New Bridge Landing: "Most important event" finally occurs

By Steve Kelman, Speical to Suburbanite

Teaneck Suburbanite, Dec. 7, 2005, p. 13

After years of anticipation, the state last week closed on the sale of the Bergenfield Auto Parts property, essentially paving the way for the Gateway to Historic New Bridge Landing.

It was immediately dubbed the "most important event" in the life of the project.

"After 40 years of wishing, and more than seven years of active pursuit, we are finally able to announce the closing for the acquisition of the junkyard at the entrance to New Bridge Landing" said Robert Griffin, chairman of the Historic New Bridge Landing Park Commission.

Preservationists envision a visitor and orientation center, parking area and Revolutionary War battle monument on a 1.1-acre site that would serve as the entrance to what will someday become, in the opinions of many, a historic site on par with Colonial Williamsburg.

Griffin said that an official announcement was scheduled to be made at a new conference yesterday at the Campbell Christie House.

Among those expected to make comments at the news conference are State Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Brad Campbell, Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, River Edge Mayor Peg Watkins and Griffin.

"Needless to say this is the most important event in the life of Historic New Bridge Landing," Griffin said last week.

New Milford Councilwoman Ann Subrizi, who is also one of the park commissioners, announced at last week's public meeting of the New Milford Mayor and Council that the closing on the property "seems to be forthcoming."

"It has been a long road," she said,"and I am glad that there is an end to this portion of it."

Subrizi, who said she was happy to serve as a commissioner for the past two years, said that the commission has often had to take "baby steps" in order to "take a giant step."

Efforts to purchase the junkyard began in 1999 when Griffin and other park commissioners reached out to local, county and state officials with their vision for the area.

In 2001, then Sen. Robert G. Torricelli secured a $1.1 million grant from the National Park Service for the purchase.

Things went nowhere for next few years until January 2004 when Campbell visited the site and declared that purchase of the junkyard would become "a high priority for me."

Negotiations with the company that owned the junkyard since 1960s had continued ever since, ending only in the early evening hours of last Thursday.

At the monthly meeting of the Historic New Birdge Landing Park Commission, Jose Fernandez, state parks and forestry director, informed the commissioners that the closing had finally taken place.

"Approximately one hour ago, I got word that the closing was finally complete," Fernandez told the commissioners just minutes after the meeting began.

Fernandez went on to say that the closing constitutes an "incredibly exciting step" for the historic site.

When asked if Bergen County residents could expect to see construction on the new orientation center, parking area and battle monument begin sometime in this lifetime, Fernandez said there was "little doubt."

"There is a renewed interest and commitment on the part of the State of New Jersey to make this happen," he said.

"And there is no question in my mind that Commissioner Campbell and the Division of Parks and Forestry are committed to make this a reality as soon as possible," he said.

Griffin acknowledged that, while the news of the closing on the property was most welcome, the real work is now just beginning.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg" he said. "There are now many issues to consider; and we will consult with the Division of Parks and Forestry and New Jersey Green Acres to determine the next steps."

Griffin said an environmental cleanup of the property and fence removal, signage and security concerns were among the issues that must now be addressed.

As of Friday, New Bridge officials could not offer details of the financial settlement.

Speaking on behalf of the Crossroads of the American Revolution's board of directors, historian Kevin Tremble congratulated the New Bridge Park commissioners.

"It look a generation to get this done," he said.

Tremble said having the visitor and orientation center, once the project is finally completed, "will be the kind of thing that will help us understand our role in the American Revolution."

As it stands today, Historic New Bridge Landing consists of 18 acres of historic property located within the Township of Teaneck, the borough of New Milford and River Edge and the City of Hackensack.

HIstoric buildings at the site include the Steuben House, Demarest House and Campbell Christie House.

More about Clarence W. Brett

More about Brett Park:

Brett Park: 12 cares of history -- By Howard Prosnitz, Teaneck Suburbanite, January 9, 2008, p. 2

Brett Park: Two centuries, many changes -- By Howard Prosnitz, Teaneck Suburbanite, January 16, 2008, p. 5


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