The History of Teaneck Creek Conservancy
The recorded story of the of Teaneck Creek’s wetlands begins in the 1600s, when Lenape Indian leader Sachem Oratam deeded more than 2,000 acres to Dutch colonist Sarah Kiersted. The English Governor Philip Carteret granted a “patent” to Sarah Kiersted, a deed confirming her ownership of land that included the current Conservancy site.
At the time Oratam deeded the property to Kiersted, a diverse ecosystem existed there with a wealth of water resources, including, according to the words of the English deed, “woods, pastures, fields, Meadows, Pools, Ponds, Islands, Creeks, Marshes, River.” The water-rich ecosystem contained tributaries to the Hackensack River and provided habitat that the deed describes as conducive to “Hawking, Hunting fowling, fishing.”
Teaneck Creek’s wetlands declined during the late 19th- and 20th-century periods of industrialization, urbanization, and the resultant draining and filling of marshlands. The New Jersey Meadowlands, of which the wetlands of Teaneck Creek are a historic remnant, were described as “pest” lands that offered huge financial potential if drained for development. (Waring 1879) “ A nuisance and an eyesore…allowed to remain worse than useless…. The inherent wealth of the land is locked up, and all of its bad effects are produced, by the water with which it is constantly soaked or overflowed.”
(Bergen County report to the NJDEP 2006) The Sanborn Map (1926 through 1957) shows that parts of the site were used by a laundry, a construction company, a dance hall, and residences, among other uses. From 1899 until 1938, a trolley line ran through the site.
In the early 1950s, Bergen County developed a plan for the wetlands of Teaneck and Overpeck Creeks which proposed filling the wetlands with municipal waste and clean dredge, and then redeveloping the area as a 1,000-acre park. The Township of Teaneck transferred property for the creation of a public park and recreation area (Deed 1951). Overpeck Creek was widened and deepened through dredging, and tidal gates were constructed in the vicinity of the New Jersey Turnpike Overpass. Land elevations surrounding the creeks were raised above the water level by placement of sanitary waste and material dredged from Overpeck Creek. These fill activities resulted in the berming of Teaneck Creek, and the downstream tidegate caused the creek to be cut off from the tidal flow of the Hackensack River.
Although the wetlands of Teaneck Creek (aka Area 1 of Bergen County’s Overpeck Park) were not used for disposal of municipal waste, the 46-acres that would be come the park experienced further degradation from dumping and filing by both private companies and the New Jersey Department of Transportation, which used the site in the 1960’s as a staging and disposal area for dredge and construction debris while building the New Jersey Turnpike and Interstate 80. [excerpted from A Historical Perspective on the Urban Wetlands of the Teaneck Creek Conservancy.