An Early History of Hawthorne, New Jersey


Extracted from the Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, November 1962

This area was originally a part of Saddle River Township, Bergen County and in 1837, when Passaic County was created from it, it was made a part of Manchester Township. Hawthorne as a borough is not very old, having been formed in 1898, but the history of the area reaches as far back as 1600. Native Indians populated the banks of the Passaic River and Goffle Brook and early accounts reveal that the first white settlers came here in the first part of the 1700s. These early settlers were of Dutch origin and they left their mark upon the history of Hawthorne with the names of many places familiar to residents of the borough.

The family names established in Hawthorne during the eighteenth century which are still heard in the borough today include Ryerson, Zabriskie. Westervelt, Vandenberg, Garrison, DeGray, Vreeland, Van Winkle, Ackerman, Lambert, Mowerson, Snyder and Van Blarcom.

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Van Den Berg’s Feed Mill, left and Residence Goffle Road, Hawthorne, N.J.
in the early 1900s
-Courtesy of W. A. Lucas

Principal among the place names taken from the Dutch are Wagaraw and Goffle. Wagaraw, spelled in a variety of ways, presumably is of Indian origin and relates to a bend in the river Passaic. The name was applied to the area comprising the lower part of what is now Hawthorne, extending from the top of the mountain easterly into the territory now known as Fair Lawn. Today it is the name of a road traversing the southern part of the borough and part of the route to Hackensack.

Goffle is the name of one of the borough’s principal roads and the name of the particular cliffs in the Watchung range which border the west side of the borough. It is also the name of the stream which flows through the borough and the County Park surrounding it.

In the Dutch language the word Goffle is the equivalent of fork, and relates to that part of the borough where the brook divides or forks with the Deep Brook coming from the ravine. Early deeds mention the Fork of the Brook as a starting point for their surveys. Indian trails naturally followed those streams and today our modern highways cover the same route to Ridgewood and over the hills to Pompton, north south to Paterson.

There is no record showing that any permanent homes were established at Wagaraw until the early 1700’s. It will be remembered that East Jersey was a province belonging to Sir George Carteret and upon his death in 1681, it was sold to twelve proprietors, subsequently increased to twenty-four. This group of land owners was in reality a syndicate speculating in real estate and they sold, in 1697, 600 acres along the Passaic River to two widows who in turn conveyed the tract on November 2, 1706, to three brothers, George Ryerson of Pompton and Ryer and Francis Ryerson of New York for the sum of £145. This tract of land embraced the area extending from the top of Goffle Hill eastward to Lincoln Avenue and northerly from the Passaic River to Diamond Bridge Avenue.

Incidentally, the deed to this property is recorded on page 1, in book A, the first book of Passaic County deeds at the County Court House. The Ryersons are conceded to be the first permanent residents in the borough although only two of them built homes here. one was on Goffle Road and the other still stands at 40 Wagaraw Road. This latter one was sold to Richard DeGray in 1800, and one of his descendants occupies the homestead today. In it are many relics of early Hawthorne, among them a sabre, powder horn, pistols and a musket reminiscent of the Revolutionary War period.