Taxation Without Representation

Source:  The Teaneck Shopper, Wednesday, October 21, 1970, page 4 - Supplement

TAXATION without representation was the cry. Teaneck had been the home of William Walter Phelps, who became one of the largest landowners in the state, since he settled here in 1865. While he was one of the largest taxpayers in the area, his home community had very little to say about how the taxes were spent. Residents in the southern end of Teaneck paid taxes to Ridgefield and those in the northern end paid taxes to Englewood. Citizens had a long way to go in either direction to vote. When roads were bad many stayed home.

Brinkerhoff-Demarest houseTHE FIRST meeting of Teaneck's new government was held on March 16. 1895 in the Teaneck Chapel of the Washington Avenue Sunday School on Church Street. William Bennett, an able man and superintendent of the Phelps property in Teaneck, was elected chairman after Cornelius Terhune called the meeting to order. Brinkerhoff was named treasurer and Ackerman, Poor House Trustee. All were sworn in by Frank S. DeRonde. Township Clerk.

During the meeting, which lasted from 11 a.m. to 4:40 . p.m. the group retained William M. Johnson of Hackensack as counsel at $50 a year and agreed to rent the chapel at $150 a year. (including fire and light) providing that not more than 30 meetings were to be held annually. John Jay Phelps was freeholder, Daniel G. Bogert, tax assessor and Robert Stevenson, justice of the peace. 

A WEEK later the following letter was sent to the township committee of Englewood: "You are hereby notified by law (Approved February, 1895) to meet the Township of Teaneck on March 26 at the Lock-up in the Village of Englewood at 2 p.m. and allot and divide between said townships all properties, real and personal, monies on hand due in proportion to taxable property and ratables as assets of the Township of Englewood."

THE SAME letter went to Ridgefield, calling for a meeting in the Lyceum in Leonia on Fort Lee Road.

RIDGEFIELD "showed no disposition to settle with Teaneck and allow proper percentages," but a meeting was held in the Englewood Lock-up on April 9.

TAX COLLECTOR Cole reported that the assessed taxable real and personal property of the Township of Englewood as $2,953,800 and of Teaneck $377,650. Teaneck's personal assets were: One hose cart valued at $600, two sets of harness, $240; one dozen chairs, $18; one life net, $60; six lanterns, $9; nine nozzles, $50, a book case and property of the emergency hospital.  A charge of 25% depreciation was to be made against these assets.

TOWNSHIP CHAIRMAN Bennett reported in May that Teaneck was entitled to 8 1/2% of Ridgefield's assets, a check for $56.67 being then in the hands of the treasurer. Teaneck's share of Englewood's assets was 12 1/2%. On January 2, 1896, Teaneck received a check for $243.61 from Ridgefield as payment in full. A check for $l,934 from Englewood came in later.

WITH THIS lavish financial background, Teaneck began life. Arrangements had been made at the organization meeting to borrow $500 on the best possible terms in anticipation of taxes. The treasurer was authorized to look for a good safe at a cost of not more than $50. He got one for $30.

AS A QUICK source of revenue, it was agreed to license all dogs in the community at 25 cents each, the only catch was that it took several months to find a dog catcher!  All peddlers except bakers, butchers and milkmen were to pay a $5 license fee. By the time the year ended, the township fund was $2,718.14 and the school fund was $2,079.01.

LIGHTING THE township was one of the first concerns of the new officials. By count the town owned 22 gasoline or naptha lamps -- 17 on River Road and 5 on Teaneck Road. There were 9 gas lamps on Teaneck Road, 9 on Cedar Lane and 4 on New Bridge Road. The new fangled electric lights made their appearance in Teaneck in 1896, when two gas lamps at Cedar Lane and the Phelps Greenhouse were replaced with electricity.

PHELPS, son of a prominent New York merchant and financier, had chosen Teaneck as an ideal place for a summer home, following his marriage to Ellen Maria Sheffield, daughter of the distinguished founder of the Yale Scientific School. Phelps bought the Garrit Brinkerhoff place on the site of the present Municipal Building. The house had been built by the Zabriskie family before the Revolution. Phelps became so fond of Teaneck that he built a large house on the property and made Teaneck his year-around home.

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