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Building Oakcroft, a 'Residential Park' - Historic Oakcroft

Building Oakcroft, a ‘Residential Park'

HISTORY OF A NEIGHBORHOOD IN MONTCLAIR, N.J.,

INCLUDING GODFREY ROAD, PRINCETON PLACE, CARTERET STREET, EDGEMONT ROAD, OAKCROFT AVENUE, PARKSIDE STREET

  By Lisanne Renner
Revised April 2019

 

Aaron W. Godfrey, who had formerly owned a silver mine in Mexico among other occupations, made his first foray into real estate development in 1906 by shopping for land in Upper Montclair, N.J. Attracted by the Olmsted-designed Anderson Park completed just a year before, Godfrey bought about 18 acres immediately south of the park and promised the park’s landscape architect, John C. Olmsted, that he would build respectable homes surrounding it. The result was Oakcroft, and for more than 110 years the park and its adjacent 80-home subdivision have been friendly neighbors, creating what the original Oakcroft sales brochure called “a residential park.”

Anderson Park’s creation by Essex County curtailed commercial development west of the Upper Montclair Village business district and halted the spread of industrial uses, which immediately abutted the eastern park boundary along the train tracks at the Osborne and Marsellis lumber, coal and masonry yard. A deed restriction for one tract in Oakcroft prohibited construction of a factory, store, lumber or sillar yard.[1] All this solidified the trend toward residential development in the area, with Oakcroft being the first large-scale example. One Olmsted tenet held that neighborhood parks were important,[2] and Anderson Park not only helped foster a strong bond between the park and the surrounding community, but it helped shape the Oakcroft neighborhood. The park spurred development of a multi-block district that now numbers over 200 residents, and more than a century later it continues to maintain the residential character of an area just a block or two from a commercial district.

Figure 1-Street Views - Oakcroft - c. 1908-1916

Figure 1:  Oakcroft views, clockwise, from upper left: looking north on Princeton Place from Godfrey Road; the west side of Princeton Place, viewed from Godfrey Road; looking south on Princeton Place from Parkside Street, with No. 25 in view; looking north on Edgemont Road from Godfrey Road. From “Montclair, New Jersey, and Its Advantages as a Place of Residence,” a real estate promotional booklet by Frank Hughes-Taylor Co., circa 1913.

 

By the time Anderson Park opened in 1905, Upper Montclair was on the fast track for suburban development because of the commuter railroad’s arrival in the 1870s. Similarly, parkside property was poised for development because it was attractive and walking distance to the Upper Montclair train station.[3] Oakcroft became part of a nationwide transformation of open land to suburban development, which began after the Civil War and continued into the early 20th century as railroad service expanded rapidly. Train lines radiating from large metropolitan areas made it possible for middle-class, white-collar workers in congested cities to afford outlying homes a short commute away, where birdsong and cricket chirps filled the air.[4] Newspaper ads and a promotional brochure for Oakcroft highlighted the conveniences of urban living – “water, gas, electricity, telephone, drainage and underdrainage” – along with the charms of the country – “spacious lawns, shady groves and many forest trees.”[5]

Newspaper classified advertisement promoting Oakcroft subdivision. The New York Times, April 24, 1910, pg. 17.

Figure 2:  Newspaper classified advertisement promoting Oakcroft subdivision. The New York Times, April 24, 1910, pg. 17.

 

Godfrey was buying property south of the park in earnest in 1906. By that October he owned the full expanse that would become Oakcroft.[6] “Croft” is a British word meaning a small enclosed field, usually adjoining a house, and perhaps Godfrey chose it as an hommage to his English-born father. Or maybe he just liked its quaint connotations; years later he would also build a nearby neighborhood called Russelcroft. In any case, the name Oakcroft had fallen out of use by the early 1930s.

Godfrey’s arrival as a landowner in Upper Montclair removed a thorn in the side of the Essex County Park Commission, which had been embroiled in an acrimonious relationship with previous owners of the Godfrey property, who refused to give up portions of their development land for the county’s Anderson Park. Although Godfrey had every intention of building on this land, he was willing to work with Olmsted and the Park Commission while doing so, and agreements struck among these parties helped shape the southern boundary of the park as well as the emerging neighborhood.[7]

Before Oakcroft began to rise, its land served mainly as a drainage area for First Mountain runoff into Toneys Brook. A small section had been subdivided into a dozen residential lots by Marshall C. Kelley, a Michigan developer, and more lots were planned by adjacent owners, but construction never began.[8]

In October 1906 Godfrey announced his plans for Oakcroft, a subdivision that would cut six new streets and build scores of houses.[9] A few months later The Montclair Times described the future Oakcroft as a parkside neighborhood with more than 100 houses and 500 residents, hailing the development as “a great improvement in that section of the town” and describing the houses as “high-class residences.” Oakcroft’s layout was designed to “harmonize” with Anderson Park, The Montclair Times wrote. The development would be bounded by Anderson Park to the north, the south side of Godfrey Road to the south, North Mountain Avenue to the west and the train tracks to the east.[10]

 

Map of the Oakcroft subdivision, built out. Sanborn map, 1934.

Figure 3:  The Oakcroft subdivision, built out. Sanborn map, 1934.

 

By the end of 1906, Godfrey had approached the Park Commission about building a street along the park’s southern boundary, which would require paving some park acreage.[11] A similar request had come up several years earlier from the previous owners, and at that time the Olmsted firm proposed three alternatives for such a street, including straight and curved alignments.[12]  In all those proposals Olmsted envisioned houses facing the park and set back at least 30 feet from the street, which would intersect North Mountain Avenue at a right angle. In one plan the road ran straight, as it does now; in another it curved south near where Carteret Street is today. To Godfrey’s request Olmsted responded likewise, but the men agreed to a straight street, homes with a 25-foot setback, the preservation of large trees along the boundary, and a strip at least 5-feet wide for planting a row of street trees along Godfrey’s land.[13] By February 1907 the Township of Montclair formally approved the new street, to be called The Parkside (now Parkside Street).[14]  The road, which Godfrey offered to construct at his expense, intersected with most of Oakcroft’s other streets. By 1912 two of Oakcroft’s north-south streets, Princeton Place and Edgemont Road, had direct links to newly extended pathways into the park, establishing a formal pedestrian connection between the park and the people living beside it.[15]  

 

Oakcroft in its early days, looking west from the train tracks, with a sign heralding the subdivision. From the Oakcroft sales brochure, circa 1908.

Figure 4: Oakcroft in its early days, looking west from the train tracks, with a sign heralding the subdivision.  From the Oakcroft sales brochure, circa 1908.

Construction crews for the Godfrey Land and Building Company had broken ground on infrastructure and home construction by the spring of 1907, laying drainage and sewer pipes, clearing brush and digging cellars. As the newspaper reported: “The improvement in this tract of land will add greatly to the appearance of that section of the town north of Watchung Avenue, and incidentally add a nice sum to the taxable values of the town of Montclair. … Oakcroft will become one of the finest sites for homes in Montclair, situated as it is between Harrison [now Edgemont Memorial Park] and Anderson Parks.”[16]

 

Looking west toward 130 Edgemont Avenue, with The Parkside and Anderson Park to the right. Postcard is circa 1911.

Figure 5:  Looking west toward 130 Edgemont Avenue, with The Parkside and Anderson Park to the right. Postcard is circa 1911.

 

Both Godfrey and the Mountain Society, a civic organization, began advocating in 1909 for lights to be installed in Anderson Park, which was dark when commuters walked home to their Oakcroft houses on winter nights. Although the Park Commission denied the request, it did review an estimate for Welsbach naptha gas lamps in 1910.[17]  In 1922 electric lights finally arrived in the park  – 22 of them, with posts made of ornamental reinforced concrete designed to resemble gray granite and opalescent Washington globes fitted with 100-candlepower lamps.[18]

The park’s presence was a strong selling point for Oakcroft, which was marketed in Montclair and New York City and described in a newspaper advertisement as “one of the choicest and best established of New York’s picturesque suburbs.”[19] A promotional brochure includes a photograph of the park and opens by saying, “Oakcroft fronts the superb twenty-five acre Essex County Park, [and] is in fact a continuation of it – a residential Park.”[20]  An item in The New York Times promoted its location – at the foothills of a mountain, beside a park, minutes from mass transit[21] – and likewise, an advertisement in The Montclair Times noted that the subdivision “adjoins Anderson Park, five minutes walk through the park from the Upper Montclair station, three minutes from the Valley Road [trolley] car.”[22]

 

A page from “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” a promotional booklet for the Oakcroft subdivision, circa 1908.

Figure 6:  A page from “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” a promotional booklet for the Oakcroft subdivision, circa 1908.

 

“Residence parks” were all the rage in the early 1900s, and became early models of suburbia created in response to an industrialized nation and cities swelling with immigrants. Their development restrictions set the stage for the city zoning and planning codes to come; their tract associations were precursors to homeowners’ associations; and they paved the way for contemporary suburban development patterns.[23]  One of the earliest in this genre – built in 1885 in New Rochelle, N.Y., for Adrian Iselin Jr. – had grounds designed collaboratively by John C. Olmsted and Downing Vaux.[24] Residence parks typically featured winding streets with curbs and sidewalks, cohesive architecture, homes set on “garden lots” surrounded by light and air, and common green spaces. Oakcroft boasted only some of these signature elements – its streets followed a grid and it lacked shared green spaces – but it piggybacked on the adjacent park to achieve this connection.

As in many residence parks, Oakcroft tapped notable architects, and its promotional material emphasized the quality of the homes. At least six of Oakcroft’s first homes were designed by the partners George Albree Freeman and Francis George Hasselman of New York.[25]  They were no ordinary tract-house architects: During their combined careers, they designed at least three buildings that are now on the National Register of Historic Places. As partners prior to Oakcroft, they collaborated in 1903 on the Allenhurst Club in Asbury Park; in 1904 on Rosemary Hall, a Georgian-style mansion in Old Westbury, N.Y.; on Robert D. Foote’s 1906 Georgian Revival Spring Brook House mansion in Morristown, N.J. (now on the National Register of Historic Places);  and went on to design other estates and country clubs on Long Island and elsewhere.[26]

Individually, Freeman (1859-1934) was a favorite of the wealthy Whitney family, remodeling William C. Whitney’s Joye Cottage in Aiken, S.C., for instance, and designing a horse stable in Newport, R.I., for H. Payne Whitney). He designed numerous mansions, and his Neo-Classical Revival Federal Building in Sarasota, Fla., is on the National Register.

Hasselman (1877-1932) began his practice in Manhattan in 1899. Around the same time he began work on Oakcroft, he designed several houses for another New Jersey subdivision, Livingston Manor in Highland Park, a neighborhood now on the National Register. He also designed the Hale Building, an office tower in downtown East Orange, N.J.; All Souls’ Hospital in Morristown, N.J.; the Rumson Country Club in New Jersey; and the Neo-Classical Greenpoint Savings Bank in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. About two decades after Oakcroft he returned to Montclair to design a commercial building on the northwest corner of Bloomfield and Midland Avenues. It is now a “key” building in the Township’s Town Center Historic District.

Freeman and Hasselman’s Oakcroft efforts were described in American Homes and Gardens magazine: “One of the most important principles to be considered in the building of a suburban home is that which affects the physical, mental and moral well-being of the prospective home-builder. A second principle which is equally important is the element of sincerity expressed in the designing of a house in a style of architecture that will be permanent and characteristic of all that is best in art expression.”[27]

 

Houses at 115 and 111 Edgemont Road, circa 1908Houses at 114, 118, and 124 Edgemont Road, circa 1909

Figures 7 and 8:  Edgemont Road around 1908.  Top, looking east toward Nos. 115 and 111.   Above, looking west toward Nos. 114, left, 118 and 124.  Both are from the Oakcroft sales brochure.

Oakcroft is characterized primarily by two- and three-story homes, mostly single-family, many set on deep lots along tree-lined streets. Their eclectic styles include an assortment of Craftsman, Tudor Revival, American Foursquare and Prairie influences. The exteriors are varied, composed “in different forms and styles in order to make each house sufficiently distinctive.”[28] Nonetheless, several designs are repeated, with some tweaks, throughout the neighborhood. For example, 14 Princeton Place and 124 Edgemont Road are twins, and a twin-gable Tudor Revival model appears four times: once on Princeton, once on Edgemont and twice on Godfrey. (Hasselman must have been particularly fond of this Tudor Revival design: His own house in the Montrose Park neighborhood of South Orange, N.J., is very similar and was built around the same time as Oakcroft’s earliest houses.) The primary exterior building materials are wood, brick and stucco. The advertised “concrete” houses were of frame construction covered with metal lath and then coated in cement stucco.[29] These stucco houses sold better than the clapboard or shingle models in the early years.[30]

Homes built during the subdivision’s first decade tended to feature a stylistic range of exterior architectural elements, especially those associated with the Craftsman style: brackets under eaves and above windows; inglenooks on porches, and shingle-covered facades. Tudor half-timber is a recurring effect, along with Tudor-style archways on windows and porches. Roof lines include hip roofs, box roofs, ridge roofs, and gambrels. Several roof lines evoke thatched-roof cottages (Nos. 111, 119 and 120 on Edgemont).  Later additions to the neighborhood, built by subsequent developers, are generally wood-frame Colonial Revival, and these houses often have sidelights, fan windows, decorative shutters, and sunbursts and pediments over doorways. There are also several bungalows. Most homes retain their original historic fabric, and 11 are singled out as having special significance in Montclair Township’s Historic Inventory Viewer. One of the earliest Oakcroft homes (18 Princeton Place) is on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.[31]

 

2017 photo of house at 124 Edgemont Road. It was built between 1909 and 1912.2017 photo of house at 10 Princeton Place. The house was constructed sometime between 1909 and 1912.

Figs. 9 and 10: Twins: left, 124 Edgemont Road, and right, 14 Princeton Place, built around 1909-12.

 

On the interior, Craftsman elements included natural oak trim – beams, plate rails, fireplace mantels, built-in china cabinets  – and walls painted or papered in earth tones. An advertisement called these homes “superbly finished with oak trim and floors, two baths and toilets, steam heat, gas and electric fixtures, tiled bathrooms, two or more open fireplaces, fine large verandas and shaded lawns.”[32]

 

 

Wooden beams and trim in 105 Edgemont Road (built 1912)

Fig. 11: Wooden beams and trim in 105 Edgemont Road (built 1912).

Undated postcard of 35 Godfrey Road, Montclair, N.J., built in 1907. This twin-gable Tudor Revival model appears four times in Oakcroft.

Figure 12:  Undated postcard of 35 Godfrey Road, Montclair, N.J., built in 1907. This twin-gable Tudor Revival model appears four times in Oakcroft.

Two Oakcroft homes, from American Homes and Gardens magazine, Jan. 1910. Top, 7 Princeton Place. Bottom, 19 Princeton Place.

Figure 13:  Two Oakcroft homes, from American Homes and Gardens magazine, Jan. 1910. Top, 7 Princeton Place. Bottom, 19 Princeton Place.

 

Oakcroft was advertised as “a carefully restricted residential park of 25 acres”[33] that “contains a complete drainage system, thoroughly improved with sewers, paved streets, cement sidewalks, curbs and gutters.”[34]  That sidewalk offered an extra touch: street names, cast in bronze, inset into the pavement at intersections. Only seven of these have survived the decades.

Bronze letters inserted into the sidewalk spelling out Godfrey Road at the southwest intersection of Godfrey and Edgemont Roads. May 2013.

Figure 14:  Oakcroft sidewalk insert at the southwest intersection of Godfrey and Edgemont Roads. May 2013.

 

One notable house, at 25 Princeton Place, later became the childhood home of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who recalled playing pick-up football in Anderson Park and using the trees and boulders as goalposts.[35]  “A unique part of my youth was growing up with the park next to my house in Montclair,” Aldrin reminisced in 2008. “I played frequently on Saturdays with school buddies, throwing snowballs in the wintertime. Then I walked through the park to get to Upper Montclair during my junior high school years. It was an integral part of my surroundings, my environment, my life.”[36]

 

House at 25 Princeton Place, at the corner of The Parkside in Oakcroft. This became the childhood home of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin. February 2008.

Figure 15:  25 Princeton Place, at the corner of The Parkside in Oakcroft. This became the childhood home of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

Another connection between Anderson Park and Oakcroft is Toneys Brook. This tributary of Second River flows along Anderson Park but is diverted underground when it enters Oakcroft. It runs beneath Carteret Street, covered by an extra-wide sidewalk, and then sees daylight again when it resurfaces, fittingly, at Brookfield Road.

Oakcroft became the first of several real estate developments carried out by Godfrey. He was 33 years old when he began buying the Oakcroft land, and before that he had spent his post-college years briefly owning the Mexican silver mine, which failed; then working as a reporter and editor for newspapers in Philadelphia and Newark; then selling life insurance.[37] It is unclear what drew him to Montclair, although by 1903 he belonged to The Orange Club in New Jersey, and in 1906 he lived in nearby East Orange, N.J., where he was listed in the “Society Blue Book.”[38]

 

 

Picture of Aaron W. Godfrey, 1940

Figure 16:  Aaron W. Godfrey, 1940.

 

 

Throughout his life, Godfrey (1873-1943) remained a staunch supporter of his alma mater, Princeton University, from which he would have graduated with the Class of 1896 except that the shame of a family scandal forced him to leave early. (A brother-in-law was caught selling art forgeries.)[39] His nickname at Princeton was Nap, “because, like Napoleon’s, his physical stature was in inverse ratio to his mental horizons.”[40]  In 1931 he received an honorary degree from Princeton, along with the likes of the aviator Charles Lindbergh, the writer Willa Cather, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Frank B. Kellogg and the former U.S. war secretary Newton Baker.[41]  His affection for the university is reflected in an Oakcroft street name: Princeton Place.

 

 

 

Princeton University honorary degree recipients, 1931. Aaron W. Godfrey is back row, second from right. Other recipients include Charles Lindbergh (back row, second from left) and Willa Cather (front row).

Figure 17:  Princeton University honorary degree recipients, 1931. Aaron W. Godfrey is in the back row, second from right. Other recipients include Charles Lindbergh (back row, second from left) and Willa Cather (front row).

 

Postcard of Princeton Place, looking north from Godfrey Road. Interstate Publishing Company, New York, N.Y. Postmarked June 30, 1916.

Figure 18:  Postcard of Princeton Place, looking north from Godfrey Road. Interstate Publishing Company, New York, N.Y. Postmarked June 30, 1916.

 

By 1916 the Godfrey Land and Building Company seemed to be wrapping up business around the park, though infill by other builders continued into the 1920s and ’30s, mostly in the Colonial Revival style.[42]  One of the last houses built, at 3 Godfrey Road, resembles an 18th-century Dutch home but in fact was put up in 1937 by John Post, who built similar homes around Montclair, including a twin on College Avenue. Oakcroft’s boom years ran from 1907 to 1916, when 46 houses were built. Another 34 went up between 1917 and 1931. The final house was erected in 1946 (28 Parkside), and then the neighborhood was built out. More than a century after the first cellars were dug, the Township of Montclair’s Master Plan recommended a formal study of Oakcroft, along with six other neighborhoods, for possible designation as a local historic district. A report prepared for the Master Plan recommended Oakcroft based on its “distinct architectural identity,” its ability to convey historic context, and its “moderate integrity.”[43]

 

Graph showing the number of Oakcroft houses built during five-year increments between 1907 and 1946

Figure 19: The number of Oakcroft houses built during five-year increments.

 

The boundaries of the potential historic district extend beyond the original Oakcroft to encompass houses on the north side of Brookfield Road; one block on the east side of North Mountain Avenue; and a smidgen on the west end of Parkside. Older 19th-century architectural styles such as Queen Anne and Shingle appear in this area, which predates the Oakcroft development. The oldest house in the potential district is at 91 Edgemont Road, recorded as being built in 1880, although it does not appear on maps until about two decades later. The youngest house in the potential district, at 27 Brookfield Road, rose in 1968.

Several houses in this expanded area are notable. Two have distinguished architects: Alfred F. Norris designed 22 Parkside and Arthur E. Ramhurst probably designed 28 Parkside. One is a Thomas Edison/Frank Lambie poured-concrete home (303 North Mountain Avenue) on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Side-by-side houses on North Mountain Avenue (Nos. 293 and 295) originally sat on the Anderson Park property and were moved during park construction to their current locations.

Parts of this expanded area are different in character from the Oakcroft subdivision, in particular the stretch of Brookfield Road east of Edgemont Road. This section is zoned for two-family homes, as opposed to single-family ones, and lots are narrower and more densely built than elsewhere. Many of the original residents of this block were tradespeople – plumbers, carpenters, masons, painters, dressmakers – as opposed to Oakcroft residents, who tended to have white-collar professions such as lawyer, insurance executive and manager.

With Oakcroft a success, Godfrey took on other subdivisions in Upper Montclair, building more than 60 substantial homes on Norman, Marion, Aubrey and Caroline Roads; Patton and Nassau Streets (two street names that again nodded to Princeton); and parts of Inwood Avenue and Clarewill Avenue.  Beginning in the mid-1920s, just north of Montclair in Clifton, he began work on Russelcroft, a subdivision where streets bear the names of Princeton presidents: McCosh, Maclean, Hibben, Edwards, Witherspoon.  The New York Times estimated Godfrey’s worth in 1930 at $1 million, and by then he lived in Manhattan.[44] All told, he had built about 200 single-family homes in and around Upper Montclair.

In May 1930 he bought 36 acres of the William Hamilton dairy farm in Upper Montclair, bordering the south side of Alexander Avenue between Grove and Broad Streets. He planned a development meant to address “the problem of good but inexpensive small homes for young couples of modest means.”[45] The Depression, however, interfered with his development of that land, and three years later, in 1933, he sold it to a real estate company.

The land along North Mountain Avenue directly overlooking the park did not belong to Godfrey, but like the Oakcroft property, it too experienced significant upgrading. When Anderson Park opened, five houses sat on the stretch of North Mountain between Bellevue Avenue and the future Parkside.[46]

Anderson Park with an early, unrealized subdivision plat to the south before Aaron W. Godfrey bought the land, shown in a 1906 atlas.

Figure 20:  Anderson Park with an early, unrealized subdivision plat to the south before Aaron W. Godfrey bought the land, shown in a 1906 atlas.

 

By 1928, ten houses took advantage of the park view, and some replaced wood-frame Victorian vernaculars that were demolished to make way for grander Georgian Revival and Tudor Revival homes. Several of these were built by Charles W. Anderson for family members after he donated the parkland to the county in 1903.

Anderson Park’s development turned out to be a real-estate improvement project as much as a community-spirited beautification effort. The park’s creation provided the impetus for Oakcroft, and a symbiotic relationship existed among the housing developer, the Essex County Park Commission, Montclair Township and the Olmsted Brothers firm: Godfrey ensured worthy surroundings for the park, promising to build “fairly good dwellings” facing it,[47] and in return the commission and Olmsted agreed to give up a sliver of park property for the creation of The Parkside, a road that would allow construction of houses overlooking the park.[48]

The town, which approved this arrangement to help the new Oakcroft subdivision, also benefited through beautification and increased property taxes. As one civic leader put it when advocating for park development in 1906: “A block of parkland is usually an ornament to at least four blocks surrounding it.”[49] By the time the Essex County park system was just a few years old, the ability for its parks to pay for themselves by enhancing property values was already being touted.[50] And after about two decades, a study of Essex County parks would confirm what town leaders already knew: The value of property adjoining four county parks studied increased sixfold over 11 years compared with twofold elsewhere in the same tax district.[51] As a large property owner along the park, Charles Anderson directly profited from this ripple effect and clearly understood its power: In 1912 he placed a real-estate ad for a spacious home “overlooking a beautiful park,” offering the promise of “a rare investment opportunity – rising real estate values” and the “chance for somebody to make a real home and some real money besides.”[52]  That “beautiful park” so crucial to Oakcroft’s genesis joined the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.

The embrace of well-built homes along Anderson Park’s southern and western borders has established and maintained the area’s residential character for more than a century, reinforcing Anderson Park as an enduring example of the Olmstedian ideal of a suburban park while making it an integral part of the Oakcroft neighborhood it fostered.

INVENTORY OF OAKCROFT HOMES

Listed by House Number, Followed by Year Built

Based on municipal tax records, with adjustments*

Godfrey Road

2 – 1928
3 – 1937
4 – 1916
5 – 1912
6 – 1907
7 – 1912
8 – 1922
9 – 1922
10 – 1917
11 – 1915
12 – 1911
14 – 1923
15 – 1917
16 – 1912
17 – 1910
20 – 1907
21 – 1907
22 – 1919
28 – 1907
32 – 1919
34 – 1912
35 – 1907
36 – 1907
38 – 1917
40 – 1917
42 – 1918
44 – 1918
45 – 1921

Carteret Street

6 – 1912
7 – 1916
8 – 1916
9 – 1914
10 – 1924
16 – 1916
17 – 1915
18 – 1912
19 – 1922
20 – 1916
22 – 1907
24 – 1923
26 – 1927
28 – 1925

Oakcroft Avenue

4 – 1921
6 – 1928
10 – 1922
14 – c. 1925
22 – 1930
24 – 1927

Edgemont Road

105 – 1911
106 – 1917
108 – 1910
109 – 1916
111 – c.1908
114 – c.1908
115 – c.1908
117 – 1913
118 – c.1908
119 – 1913
120 – 1907
121 – 1916
124 – c. 1908
125 – 1917
130 – 1908
127 – 1921

Princeton Place

2 – 1925
3 – 1926
6 – c. 1907-10
7 – c.1907-10
9 – 1919
10 – 1909
11 – 1926
14 – c. 1909
15 – c. 1907-10
18 – 1912
19 – c. 1907-8
25 – c.1907-8

The Parkside

16 – 1927
22 – 1914
28 – 1946

* Pre-1907 Township dates are in error because groundbreaking did not occur until 1907.

ILLUSTRATIONS

Cover:  The Oakcroft subdivision, from Godfrey Road looking north up Edgemont Road. Postcard postmarked 1919. Collection of the Montclair Public Library, Montclair, N.J.

 Fig. 1: “Street Views, Montclair.” Oakcroft, clockwise, from upper left: looking north on Princeton Place from Godfrey Road; looking north on Princeton Place from Godfrey Road; looking south on Princeton Place from Anderson Park, with No. 25 in view; looking north on Edgemont Road from Godfrey Road. From “Montclair, New Jersey, and Its Advantages as a Place of Residence.” Real estate promotional booklet by Frank Hughes-Taylor Co. (New York: Styles and Cash), circa 1913. Collection of the Montclair History Center, Montclair, N.J.

Fig. 2: Newspaper classified advertisement promoting Oakcroft subdivision. The New York Times, April 24, 1910, pg. 17.

Fig. 3: The Oakcroft subdivision, built out. Sanborn map, 1934.

Fig. 4: The Oakcroft subdivision, looking west-southwest toward Godfrey Road and First Mountain, from the railroad tracks or Oakcroft Road, Montclair, N.J.  From “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” promotional brochure for the subdivision, circa 1908. Collection of the author.

Fig. 5: 130 Edgemont Avenue, with a view of The Parkside, looking west. Anderson Park is to the right. Circa 1911-13. Collection of the Montclair Public Library, Local History Room, Photo 8130, Postcards Box 1, Montclair, N.J.

Fig. 6:  A page from “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” a promotional brochure for the Oakcroft subdivision, circa 1908. Collection of the author.

Fig. 7: Newly built on Edgemont Road in the Oakcroft subdivision, Montclair, N.J., looking east toward Nos. 115 and 111. From “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” promotional brochure for the subdivision, circa 1908. Collection of the author.

 Fig. 8: Newly built on Edgemont Road in the Oakcroft subdivision, Montclair, N.J., looking west toward Nos. 114, left, 118 and 124. From “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, New Jersey,” promotional brochure for the subdivision, circa 1908. Collection of the author.

Figs. 9 and 10: Left, 124 Edgemont Road. Right, 14 Princeton Place, both built around 1909-12. Photographs by Lisanne Renner, both on April 28, 2017.

Fig. 11: Interior of 105 Edgemont Road living room (built 1912), shown in November 2016. Weichert Realtors promotional postcard.

 Fig. 12: Postcard of 35 Godfrey Road, Montclair, N.J., built in 1907. Undated photo. Collection of the Montclair Public Library, Local History Room, Montclair, N.J. Published in “Images of America: Montclair: A Postcard Guide to Its Past,” Philip Edward Jaeger (Dover, N.H.: Arcadia Publishing), 1998.

Fig. 13: Two Oakcroft homes, from American Homes and Gardens magazine, Jan. 1910. Top, 7 Princeton Place. Bottom, 19 Princeton Place.

Fig. 14: Sidewalk insert at the southwest intersection of Godfrey and Edgemont Roads, Oakcroft subdivision, Montclair, N.J. By Lisanne Renner. May 2013.

 Fig. 15: 25 Princeton Place, at corner of The Parkside, Oakcroft subdivision, Montclair, N.J. This became the childhood home of the Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  By Lisanne Renner. February 2008.

Fig. 16: Aaron W. Godfrey, 1940. Collection of his son, also Aaron W. Godfrey, Port Jefferson, N.Y.

Fig. 17: Princeton University honorary degree recipients, 1931. Aaron W. Godfrey is back row, second from right. Other recipients in the photo include Charles Lindbergh, Willa Cather, Frank B. Kellogg and Newton Baker. Princeton Alumni Weekly, July 2, 1931, Vol. XXXI, No. 36, cover page.

Fig. 18: Postcard of Princeton Place, Montclair, N.J., looking north from Godfrey Road. Interstate Publishing Company, New York, N.Y. Postmarked June 30, 1916. Collection of the Montclair History Center, Montclair, N.J.

Fig. 19: “The Oakcroft Boom: 72 Houses: 1907-1926. Graphic by Adam S. Grace, 2019.

Fig. 20: Anderson Park with early, unrealized subdivision plat to the south. “Atlas of Essex County, N.J., Vol. 3,” A.H. Mueller and Company, Philadelphia, Pa., 1906. Plate 25. Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J.

 

ENDNOTES

[1] Deed between Aaron W. Godfrey, grantor, and Godfrey Land and Building Company, grantee, for Map 16, Block D, Lot 70, and other lots, Jan. 5, 1907. At Montclair Municipal Building, Montclair, N.J. The deed says “sillar,” which is a volcanic rock in Peru; “silage” is probably what was meant.

[2] “Essex County Park System, Recreation and Open Space Master Plan,” prepared for the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs by T&M Associates, Middletown, N.J., April 2003, pg. 8.

[3] Montclair, 1694-1982: An Inventory of Historic, Cultural and Architectural Resources, Vol. I, Preservation Montclair, 1982, pp. 24-30.

[4] Kenneth T. Jackson, “Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States,” New York, N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 91-92 and 101.

[5] “Godfrey Land and Building Co., Upper Montclair, N.J.,” promotional brochure, circa 1908, pg. 2. Collection of the author.

[6] “Concrete Houses in Upper Montclair,” The New York Times, Oct. 26, 1906, pg. 14; and “In the Real Estate Field,” The New York Times, Oct. 19, 1906, pg. 15.

[7] Correspondence to Alonzo Church, Secretary, Essex County Park Commission, from William Whitney Ames, lawyer for Aaron W. Godfrey, on Nov. 27, 1906, Reel 82, Box B113, Job 2125. Records of the Olmsted Associates, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. See also minutes of the Essex County Park Commission, Vol. 3, for Nov. 26, 1906 (pg. 323), Dec. 16, 1906 (pg. 329), Dec. 18, 1906 (pg. 331), April 16, 1907 (pg. 360), and April 30, 1907 (pg. 365-7). Also see correspondence to Church from Godfrey, April 29, 1907, Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J.

[8] “Montclair Park, Revised Preliminary Plan,” No. 16, Oct. 12, 1903, Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, drafted by W.D. Cook Jr. National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, Mass.

[9] “Concrete Houses in Upper Montclair,” The New York Times.

[10] “Oakcroft to Be Opened Up,” The Montclair Times, Mar. 30, 1907, Vol. XXXI, No. 1616, pg. 1.

[11] Nov. 27, 1906, letter to Essex County Park Commission from William Whitney Ames, Olmsted Associates.

[12] Refers to 1903 blueprints No. 20A and 20B, both “Alternative Plan for Revision of Southerly Boundary,”  by Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, Brookline, Mass. In Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J. A Dec. 6, 1906, letter to the Park Commission from Olmsted Associates also mentions Plan 26 in this context.

[13] Dec. 6, 1906, letter to Essex County Park Commission from Olmsted Associates.

[14] Street-opening agreement between the Township of Montclair and Aaron W. Godfrey, township ordinance dated Feb. 19, 1907.

[15] “General Plan for Anderson Park, Montclair, N.J.,” No. 35, 1912, map by Olmsted Brothers, Landscape Architects, drafted by R.E. Sawyer. National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, Brookline, Mass.

[16] “Oakcroft to Be Opened Up,” The Montclair Times, Mar. 30, 1907, Vol. XXXI, No. 1616, pg. 1.

[17] Minutes of the Essex County Park Commission, Vol. 3, April 12, 1910 (pg. 587), and letter from A.M. Reynolds Jr., Engineer, Essex County Park Commission, to unspecified recipient (probably the commissioners), Oct. 19, 1911. Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J. A request for lights had been made earlier, in June 1909, by the Mountain Society, a civic group in Montclair. See Essex County Park Commission minutes, June 8, 1909, pg. 534.

[18] “Report of the Park Commission of Essex County, New Jersey,” 1922, pg. 9. Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J.

[19]  Display advertisement in The New York Times, April 26, 1908, pg. 13.

[20] “Godfrey Land and Building Co.” sales brochure, pg. 1. Although the park never covered 25 acres, the number may also refer to the parklike area just across Bellevue Avenue from the county park, or it could have been promotional exaggeration.

[21] “Upper Montclair’s New Colony,” The New York Times, Nov. 7, 1909, pg. XX2.

[22] “Come and See Them!,” The Montclair Times,  Vol. XXXIII, No. 1691, Oct. 3, 1908, pg. 4.

[23] Michael Borbely, “The Residence Park: Defining the American Dream.” San Jose, Calif.: World and Time Inc., 2007. Viewed online at www.palmhaven.info/Data/Docs/Article-20070507-PHInfo-TheResidencePark-Cont.htm  on March 30, 2008.

[24] Entry for Downing Vaux, by Joy Kestenbaum, in Pioneers of American Landscape Design, edited by Charles A. Birnbaum and Robin Karson. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000, pg. 410.

[25] Francis Durando Nichols, “Some Eastern Homes Costing From Seven to Eight Thousand Dollars,” American Homes and Gardens, Jan. 1910, pp. 18-22.

[26] Anne C. Fullam, “New Plans for a Landmark,” The New York Times, Feb. 5, 1984, Long Island Weekly section, pg. 3.

[27] Nichols, pg. 18

[28] Ibid, pg. 18.

[29] Ibid, pg. 18.

[30] “New Houses Sold in Montclair,” The New York Times, Nov. 13, 1908, pg. 14.

[31] These 11 houses are in the Junior League of Montclair/Newark Inc.’s report “Montclair 1694-1982: An Inventory of Historic Cultural and Architectural Resources” (Montclair: 1982). They are Nos. 0713-146, 172, 218, 219, 263, 264, 265, 266, 267, 268 and 272. Another 7 houses are in the wider area that is part of the potential Oakcroft Residential Park historic district. These are Nos. 0713-145, 220, 258, 259, 260, 261, and 269. Within the potential historic district, two homes are listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places.

[32] “Come and See Them!,” The Montclair Times.

[33] It is unclear what “carefully restricted” means. The deed for one of seven tracts purchased by Godfrey on Jan. 5, 1907, prohibited commercial and industrial uses; another tract (the only one with a house already on it) could not be sold to “any colored person or Italian,” and the deed restricted the land use to residential, with no more than two families per dwelling.

[34] “Come and See Them!,” The Montclair Times.

[35] Buzz Aldrin, illustrations by Wendell Minor, Reaching for the Moon (New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins), 2005, unnumbered pages, and The Montclair Times, July 14, 2004, “Montclair’s Man on the Moon: Buzz Aldrin, 35 Years Beyond Apollo 11.”

[36] Comments from Buzz Aldrin on March 11, 2008, provided via e-mail by Lisa Cannon, President of StarBuzz Enterprises of Santa Monica, Calif.

[37] “A.W. Godfrey Gets Honorary Degree,” The Montclair Times, 1931, biography file of the Montclair History Center, Montclair, N.J.

[38] The Society Blue Book for the Oranges, Dau Publishing Company, New York, N.Y., 1906, pg. 50. He lived there with his mother and two sisters.

[39] Typescript recollections of Aaron W. Godfrey, son of the developer, regarding his father, circa 2001, pp. 1-11. Provided by Aaron W. Godfrey, June 24, 2007; on file with the author.

[40] Aaron William Godfrey obituary, Princeton Alumni Weekly, May 26, 1944, Vol. XLIV, No. 30, pg.18.

[41] Princeton Alumni Weekly, July 2, 1931, Vol. XXXI, No. 36, pp. 915 and 921. Godfrey, awarded a Master of Arts degree, was described as “a discriminating collector of books, a man of wide reading and scholarly tastes. In the important concerns of an engrossing business career, he has held and broadened his interest in the liberal studies he began in Princeton.” Though he had been “compelled to leave college in good standing before graduation,” the degree officially made him “a son of Princeton.”  Later in 1931 he donated to the Princeton University Library a collection of book plates, and contributed more a year later.

[42] “Insurance Maps of the Town of Montclair, Essex County,” Sanborn Map Company, New York, N.Y. 1934, Sheet 53. Viewed online.

[43] “Historic Preservation Element of the Township Master Plan,” Township of Montclair, Essex County, New Jersey, pg. 79 and Appendix D. Prepared by Building Conservation Associates of New York, N.Y., September 2016.

[44] “Montclair Tract to Be Developed,” The New York Times, May 16, 1930, pg. 47.

[45] “A.W. Godfrey Gets Honorary Degree,” The Montclair Times.

[46]  “Atlas of Essex County, N.J., Vol. 3,” A.H. Mueller and Company, Philadelphia, 1906, Plate 25. Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J.

[47] Correspondence to Alonzo Church, Secretary, Essex County Park Commission, from Olmsted Associates, Dec. 6, 1906. Reel 82, Box B113, Job 2125. Records of the Olmsted Associates, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

[48] The clearest illustration of the final alignment is the 1946 “Property Acquisition Map” drafted by Essex County. Essex County Park Commission archives, Newark, N.J.

[49] “Bright and Interesting Letters on the Park Question,” letter from Charles H. Hartshorne, The Montclair Times, Mar. 24, 1906, Vol. XXX, No. 1563, pg. 1.

[50] “Teachers Leaving Jersey Schools,” The New York Times. April 26, 1903, pg. 33.

[51] County Parks: A Report of a Study of County Parks in the United States (New York: Playground and Recreation Association of America), 1930, pp. 101-2. This study did not include Anderson Park, but would be applicable to the situation around it.

[52] “A Rare Bargain in Upper Montclair, N.J.,” The New York Times, Mar. 24, 1912, pg. XX11.