The George Washington Bicentennial in Paterson and Passaic County

By D. Stanton Hammond 
 Passaic County Historical Publication, 1933

george2The year 1932 will be ever remembered for its vast patriotic significance in all parts of the world wherever the name of George Washington is held in admiration and respect.  New Jersey, as the “battleground of the Revolution,” necessarily took her proportionate share in the observances and our own northeast corner counties, particularly Passaic County, were found in the van.

Susan Contesse, in “Heard and Seen” column in the Paterson Morning Call of March 19, 1931, said that Paterson should play a big part in the universal celebration because of the personal connection of the local Dey and Godwin families with the Revolutionary labors of General Washington in our vicinity.  She bewailed the loss of the Godwin Inn, later called the Passaic Hotel, but hailed the preservation of Colonel Dey’s mansion house as local Washington’s Headquarters.  On July 4th, 1931, the George Washington Bicentennial Commission of the State of New Jersey was organized by the governor of the state who appointed George Keim as chairman with Prof. Arthur Adams as secretary (both from Burlington County), and about one hundred other very prominent citizens of New Jersey.  Among these Passaic County furnished as members of the State Commission, Vice Chancellor Vivian M. Lewis of Paterson and Julius Forstmann of Passaic.  Under the direction of the State Bicentennial Commission, a local county committee was selected for Passaic County on November 28, 1931, consisting of Rudolph Franklin of Passaic and Robert Peacock Brooks, principal of School No. 8 in Paterson and chairman of the Historic Sites and Events of the Passaic County Historical Society.

John Hinchliffe, mayor of the city of Paterson, thereupon  (Dec. 1, 1931), appointed the Mayor’s Committee of one hundred prominent Patersonians to act as the local Bicentennial Commission.  The group organized immediately with Harry B. Haines, publisher of the Paterson Evening News, as general chairman; Robert Williams, publisher of the Paterson Morning Call, as executive chairman; James Wilson and John J. Fitzgerald, president and secretary of the Paterson Chamber of Commerce, as treasurer and secretary, respectively, of the local commission and with D. Stanton Hammond and Dr. Wm. H. Rauchfuss, local historians, as assistant treasurer and assistant secretary respectively, for the local commission.

Practically all of the municipalities of Passaic county, particularly the cities of Passaic and Clifton with the many suburban boroughs followed suit and appointed local Bicentennial Committees under whose auspices the numerous celebrations hereinafter specified were performed.  On February 5, 1932, was erected the Bicentennial American Organization as coalition of the many local fraternal patriotic orders and under these auspices there were held many enjoyable costumed parties and various exercises to popularize the celebration.  The opening exercise of the nine months Washington Bicentennial was held in Paterson Eastside High School on Washington’s birthday, February 22, 1932, at which time Judge Theodore G. Risley, of the Department of Justice of Washington, D.C., was the chief speaker introduced by the local dean of lawyers, Dr. Wm. B. Gourley; patriotic solos by the local contralto of the New York Metropolitan Opera, Margaret Bergin, and band selection by the Paterson Police Band, directed by Professor Gaetano Dittamo.

The Sunday of February 21, 1932, saw a great joint church session in the Paterson Central High School in which all denominations of Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant were joined under the auspices of the Paterson Minister’s Association, whereunder Rabbi Max Raisin, of the Paterson Barnet Temple presided and the addresses were given by John A. Matthews of Newark as the Catholic contribution and by Rev. Louis Vandenburg of the lst Presbyterian Church of Paterson.

The affairs that thereupon were started are far too numerous to list alone and selection is made of the probably more representative.  On February 17, 1932, the Passaic County Historical Society’s monthly meeting was favored with an address on the “Washington and the setting of 1932” by Judge Filbert Rosenstein of Paterson.  On the same evening the local D.A.R. chapters held large patriotic parties – many in colonial costume.  The same day the Borough of Pompton Lakes named and dedicated a Parkway in honor of General Washington because of his Revolutionary War associations with that place.

On the morning of February 22, 1932, the local S.A.R. journeyed to the Dey Mansion House at Preakness, near Paterson, and met in appreciative ceremonial at which time President Charles E. Dietz presided and Isaac A. Serven in an address showed that General Washington had been in Old Bergen County (from which Passaic County was partially set off in 1837) in every year of the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783.  The adjoining village of Ridgewood held its great community dinner in honor of the opening of the bicentennial celebration at their local Elks Club on February 11, 1932.  In the Borough of Fair Lawn, Judge Wm. B. Harley of Paterson, was the chief speaker at their local celebration on February 22nd.  On this same day formal announcement was made of the purchase of the Masonic Grand Lodge of the State of New York of the De Wint House, Washington Headquarters at Tappan, N.H., closely associated with old Bergen County.  The Masons aim to maintain the De Wint house as a Washington Shrine.  The Paterson Bicentennial Commission engaged the George Washington Puppet Show, produced by the Bobby Fulton players, to play to the school children in the various Paterson public schools, giving fifteen performances to many thousands of children from March 28th to April 2nd, 1932.  At this time the local Paterson branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers held impressive exercises with a chief speaker on the Washington Bicentennial in the person of John O. Benson, local lawyer and president of the Captain Abraham Godwin Chapter, S.A.R.  On April 9th, 1932, over one hundred choice trees were planted along the Paterson Boulevards by the local school children in the one day in which many thousands participated – a thousand or more trees were planted in this season in the country, in school yards, and public places, as community projects.

The greatest parade in the county was held on the evening of Saturday, May 7, 1932, under the joint auspices of the Junior Order of United American Mechanics and the Daughters of America at which time over five thousand members from local, county, and neighboring councils paraded in line with numerous bands of music and fifteen beautiful and historically effective floats in line.  This celebration closed with a monster drill and exercises at the Paterson Armory.  The nearby borough of Ramsey, N.J. gave a splendid George Washington Bicentennial Pageant with over three hundred in the cast on the evenings from May 28th to 30th, 1932.  On June 4th, 1932, occurred the historical pilgrimage of the Passaic County Historical Society over the various routes taken by General Washington in northern Passaic and Bergen Counties.  This pilgrimage was directed by Robert P. Brooks of the society.  At Ringwood Manor in Passaic County – the notable Revolutionary War spot associated with Erskine and Washington – a distinguished company of New Jersey citizens and from adjoining states gathered as guests there for the occasion of the formal opening of the Manor as a Washington Shrine during the month of June, 1932.  The host of the occasion was Erskine Hewitt, owner of beautiful Ringwood Manor Estate.  The chief speaker of this occasion was New Jersey Governor, Honorable A. Harry Moore, of Jersey City, a part of old Bergen County.  The display of Washingtoniana was the most extensive to be seen in New Jersey.

sign2By far the largest event of its kind in the Bicentennial in New Jersey was the great Washington Pageant held on the evenings of July 8th, 9th, and 11th, 1932, in the new Stadium at Passaic Falls, Paterson (later called the Hinchcliffe Stadium).  This tremendous presentation culminated months of preparatory work by the Bicentennial Commission of Paterson and the direction of the John B. Rodgers Producing Co.  The production was personally directed by Directors John T. Hall and Clifford M. Brown of that company.  The immense cast comprised over one thousand five hundred participants, with two hundred dancers, three hundred choir singers from the church societies, etc., one hundred Negro spiritual singers from the local churches, one hundred boy scouts as ushers.  There were over seventeen thousand spectators in the immense audiences the largest of its kind ever held in the county.  These performances constituted the opening of the stadium which although not completed or dedicated, was far enough advanced to permit successful usage.  A special feature was band selections by the Paterson Letter Carrier’s Bank of forty five pieces.   This celebration exercise was a tremendous patriotic success but probably on account the year being one of financial depression this venture also proved a financial failure to the extent of about $1,000, which was met by Robert Williams, executive chairman and financial sponsor of the pageant.  The most effective scene in the pageant was undoubtedly Washington at Colonel Dey’s Mansion House in which purely local history was featured, the pageant of course, covering the high spots of Washington’s life in a cursory but brilliantly effective manner.  The use of loud speaker radio transmission made the voices audible throughout the acres of the stadium.  The local Bicentennial Commission was presented with the National Commission’s Medals as mementos of their service by the mayor through the chairman of the Paterson group afterward.

During the Independence Day Celebration period the adjoining boroughs of Little Falls, Bloomingdale, both of Passaic County, and Butler in Morris County, put on effective exercises dedicating ordinance memorials, etc., in honor of George Washington.

On July 11th, 1932, the Borough of Fair Lawn dedicated its new Recreation Field.  On July 12th, 1932, the village of Ridgewood celebrated Washington’s contacts with the old Paramus Church there with special services.  Special Post Office Cachets were arranged in honor of the event and were affixed to over five thousand letters going out from the Ridgewood Post Office on that day.  At this time, the literary element of the metropolitan district were apprised of the publication of the “Washington Anthology” jointly published by Beatrix Reynolds and James Gabell, with a dedicating preface by Congressman Sol Bloom of the U. S. George Washington Bicentennial Commission at Washington, D.C.  The Paterson newspapers at this time reviewed the work of local writers on Washington, the chief of whom were Wm. Nelson, writer of numerous Revolutionary War Monographs, Charles A. Shriner, later associate of Mr. Nelson, and Albert H. Heusser author of “The Footsteps of Washington” and “Robert Erskine, Washington’s Forgotten General.”

The adjoining Boroughs of Oakland and Pompton Lakes (the former in Bergen County) joined in a bit Bicentennial celebration under direction of H. G. McNomee, publisher of Pompton Lakes, on Saturday, Constitution Day, September 17, 1932.  There was a splendid auto pilgrimage of five hundred throughout the two historic boroughs in afternoon with speakers at the more notable sites:  John Y. Dater at the Hopper House Washington Headquarters; Albert Payson terhune, world famous author at Sunnybank on Pompton Lakes; Isaac A. Serven on the spot where the Pompton mutiny of the New Jersey Revolutionary soldiers occurred; D. Stanton Hammond on General Wm. Colfax, Captain of Washington’s life guard, and the Colfax Mansion at Pompton; Dr. Wm. H. Rauchfuss on Washington and Steuben there; and Charles E. Dietz on County History.  A banquet was held at the Oakland School House with a Colonial Costumed Party with final celebration exercises in the evening.

Unquestionably, although the increasing financial stresses toned down the fervor of enthusiasm in the way of size and spread in celebration, it is also unquestionably true as pointed out by Judge Rosenstein in his address before the Historical Society that the American people were in a mood to be in more sympathetic touch with the stark realities Washington continuously faced with such strength and subsequent success.  Washington, the hero of the Bicentennial! The father of our country! General George Washington, for whom Passaic County did well in doing well to honor!