Nestled in the southern corner of Bergen County, New Jersey, is the tiny Borough of Wallington. The Passaic and Saddle Rivers meander along its northwestern boundaries, giving the town the curious shape of a heart. Although only one-square mile, Wallington's size belies its unique and rich, 100-year history. December 31, 1894, officially marks the beginning of Wallington; however, its history prior to that reveals a wealth of information which leads to understanding its present.
Eons ago, in prehistoric times, the Passaic River was much greater, so much that it extended to the higher ridge of land know as Shueehank Hill. All of the lower-lying areas were actually the bottom of the river. Then, as the geography changed, a branch of the Passaic River caused part of Wallington, between the Gregory Avenue Bridge and the Locust Lane, to form an island. Eventually, that island became part of the mainland. Indians, of course, occupied this territory before Europeans ever stepped foot on American soil, and one of their villages was in the area of what is now Lodi. Although the Indians never settled on the land that is now Wallington, probably because the river's floods and freshets, the Shaueehanks, a tribe of the Lenni Lenape, fished the Passaic River, camped along it, and hunted along the ridge of Shaueehank Hill, which is the higher ridge of land extending across Wallington from the County Park to Park Row.
Many old arrowheads, which were found by modern-day residents, scattered the bank of the Passaic River just north of Main Avenue. Decades ago, the freelance historian Michael J. Kopak wrote that Indian implements and some French coins had been discovered near the Alden farm at the foot of Shaueehank Hill. Indian relics, gun barrels, stone mortars, pestles, and other utensils cropped up in the same area, and clay potteries were found along the banks of the river on the Bergen side. Kopka also asserted that Indians had been buried on the Julius Roehrs tract, and he quoted Michael Van Winkle as stating that Indian huts were still visible in 1815 in the rear of the Tades and Prentiss farm along with the Acquacknonk Indians holding basket parties along this side of the Passaic River in the 1850s. Thus, these various relics and stories attest to the long history of Indian activity.
The history of Europeans developing our area begins in 1668. Three men-Captain Jon Berry, William Sanford, and Robert Vauquellin-toured the land between the Hackensack and Passaic Rivers. Berry bought the upper half, and Sanford purchased the lower half. Sanford's deed was obtained from Governor Carteret on July 4, 1668, and then from the Indians 16 days later, but Berry used political influence to obtain a deed for all the land between the rivers. He received the land from his friend, Governor Carteret, on June 10, 1669. The present area of Wallington was then part of the township of New Barbadoes, which was in the county of Essex.
In 1687 a gentleman from the Netherlands, Walling Jocobse Van Winkle, completed the purchase of a large tract of land which was then known as Acquacknonk. He built a house on the corner of what is now Paterson Avenue and Main Avenue by the Gregory Avenue (County) Bridge. The Van Winkle house became the center of public meetings and various conferences of those interested in effective government. Eventually there were two farms: the Van Winkle Plantation and the Tades Plantation.
Through most of the 1700's the farming life in this area remained in status quo. Farmers were busy with their crops, cattle and sheep thrived, and the sheep were sheared along the river's edge. Then, the American Revolution caused quite a stir, directly affecting the serenity of this area. It was on November 21, 1776, that the retreat of General Washington's army followed the Passaic River. It is said that he briefly stopped at the Van Winkle house for road information, was received by Mr. Van Winkle who provided information, and then crossed the Passaic River at the Acquacknonk (Gregory Ave./County) Bridge. The bridge was destroyed once the army safely crossed, thus preventing the British from following too closely, but not preventing them from ransacking the Van Winkle home not only then but also in 1780. On that same day, Ebenezer Roark, a British Tory spy, was hanged in the rear of the abandoned stone house of Michael Tades. His remains were buried behind "Hangman's Oak Tree" below Shaueehank Hill.
The Revolution ended, and during the 1800's the citizens saw a blossoming of the area in which they lived. This growth began with slaves on the plantations being freed in the early 1800s. The growth also prompted the building of more major roads. Paterson Avenue (Paterson Plank Road) was completed in 1841; Locust Lane was ready for travel in 1859. Two more bridges were needed because the Acquacknonk Bridge was not enough. Thus, Second Street Bridge was completed on March 26, 1895, but it could not be used by vehicles because no roads led to it. In 1899 it was finally agreed that a road would be built.
Throughout the nineteenth century floods and freshets were constant danger; they occurred in 1804, 1810, 1852, 1855, 1878, 1881, 1882, and 1893. It was the flooding that prompted the installation of the first telephone in Passaic in 1881 as a means for early flood warning.
Despite these floods, people were buying and selling the land in this area, which was then known as Passaic Park, and for good reason. The soil was exceptionally rich, due in part to its prehistoric geography and, more recently, to the many floods. Jobs were also readily available in nearby Passaic. Then, in 1869 the Kingsland family discovered mineral springs, which doctors called "Miracle Water", on the farm below Shueehank Ridge. Growth was evident when Mr. David Anderson, who became owner of the Walling Van Winkle land and who converted the property to orchards divided his tract of land in 1870. (His widow, Rebecca Anderson lived in a house at the southeast corner of the present Anderson Avenue.) Another Gentleman, Mr. Alden, subdivided his property, and the result was the first group of row homes now known as Park Row. In 1874 a gentleman by the name of Hugh McCleerey purchased a parcel of land between what is now Main Avenue, Hathaway Street, and Wallington Avenue. Developers produced elaborate sales brochures during this decade, but the brochures were not as successful as they had wanted.
The growth of the Wallington area really burgeoned around 1890, with most of the early population being Dutch, then Irish. By April of 1890 there were twelve one-family houses and a private school between the Passaic River and Locust Lane. The school, which is still standing, was at the northeast corner of Maple Street and Union Place. In 1892 the first public school, known as both School Number 1 and Lincoln School, was built on Union Boulevard. Two annexes were needed and built, one in 1900 and the other in 1907. By this time some of the major roads had already been built.
In 1893 an act of the Legislature caused the first separation from the older townships, the first of which was the township of New Barbadoes. From 1668 to 1825 this area was in the county of Essex, which extended to the Hackensack River. Part was in the township of Lodi from 1825 to 1893, and part was in the township of Saddle River from 1679 to 1833. February 21, 1893, marked the day of the first separation, and the territory was incorporated into a new political division named "Township of Bergen."
Mr. Hugh McCleerey, the Scotch-Irish landowner mentioned above, had a successful wheelwright and blacksmith business. He truly enjoyed and loved the area in which he lived and wanted to rename it after its first settlers. During his research, he found approximately eight settlers with the name Walling. Although some citizens wanted to name the town Andersonville, Wallington (meaning the town of Walling) was the favorite because the other proposed name was a reindeer of the infamous Civil War camp. To this day, Mr. Hugh McCleerey is credited with the naming of Wallington.
In 1894 much happened. The building of the Market Street Bridge caused tremendous growth in the area, and a trolley was constructed by the Passaic, Rutherford and Carlstadt Railway company. It was during this year that Wallington was incorporated. Lawyer Walter Kip represented the group of men who wanted to form a borough under the General Boroughs Acts. He presented a petition signed by 35 men (who owned at least ten percent of the value of the real estate) to the Bergen County law judge on December 12, 1894, at the real estate office of James Reid. With 99 of the 113 votes cast in favor and only 14 against, the Borough of Wallington came into existence on the following day, January 1, 1895.
The first election for the positions of Mayor and Council was held in March 1895. Jacob Wagner was Wallington's first mayor, and the first members of the council were: Bernard Koster, Charles R. Stewart, Walter F. Schmitt, Thomas R. Collins, John Baker, and Robert Engle. Edward Vandervliet took the place of Mr. Stewart, who resigned in August of 1897. The mayor's initial term of one year was extended to two after being reelected, and the council members' terms would be three years, after staggering the terms of the first election. Other offices were agreed upon: recorder, clerk, superintendent of streets, assessor of taxes, collector, attorney, chief of fire department, assistant chief of police department, and patrolmen, all of whom were appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.