View Full Version : Branch Brook Park - the Crown Jewel of Newark

03-15-2008, 06:41 PM
Branch Brook Park is the Crown Jewel of Newark and we need to help restore it to it's former glory. Branch Brook park has the largest collection of Cherry Trees in the US and we need to keep it that way. Yeah, I'm sure - you've heard all about the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC. Well if you want to see the best and largest festival in the US, then you better head to Newark!

Branch Brook Park History (http://www.branchbrookpark.org/about/history.htm)

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.

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, one of the sources of cholera epidemics that plagued 19th century Newark. 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 the 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 Sacred Heart Cathedral 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 greenhouse, now Maintenance Garage, 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, with paintings on canvas 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 that extended the park northward into Belleville and was eventually made into an 18-hole golf course. During WWI and WWII 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 bails 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. With two stops on its western edge, at Davenport Avenue and Heller Parkway, the subway became an important linkage to the Park.

As a living thing, a park is always changing. Trees grow tall. Strong winds and storms shear branches to the ground. Seeds travel from distant shores to settle into the fertile soil at the lake's edge, and grow into unintended plants.

But how different a park is from a natural area! In nature, plants wax and wane, grow to maturity, crowd one another out of existence, or are trampled by human intervention. Though, inevitably, the cycle of death and rebirth is repeated again and again, we notice little unless devastation occurs. A park, however, is planned and managed to please the eye. Its trees, shrubs, features, and buildings have all been carefully and systematically placed in order to give us, the viewer, a sense of nature, and a sense of peace all without leaving the city. We enjoy parks so much because they capture within defined boundaries what we are seeking a breath of fresh air, the upright majesty of the forest, a bird skimming the water's surface. It is as if we can see nature in its idealized form.

The Branch Brook Park Alliance is committed to preserving the vision of Frederick Law Olmsted and John Charles Olmsted, who envisioned Branch Brook Park to be a "grand central park" for the City of Newark. The Olmsteds understood that American cities of the 19th century were growing quickly and changing rapidly. The parks they developed embodied their view that all people, regardless of their position in society, were entitled to fresh air, quiet places, and the beauty that only nature can provide. All of us are compelled to protect that legacy.

Help Fund the Planting of New Cherry Trees
You can help Branch Brook Park regain the title of having the largest and most diverse collection of flowering Cherry Blossom trees by helping the Branch Brook Park Alliance fund the planting of 2,000 new trees.

The Alliance hopes to realize an immediate goal of $210,000 to fund the planting design of 1,000 trees this year and an additional 1,000 in 2008. These 2,000 trees were purchased last year through the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.

Any additional funds collected will be placed in an endowment created by Prudential Financial, Inc. that will assist with the ongoing maintenance and care of the Park's collection of Cherry Blossom trees.

Donate Today to Branch Brook Park! (http://www.branchbrookpark.org/support/index.htm)

Also - don't forget the Cherry Blossom Festival coming in April 2008...

Sunday, April 13
2008 Essex County Cherry Blossom Run
10K Race through Cherry Blossom Land in Essex County Branch Brook Park that includes a Children's Fun Run for ages 12 and younger
For more information or to register, please call (973) 873-9350 or visit www.essexcountynj.org (http://www.essexcountynj.org)

Thursday, April 17
2008 Cherry Blossom Gala (Nanina's)
Trolley Park Tours, Dinner and Silent Auction
For more information please call 973-268-2300

Saturday, April 19
2008 Essex County Cherry Blossom Bicycle Tour
Race through Cherry Blossom Land in Essex County Branch Brook Park
For more information or to register, please call (973) 268-3500 or visit www.essexcountynj.org (http://www.essexcountynj.org)

Sunday, April 20
2008 Essex County Blossomfest
Free family day from 11am-5pm featuring Japanese cultural activities, including demonstrations on origami, bonsai, ikebana, and martial arts
For more information, please call (973) 873-9349 or visit www.essexcountynj.org (http://www.essexcountynj.org)

So who out there has been to Branch Brook Park??

03-21-2008, 01:23 PM
My wife, son and I plus a couple of friends went to the Blossom Festival last year and will be going back this year. Over all the park is nice and work was being done on it last year to help improve it even more.

04-20-2008, 07:55 AM
My wife, son and I plus a couple of friends went to the Blossom Festival last year and will be going back this year. Over all the park is nice and work was being done on it last year to help improve it even more.

I plan on being up there today. Are you going to be up there? I'll be wearing a Rutgers cloth-style-jacket.