History of Rutherford’s West End
Updated: Aug 9
By Rod Leith, Borough Historian
The history of Rutherford’s West End neighborhood can be traced to a wealthy 19th Century landholder named Daniel Holsman. According to James Hands (1914-2017), who was a noted Rutherford historian, Daniel Holsman settled on a large piece of land on the Passaic River in 1836, believed to have been purchased from Jacob Van Nordstrand. This area of New Jersey had once been called New Barbadoes Neck, and was part of Essex County, but was later annexed by Bergen County. Holsman purchased farm property of about 200 acres and built a mansion just north of the Union Avenue bridge.
The Holsman Mansion was considered to be one of the most fabulous homes in the area. It is estimated to have been built at a cost of more than $500,000. The estate extended from the Passaic River, about where Rutherford’s Memorial Park is today, to what was known as Carlton Hill. Benjamin Lee, a Black farm laborer, was employed on the Holsman estate in the late 1830s. He and his wife, Elizabeth, lived in the farming section near the Passaic River. Daniel Holsman, the owner of the 200-acre estate, including rich farmland, was Lee's employer. Holsman, who was a New Jersey State Senator representing Hudson County, died in 1840, leaving his wife, Catherine (nee Parsons) Holsman, and five children.
The estate of Daniel Holsman held ownership of the mansion until at least 1862. That year the Holsman family brought suit against Boiling Spring Bleaching Company, claiming the bleachery’s waste discharges were contaminating the picturesque waters of the Holsman estate. The loss of the lawsuit and related financial setbacks caused the Holsmans to sell the mansion and adjoining property.
Ownership subsequently went to Isaac Herbert who operated the Santiago Park Hotel, which later became known as the West Rutherford Park Hotel. This name of the hotel, located at the east corner of Union Avenue and the Passaic River, is believed to be the impetus for referring to this neighborhood as Rutherford’s West End. The West Rutherford Park Hotel fared poorly for a time in the 1890s and closed for business. The building was taken over by the Rutherford Hall Institute, a private school for women. But unfortunately, the school fell into disrepair and was destroyed by fire in 1903.
During this period a neighborhood of commercial establishments and residences began to evolve. The Union Truck and Bucket Company, which was organized in 1876, later became West End Engine & Hose Company # 3. It was subsequently housed at Union Avenue and Wells Place. Across the avenue was the Union School, 351 Union Avenue. The original school was built in 1892 and replaced in 1926. On Union Avenue, about where 352 Union is today, Thaddeus L. Marshall, who was employed as a Black store porter, settled around 1900. after relocating from South Carolina. He later purchased a piece of property on Elm Street from William Nevins Crane, a wealthy landowner who is named on three Rutherford streets off Orient Way. In the early 1900s, Marshall's sons, Milton and Hiram, both attended Union School. To learn more about Thaddeus Marshall and Black history in Rutherford and neighboring towns, click here.
According to Rutherford Board of Education records, “The new school, opened in February 1926, had facilities and equipment to care for the pupils from the West End from the kindergarten through ninth grade.” The school and the fire station were surrounded by businesses that dated to the 1890s. In those days, Godfrey Woehrel, who emigrated from Alsace Lorraine, operated the West End Bakery and Lunch Room at 342 Union Avenue, just across from Union Junior HS. One can just imagine those kids biting into fresh croissants.
Around the corner from the fire station, West End’s Sunday School met at the West End Club on Santiago Avenue. The club was organized and managed by Charles Shedney until his death in 1911, and subsequently by his widow, Josephine. The West End Sunday School relocated to Emmanuel Chapel, built on Belford Avenue in 1898 as a neighborhood church. It was then affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. Emmanuel Chapel’s congregation eventually split off from the Presbyterians, forming the Congregational Church in 1911.
In 1892, Rutherford had a population of about 4000. Transportation then was by horse and buggy and bicycle. Union Avenue was a country lane with plank sidewalks on either side, according to a history by Agnes B. Concklin and Helen J. Swenson. They recalled that gas lamps were erected on Rutherford’s streets. In a letter in 1909, William Carlos Williams reminded his brother of one of their long walks. “Say, Bo, do you remember that walk we took last February or November up over the Union Ave. bridge then down the other side of the river and (back) home?”
Some other names that stand out on the West End include Horace Mier and Rheinhold Dolhert who had a grocery store at the corner of Union and Beech Street. In those days, Augustus Hackett, who lived on Francisco Avenue, was president of West End Engine and Hose Company # 3. You see his name on one of the streets off Union Avenue.
John R. Wallace was another prominent resident of the West End. He and his wife, Phoebe, built a house in 1887 at 158 Carmita Avenue. They raised four children there, all of whom attended Union School. When he passed away in January 1894, his obituary stated, “One of the best known and best-liked men at the West End passed away on Saturday night, when Mr. John R. Wallace died at his home on Carmita Avenue.” Wallace was then President of West End Engine Company No. 3.
Union Avenue was venerated by poets and historians, alike. One was John Nelson who wrote this for a newspaper called The Enterprise, “The oldest road in the county is Union Avenue --- having been laid out on the line between the Berry and Kingsland estates prior to 1672. Known in 1671 as the old Indian Trail later known as Boiling Spring Lane.” The Minsi tribe called the area Mighgecticock, later known as Rutherford Park. To learn more about the Minsi tribe, click here.