Teaneck is a township in Bergen County, New Jersey, and a suburb in the New York metropolitan area. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 39,776, reflecting an increase of 516 (+1.3%) from the 39,260 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn increased by 1,435 (+3.8%) from the 37,825 counted in the 1990 Census. As of 2010 it was the second-most populous among the 70 municipalities in Bergen County, behind Hackensack, which had a population of 43,010.
Teaneck was created on February 19, 1895 by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature from portions of Englewood Township and Ridgefield Township, both of which are now defunct (despite existing municipalities with similar names), along with portions of Bogota and Leonia. Independence followed the result of a referendum held on January 14, 1895, in which voters favored incorporation by a 46–7 margin. To address the concerns of Englewood Township's leaders, the new municipality was formed as a township, rather than succumbing to the borough craze sweeping across Bergen County at the time. On May 3, 1921, and June 1, 1926, portions of what had been Teaneck were transferred to Overpeck Township.
Teaneck lies at the junction of Interstate 95 and the eastern terminus of Interstate 80. The township is bisected into north and south portions by Route 4 and east and west by the CSX Transportation River Subdivision. Commercial development is concentrated in four main shopping areas, on Cedar Lane, Teaneck Road, DeGraw Avenue, West Englewood Avenue and Queen Anne Road, more commonly known as "The Plaza".
Teaneck's location at the crossroads of river, road, train and other geographical features has made it a site of many momentous events across the centuries. After the American defeat at the Battle of Fort Washington, George Washington and the troops of the Continental Army retreated across New Jersey from the British Army, traveling through Teaneck and crossing the Hackensack River at New Bridge Landing, which has since been turned into a state park and historic site commemorating the events of 1776 and of early colonial life. In 1965, Teaneck became the first community in the nation with a white majority to voluntarily desegregate its public schools, after the Board of Education approved the plan by a 7–2 vote on May 13, 1964. Teaneck has a diverse population, with large Jewish and African American communities, and growing numbers of Hispanic and Asian residents.
The origin and meaning of the name "Teaneck" is not known, but speculation is that it could come from various Dutch or English words, or it could be Native American in origin, meaning "the woods". An alternative is from the Dutch "Tiene Neck" meaning "neck where there are willows" (from the Dutch "tene" meaning willow).
The earliest uses of the word "Teaneck" were in reference to a series of Lenni Lenape Native American camps near the ridge formed by what became Queen Anne Road. Chief Oratam was the leader of a settlement called "Achikinhesacky" that existed along Overpeck Creek in the area near what became Fycke Lane.
A neighborhood variously called East Hackensack or New Hackensack was established along a ridge on the east bank of the Hackensack River, site of a Native American trail that followed the river's path along what is now River Road, with the earliest known buildings constructed dating back as far as 1704. Other early European settlements were established along what became Teaneck Road, which is the site of a number of Dutch stone houses that remain standing since their construction in the 1700s, several of which have been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Revolutionary War period
During November 1776, General George Washington passed through Teaneck in the aftermath of the Battle of Fort Lee, as part of the hasty retreat of ragtag Colonial forces from Fort Lee on the Hudson River in the wake of the successful British invasion and defeat of Continental Army forces in Manhattan on the opposite side of the river during the Battle of Fort Washington. Early on the morning of November 20, 1776, Washington rode by horseback from his headquarters in Hackensack through Teaneck and across Overpeck Creek to Fort Lee. There he watched as 6,000 British troops travel up the river by boat. He had his troops abandon their position on the Palisades in a poorly organized retreat in which most of their supplies were abandoned, with Washington's troops moving inland across Overpeck Creek and through Teaneck to New Bridge Landing (in what is now Brett Park) and crossing the bridge, one of the few available at the time. The soldiers, many poorly dressed, ill-equipped and without shoes, faced the cold rain, leading Thomas Paine to compose the pamphlet, The American Crisis, in which he captured the depth of the defeat by describing those days with the words "These are the times that try men's souls". Throughout the war, both British and American forces occupied local homesteads at various times, and Teaneck citizens played key roles on both sides of the conflict.
After the war, Teaneck returned to being a quiet farm community. Fruits and vegetables grown locally were taken by wagon to markets in nearby Paterson and New York City. New growth and development were spurred in the mid-19th century by the establishment of railroads throughout the area. Wealthy New Yorkers and others purchased large properties on which they built spacious mansions and manor houses. They traveled daily to work in New York City, thus becoming Teaneck's first suburban commuters.
The largest estate built in Teaneck belonged to William Walter Phelps, the son of a wealthy railroad magnate and New York City merchant. In 1865, Phelps arrived in Teaneck and enlarged an old farmhouse into a large Victorian mansion on the site of the present Municipal Government Complex. Phelps' "Englewood Farm" eventually encompassed nearly of landscaped property within the central part of Teaneck, on which some 600,000 trees were planted. Subsequent development and house construction were focused along the perimeters of the township, with the central part of the community remaining a large property crisscrossed by roads and trails.
The Township of Teaneck was established on February 19, 1895 and was composed of portions of Englewood Township, Ridgefield Township and Bogota. Teaneck's choice to incorporate as a township was unusual in an era of "Boroughitis", in which a flood of new municipalities were being formed using the borough form of government. The other two municipalities formed in Bergen County in 1895 were both boroughs, in addition to the 26 boroughs that were formed in the county in 1894 alone.
At a referendum held on January 14, 1895, 46 of 53 voters approved incorporation as a Borough. Citizens of Englewood Township challenged the creation of a borough, but accepted the new municipality as a township, given its more rural character. A bill supporting the creation of the Township of Teaneck was put through the New Jersey General Assembly on February 18, 1895, and the New Jersey Senate on the next day. Governor of New Jersey George Werts signed the bill into law, and Teaneck was an independent municipality.
At its incorporation, Teaneck's population was 811. William W. Bennett, overseer of the Phelps Estate, was selected as chairman of the first three-man Township Committee, which focused in its early years on "construction of streets and street lamps (originally gaslights), trolley lines (along DeGraw Avenue), telephones and speeding traffic."
Growth in early 20th century
The opening of the Phelps Estate in 1927 led to substantial population growth. The George Washington Bridge was completed in 1931, and its connection to Teaneck via Route 4 brought thousands of new home buyers. From 1920 and 1930, Teaneck's population nearly quadrupled, from 4,192 to 16,513.
Rapid growth led to financial turmoil, and inefficiencies in the town government resulted in the adoption of a new nonpartisan Council-Manager form of government under the 1923 Municipal Manager Law in a referendum on September 16, 1930. A full-time Town Manager, Paul A. Volcker, Sr. (father of future Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul A. Volcker, Jr.), was appointed to handle Teaneck's day-to-day business affairs. During his 20-year term, from 1930 to 1950, Volcker implemented prudent financial management practices, a development plan that included comprehensive zoning regulations, along with a civil service system for municipal employees and a professional fire department.
Development after World War II
Teaneck was selected in 1949 from over 10,000 communities as America's model community. Photographs were taken and a film produced about life in Teaneck, which were shown in Occupied Japan as a part of the United States Army's education program to show democracy in action.
After World War II, there was a second major spurt of building and population growth. The African American population in the northeast corner of Teaneck grew substantially starting in the 1960s, accompanied by white flight triggered by blockbusting efforts of township real estate agencies. In 1965, after a struggle to address de facto segregation in housing and education, Teaneck became the first community in the nation where a white majority voted voluntarily for school integration. The sequence of events was the subject of a book titled Triumph in a White Suburb written by township resident Reginald G. Damerell (New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1968).
As de facto racial segregation increased, so did tensions between residents of the northeast and members of the predominantly white male Teaneck Police Department. On the evening of April 10, 1990, the Teaneck Police Department responded to a call from a resident complaining about a teenager with a gun. After an initial confrontation near Bryant School and a subsequent chase, Phillip Pannell, an African American teenager, was shot and killed by Gary Spath, a white Teaneck police officer. Spath said he thought Pannell had a gun and was turning to shoot him. Witnesses said Pannell was unarmed and had been shot in the back. Protest marches, some violent, ensued; most African Americans believed that Pannell had been killed in cold blood, while other residents insisted that Spath had been justified in his actions. Testimony at the trial claimed that Pannell was shot in the back, and that he was carrying a gun. A fully loaded .22 caliber pistol was recovered from Pannell's jacket pocket. The gun, originally a starter's pistol, had been modified into an operable weapon that was loaded with eight cartridges. Spath was ultimately acquitted on charges of reckless manslaughter in the shooting. Some months after Spath had been cleared, he decided to retire from law enforcement. The incident was an international news event that brought Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to the community and inspired the 1995 book Color Lines: The Troubled Dreams of Racial Harmony in an American Town, by Mike Kelly.
Teaneck, and the neighboring communities of Bergenfield and New Milford, has drawn a large number of Modern Orthodox Jews who have established at least fourteen synagogues and four yeshivas (three high schools and one for young men). It is the functional center of the northern New Jersey Orthodox community, with nearly twenty kosher shops (restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets). It is within ten minutes' driving time of Yeshiva University in New York City. This community tends to be involved with Religious Zionist causes and offers strong support of Israel.
Several homes in Teaneck date back to the colonial era or the period subsequent to American Revolutionary War and have been preserved and survive to this day. Teaneck sites on the National Register of Historic Places and (other historic homes) include: