Demarest Railroad Depot, Demarest New Jersey

Date added: July 14, 2022 Categories:
West side (Park Street) of the Depot showing the primary entrance to the building (2003)

Demarest was initially a flag stop on the Northern Railroad of New Jersey, which was later absorbed by the Erie Railroad. The Erie Railroad first began operations in the 1840s in New York State at the Piermont terminus. By 1848, they had expanded into New Jersey and by the 1860s began taking over local or regional routes that fell on bad times or could not operate effectively without access to Erie's main lines. Both the Northern Railroad of New Jersey and the New Jersey & New York Railroad were leased in 1869, the Bergen County Railroad in 1881, and the New York & Greenwood Lake Railroad in 1896.

Demarest was initially a flag stop, meaning the train would stop only when "flagged" by a hand or lantern, or when the conductor was given advanced notice by a passenger. According to Buildings and Structures of American Railroads (published in 1892), there was little distinction between buildings for a flag stop and a local passenger stop. The flag-depots were generally small local passenger depots, the smallest and cheapest class of structures. There is no archival evidence to indicate that there was a railroad structure in Demarest, such as a flag depot, prior to the construction of the existing passenger station. The form and architectural articulation, as well as services and interior arrangements of local passenger stations varied. Smaller stations may have contained waiting rooms, a ticket office and a baggage room. Larger stations were often two stories high and contained more amenities such as large waiting rooms, toilet rooms, smoking-room, dining room, baggage room, express-room, mailroom, telegraph office and ticket office. At small depots, the same office was often used for the telegraph office, ticket office, and the station agent. Depending on the amount of rail traffic, a station may have had an auxiliary room for baggage or mail sorting.

Low massing and trackside frontage was typical for stations of the time and there was often a focal point, frequently in the form of a bell or clock tower. A typical depot was designed so that one facade faced the community and the other faced the railroad so that the back door was equally as important as the front door. Circulation through and around the depot had to allow for the continuous comings and goings of passengers. Partial shelter on the exterior was often articulated through deep overhanging roofs or canopies, supported by brackets or free-standing posts; the platform articulation offering protection from the elements was a defining architectural feature.

The Demarest Railroad Depot, designed by J. Cleveland Cady, was constructed in 1872 using many Romanesque revival style characteristics including heavy rough-cut stone, round arches, squat dwarf columns, deeply recessed windows, and densely carved decoration. It was described as "an elaborate work of art designed by Mr. J. Cleveland Cady, and built of freestone, with trimmings of a lighter tint, all of which was quarried on the Palisades slope in the immediate vicinity... The building is surmounted by a tower. The stone of which the depot is constructed was donated for the purpose. The work cost $6,000."

J. Cleveland Cady, most notable for his design of New York's Metropolitan Opera House (1881-1884) and the American Museum of Natural History (1888-1899), was well-versed in the use of Romanesque Revival detailing. This detailing was also used in a number of his designs for structures at Yale University, and Saint Anthony Hall (1877-1878) at Trinity College. Very little is written about the entire body of works of J. Cleveland Cady having been overshadowed by such contemporary architects as Frank Furness, H.H. Richardson, Calvert Vaux, and Louis Sullivan. Many of his buildings, such as the Metropolitan Opera House and a number of his buildings on the Yale campus have been demolished.

The exterior architectural articulation of railroad stations varied from region to region and evolved as more stations were constructed through the mid to late 19th century. Gothic revival detailing was the predominant architectural articulation of stations constructed in the region. The Tenafly Railroad Station, which is attributed to another architect and constructed around the same time as the Demarest station, is a local example of the use of Victorian Gothic detailing in the articulation of the facade. The Tenafly Railroad Station has some similar design motifs to that of the Demarest Railroad Depot, such as the cresting, finials, and overhanging roof; however, the Tenafly station has Victorian Gothic detailing in the articulation of the trim, and window and door openings.

The Depot began to be used as an American Legion Post and for various community functions as well as a passenger station after World War II. The reliance on the automobile, the quality of the roads, the increase in means of vehicular access between New York and New Jersey, as well as the increase in buses for mass transit all contributed to the decline in use of the region's railroads. The Erie Railroad merged with the Lackawanna Railroad in 1960 but the steady decline in passengers and the increased cost to maintain and run the system forced the Erie Lackawanna to begin abandoning passenger lines. In January of 1966, the railroad company petitioned to close all passenger train service in the state. A substantial state subsidy was provided and over half of the service continued. Unfortunately, the Northern Branch was deemed expendable and on October 3, 1966, the Demarest Railroad Depot ended service as a passenger depot.

Although passenger service had ceased, the American Legion Post and community activities continued through 1978, at which time the Borough purchased the depot and converted it into a senior citizen's center.

Borough of Demarest

The Borough of Demarest's development began in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as a farming community. Its transformation into a dense suburban enclave in northern New Jersey has been mainly influenced by its proximity to New York City and advances in transportation.

The Borough of Demarest was originally part of the Township of Harrington, a colonial settlement in the northeast corner of New Jersey, then known as East Jersey. Settlement of this area began about 1680 and continued through the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The area was isolated given the rough terrain of the Palisades and the unimproved roads that led south through Englewood to Paulus Hook. Early transportation in the region was limited, often taking two days to reach Manhattan by coach and ferry. Demarest remained a rural farming community well into the early 19th century, uninfluenced by developing transportation routes between New York City and Philadelphia. The development of the steam railroad engine in the early 1830s helped to transform much of New Jersey's landscape and its economy but Demarest was not affected until 1859 when the Northern Railroad of New Jersey constructed a rail line connecting Piermont, New York with Jersey City, passing through Demarest; Demarest was a flag stop. At that time, Demarest consisted of approximately twenty homes, a distillery, a grist mill, a saw mill and a woolen mill. In the decades following the railroad, the previous era of farming by the Jersey Dutch families gave way to other outside, railroad-related influences. Within twenty years of the construction of the railroad, the number of houses and roadways had doubled, and there was increased development. The Tenakill Hotel was constructed in the 1860s and was able to accommodate 200 guests, the town had a general store, and there was an increase in the number and size of industry including the change of the existing woolen mill to an optical and camera lens manufacturer, and the expansion of the existing coal business. Many of the existing farms were subdivided to create new suburban homes and the area attracted such wealthy New York businessmen as George D. Lydecker, founder of the New York Clearing House, Crummond Kennedy, Editor of the Christian Union and a landowner of a substantial amount of property in the area, and New York City Alderman John A Taylor. Large homes constructed in the styles of the period were built within blocks of the railroad. The Tenakill Hotel as well as the Knickerbocker Race Track attracted many summer visitors.

The Erie Railroad absorbed the railroad line in 1869 and the rapid increase in passengers began to necessitate a permanent passenger station requiring regular stops. The existing depot, designed by J. Cleveland Cady, was constructed in 1872.

By the turn of the century, both the manufacturing facility and the hotel had burned and Demarest was becoming a year-round residential community. Religious affiliations grew beyond that of the Dutch Reformed Church. Baptist services began in the area in 1874, the first Catholic Mass was celebrated in Demarest in 1894, and a Methodist congregation was established in 1908.

The Borough of Demarest was incorporated on April 8, 1903 and by 1905 there were 111 houses and 470 residents. After the construction of the George Washington Bridge connecting Northern New Jersey to New York City in 1932, the population of Bergen County expanded rapidly. By 1950, the population of Demarest had grown to almost 1900 and by 1964, almost 5,000 people were living in approximately 1,340 homes.