History of Bogota
By: Henry K.
The history of any area is a history of the people who inhabited that area. The “Hackensack” Native Americans (the preferred term over “Indians” according to their descendants) were in Bogota for many centuries before the Europeans arrived. They were the members of the local village of the Lenape (len -ah’- pee) Nation. (There are many spelling variations of Native American and early Dutch words). “Len” and “ape” mean “common” and “people” in the Lenape dialect of the Algonkian language. (Algonkian refers to the culture, Algonquian refers to the tribe) The turtle, wolf, and turkey were the symbols used by the three clans that made up the Lenape Nation. These clans were in all parts of New Jersey and they were divided into about 10 to 12 sub-clans. Marriage was not permitted within a clan. The husband, and all children, became members of the wife’s clan. It was a matriarchal society.
The Lenape occupied all of New Jersey and some adjacent areas. They may have numbered 12,000 to 20,000 when the Dutch arrived. The Lenape would later be called the “Delaware” tribe by the English and was used to designate Native Americans on both sides of the Delaware River. The name “Delaware” honored the Sir Thomas West, third Lord “de la Warr”, who was the Governor of the Jamestown Virginia Colony in 1610.
The Lenapeuk (len-ah’-pee-uk, the plural of Lenape) were peaceful people. They were destined to be the victims in a terrible tragedy which would result in them being forced off the land their ancestors had occupied for at least 1000 years. In the early 1600′s, the “Five Nation Iroquois” of New York devised a method of gradually dominating all the tribes in the northeast. They were in the process of implementing this plan when the Dutch came to the New World and spoiled the Five Nations’ plan. Historians believe that some of the northwest Lenapeuk were already being forced to pay wampum (Native American money) tribute to the Iroquois when the Dutch arrived. The peaceful Lenape were in the process of being conquered by the more war-like Iroquois.
The Lenapeuk were probably expecting the Dutch to help maintain the peace. They were wrong. The Lenapeuk subscribed to the faulty logic that they could peacefully coexist with the Dutch.
They believed that the Dutch needed them for fur trading and that this was the prime interest of the Dutch. The reality was that the Dutch could, and did, trade furs with other tribes and that the growing Dutch colony needed the Lenape landfor expansion. In addition, the expansion plans and land use needs of the Dutch would make it impossible for significant numbers of Native Americans to live within many, many miles of the Dutch.
The Dutch were willing to coexist for a while but their long term goals would make coexistence a temporary expedient. The Hackensacks were clearly in a very bad situation. They had worries about hostile natives and the strange Dutch. Their sakima (chief) at this critical time was Oratam (sometimes called Oratini). He was born about 1576.
The Hackensacks, like all the Lenape, relied on hunting, fishing, and farming for their food supply. Hunting was done by a bow and arrow or with traps. Fishing was done by spearing the fish in the crystal clear local streams and the Hackensack River. They also trapped fish by constructing weirs. These were fences, made out of closely spaced small branches, placed in a running stream so that the fish could not get past.
Farming was casual (much like large scale gardening). It was typically done by the women. The most important crops were squash, maize (corn), beans, sunflowers, etc. Wild nuts and berries were also important foods but they were just gathered from the woods.
The trees used to make the canoes had to be carefully selected. The section to be hollowed out had to be free of braches. This was because a branch results in knots where they are attached to the trunk. A knot could fall out when the canoe was in use. If it fell out then a hole would be exposed and the canoe could sink. In addition, the builders had to leave thick walls (25 cm to 35 cm) for the “hull” of the finished canoe. This would insure that a hole was not made by accident during the very crude construction process. Finally, the wood used in some canoes was oak. This resulted in a very heavy canoe that must have been hard to paddle. The Lenape used dug-out canoes for their water transportation needs. These were made by taking one solid tree trunk and hollowing it out.
This was done by charring the wood and then scraping it out with sharp rocks or other natural items. This was a very difficult job. It was shaped like a modern canoe. The iron tools of the Dutch must have been highly desired by the Lenape canoe builders. Dutch iron tools and pots contributed to the downfall of the Native Americans.
Native Americans of the entire region lived in fairy permanent villages. They had political relations with other villages and tribes, a well developed religion, a devoted family relationship, a strong moral code, a great deal of agricultural, and medicinal knowledge, and a rudimentary educational system. Today, we would call such attributes the elements of a civilization.
The main difference from the European civilization was that the Native Americans did not have a comparable writing system or a developed sense of technology (for instance, the wheel was unknown). It could be said that they were children of nature in that nature directly provided for almost all of their needs. Their semi-permanent village was called Ackensack. It was relocated, a few miles, every 8 to 10 years. The center of its several different locations was probably in the Palisades Park area. It was relocated in order to let nature renew the land from the impact that resulted from its use as a village. For example, good latrine areas would be used up. In addition, the forest surrounding the village would require a few decades to replace the large quantity of trees that were consumed for heating, cooking, building, etc.
It is believed that good village sites were reoccupied after nature had a chance to revive the countryside. The village would consist of perhaps 500 to 700 people in about 100 to 125 huts. (These numbers could vary greatly.) The huts were scattered in the woods but reasonably close to each other. Many residents were relatives such as cousins, grandparents, and more distant relatives, so they wanted to be close to each other. The huts, called wikwams, were dome shaped and made of made of bent saplings, covered with birch bark, chestnut bark or other suitable materials. A much larger community building or “big house” was located near the center of the village. It was used for religious purposes, family meetings, and other special events. At the very end of the Lenape presence, in our area, the village was probably located behind a wooden palisade with a smaller number of huts in the protected area.
Bogota was the site of two important Native American trails which still exist as River Road and Fort Lee Road. It was most likely used as hunting and fishing ground. Overnight or short term, camping was also possible during these hunting and fishing trips. Bogota was not an ideal site to locate a village because the Hackensack River would hinder movement to the west of the village (for instance to gather firewood). The topology was heavy woods, hills, and a flat, marshy section near the river.
The Dutch introduced the Native Americans to many things both good and bad.
The Dutch iron pot; was a mixed blessing. While it made boiling food practical and greatly expanded the Native American menu, it caused tremendous problems. Every Lenape wife wanted an iron pot. The cost of iron pots, in furs, became quite high. The husbands were forced to over hunt the fur bearing animals in New Jersey.
When they needed still more furs, the only places to get them were in New York and Pennsylvania. Naturally, the Native Americans in these areas opposed these intrusions. They then became involved in a series of violent incidents with the Lenape. (Ironically, New Jersey had all the materials needed for an iron industry. The making of iron pots, tools, and other items was a major New Jersey industry in the mid and late 1700′s. Sussex County iron was even critical to the Revolutionary War effort.)
The most unfortunate introduction was to European diseases.
These decimated the Native American population throughout the eastern part of the continent. It has been estimated that 80 to 90 percent of population died of diseases. In many areas, entire villages were abandoned because the remaining natives were unable to continue their normal way of life. The remaining members would then unite with other affected villages in order to form a normal size village. The Hackensack’s must have suffered from this same problem.
Another unfortunate introduction was to alcohol. Like the colonial Dutch, the Native Americans had great difficulty with alcohol’s intoxicating effects.
Many years later, the matter became so serious that Governor Peter Stuyvesant named Oratam and another sakima, the first prohibition agents. They were actually authorized to seize the brandy (the most common hard alcohol) and the Dutchman who offered it to the Native Americans, and return both to the Dutch authorities. Clearly these chiefs were held in very high regard by Governor Stuyvesant for them to be given such powers over Dutchmen. It was also probably due to Oratam’s renowned wisdom that the Hackensack’s were able to maintain their peace and independence from hostile Native Americans. In 1663, an 87 year-old Oratam Oratam was a great Lenape Chief actually felt so comfortable with the Dutch that he requested a small cannon from them. He wanted it for self-protection, at the village, against hostile Native Americans. It is not known if he received it.
The Dutch 1609-1664
The European connection started in 1609. Henry Hudson, an Englishman, sailed up the river that now bears his name, and claimed the area for his employers, the Dutch. (It is quite possible that Oratam may have been one of the Native Americans who paddled out to see Henry Hudson’s ship the “Half Moon” when it anchored off the palisades in the Hudson River.)
It would be many years before the first Dutch colonists would appear. Dutch investors knew it would be very costly to underwrite the expenses of a colony until it began to return a profit. They were in no hurry to take risks with their hard earned money. All profits would have to come from trade with the Native Americans. We must assume that one of Henry Hudson’s tasks was to determine what the natives had, what they would want in trade, and the relative value of the goods exchanged. He found out the Native Americans could supply them with furs. The Dutch also found out the Native Americans wanted at reasonable trade rates: knives, axes, liquor (usually brandy) and an inexpensive woolen cloth called “duffels cloth”.
In 1624 the first settlers of New Amsterdam arrived. They consisted of only 8 men. (New Amsterdam meant New York and New Jersey to the Dutch. It was the English who separated these two states.)
In 1626, a new governor, Peter Minuit, arrived and he promptly purchased Manhattan for the fabled $24. This introduced another European practice missing in the Native American culture. This was the concept that land could be permanently sold for goods.
It may not have been really understood by the Native Americans but the Dutch imposed their culture and legal system on the unknowing natives. All legal documents are very carefully worded. Clearly, the precise language of land sales would result in very specific wording of these legal documents. Getting the Dutch and Native Americans to communicate with this needed level of precision was a very difficult task.
This high level communication was accomplished by Sarah Kiersted. She was the wife of Dr. Hans Kiersted, the doctor for the employees of the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam. The Kiersted’s probably arrived in Manhattan in the decade starting 1626. She became the first non-Native American landowner in Bogota due to her many years of work with Chief Oratam. She must have been a critical person in the relations between the Lenape and the Dutch. It might even be said that she was partially responsible for the security enjoyed by the Hackensack’s. Her efforts resulted in Chief Oratam granting her, in 1638, an enormous piece of property (2260 acres) which included Bogota. She never moved to Bogota. It is likely that she had visited the area because of her Native American connections. In only 4 more years Bogota had its first resident, but this resident had nothing to do with Mrs. Kiersted.
The Dutch West India Company received their charter to establish colonies in the New World from the Dutch government. It was typical of the European attitude that no consideration was given to the Native Americans who already lived there.
Bogota’s first official names were the “Colony of Myndert Myndertsen van Karen” and the “Colony of the Lord of Nederhorst”. These men were the actual persons granted the land by the Dutch West India Company. They chose to remain in Holland. The settlement would soon be known as the Achter Col Colony. Achter Col was the name the Dutch would use when referring to the body of water we call the Hackensack River. It would be natural to call the first settlement on its banks by the same name.
Joannes Winckelman was to be the resident in charge of the settlement. Winckelman had a choice of almost any spot in what is now Bergen and Passaic Counties. His backers clearly wanted to be in the best possible position to trade with the Native Americans. In choosing Bogota, he had a clear advantage over the other Dutch fur traders. They wanted to stay closer to, or in, Manhattan.
It is fairly certain that Winckelman “bought” the land from the local Native Americans, as required by the Dutch authorities. (Note that Oratam had, only 4 years prior to this, given the same land to Sarah Kiersted. This leads to the theory that the Native Americans thought they were selling hunting and fishing rights – a common Native American practice.) No records exist but the price paid was probably trivial.
The trading post building was called a “bouwhuys” (farmhouse) and followed the European design of combining the barn with the dwelling area. It was 24 feet by 90 feet. On February 21, 1642 Winckelman contracted with two of the best carpenters in Manhattan, Pieter Cornelissen and Abram Clock, to build the farmhouse. The main timbers were cut from the trees of Manhattan and prepared there as beams. The beams were then transported, by water to the erection site in Bogota. It was probably finished by June of 1642.
The reason for the barn was that it would clearly be in the company’s interest to have the occupants provide for as much of their own food as possible. Meat was provided by the wild animals and fish of our area. “Going out for a nice dinner” could have meant standing in front of the building until a nice wild turkey came by and then shooting it – for dinner. The Dutch were primarily interested in fur trading. The high cost of transportation to Europe seemed to rule out trade for anything other than high value goods. Farming and settling were done only as needed to support their trading operation. This fur trading only policy would mean that they would always be outnumbered by the Native Americans.
In 1643 relations between the Dutch, led by the inept Governor Kieft, and the Native Americans became strained to the breaking point. This was reached when Kieft’s soldiers massacred 80 men, women and children as they were sleeping on the night of February 25 in Pavonia (Jersey City). The Native Americans were actually expecting promised Dutch protection against a raid by the war-like Mohegans.
It is not surprising that the Hackensack’s and their allies then went to war against the Dutch. The Dutch had quite a few settlements in New Jersey at this time. The Native Americans burned all of them except the brewery in Hoboken and, temporarily, the Achter Col Colony.
Kieft had stationed a few soldiers and a small muzzle loading cannon at the colony. The Native Americans were not yet prepared to attack such a powerful defense, so they let it alone.
On April 22, 1643 a peace treaty was signed by Oratam. In the meantime, Governor Kieft ordered most of the Achter Col Colonists back to Manhattan and replaced them with 5 soldiers. This may have been considered an act of war on the part of the Dutch. On September 17, 1643, the Native Americans attacked the Achter Col Colony. They set the farmhouse on fire and the Dutch were lucky to safely get themselves into a canoe and escape down the river. The feared cannon was thrown into the river. Years later, its recovery was attempted but without any known success.
On August 30, 1645, another peace treaty was signed. This was signed by Oratam and by the other chiefs that came to his aid.
Achter Col was never again occupied but it did remain a meeting place for the Dutch to trade with the Native Americans. In 1656 Peter Stuyvesant even recommended that the Dutch West India Company rebuild Achter Col. However, the Dutch were occupied with other matters, and before they could do this, New Amsterdam was taken over by the English and renamed New York.
In 1660 the name Bergen was given to the major Dutch village in New Jersey. It was later applied to the county (1683). It was one of the original counties of the state and included Hudson County.
This Dutch name translates as “a ridge between two marshlands” and probably relates to the geology of the area. There is a very small chance the name may relate to a small village in Holland called Bergen-op-Zoom.
The English / 1664 – 1783
When the English took over New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlements in New Jersey were very small and scattered. These colonists were heavily outnumbered by the Native Americans. The English needed the Dutch presence for security and therefore were fairly reasonable in accommodating the property claims of their new citizens. The annexation of New Amsterdam, by the English in 1664, really confused the land ownership question. The English assumed the right to hand out ownership rights to all lands, even those that had been distributed under Dutch rule. The English takeover signaled a fundamental change in colonial philosophy. They were interested in building up a large population. Even the modest increase in population which soon came about resulted in several changes. An important one was that wild animals became scarcer. This made related food, clothing, and furs harder to get. The time of the Hackensack’s was drawing to a close. The English colonial period had begun. The change to English control brought a temporary halt to the development of Bogota. Their policy eventually brought about a large increase in the area population but the first town to develop was Hackensack. It had flat, rich soil just right for farming. Although undeveloped, Bogota was not ignored. On June 24,1669 Sarah Kiersted finally had her land title confirmed. Bogota then became the focus of planning by some of the Dutch families in Hackensack. This was because it was the custom for a father to make some effort to supply his sons with some means of making a living. Sometime between 1682 and 1687 Cornelius Epke Banta bought, with some associates, all of Sarah Kiersted’s land. This land covered about 2260 acres and included Bogota. One of these associates is believed to have been John Cornelius Bogert. The future would find that the Banta family owned most of Bogota south of Fort Lee Road while the Bogert family would own all of Bogota north of Fort Lee Road. Cornelius Bogert had a son Roelof. He was born in 1670 while the family still lived in Flatbush (Brooklyn). Later, the family would move to Hackensack.
Roelof was married in 1695 and by 1700 he had 3 children. We can assume that he immediately began work on his own farm in Bogota. Between 1695 and about 1705 he built part of the house that still stands at 4 Lynn Court. It has had many additions over the years. The people of his time would say that he lived in “Winckelman”. His brother Albert followed him a few years later and made his family farm just south of Roelof’s with Fort Lee Road being its southern boundary. Roelof’s house followed the usual practice of the time. This was to quickly build the first, small section of a sandstone Dutch Colonial farmhouse. Work would then continue at a more leisurely rate on the main section. When the second section was completed, the first section would then become the kitchen.
This house has never been moved but it would sure seem that way to Roelof. It was erected on the east side of River Road. Now it is 200 feet west of River road. This resulted from the relocation of River Road about 1855.
The Bogerts were very active in politics and Roelof Bogert was elected a Freeholder in Bergen County on April 20, 1720. They were also active in church affairs. Their church was the “Church on the Green” and it still stands by the Bergen County Courthouse. Many of the Bogota Bogerts, probably including Roelof, are buried in the small cemetery by the church.
During the American Revolution, Bogota and all of the land formed by the “V” made by the Hackensack River and Overpeck Creek was a “no-man’s land”. It was periodically raided by the British in New York and by the Americans when they were in the area. The British would offer English money which was good but the Colonials would offer “Continental” money which was nearly worthless. The Bogert’s and most other farmers would prefer good English money to the kind Washington’s troops offered. We can be sure they tried to do as little business with the Americans as possible. This came to a head after Washington’s terrible winter at Morristown (1776-1777).
In the summer of 1777 the “Council of Safety” arrested 3 Bogota (at that time called Winckelman) farmers; Peter Bogert plus Derick and Cornelius Banta. They were imprisoned at the American camp in Morristown. They were released when they took a pledge of allegiance to the American cause. They must also have agreed to accept “Continental” money for their farm goods which then fed George Washington’s army.
The British finally left in 1783. For the first time in almost two centuries, the government of the people who lived in the area was in the hands of the residents. The new state and Federal governments were very weak. Many social needs, that we now take for granted as being the responsibility of these governments, were left to the families to address. This task was made much easier by the simple needs of their society. Housing, medical care, retirement, and education for example were at levels we would now consider completely unacceptable. In Bogota, the Bogerts and Bantas continued to prosper and multiply. Their farms, which covered more than present day Bogota, had large wooded areas which were reserved for succeeding generations.
The original farm was also subdivided as needed. The Bantas had their farms south of Fort Lee Road. They built a farmhouse in 1747 which survived until the early 1960s. It was located on the southeast corner of Ft. Lee Road and River Road. It was demolished to make way for the present apartment house complex. A beautiful home at 119 Bogota Gardens was originally the carriage house (garage for horse drawn carriages) for this former Banta property. Its date of construction of about 1860 post dates the residency of the Bantas , who left “Winckelman” about 1830, but its link to their former home is certain. This home may also have the distinction of being the oldest home south of Fort Lee Road.
Politically, “Winckelman” had been a part of the Township of Hackensack since 1693. (The present City of Hackensack was then referred to as “New Barbados”.) Then, in 1870, “Bogota” becomes part of the Township of Ridgefield.
It was at this time that “Bogota” was beginning to be used as the name of our area of Ridgefield rather than “Winckelman”.
The town slowly grew in population. It reached its peak, as a farming town, with a population of about 145 in 1880. Bogota would have to change in character for it to grow, and it did change. The railroads enabled this to happen. Starting in 1873, we had two railroads in town. At first the service must have been freight only.
Soon, the promotion of “commuting” by the railroads resulted in regular “commuter” trains and this brought even more new residents. Our first industry also came about at this time. This was the manufacture of clay bricks from the native clay deposits. The clay deposits were located at the southwest end of Cross street east of the railroad tracks. The small field located there at the present time was the site of this quarry.
Bogota was about to make a dramatic change into a densely populated suburban community of several thousand people.
Bogota, USA 1894-1994
The change was slow at first and in 1894 the population was about 250. The nature of the town was changing and most of the new residents were members of the business and professional classes as opposed to the farmers who were here first. There was also a small, local retail and service population that provided such things as coal and lumber and trades such as carpentry.
The difference between the old and the new residents provided for the first political conflicts in town. In 1894 the New Jersey Legislature passed the “Township School Law”. This law intended to consolidate all school districts in any township under one board of education. (Until then, different sections of the same town could set up separate schools and raise their own taxes.) The new law was intended to equalize educational opportunities within a municipality. This effort was a failure, especially in Bergen County, because a way to avoid the provisions of the “Township School Law” was also supplied in the same year. It was called the “Borough Act”.
The Borough Act wiped out former subsidiary school districts, and made each township a separate school district. Taxpayers were obliged to pay, pro rata, existing debts of the old districts besides all future debts of the township for school purposes. Exempt from this provision of tax were boroughs, towns, villages, and cities. Consequently, twenty-six boroughs in Bergen County were formed between January 23rd and December 18th, 1894. (Simply stated, the Borough Act permitted portions of a town to incorporate separately. The concept of equalizing educational opportunity between municipalities is not yet a reality.) The old timers, led by founding family descendent Judge Peter F. Bogert and William DeGraw, wanted to remain a part of Ridgefield. Judge Bogert was a member of the Ridgefield Township Committee from 1880 to 1887 and apparently saw no reason to change what he apparently felt was a good system. The “Home Rule” movement was led by Frederick W. Cane who was to become our first mayor and serve in that capacity for sixteen years.
On September 21, 1884 a petition was presented to Judge James M. Van Valen at Hackensack. It requested that he call a special election regarding the incorporation of Bogota. This election was held on November 14, 1894 at the Bogota Water and Light Co. building on Elm Avenue and Munn (this building was demolished about 1980). Fifty seven votes were cast. Those favoring incorporation won. The vote was 36 to 19 and 2 votes were rejected. The primary election was held on January 10, 1895. On January 15, 1895 the uncontested election was held. Frederick W. Cane was elected Mayor and Peter Bogart Jr., A. Godwin Munn Jr., Peter F. Hooper, A. J. Brinkerhoff, Henry McDougal, and Edward B. Duvall were elected to the council. The first meeting of the Borough officials was held on January 23, 1895. 1895 can be considered the year when farming began to decline and Bogota started to become a small suburban town with an important industrial element. It was the year the old time farmers, led by Judge Peter F. Bogert, and lost political control of the town to the new residents led by Frederick W. Cane.
William N. Smith; started the Bogota Paper Company. Other paper companies would later be in the same area, the site of the old brick works. This area was just north of where Route 80 is now and extended from River Road to the Hackensack River. Cross Street was the northern boundary except for a small piece of land west of the Susquehanna Tracks where paper mill properties continued north for about 400 feet along the river.
The next event was to forever shatter the then semi-rural nature of Bogota. It was the electric trolley.
In 1898 the Bergen County Traction Company (later Hudson River Trolley Line) was extended from Leonia to River Road. In 1900 it was extended again, this time from River Road to Paterson. In 1912, Public Service began construction of its Bergen Turnpike and Hudson River Line on Queen Anne Road. The effect of these services was to make the trip to New York and major New Jersey cities reasonable to the average commuters of that time. More commuters then wanted to live in Bogota and this caused a housing boom, and municipal headaches.
The population growth was like this: in 1880 it was 145, in 1895 about 250, in 1903 about 600, in 1912 about 1400, in 1920 it was 3906, and in 1930 it was 7341. The train was very important, especially as a catalyst, but the major part of this huge population increase was clearly due to the trolleys, the local industries, and the local businesses the population growth needed.
Schools were put up one after the other. Steen School 1910, Dewey School 1918, Bixby School 1921, Bogota High School 1924, and St. Joseph’s School 1925. Except for St. Joe’s, all the schools were put up at taxpayer expense and we can imagine all the heated arguments that occurred. Many other local institutions also started in this era. The people of Bogota would spend the next several years making it the community we recognize today. They would convert their homes to electric power for lighting and refrigerators. They would pave streets and develop parks. They would start many small local businesses and also some larger ones.
The Great Depression caused a lot of anguish. Bogota became one of the thousands of communities across the country that became the focal point of some Federal Government effort to break the mental and fiscal roadblocks that were paralyzing the nation. Bogota is a small town, so it is appropriate that the local physical changes brought about by the Great Depression would be small. They would still be significant to us. These projects were a Main Street overpass (opened June 3, 1938), our biggest park down by the river (Olsen Park), or the Main Street Bridge over the Hackensack River (converted from a trolley bridge and opened October 25, 1941)? We even had a railroad track pedestrian underpass constructed at Fort Lee Road (1938).
World War II followed and it caused 41 Bogota men to lose their lives. The was no possibility of naming streets to honor these Gold Star patriots, as was done for the World War I men. We just did not have enough streets. A Veterans Memorial, in front of Borough Hall, became the appropriate way to remember their sacrifice.
Those who did not go off to fight in the war would feel the impact of various rationing programs. The war time economy was devoid of many consumer goods, and there was great worry about their friends, neighbors, and loved ones who were in combat. This anxiety would be made worse because mail delays of weeks or even months would be common.
A great many would be involved in producing the material needed to win the most intense war in history. New Jersey was a great manufacturing area then and Bogota had some impressive capability in our paper mills and the Brewster Construction Company.
In the late 1940′s the cold war started. The Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was a serious national concern. Civil Defense became an important, peace time concept. Children in schools participated in nuclear attack drills along with fire drills. “Fallout” shelters were set up in heavy stone buildings like our schools and churches. Government issued water cans and other supplies were stockpiled by all towns.
Gradually, the perceived nuclear threat faded and other concerns gained national and local attention. The 1960′s saw a growing concern about environmental issues.
By 1961 we had joined the expanding number of towns using the Bergen County Sewer Authority’s modern, effective, and pollution control facility in Little Ferry. Our own sewage treatment plant was many decades old and could not do the needed job. It was located near the river, about 400 feet north of Cross Street and it remnants can still be seen today.
The early 1960′s saw a revolution in local commuting when Interstate Route 80 opened up. It was now possible to enter the Interstate Highway system in Bogota. It provided fast access to other highways such as route 17 and the Garden State Parkway.
The downside was that most of North Street was located where Route 80 is now. Many homes had to be demolished and some were relocated. Only the very ends of this street still exist and the east end is separated from the rest of Bogota by Route 80.
The 1960′s also saw another change in the character of Bogota, most of the paper mills closed.
In 1970, the last paper mill in Bogota closed. This was the old Continental mill which Simpkins Industries purchased in July of 1969 and tried to run for a short time. The Continental buildings were leveled over the next 10 years.
On April 1, 1984 we began to rebuild the facilities that were built during or shortly after the depression. The Main Street Bridge was given a complete new roadway, rebuilt columns, a lot of new steel, and rebuilt pedestrian walks and stairs.
The annual Memorial Day parade (a very popular event) was rerouted to run under the railroad bridge on River Road to get to the west side of town.
While the rebuilding was in progress, the old railroad track pedestrian underpass at Fort Lee Road was filled in and the end stairwells leveled. The last item rebuilt was the Main Street bridge over the Hackensack River. This bridge was given new approaches, a new steel deck, and had the deck support structure rebuilt. The bridge’s ability to open was taken away but it was then possible to make the bridge feel more solid by eliminating the “bouncing” ends.
On a more somber note, additional names were added to our Veterans Memorial to remember our losses in the Korean Conflict and the Viet Nam involvement.
June 1992 saw the closing of the Dewey School due to declining enrollments. Plans to replace the Steen and Bixby Schools were made but they were defeated by the voters in 1993. New school building proponents are still active. It is amazing to think that if Mayor Cane were able to come back to Bogota today, he would still find the people in hot arguments over our school facilities.
The people in Bogota have changed several times in the past 500 years. We have had Native Americans, fur traders, farmers, and suburbanites. In all of that time, we have always been a family oriented, hard working, caring people.
We are proud of our Borough and our heritage.
Commerce & Industry
When Bogota became part of the newly independent USA we were a farming community. We stayed that way until shortly after the civil war.
Bogota’s South-West Industrial Area
We finally began to break out of the farming economy about 1870. This happened with the establishment of a local brick factory. It was located behind the old Federal paperboard mill (now Motor Age). This industry was possible because we had the special clay needed to make the classic red bricks from which many buildings are made. The newly constructed railroads provided the transportation to get in the needed fuel to “fire” the clay bricks. This was probably coal from Pennsylvania. The railroad would also take out the finished product. The clay deposit was not very large. Around 1895, the manufacture of bricks was coming to an end although a sales office may have existed for a few more years. This office, run by Hiram Walsh, had the first phone in Bogota, in 1891.
Clay mining and brick manufacturing were not neat, clean, operations. It is very likely that the area had large piles of defective bricks, waste soil, coal ash, and rocks. In addition, there was a huge hole in the ground that may have been 150 by 200 feet and 30 or more feet deep. It was not an area that could be easily converted into a residential community. It did have the railroad and the river. This gave it the potential to be a good industrial site. In order for this to happen, a man with the right combination of business and financial connections was needed.
William N. Smith had these connections. He laid the foundation needed to make Bogota a major paper and paperboard manufacturing center for the next 75 years. (Cereal boxes, baseball cards and similar items are typical products made from paperboard). Mr. Smith was a man of great energy and many interests. In addition to starting two paper mills in this area, he was also involved in the early organization of two local financial institutions and a general store. He even found time to be our second Mayor.
All of Bogota’s paper mills had one feature we would be proud of today. The major “furnish” (the raw material from which the new paper product was made) was waste paper materials. Perhaps the rest of the country did not take recycling seriously until the 1990′s but in Bogota we were serious about recycling in the 1890′s.
In our modern society, the major problems these industrial pioneers had to overcome are easily overlooked. For instance, the lights in the mill and all of the electric motors had to run on electricity. The problem was that no electric company existed! If you wanted to use electricity you had to generate it yourself! They actually set up their own electric generating stations, in the mills, many years before most Bogota homes had electricity. These generating plants were very efficient. They even were made use of steam turbines as their prime power source. The last one was run by Simpkins Industries until 1969.
The various mills each had several names over the years. The Bogota Paper Company was the first mill and it was started by Mr. William N. Smith in 1895. It then became the United Paperboard Corporation. In 1903 he also started the American Paper Company which became the Bogota Paper and Board Company. In 1934 this was renamed the Gair Bogota Corrugated and Fibre Box Company. It went out of business in the 1950′s.
Another paper mill was started as Traders Paper Company about 1905 to 1910. It fell on hard times and was purchased, and revitalized by Mr. W.J. Alford starting in 1912. He renamed it the Continental Paper Company. It continued in existence until the mill was sold to Simpkins Industries. It was the last mill to operate in Bogota and ceased operation in 1970. The buildings were demolished and it is now the site of a golf driving range along side of the river.
The last mill, in our history, had only one name from its opening in 1916 to it close about 1968. It was the Federal Paperboard Company. This mill is now the site of a major, independent automobile parts distributor called Motor Age and some other, smaller, businesses. (There are some men in Bogota today who claim they had, as young boys, uncut sheets of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, etc., baseball cards. These claims are probably true. This was because the Federal Paperboard Company had contracts to produce these cards. The imperfect sheets of cards were sometimes discarded in the trash. They would then be retrieved by the young boys. Some of these sheets, if available today, would probably be worth several thousand dollars each).
The high point for all of the Bogota mills was during World War II. They were important parts of the American “Arsenal of Democracy” that defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. They produced storage and shipping boxes for a wide variety of goods needed in the war effort.
All the mills eventually became obsolete. The machines were too old and the plant areas were too small to be competitive against modern plants. Worse, our plants could no longer be “modernized” as they were in the past. Modern mills take up far greater land area than was available for the Bogota mills. Since our plants could not be modernized, they went out of business.
Bogota’s West-Central Industrial Area
This is the area on both sides of Fort Lee Road west of River Road. It is special because the river is narrow here. This made it an ideal spot to locate a “causeway” (narrow boardwalk) and a movable bridge to Hackensack. (The boardwalk probably started about 100 feet west of the railroad tracks and followed the present road until it got to the bridge.) In 1793 the Bergen County Board of Freeholders authorized the erection of a drawbridge at this location. It is not known when this bridge was erected. This whole area was a marsh with what appears to be, on old maps, two small swampy islands near what is now Sifford Pontiac and the Hess tank farm area. These old maps actually show the river on both sides of Fort Lee Road at the location where, when heading to Hackensack, the road makes a left turn. The entire marshy area, plus some shallow parts of the river, was filled in during the time from about 1895 to about 1920. In 1894 this land was unusable for residential or farming use. The development of Bogota gave an opportunity for this marshy area to be commercially developed.
Felter Coal and Lumber Company was set up in 1905. George and Frank Felter bought Judge Bogert’s strawberry patch and filled in some of the river to give them more space. The fill also allowed them to build a dock for the coal supply barges. The coal was removed from the barges with a manual derrick, until about 1915, when rising labor costs made this uneconomical. During the summer, the 40 foot high derrick became a high dive platform for swimmers. It is hard to say if the boys did it for the fun of diving or to show off. (Now, 100 years later, we still have high diving teenagers near the river. This time, they are the boys and girls of the Bogota Swim Club. They still, sometimes, try to impress the opposite sex.)
Until at least 1915, coal deliveries were made by horse drawn wagons. Deliveries on Bogota’s unpaved streets could be a real problem, especially when they turned into mud. Felter Coal and Lumber supplied the residents with construction material, in warm weather and fuel for heat during the winter. The Felter family sold the business in 1964 and the new owners operated it for several more years.
Another construction related business was also set up next to the river in 1919. This was George M. Brewster & Son, Inc. a general contractor. It specialized in large scale construction projects. For instance, it got involved with the construction of the George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, dams in nearby states and many military construction projects during World War II. It also had a big interest in road construction and repair. Unfortunately, after many years of successful operation, the company ran into a period of bad business. By 1969, it had sold all of its’ Bogota assets.
The present Tilcon facility was originally constructed by Brewster as was the Raia concrete plant. The Sifford Pontiac & GMC Truck dealer was originally a garage facility for Brewster’s large fleet of earth moving equipment and trucks. The several small factories, in the very nice looking buildings at the turn in Fort Lee Road were the original office buildings of the Brewster Company. All of these facilities have been more or less changed by their present occupants but it gives some idea of the size of the Brewster operation.
The Tilcon, asphalt, facility has been involved in many projects. Some of the projects are routine road paving type projects but some are noteworthy. They were the people who supplied and installed the special porous asphalt that is the base for the astro-turf at Giants Stadium.
The Raia business supplies ready to use concrete to a large list of customers. Some customers might be as small as private homeowners who are putting in a driveway. Some may be large construction projects.
The old Brewster office complex is now occupied by several small manufacturers. The largest one would be P. Feiner & Sons Inc. The facility is now run by Gerson Feiner, a 3rd generation of Feiner, and the 4th also works at the plant. A business like this would generally make parts and assemblies for other factories to incorporate into their machines or products. However, they do have one product line they make for industrial use. This is an air pollution control device intended to capture dust and particulates. It is called a “cyclone”. The Hess facility is the most noticeable plant in this area. Its corporate green tank farm is quite noticeable even from a plane flying into Newark Airport. The main business of this facility is to take large quantities of various fuel oils, temporarily store them, and deliver them to various area customers. These deliveries can be in their own trucks or they can be through independent dealers who get their product from this Hess facility.
Bogota’s others trade areas
The above areas are Bogota’s main industrial areas. There are other small areas that are home to a variety of manufacturing, service, and retail businesses. Most of these are on Main Street, Palisade Ave, East and West Fort Lee Road, River Road, West Shore Ave, and Queen Anne Road. They are a varied collection of businesses. They may attend to purely local needs (like candy and convenience stores), or regional needs. Taken together, they employ quite a few people and are an important part of our local economy.
Utilities can be thought of as organizations that supply goods or services that are of such a nature that close government oversight is appropriate. At the present time our water, electricity, natural gas, local telephone service, and cable TV service could all be included in this category. It was only about 20 years ago that long distance telephone service fell out of this category. This shows that this type of definition is sensitive to the time period and the community in question. Most utilities are not local organizations.
A notable exception was the Bogota Water and Light Company (it never supplied any light) which became the first incorporated borough business in 1891. The founding of this company was important for community health. Shallow wells serving individual homes could easily become contaminated by septic discharges and animal wastes. The company founder was Mr. H.M. Brinkerhoff.
The first main was laid on Larch Ave from Munn to about 100 feet north of Fort Lee road. They originally got the water from about 15 local springs. The water was then pumped, by steam, to a small reservoir on the hill near Elmwood Avenue. This gave constant water pressure all day long even if the pump was not operating. The original pump house was at Munn and Elm Ave. The last remaining building, at this location, stood until the middle 1980′s. As the community grew, so did the water company. Eventually they had a total of three pump houses. The other two are still in existence on Linden Ave. One is almost under the Main Street Bridge while the other is at West Grove Street. These two pump houses are still useable but are in reserve.
Today the service is provided by the Hackensack Water Company which purchased the Bogota Water Company from Marvin J. Brinkerhoff, son of the founder, in 1960.
It seems that the two most picturesque modes of transportation that man has devised have both played an important part in the development of Bogota. The sailing ship, with billowing white sails under a blue sky, is spectacular. It brought the Europeans to Bogota and permitted them to start farms here.
The old fashioned steam locomotive, smoke and steam pouring out of its stack, and with polished brass fittings and gleaming woodwork, must also rank among the most vivid images in the history of transportation. The train, and its cousin the trolley, changed Bogota from a farming area to a suburban community.
The first railroad to actually operate in Bogota is now called the Susquehanna (short for New York Susquehanna and Western). Its predecessors had many names and were formed for the purpose of getting coal from Pennsylvania to the northern New Jersey iron smelters and the industries in Paterson. The first, ancestral, railroad charter was granted to the New Jersey Hudson and Delaware in 1832. It never laid tracks in Bogota. This railroad was eventually absorbed by other railroads. In 1871, the New Jersey Midland Railway bought its the first engine to run construction trains. It was purchased from the Rodgers Works in Paterson. In 1872 work was pushed forward on the last part of the system, from Hackensack to Jersey City. This was when the tracks were laid in Bogota. Finally, on July 9, 1873, the first train traveled through Bogota. It carried a load of flour from Oswego N.Y. to Jersey City. It appears that passenger traffic followed almost immediately.
The railroad was growing and profitable when it became involved with the Erie Railroad in 1898. The connection with the Erie ended in March 1940.
They had one station in Bogota. It was located at Fort Lee Road, near River Road. The building that was the station still exists as part of the Fuda Tile building. It is just east of the tracks.
The Susquehanna became famous (in Railroad circles) for buying and running a fleet of steam engines originally destined for Czarist Russia. They first started to operate diesel engines in 1941. These were Alco units. By the end of World War II, they claimed to be the first Class I railroad to be completely dieselized. However, steam engines ran on their tracks for many more years under special conditions. As late as 1990, small pieces of coal could still be found by carefully examining the old spur tracks in the South-West industrial area.
On June 30, 1966 the last passenger train ran with only one day of notice to the passengers. Recent newspaper reports say the Susquehanna (now part of the Delaware and Oswego) is again becoming profitable. Just a few years ago they rebuilt their track in Bogota. It presently seems like they will be around as a modest but successful railroad for many more years.
West Shore Railroad
People often refer to the present Conrail as the West Shore Railroad. Like the Susquehanna, the West Shore had it origins in the time of the railroad barons. It was started as direct competition against Vanderbilt’s New York Central which ran along the east side of the Hudson River.
Construction started on the New York, West Shore & Buffalo in 1881 and full service started in 1883. This immediately started a rate war with the New York Central. When the price of the West Shore stock dropped, the Pennsylvania Railroad bought it. Now it became a war between the Pennsylvania and the New York Central Railroads. The Wall Street personality J. Pierpont Morgan then had both company presidents meet on his yacht, in the summer of 1885, and ended the war. The New York, West Shore & Buffalo was reorganized as the West Shore Railroad and leased to the New York Central for 475 years.
Locally, the West Shore constructed a station on West Shore Avenue just south of Fort Lee Road. They were a very astute business and they sought to develop both freight and passenger traffic. They even went so far as to publish a booklet of house building plans in 1890. Several houses on Larch Avenue (Numbers 160, 203, 224, 230 and 99 W. Fort Lee Road are examples of the homes they promoted along with the towns they served.
After World War II, railroad passenger traffic became unprofitable. The West Shore tried to eliminate passenger service for five years before the new Federal Transportation Act of 1958 enabled them to so. With the emotional, legal challenges behind them, passenger service was soon discontinued.
The tracks still have plenty of use but only for “through” freight trains. These frequently have 4 to 6 engines and 110+ cars. If the Railroad Barons of the 1800′s could see them they would be amazed and proud.
The trains may have started Bogota off on the road to suburbia but the trolleys completed the work. The trolleys were inexpensive to build and operate. They were also clean (being electrically powered) and were ideal for frequent stopping and starting. They were perfect for mass transit of that time. The first trolley started construction in 1899.
This was the Bergen County Traction Company. It ran along Main Street from Edgewater to River Road. Soon, it was extended through Hackensack and another line ran on Queen Anne Road. Starting in 1903, as a safety measure and by NJ State mandate, Public Service operated all trolleys. They were later given a similar job with busses.
In 1938 the last trolley ran. In 1971 Public Service set up Transport of New Jersey to run their money losing mass transit operations. Some years ago the State set up New Jersey Transit. It now runs all the former P.S. bus routes and some commuter railroads.