THIS OLD HOUSE: Inside brick walls lies centuries of history

By Howard Prosnitz

Teaneck Suburbanite, March 18, 2009, p. 3

Zabriskie houseSurrounded by 20th century homes, the Zabriskie-Kip-Cadmus house is a graceful embodiment of Teaneck's Dutch Colonial heritage.

Built in the late 17th century soon after Albert Zabriskie acquired 185 acres of land stretching from the Hackensack River to Teaneck Creek, the sandstone structure at 664 River Road is a one of sever of township buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Zabriskies were among the earliest settlers in the Dutch Colony of New Netherlands, which comprised much of today's New Jersey and New York. They believed to be the oldest Polish family in the United States.

As Lutherans, the Zabriskies may have immigrated to Holland seeking religious freedom and, later, to the New World.

dining roomDuring the American Revolution, Zabriskies fought on both sides. The Zabriskie House in New Bridge Landing in today's River Edge was seized by Washington's troups and after the Independence, turned over to Baron von Steuben in gratitude for his services.

However, Albert Zabriskie's grandson Joost, who was probably the builder of the Teaneck house, was wounded several times defending his homestead from the British.

"The Zabriskies were an authentic frontier family. The Zabriskie name is found throughout the nation, but this house was their base," said Dr. Jules Ladenheim, the current owner and occupant of the Zabriskie-Kip-Cadmus house. He noted the building is similar in structure and design to the Van Cortland House in Tarrytown, New York, which now is a museum.

But the River Road house is almost a private museum filled with numerous artifacts and replicas of colonial America. Side by side in the living room is an authentic 18th century British flintlock musket with mounted bayonet and a replica of a handgun of the period.

In 1816 a Zabriskie descendent sold the house and farm to Henry Kip, and in 1899 the property passed by marriage into the Cadmus family. In oral recollections, Helena Cadmus recalled that when she arrived at the house as a young bride, she found a flock of sheep in the front yard.

The Zabriskie farm and its livestock are long gone. Only the house remains. In 1961, Ladenheim and his late wife Janet bought the house in which they raised their three children. A retired neurosurgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center, Ladenheim noted that the original house consisted only the first floow. The second and third floors were added in the early 18th century.

That first floor included a room used to keep goats and a kitchen, from which food was sent upstairs by a dumbwaiter after the additional floors were built.

The floor also included the slaves' quarters.

slave shacklesAlthough slavery was officially abolished in New Jersey in 1848, slaves were still held in the state until the 13th Amendment was passed in 1866. It is unknown how long the Zabriskied were slave owners, but Ladenheim has an authentic set of slave shackles that were in the house when he bought it. The shackles once chained slaves together. A bar that ran across a first floor wall to which slaves were tethered was removed by Ladenheim during repairs.

When he first moved into the house, Ladenheim discovered a trapdoor in the first door that descended to an underground tunnel that led to Hackensack River. The passwege way was used to transport produce from the farm to the numerous schooners that sailed the river. Ladenheim sealed the trapdoor for the safety of his children.

The 20 century added its own tragedy to the house. Ladenheim explains that he bought the house from the widow of a former owner, a builder who was murdered in Manhattan. The details are unclear and the murder was never solved.

"He built all the houses on the Zabriskie land. Apparently he overextended himself with borrowing," Ladenheim said.

He noted that the builder added electricity and mordern plumbing to the house.

"He wanted to take the house down but his wife wouldn't let him."