A visionary named Votee
This is another in a series of editorials on historic, unusual, exotic, beautiful, or just plain interesting buildings and places in North Jersey.
One day in 1927, a new man in town walked into the Teaneck municipal building to question the way his property was taxed. An irate official showed him the front door. So he formed his own Taxpayers League.
By 1932, the feisty and energetic Milton G. Votee was elected to the township government that had spurned him, and he was to serve it for nearly three decades during the time of Teaneck's greatest growth. Though he was mayor for 12 years during the Depression and World War II, his prime interest and greatest enjoyment was the township's planning board, which he chaired. Planning, he said "requires a mind that is extremely practical and ... far-seeing."
Milton Votee's farsightedness has been given a splendid memorial at the very center of the township. Fifty years ago, the 40-acre strip framed by Route 4, West Englewood Avenue, Queen Anne Road, and Palisade Avenue was little more than a mosquito-ridden swamp. People dumped their garbage there, rats ran wild, and health officials eared an outbreak of malaria.
Today it is a model municipal park, perhaps the most popular place in town. Early-morning joggers circle the regulation ballfields. There's a swimming pool, tennis and handball courts, sprawling lawns, exercise courses, and a lighted bandshell for summer concerts.
It was through Milton Votee’s persistence that this and similar sites were designated as parkland in Teaneck's forward-looking master plan. To develop those parks the township won a $340,000 Works Project Administration grant from the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. The land cost virtually nothing - thanks in part, Votee once explained, to the long-ago tactics of unscrupulous New York City land auctioneers.
In the freewheeling days around the turn of the century, auctioneers hired trains to lure customers to New Jersey, set up tents at the train stops, and served refreshments. Many customers bought property sight unseen, only to find that it was unbuildable swampland. Inevitably, the land reverted to the township through tax foreclosure. It was to become the basis of Teaneck's park system.
Dredging and draining and filling began in 1939 for what was then called Central Park, and it was dedicated in 1943. Sixteen years later, as 5,000 Teaneck residents stood and applauded their grand old man, the park was renamed for Milton G. Votee. He died two years later at the age of 81.
Milton Votee and his wife, Emeline, had no children. But a later mayor of Teaneck, state Sen. Matthew Feldman, said that his love for children stimulated his concern for parks and recreation That concern has received a lasting memorial in Votee Park. The township displays it well.