Source:  Unidentified.  Teaneck Collection, Teaneck Public Library.

Phelps Influence Felt In Teaneck's Growth

-- He Carved Out Huge Estate Which Extended From The Hackensack To Hudson

The name Teaneck probably is of Indian origin and since the Redmen were there first, rightly so.  But if the town were given another name, it certainly should by Phelps Township.

For William Walter Phelps, more than any other single individual, is linked closely to Teaneck's history and development.  This almost legendary figure started form his huge estate 35 years before the turn of the century, at the same time as the nation was emerging from a struggle which nearly tore it asunder.

In 1895, Mr. Phelps purchased the Garrit Brinkerhoff homestead, a Dutch farmhouse.  From then on he added to his holdings until at one time they stretched from the Hackensack River to the Hudson River.  But the heart of the great estate lay in what is now central Teaneck, and the Township's development can be traced directly to two factors, the breaking up of the estate and the opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1930.

William Walter Phelps was born in 1839 in Pennsylvania, a member of a family which arrived in America front England in 1630.  Young William pursued his studies at Mount Washington Institute in New York City, a Connecticut private school, and Yale.

The young student married upon his graduation from Yale and went abroad, to Germany, a country to which he was later named United States Ambassador.  Columbia Law School was his next scholastic stop, and then he began a law career.

John Jay Phelps, William's father died in 1869 and his son and heir took over development of the estate.  In 1892, well known in North Jersey, he was elected to Congress, a Republican.

Adds To Holdings

After a trip to Europe in 1876 he returned to New Jersey and worked intensively to beautify his holdings.  He planted many trees, built roads and bridle paths.  Many of his trees still offer cooling shade in Township residents in the summertime.

Teaneck Grange, which Phelps called his home, stood right where the Municipal Building is today.  A few months ago, when contractors were digging the foundation for the new police headquarters, their tools struck the remains of the old mansion's wine cellar.

But the mansion burned down in 1878, when its owner was in Washington, and most of its treasures were destroyed.  Phelps then moved into what was known as the Griggs house, which lay where Holy Name Hospital is now.  His widow continued to live there until her death in 1920.

President Benjamin Harrison named Phelps ambassador to Germany in 1889 and he spent four years in that diplomatic post.  He was named a State Appeals Judge in 1893.  Death ended his career in 1894 in early summer when his beautiful trees were in all their green glory.

Influence Felt

But death of the great Teaneck patriarch hardly ended his influence upon his community.  Much land belonging to him is today owned by his estate, now engaged in selling it for profit for real estate purposes.

The golf course, which lay along Route 4 was broken up a few years ago for garden apartments and single family homes, was called the Phelps Manor Golf Club.  Its demise was part of a new-famous controversy in Teaneck, the celebrated Phelps Manor land exchange.  This took place in 1948 and was the center of some bitter fights between the Township Council and the residents of what is now called the Phelps Manor section.  Part of the exchange involved transfer of title from the Township to the Phelps Estate of some 150 building lots in West Englewood.  Thus the historic estate of William Walter Phelps added to its holding, instead of disposing of them.

William Walter Phelps is rightly called the father of Teaneck.  Although he died before the twentieth century was born, his activities laid the foundation for what is now known as a model community.

 

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