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Phelps Estate Development
By Mildred Taylor
"Phelps Estate To Be Opened for Development." That headline in June, 1920, heralded the first great change since the time nearly 60 years before when William Walter Phelps bought his first Teaneck Property. For years Phelps Estate of over 2,000 acres had been an area of peaceful fields, winding drives, singing birds and graceful trees.
Plans were made for a country club with golf, that increasingly popular game, as the principal feature. Between $2 and $3 million was to be spent on improvements.
Some building had been going on in Teaneck. Floyd Farrant was at work in the Bogota Sector. Nelson M. Ayers had been developing the West Englewood section since 1917. Once the Phelps Estate was opened, people came in droves. Real estate developers took advantage of the situation. New York auctioneers came out in their big yellow roadsters to sell lots. A brass band played in a tent on River Road.
The population leaped from 4,192 in 1920 to 16,513 in 1930 -- a 400 % increase. Lots were sold in Central (now Votee Park) than largely a swamp. The Township Committee was confronted with problems on every side. It ruled that all development maps be filed with the township clerk after being approved by the engineering department. Auctioneers were told to sell 60-foot lots but they sold many smaller.
Frederic Andreas appalled that the township's credit was being exploited by developers, noted realtors' reluctance to pay their share of sewer assessments. Township operating costs soared. Improvement associations were formed. People wanted crosswalks, more street signs, more trains, garbage disposal and trolley bridges between Hackensack and Leonia. More hydrants. More street lights. More schools.
In 1924 Senator William B. Mackey announced his intention of championing a bridge across the Hudson between New York and New Jersey, a project the town fathers heartily endorsed. The Phelps Estate had requested a zoning change to permit erection of a hospital where the Griggs home, occupied for years by Mrs. Phelps, had stood. Ground was broken in June, 1924. The hospital doors opened October 4, 1925. The large number of automobiles ever assembles in Teaneck was present at the opening.
The town needed a Municipal Building to replace the old school serving as the Town Hall. In March, 1925 the Township Committee resolved to acquire by purchase and condemnation 7 acres on the site of the Phelps ruins and to erect a municipal building at a cost of $130,000 for land and also building.
William Beaumont, Chairman of the building committee, proposed that the design be decided by a competition.
According to the brochure, 672 acres were to be developed into splendid residence lots. Phelps Manor was to be a "matured and refined section, nearly as large as Central Park in New York. Beautiful home sites were to be sold fronting Queen Anne road -- then one long hayfield.
The cornerstone was laid in November with Phillip B. Garrison and Frederic Andreas officiating. Teaneck beamed with pride on July 4 1926 when the dignified Georgian building was dedicated. Mr. Beaumont, who had patiently supervised the construction, was giving a resolution of appreciation. Work had all been done within the appropriation. The town provided $5,000 for grading the grounds. Furnishing came to $8,000. The only think lacking was a door between the patrolmen's room and the jail cell which was added six months later!
The Municipal Building had not been built without opposition. It was a different story with the building of the library. The first library, virtually a gift to the township, was a monument to the energy, thrift and careful planning of a group of public spirited women.
The library had begun in 1919 when Mrs. Louise Jordan began circulating books from the sunroom of her home. Little Johnny Imhoff was the first patron. Friends and neighbors helped the growing projects. From Mrs. Jordan's sunroom, the library moved to a candy store and then a drug store.
The "Library Ladies" had their eye on a piece of property--the old Stone Cabin on Teaneck Road, where a gas station is now located. They got an option from Mrs. Anna Sitzman. The husbands of Mrs. R. W. Greenlaw, Mrs. Jordan and Mrs. Frank Sample endorsed their notes and the property was purchased for $2,000. Carl Francke repaired the old building. The scrubbed and cleaned and the library was dedicated on may 30, 1923. The women held bake sales to pay off the $2,000 loan at $18 a month.
Two years later the women sold the property to a group of developers for $17,500, realizing a handsome profit. Mrs. Matte Scott approached the town fathers with this proposal in the spring of 1926. The Library Association would plan and finance a public library if the township would donate land and appropriate $5,000 a year for maintenance. The plan was approved at a special election. Frederick T. Warner, architect, designed the building gratis. A contract was set for $17,362. The library opened in September, 1927 with 650 books with Miss May Garten as the first librarian.
On March 4, 1929, Miss Agnes C. Norton of Proctor, Vermont, arrived to take charge of the library which then had 2,000 books. she served will and faithfully until her retirement in 1961. She was succeeded by Miss Olive Tamborelle who today presides of the Teaneck Public Library with 115,000 volumes.
The library has been enlarges several times since that first structure was built. Today, the original building, previously the Young Adult Room, has been converted into office space. The plaque with the names of those first "Library Ladies" adorns the wall.
Teaneck Public Library
840 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tel.: (201) 837-4171, Fax: (201) 837-0410