become an asset on the list of ratables.  Every precaution permitted by law has been exercised by Township officials in safeguarding the community again the erection of undesirable structures.

Reflect On Last 50 Years

On the occasion of an anniversary, it seems appropriate to reflect for a moment on the distance we have traveled these past fifty years, to take pride in the accomplishments we can number, and to analyze the mistakes we have made.  Our experience should be the source of our understanding.  With this purpose, let us review the events and circumstances that have shaped the most progressive municipality in Bergen County, expanding from a population of 800 at the time of its incorporation as a Township in 1895 to about 28,000 today.

Little sentiment will be spent on the past, Township, its highways and its buildings are of too recent origin for one to attempt to glamorize them with folklore and legend. The period of Teaneck's growth had hardly begun when its outstanding citizen, William Walter Phelps, passed away.

In any story of Teaneck the dominant feature must be the community purpose, which is exemplified in a constant stream of citizens who have, like the moment of inspiration in a person's life, stirred the purpose into action.  This community purpose is to leading character of our story.  It will not let us dwell in the past. Rather, after fifty years, it causes us to look forward.

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