Bloomfield New Jersey - A Brief History
Bloomfield Center circa 1904, looking north from Glenwood to Broad Street
17th and 18th Centuries
The area now known as "Bloomfield' was a part of Newark in 1666 when that town was settled. The land had been bought from the Yantecaw, a sub-tribe of the Lenni-Lenape Indians. English settlers came from Connecticut to the southern end of town, and Dutch settlers from the Hudson River Valley set up farms in the Stone House Plains section, now Brookdale. The earliest roads followed Indian trails. The Old Road to Newark (now Franklin Street), the Road to Newtown and Second River (now Belleville Avenue) and the Road to Cranetown (now Montclair) became important routes. The three waterways, Second River, Third River and Toney's Brook, were valuable sources of power for the first industries - sawmills and gristmills. Paper mills and tanneries followed. Sandstone was quarried and exported to New York City as early as 1765 for the construction of brownstone houses. The settlers established the first school in 1758. It was public but not free, being open to pupils who could afford to pay a small tuition fee. During the Revolutionary War, no fighting occurred within the limits of the present township, but Bloomfield sons fought in New Jersey engagements. The area did experience foraging raids by British and Hessian troops. Patriots entertained George Washington on several occasions. In 1796, the congregation of Old First Church (now Bloomfield Presbyterian Church on the Green) was formed. It honored the Revolutionary War General, Joseph Bloomfield, by naming the newly formed parish after him - the Presbyterian Society of Bloomfield. The beautiful church building which was started in 1797 is still standing at the northern end of the Green. The same year, the Green was officially purchased for $200.00, although it had been used as a military training field and parade ground since 1775. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The 19th Century
In the nineteenth century, the industrious people of Bloomfield brought about many changes. The Newark and Pompton Turnpike (now Bloomfield Avenue), started in 1806, fulfilled the need for better transportation, and Bloomfield became a commercial center with taverns, wheelwrights, blacksmiths and wagon makers. In the 1830's there were six gristmills, two cotton factories, five sawmills, four copper mills, three paper mills, one paint mill, two calico print works, three woolen mills, several shoe factories and seventeen merchants in town. The Oakes Woolen Mill was founded in 1830 and lasted until the 1940's, at one time being the largest industry in town. In 1837 Luis Peloubet opened a musical instrument factory which later made well-known melodeons and organs. The population in 1820 was 3,085; in 1830, it was 4,309. The town separated from Newark in 1812, being incorporated as the Township of Bloomfield, taking its name from the Presbyterian parish named for General Joseph Bloomfield. At that time it covered 20.52 square miles (now 5.4 square miles) and included several villages which left Bloomfield during the century. Their names and dates of separation were Belleville (1839), Montclair (1868), Woodside (1871), Franklin (Nutley) (1874) and Glen Ridge (1895). In 1812, a Justice of the Peace and four constables were appointed. A post office was established in 1816. In 1812, a Township Committee was set up as the governing body. Later, the New Jersey Legislature passed the Township Act of 1846, further formalizing township governments.
A Bloomfield engineer, Ephriam Beach (Beach Street is named after him), designed the inclined planes for the Morris Canal which opened in 1831 and brought further commerce. It also provided recreational diversion in the form of swimming in the summer and ice skating in the winter. Other improvements in transportation in the century included the first railroad from Newark in 1856, the New York/Montclair/Greenwood Lake Railroad in 1872 and the first street car line in 1867. Beginning in the 1870's, banks were founded and other town services arrived: gaslights in 1873, a Fire Department in 1883, telephone service in 1884, water pipes in 1884, free delivery of mail in 1892, electric lights in 1896 and sewage lines in 1898. During those years, the population grew with new immigrants from Italy, Poland and Germany, among other lands, joining the original families in the town. The expanding industries welcomed the workers. More people and improved transportation led to the construction of many homes, hotels and boardinghouses. Bloomfield became a thriving suburban community. The population in 1870 was 4,580; in 1890, it was 7,708.
In 1851 First Baptist Church was organized. Several of the town's original founding families were involved. In 1853 the original church building was erected, with the current stone structure dating from 1912.
Bloomfield men served in the Civil War, and the factories supplied Union forces, with Oakes Woolen Mill providing cloth for the soldiers' uniforms. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, erected during the town's Centennial Celebration in 1912, commemorated those who served in the war. Schools, churches and cultural organizations burgeoned. The Bloomfield Academy in 1810 was one of the first of a good number of private schools which had an excellent reputation. The forerunner of Bloomfield College, the German Theological School of Newark, took over the old academy building in 1868. In 1849, Bloomfield was one of the first towns in New Jersey to adopt the Free School Act and authorize taxes for school purposes. More schools were built, with the High School coming in 1871. Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Parish opened a parochial school in 1878, the church having been established in 1874. The first newspaper, the Bloomfield Gazette, was published in 1872, and the newspaper which later became the Independent Press started in 1883.
The 20th Century
In 1900, Bloomfield became a town with a Mayor-and-Council-type of government under the Town Act of the New Jersey State Legislature. In 1955, a revision of this form was passed by local referendum which set up a municipal government composed not only of a Mayor and six members of a Town Council, all elected by popular vote, but also a Town Administrator appointed by the Mayor and Council. This is the form Bloomfield is operating under today (1983). In July of 1981, by a special election, it changed its designation to "Township" again. The population in 1900 was 9,668; in 1910 it was 15,070. During World War 1, there were 1,200 men and 15 nurses on active duty, giving the town a bigger percentage of participation than the average in the country. Women as well as men worked in munitions factories, industrial firms and government agencies. Volunteers, young and old, accomplished many tasks for the war effort. The population in 1920 was 22,019.
By 1930, the population reached 38,000, with 68 industries employing 6,000. The Board of Trade had been set up in 1902 and became the Chamber of Commerce in 1923. The Police Department, which had been established around 1900, had the first officer assigned to traffic duty in 1909. During World War I, bus and trolley lines vied for passengers. In 1923, the bus from Paterson to Lackawanna Railroad along Broad Street opened Brookdale for residences instead of farms. In 1936 the De Camp Bus Line began a route through Bloomfield to New York City. Four- and five-story apartment buildings appeared among the houses.
New schools and churches were built to serve the enlarging population in new neighborhoods. The first Jewish temple was organized in 1915, and a second in 1955. Since 1902, the Jarvie Memorial Library, privately endowed, had served the townspeople, but in 1924 it offered the books and endowment to the town, and the Bloomfield Free Public Library was established. Its own building was completed in 1927, and an addition in 1967. It became the Northwest Area Library in 1965. The Board of Recreation evolved in 1928 from the Community House project of the World War Memorial Association. Many civic and service clubs were founded in the 1920's and 1930's.
World War II saw Bloomfield's industrial plants such as General Electric, Lehn and Fink, Schering, Scientific Glass and Westinghouse rated among the upper 10% of those in the eastern part of the nation engaged in the production of vital war materials. Again, civic organizations and volunteers gave great support to the war effort. The population in 1940 was 41,623; in 1950, it was 49,313. In the second half of the 20th Century, Bloomfield has remained a vital community, both residential and industrial in character. The completion of the Garden State Parkway in 1952 brought better automobile access. New housing included garden apartments and high-rise buildings. The town's Department of Planning and Development has implemented the Master Plan of 1949 and subsequent updates of 1965 and 1977. Another large company came to Bloomfield when the Lummus Corporation set up its international headquarters in 1968. The population in 1970 was 52,029; in 1980, it was 47,792.
Through the years, Bloomfield citizens have shown strong community spirit. There have been festive Independence Day celebrations each year. The Centennial Celebration in 1912 brought the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The sesquicentennial in 1962 saw the start of the Historical Society of Bloomfield. The national bicentennial in 1976 led to the formation of the Cultural Commission and Oakside Cultural Center. In 1978, there was enthusiastic support for the Festival of Nations honoring the people from many ethnic groups who have contributed so much to Bloomfield. It continues with "pride in its past, faith in its future." (This Short History was compiled from various sources, but the majority is from a 1998 article by Ina Campbell, Reference Department, Bloomfield Public Library, and is used by permission, see 'Links Page'.)
A Current Description of Bloomfield, New Jersey
Bloomfield, with a current population of approximately 47,300 (2010 census), is over 200 years old and named in honor of General Joseph Bloomfield, a Revolutionary War hero and one-time governor of New Jersey.
A community of considerable charm, Bloomfield is both residential and commercial in character. If one were to stand on the Revolutionary War Parade grounds, known as "The Green," surrounded by beautiful colonial-style homes, you would feel the striking peacefulness of a New England village.
Bisected by the Garden State Parkway, this town of moderately priced homes just 15 miles from midtown Manhattan is a commuting corridor. It has 10 ramps over the five miles within its borders, and its two main commercial streets -- Bloomfield Avenue and Broad Street -- are six-lane Essex County roads.
A recent transportation enhancement is NJ Transit's Montclair Connection being routed through Bloomfield directly into Penn Station, shaving 15 minutes off the current half-hour commute to Manhattan and eliminating the transfer to the PATH train in Hoboken.
The school system has nine elementary schools, one middle-school, and Bloomfield High School. The total number of students in the school system is estimated at 5,600. In 1998, the township approved a $13 million bond referendum to add 12 classrooms to the middle school and to update the other schools.
Presently, the overall average class size is 23. All schools in the district have computer laboratories, and all of the classrooms are networked into the computer system of each school's library or media center.
There are over 20 churches, including Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopal, and a Jewish synagogue.
Bloomfield has a 178,000-volume public library and two arts centers -- the Oakside-Bloomfield Cultural Center and the Westminster Theater, which is part of Bloomfield College but open to the public. The Bloomfield Library sponsors numerous musical and cultural activities and programs.
There are two county parks -- the 121-acre Brookdale Park, located in the north, and the 70-acre Watsessing Park in the south section of town. There are also 55 acres of local parkland, which include Memorial Park on John F. Kennedy Drive, Halcyon Park, and numerous playground facilities.
In recent years several upscale housing developments have opened in Bloomfield Center, taking advantage of our transportation hub, most notable is Avalon Bloomfield Station, with several hundred units. Others include Parkway Lofts, Heritage, The Grove.