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Founded and incorporated as a township in 1666, then as a city in 1836—the third oldest city in the nation.
Park Ave. & Lake St., Newark
A BAND CONCERT, 1907
ENJOYING THE LAKE, 1915
Branch Brook Park is distinguished by being the first county park to be opened for public use in the United States. It has been placed on both the New Jersey (1980) and National (1981) Registers of Historic Places.
Located in the City of Newark and bordered at the southern end by U.S. Route 280, the park crosses Bloomfield Avenue, Park Avenue, and Heller Parkway, terminating near the Newark/Belleville line. The park is nearly 4 miles long and averages 1/4 mile in width. At 359.72 acres, it is the largest developed park in the County. It is featured by a combination of open meadowland and small patches of woodland on gently rolling terrain.
Named for a branch brook that flowed through the valley into the Passaic River, the stream that remains, and much of the surrounding landscape, still retain a natural appearance. More than 2,000 cherry trees that blossom during April are greater both in variety and number than the famed Washington, D.C., display—the result of a 1927 gift from the Bamberger and Mrs. Felix Fuld family. At its height the Cherry Blossom Festival attracts over 10,000 people a day.
In 1895, the same year the New Jersey State Legislature authorized creation of the Essex County Park Commission, a former Civil War Army training ground was dedicated to "park use." A large part of the land was a dismal marsh known as Old Blue Jay Swamp. To add to the dismal air of the swamp, bleak, unhealthy tenements crowded in on parts of the area. The swamp water was used for both drinking and sewage disposal.
In sharp contrast, the southern portion of the proposed park contained a circular reservoir basin that supplied clean, fresh water to a "private" association of Newark citizens. In July of 1895 the City of Newark transferred approximately 60 acres of this land to the Essex County Park Commission, at a cost of $350,687. "Reservoir Park" became the nucleus of Branch Brook Park.
Additional acquisitions extending the park northward were aided by the generosity of "several public spirited Newark families," such as the Ballantine Family who donated 32 acres of their property. Another 50 plus acres were given by Z.M. Keene, William A. Righter and Messrs. Heller. The Park doubled in size through acquisitions and purchases between 1924 and 1929. Branch Brook Park, the first county park in the United States, became one of the largest "city" parks in the country.
The public contributed in 1898 by voting a 1.5 million dollar appropriation for the continuation of construction work begun in 1895. Old Blue Jay Swamp was transformed into a lake, flower gardens, and expanses of lawns by 1900. The firm of John Bogart and Nathan F. Barrett had
been hired in 1895, to provide plans and advise for development of the park. Their design was romantic in style, and was dominated by geometrical patterned gardens and arbors.
In 1898, Robert Ballantine presented the park with a handsome beaux-arts entrance gateway erected at the corner of Lake Street and Ballantine Parkway. In 1900, the cornerstone for the
BRANCH BROOK – CONTINUED
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart was laid and in the same year, the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted was retained to revise the original plans for the park. It was refined into more naturalistic lines with gracefully curving paths and roadways. One of the outstanding aspects of the design was the concert area in the southern portion bordering Branch Brook Lake. Directly across the lake on a projection of land known as Meeker Mound, the Olmsted firm built an octagonal gazebo. The first greenhouse was constructed in 1910.
A proposal for the erection of a new administration building was approved in 1914, when the N.J. Legislature passed a bill that included the necessary $100,000. The exterior was described as Italian in character with brick and terra cotta, and paintings just under the eaves of the tile roof. The architect was Harold Van Buren Magonigle from New York.
In the 1920's Harmon Hendricks presented the Park Commission a gift of 20 acres of land which extended the park northward into Belleville and was eventually made into an 18-hole golf course.
During WWI and WW2 the park was used as a tent city for the Army where they held training exercises and recruited volunteers from the area. Once it was a landing site for the US Postal Service. Bi-winged airplanes carrying mail landed on a short field within the park where bales of hay rimmed the end of the runway to prevent accidents. The old Morris Canal that ran alongside the Park, from Newark to the Delaware River, was abandoned and became the Newark subway. The subway became an important linkage to the Park.
• Perimeter fence and entrance improvements in the Southern Division.
Cost: $267,300 Completed in 2004
• Park Avenue Bridge Restoration
Cost: $3,216,945 Completed in 2005
• Middle Division Ballfields
Included: relocated ballfields, grading, drainage, irrigation, sports lighting, scoreboard, new press box, parking improvements, pedestrian entrance improvements, amenities
Cost: $6,457,434 Completed in 2006
• Fence and Lights at Pedestrian Bridge
Completed in 2006
• Boat House Area Landscape Restoration
Completed in 2006
• Restoration of the historic Essex County Parks Administration Building
Completed in 2007
• Modernization and realignment of three baseball fields in the Branch Brook Park Extension
Cost: $1,497,261 Completed in 2007
• Construction of Historic Octagon Shelter replica
Cost: $353,510 Completed in 2007
• Modernization of Cherry Blossom Welcome Center
Cost: $840,000 Completed in 2008
· Completion of Demonstration Project
Included: Pathway and lighting improvements, park entranceway enhancements, cherry tree plantings
Cost: $2,468,063 Completed in 2009
· Rehabilitation of Bloomfield Avenue Bridge
Cost: $3,028,890 Completed in 2009
· Dedication of "Essex County Andre Tippett Field," a new synthetic grass surface football and soccer field in the Essex County Branch Brook Park Middle Division
Cost: $917,662 Completed in 2009
· Dedication of the "Essex County Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex" in the Essex County Branch Brook Park Middle Division
Dedicated in 2009
· Planting of 600 Cherry Trees throughout the park
Cost: $926,000 Completed in 2010
· Repaving of Branch Brook roadway from Mill Street to Washington Avenue
Cost: $680,000 Completed in 2010
· Improvements to the road, paths and lighting from Heller Parkway to Cherry Blossom Welcome Center
Cost: $753,866 Completed in 2010
· Modernization of Octagon Field House in the Stephen N. Adubato Sports Complex in the Branch Brook Park Middle Division
Cost: $423,900 Completed in 2011
· Restoration of the historic balustrade and installation of replica Lions in Branch Brook Park Southern Division
Cost: $372,220 Completed in 2011
· Pathway, lighting and landscaping enhancements to Music Court area in Branch Brook Park Southern Division
Cost: $797,895 Completed in 2011
· Renovation of two park buildings in Branch Brook Park Southern Division for public use
Cost: $752,790 Completed in 2011
· Installation and dedication of Althea Gibson Statue at the Branch Brook Tennis Complex that bears her name
Cost: $75,000 Completed in 2012
· Repaving of the two-mile Branch Brook Drive loop in the Northern Division
Cost: $360,000 Completed in 2012
· Rehabilitation and dedication of the Essex County Prudential Concert Grove and renovation of the Kiyofumi Sakaguchi Memorial Grove in Essex County Branch Brook Park
Cost: $1,139,000 Completed in 2012
• A large lake, meandering streams, and in the north, the Second River channel.
• Spectacular view of the Cathedral Basilica across the lake.
• Playgrounds, ballfields, basketball, tennis, horseshoes.
• The famed "Cherry Blossom Land."
• Annual Festival and 10-k run at cherry blossom time.
• Greenhouse acts as a central nursery and horticulture center for the entire park system.
• The park system maintenance center and garage.
• The park system administration building, built in 1916—listed on both the state and national historic registers.
• The northern division meadow is one of the largest recreational open green spaces to be found in Essex.
• “Monarch Meadow,” a newly established butterfly garden.
• Senior citizen center, originally a boat landing shelter.
• Walled remains of the old Newark reservoir.
• Near the reservoir a mound and its retaining stone wall are designed to resemble an ancient ruin.
• Roller rink—completed in 1995, site of the park system's Centennial Birthday Celebration.
• Four-mile park drive.
• Pedestrian bridges, Park & Bloomfield Avenue bridges and the railroad bridges in northern extension are striking architectural features.
• Ballantine Gateway.
• Meeker Mound Pavilion.
• Sculptured lions which flank a formal boat landing were originally stationed in front of the old Newark Prudential building.
DRIVING DIRECTIONS TO BRANCH BROOK PARK:
To the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center:
Use the intersection of Franklin Avenue and Mill Street in Belleville when obtaining directions from the Internet
From the North: Take the Garden State Parkway South; take Exit 149; at the end of the ramp, turn right onto JFK Parkway; turn right onto Belleville Avenue; turn right onto Franklin Avenue; turn left onto Mill Street; once inside the park, turn right onto the park road; Welcome Center is on the left
From the South: Take Garden State Parkway North; take Exit 150 for Hoover Avenue; at the end of the ramp, turn right onto Hoover Avenue; turn right onto Joralemon Street; turn right onto Franklin Avenue; turn left onto Mill Street; once inside the park, turn right onto the park road; Welcome Center is on the left
To the Stephen N. Adubato, Sr. Sports Complex:
Use the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Lake Street in Newark when obtaining directions from the Internet
From the North: Take Garden State Parkway South; take Exit 148 for Bloomfield Avenue; after exit, make quick right onto Montgomery Street; turn left onto Bloomfield Avenue; travel about 25 blocks; turn right into park; complex is at the end of the ramp
From the South: Take Garden State Parkway North; take Exit 148 for Bloomfield Avenue; turn right onto Bloomfield Avenue; travel about 25 blocks; turn right into park; complex is at the end of the ramp
To the Main Park Entrance on Clifton Avenue:
Use the intersection of Clifton Avenue and Seventh Avenue when obtaining driving directions from the Internet
From New Jersey: Take Route 280 East to First Street/Exit 13. Turn left onto First Street. Turn right onto Orange Street. Turn left onto Clifton Avenue. Park will be on the left.
From New York: George Washington Bridge or Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey Turnpike South. Take Exit 15W for Route 280 West. Take Exit 14. Turn right onto Clifton Avenue. Follow above directions.