Brett Park: Two centuries, many changes

By Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer

Teaneck Suburbanite, January 16, 2008, p. 5

Brett ParkThroughout much of the 19th century, the area that became northwest Teaneck, including Brett Part, was used to farm muskmelons. The mustmelon is an indigenous plant and was grown by the Lenape Indians for centuries before the arrival of the first colonists. But it was in the Hackensack Valley that the muskmelon was perfected as a cultivated crop, said historian Kevin Wright, president of the Bergen County Historical Society.

The melons were grown on mounds that required frequent coverings of manure. That manure was transported by boat from the stables of New York City and unloaded at the foot of Brett Park at what was called the Old River, which Wright described as a cove, since filled in, that extended to today's Riverview Avenue.

The Manure resulted in a constant buildup of soil, said Wright.

"The land wasn't plowed. Not only has it been little disturbed by modern development. but it was protected and layered for much of its life so it is of great archeological interest," said Wright.

When on stands on theupland of Brett Park, he noted, one is literally standing on the sand dunes that were the shore of pre-historic Lake Hackensack, the remnant of which is the Hackensack Meadowlands.

Melon cultivation gave way to truck farming in the turn of the 20th century.

In 1908, Gustav Kaul, a successful farmer, bought the Brett Park property and raised vegetables in the upland, which he supplied hotels and restaurants in New York City.

The farm changed ownership, but upper Brett Park remained a vegetable farm into the 1960s and was the last working farm in the township.

In 1911, Kaul sold the riverfront portion of his property to George Bensen, who built nine cabins and created Bensen's Campground, a popular riverside resort complete with a white sand beach, boating and swimming.

The resort prospered until the late 1920s when it closed, most likely, as a result of a sewer plant that the township installed where the DPW yard is located today, said Wright.

"Some people blame the construction of the Oradell dam for the change in the river," Wright said, noting that the City of Hackensack banned swimming in the river in 1921 because children were becoming sick. "But it had a lot to do with sedimentation from all kinds of developments and from the disposal of sewage."

In 1922 John Rekow bought two tracts from Kohn, each tract having 200 feet of frontage on River Road. Rekow's Farm supplied local residents with fresh produce for almost four decades.

1961 Mary Rekow, John's widow, sold the land to Henry and Pasquale Russo, and in 1969, the Russo brothers sold it to the township of Teaneck for $235,000.

After purchasing the land, the township authorities demolished the deserted cabins of the former Benson's campgrounds and named the park after former Mayor Clarence Brett. But they remained undecided about what to do with the property.

In the 1975 an elaborately planned Lake Hackensack recreational area, which was to include swimming in the cove of the Hackensack that enters Brett Park, softball and football fields, tennis courts, a historic village, gift shops, restaurants and parking for 72 vehicles was proposed but ultimately abandoned as being unfeasible.

More about Clarence W. Brett


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