by Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer, Teaneck Suburbanite, July 12, 2006, p. 2
This is the third part of a series on Teaneck's history based on interviews with municipal historian Larry Robertson.
Through much of the 19th century, Teaneck was a peaceful farming community. Most roads were on private farms and most homes were farmhouses.
The first public school to serve Teaneck children dates back to the 1776 and was located at the juncture of Tenafly Road and Palisade Avenue in Englewood, said Municipal Historian Larry Robertson.
In the early 1800s a one-room school was established at 371 Fort Lee Road, east of Teaneck Road. The teacher's house, which was part of his salary, was located at 365 Fort Lee Road. Both buildings are standing and today are private residences.
Teaneck Road was the first street in Teaneck where houses other than farmhouses were built and many of these were great mansions, according to Robertson. One of the largest was the Griggs mansion, today the site of Holy Name Hospital.
But the gradest was that of Grigg's neighbor, William Walter Phelps, whose sprawling home was located at the site of the present municipal building.
Phelps was a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University Law School. His law office was in Manhattan, to which he commuted, but his health was delicate and he moved to Teaneck for the country air, according to Mildred Taylor's "History of Teaneck".
When Phelps' father died, he left an estate so large that the younger Phelps gave up his law practice to manage it full time.
A gregarious and voluble man, Phelps quickly made friends among influential people in the region and was twice elected to Congress.
On April 1, 1888, acetylene leaked from lighting jets in the atrium of the mansion causing the building to explode. Phelps was on business in Trenton at the time and boarded the first train to Teaneck when he learned of the disaster.
After ascertaining that his family was safe, Phelps walked over to the Griggs mansion and bought it on the spot for cash, said Robertson. The mansion remained in the Phelps family until 1922, when Phelps's widow sold it to Grace Chadwish, a wealthy woman whose home was located at 188 Cedar Lane, when the CVS pharmacy now stand.
Chadwick donated the building to the sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, the religious order that founded Holy Name Hospital. The hospital opened in 1926 in the Griggs/Phelps mansion, not a trace of which remains today.
The plantation-like sweep of the lawn is also gone. Although the hill has not been leveled, it has been broken up to create parking garages and other structures.
Chadwick was also instrumental in founding of St. Mark's Episcopal Church and donated the first church building, a chapel from Camp Merritt in Cresskill, which was disassembled after World War I and its buildings and materials sold. Chadwick Road, at the west side of the hospital, is named for her.
Phelps has been called the "Father of Teaneck." Before his death in 1888 he owned more than two-thirds of the land that is today Teaneck.
Teaneck developed from the periphery inward, according to Robertson. The Phelps estate was a huge private park in the center of the town, most of which was not sold to developers until the 1920s, when the coming of the George Washington Bridge led to the commercial development of Teaneck.