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A History of Riverview-Fisk Park

Riverview Park Plaque 1912
Riverview Park Pathway
Paterson Plank Road Riverview Park to Hoboken
Holland Street Bridge
Pre-Sandy Gazebo, April 2011
Post-Sandy Gazebo, October 2012
Original Fountain
Riverview-Fisk 1906
Riverview Park
Riverview-Fisk Park 1920
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Written by Roger Heitmann

In 1897...

The eastern side of Riverview Park, where the latest version of the gazebo stands, was dedicated as a city park on September 27, 1901. The land was purchased in 1897 by the city for $42,500 from the estate of William B. Ogden, a real estate developer, railroad tycoon and first mayor of Chicago. Before Ogden the land was part of the estate of John Van Vorst. The old Van Vorst stone farmhouse built in 1740 still exists today and is located at 531 Palisade Avenue.

The creation of early parks in many cities can be traced to the “City Beautiful” movement of the 1890s. There was an organized drive to make cities more livable for all classes. Trees were planted and edifices were constructed that were not only pleasing to the eye but uplifting to the spirit. The Shade Tree Commission planted many park trees and street trees at that time toward that objective.         

Mayor Hoos presided over the city dedication which was attended by 10,000 people. Mayor Hoos made a point of leading the band that played and a procession of local and state officials and prominent residents then proceeded about two blocks south to historic Pohlmann’s hall at Ogden & Ferry Street where they enjoyed a celebration and a feast.

The Recent History

During the great depression, federal WPA (Works Progress Admin.) funds were obtained to renovate Riverview Park in 1935. A sprinkler system was to be installed as well as grading of the eastern slope, seeding and tree planting.

Riverview Park was threatened with a redevelopment plan for senior citizen high rise housing in the early 1960s. Local neighborhood activist and renowned architectural model maker and historic preservationist, Theodore Conrad, together with his wife, Ruth Conrad, became the new park advocates and stopped these plans from happening. They were tireless advocates for the park in the lean years. Mr. Conrad passed away in 1994 and his wife Ruth passed away in 2014.

We have been fortunate, as heights residents, to have these park advocates and others over the years that persisted in creating and protecting the park. We owe them all a lot for their hard work.

The park became neglected with the economic downturn very common in many urban cities in the late 1950s through the middle 1980s. Many middle class residents in Jersey City had fled to the suburbs further exacerbating the problem. The park did undergo incomplete renovations in the early 1990s.  Most sidewalks were replaced and a drainage system was created. A new playground was also built. However the eastern side of the park was ignored and left for a later date due to lack of funds.

As of March 2020 the park will undergo another renovation that hopefully will bring its infrastructure into the 21st century as well as return some historic features and create new features. A variety of new trees will be planted (89) to replace those trees (41) that are well beyond their life expectancy. These plans will retain most of the original passive design created between 1901-1915.

Creation of the park can also be attributed to the influence of the Hudson City Businessmen’s Association. Dr Ulamor Allen was a respected local physician and the main proponent of the park. He along with fellow members President, Henry Rolffs, George W. Van Arx and others used their influence upon various city administrations beginning with Mayor Wanser in 1897 to battle for the park. Even though the park land was purchased, there were very little funds left over to actually improve it until about 1901 when $7,500 was spent on the wooden bandstand or gazebo and construction of a wooden fence along the cliff edge.

It was a competition for funding. Jersey City was growing rapidly due to a huge influx of immigrant labor attracted to the jobs offered during the industrial revolution. There was a demand for parks all over the city. Pershing Field Park and Leonard Gordon Park are both located in the heights and local resident groups competed over the funding to create them. There were verbal battles published in the newspapers between these competing groups over who would obtain the limited funds for creation of their respective parks. Even at the dedication of Riverview in 1901, some of those other groups refused to attend the ceremony. Eventually all of these parks were soon created anyway due to public pressure.

Meanwhile plans for the expansion of Riverview Park from the eastern side to include the western area between Ogden Avenue and Palisade Avenue proceeded. Resistance persisted and the main argument against the expansion focused upon creating housing for the wealthy that would overlook the eastern park and also have commanding views of New York. This was regarded as a far more profitable use of the land. Dr Allen resisted however, and the remaining vacant and overgrown 44 lots of the Ogden estate were purchased by the city for $60,000 as stated in a Jersey Journal newspaper article dated December 31, 1902.

The design for Riverview Park was for a passive park. Meandering walkways, a bandstand, flower gardens, trees for shade and a relaxing public fountain were some of the features conceived by prominent landscape architects John T Withers and Addison T Hastings of the city’s Shade Tree Commission. Robert Morrison of the New York City firm Dodge & Morrison was the associated architect. Withers also designed Leonard Gordon Park and Bayside Park in Jersey City.

The original gazebo or bandstand was made of wood in about 1901. It was replaced by a brick gazebo with restrooms (known as comfort stations) in the summer of 1915 that lasted until hurricane Sandy brought it down in October 2012. A. Harry Moore, Director of Parks and Public Property was responsible for the construction. The current gazebo was designed with new lighting, storage and restrooms but will also feature a bioswale garden that will absorb storm water runoff and mitigate erosion of the hillside. It also features a walkway that is wheelchair accessible. It opened on June 23rd 2017. Mayor Fulop attended the ribbon cutting with Councilpersons Michael Yun, Council President Rolando Lavarro, and Councilperson Joyce Watterman. Kern Weissman represented the Riverview Neighborhood Association as President and Laura Skolar represented the Jersey City Parks Coalition as President. City landscape architect, Aaron Johnson was responsible for designing the bioswale and was also present and recognized. On September 23, 2017 the gazebo was named in recognition of Maria Tuzzo, longtime resident and former RNA board member for her dedication to volunteerism in the community. Many current and former residents attended the dedication which included a plaque placed on the pavilion.

The original public fountain was built in 1905 and dedicated during the hot summer in July from funds raised by the Open Hand Club, a women’s organization. A horde of children clambered over the shallow basin walls on July 18, 1905 to cool off in the water. The Norway maple and London plane trees just planted on Arbor Day were not large enough to provide much shade in the summer heat. By December 18, 1907 the fountain had been damaged by vandals throwing stones into the basin and damaging some of the plumbing. Even more unfortunate, a front page Jersey Journal article dated June 9, 1909 told the story of a two and a half year old, Isidore Pesin, who had climbed over the basin wall apparently falling into the water and knocking himself unconscious. He had tragically drowned. It is believed that this may have led to the concreting over of the basin thereafter and a small drinking fountain was then installed. Subsequently the drinking fountain was removed during park renovations in the early 1990s and replaced by the flag pole.

One of the first caretakers of the park was Theodore Schutzbach who lived at 222 Ogden Avenue. He was caretaker from 1910 until 1930 when he retired. He was responsible for coming up with the idea to maintain a herd of sheep in the park that he obtained from a local livestock company. His idea was that instead of laboring to cut the grass, the sheep would keep the grass cropped. It also created a kind of pastoral environment although cleaning up after the sheep must have been a chore. Mr Schutzbach passed away at age 83 in 1938.

As late as March of 1910 Dr Allen had suggested that terraces be built from the cliff top all the way down to Paterson Plank road and also that the current gravel Mountain Road be paved and lighted to provide an access way from Hoboken. This plan never materialized most likely due to lack of funding but would have further expanded the park and improved access.

Dr Allen later went on to be one of the main proponents of the creation of Washington Park from the Suckley Estate. That was eventually accomplished in 1917 after many years of debate. Dr Allen, who lived at 401 Ogden Avenue, passed away at his home on April 21, 1922 at the age of 68 of a heart attack.

The Heights was once officially called Hudson City until it merged with Jersey City in 1870. There was still an association with the famed explorer, Henry Hudson, who first landed in Jersey City in 1609 sailing for the Dutch East India Company. On October 12, 1917, a bronze bust created by sculptor Anton Schaaf in remembrance of Hudson was dedicated in the park. There was a huge celebration and entertainment attracting thousands of people to this event. The Dutch Consul, Henry Stakler, Mayor Hague and A. Harry Moore, Director of Parks and future Governor of N.J. attended as well as state and federal officials. The Dewdrop In League raised all funds for the monument. Unfortunately a tremendous violent thunderstorm near the end of the ceremony scattered the thousands of people in every direction.

Another monument in the park was dedicated on May 30, 1922 in memory of the 139 soldiers and sailors that lived in the heights and had died in World War One. The monument was also built with donated funds raised by the Dewdrop In League. It was later rededicated in 1947 in memory of Captain Clinton E Fisk who was killed in action in La Rue, France in October 1918. This was just months before the end of the war. Riverview Park was also renamed Capt. Clinton E Fisk Park on June 20, 1947. It was subsequently renamed Riverview Fisk Park in the 1980s.

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