BRANCH BROOK PARK
Newark, Essex County, NJ
360 acres


Directions:

North of I-280 and east of the Garden State Parkway.  Park Avenue, Heller Parkway, and Bloomfield Avenue (Route 506) cut through the park.  

Located in the City of Newark and bordered at the northern end by U.S. Route 280, the park crosses Bloomfield Avenue, Park Avenue, and Heller Parkway, terminating near the Newark/Belleville line. The park is nearly 4 miles long and averages 1/4 mile in width.


History:

Branch Brook Park is distinguished by being the first county park to be opened for public use in the United States.

Named for a branch brook that flowed through the valley into the Passaic River, the park was originally intended to remain in its natural state, but today is used largely for athletic activities. More than 2,000 cherry trees that blossom during April are greater both in variety and number than the famed Washington, D.C. display. At its height the Cherry Blossom Festival attracts over 10,000 people a day.

1895  --  the New Jersey State Legislature authorized creation of the Essex County Park Commission.

1895  --  a former Civil War Army training ground was dedicated to "park use." A large part of the land was a dismal marsh known as Old Blue Jay Swamp. To add to the dismal air of the swamp, bleak, unhealthy tenements crowded in on parts of the area. The swamp water was used for both drinking and sewage disposal.

In sharp contrast, the southern portion of the proposed park contained a circular reservoir basin that supplied clean, fresh water to a "private" association of Newark citizens. In July of 1895 the City of Newark transferred approximately 60 acres of this land to the Essex County Park Commission, at a cost of $350,687. "Reservoir Park" became the nucleus of Branch Brook Park.

1895  -- construction of the park beglns.

Additional acquisitions extending the park northward were aided by the generosity of "several public spirited Newark families," such as the Ballantine Family who donated 32 acres of their property. Another 50 plus acres were given by Z.M. Keene, William A. Righter and Messrs. Heller.

1898  --  the public contributed to the park by voting a 1.5 million dollar appropriation for the continuation of construction work. Old Blue Jay Swamp was transformed into a lake, flower gardens, and expanses of lawns by 1900. The firm of John Bogart and Nathan F. Barrett had been hired in 1895, to provide plans and advise for development of the park. Their design was romantic in style, and was dominated by geometrical patterned gardens and arbors.

1898  --  Robert Ballantine presented the park with a handsome beaux-arts entrance gateway erected at the corner of Lake Street and Ballantine Parkway.

1900  --  the cornerstone for Sacred Heart Cathedral was laid and in the same year, the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted was retained to revise the original plans for the park. It was refined into more naturalistic lines with gracefully curving paths and roadways. One of the outstanding aspects of the design was the concert area in the southern portion bordering Branch Brook Lake. Directly across the lake on a projection of land known as Meeker Mound, the Olmsted firm built an octagonal gazebo.

1910  -- the present greenhouse constructed.

1914  --  a proposal for the erection of a new administration building was approved, when the N.J. Legislature passed a bill that included the necessary $100,000. The exterior was described as Italian in character with brick and terra cotta, and paintings just under the eaves of the tile roof. The architect was Harold Van Buren Magonigle from New York.

1920's  --  Harmon Hendricks presented the Park Commission a gift of 20 acres of land which extended the park northward into Belleville and was eventually made into an 18-hole golf course. 

1924-1929  --  the Park doubled in size through acquisitions and purchases. Branch Brook Park, the first county park in the United States, became one of the largest "city" parks in the country.

1927  --  the Bamberger and Mrs. Felix Fuld families donated the cherry trees to the Park.  

during WWI and WW2    --  the park was used as a tent city for the Army where they held training exercises and recruited volunteers from the area. Once it was a landing site for the US Postal Service. Bi-winged airplanes carrying mail landed on a short field within the park where bails of hay rimmed the end of the runway to prevent accidents. The old Morris Canal that ran alongside the Park, from Newark to the Delaware River, was abandoned and became the Newark subway. The subway became an important linkage to the Park. 

1980  --  the Park was placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.

1981  --  the Park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  

Info from: http://www.co.essex.nj.us/branchbrook.htm


Habitats:

Over three thousand Japanese cherry trees -- the largest display in the United States.

A large lake, meandering streams, and in the north, the Second River channel.

The northern division meadow is one of the largest recreational open green spaces to be found in Essex County.


Facilities:

Playgrounds, ball fields, basketball, tennis, horseshoes. Roller rink. Annual 10-k run at cherry blossom time.


Hiking:

There are walking paths.