The Park’s Beginnings
The New Jersey State Legislature during its session of 1909 passed an Act authorizing an issue of park bonds to the amount of $150,000. $100,000 of this amount was secured through the efforts of the citizens of Caldwell who were desirous of having a park. 1
The Board of Directors of the Park Commission of Essex County questioned whether this locality needed a park, as it was a suburban area with open green spaces, unlike the crowded urban areas, such as Newark, which needed land for parks. However, it was determined that lands to the west of the Second Mountain were developing so rapidly that if postponed, the land might not be available—or other land would be difficult to locate—and would be more expensive.
Grover Cleveland Park was the only new park established by the Park Commission in 1913. Two equally suitable sites were considered, and the current site (41.48 acres) was selected in 1913 and acquired at a cost of $39,792.56. Enthusiastic supporters for both sites required the Commission to hold so many hearings and receive so many delegations that it seemed as if the entire population of that neighborhood had appeared in person before it. 2
Grover Cleveland Park is the seventh largest park in the Essex County Park system. Construction of the park, named after Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th President of the U.S. who was born in Caldwell, was commenced in the summer of 1914.
Landscape designers John Charles Olmsted and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, were commissioned to develop a park plan designed to make a large portion of the area usable for recreation purposes. The setting is that of a formal design with lawns, well-spaced large trees, three acres of waterways, including Pine Brook Creek, which runs through the park feeding a small pond at the lower end. A small footbridge at the far end of the pond marks the location of a former sawmill, which at one time was used for grinding tanbark to make paper.
The original park designs included tennis courts, baseball fields, playground facilities for boys and girls, sand court, wading pool and a shelter house to service these facilities and walks through a hemlock grove (near Runnymede Road) which was said to be the finest group of these stately trees in Essex County. 3 The park was completed in 1916.
Grover Cleveland Park was under construction during the time of the ‘European war’, later referred to as the ‘world war’ (World War I). It is probably fair to say that the slowness of the construction in the park was impacted by the war, but more so by the lack of adequate funding which was (and still is) an ongoing problem for the Park Commission. The park was an example of a park located by legislative enactment where appropriation was entirely insufficient to carry out the plans entirely. However, the land was so beautiful naturally that, in the case of Grover Cleveland Park, it could be enjoyed even in its incomplete state. 4
In an effort to carry out its policy of aiding in every possible way the conduct of the war, instead of seeding the lawns, the Park Commission decided to turn them into more practical use. Corn was planted in Grover Cleveland Park in 1916. 5 It was used for feed for animals, deer and sheep, that were kept at some of the other county parks.
A children’s shelter and a comfort station were proposed in 1927 and completed in 1928. The architect was Arthur Dillon.
1 Report of the Park Commission of Essex County New Jersey, 1910; p. 7
2 Report of the Park Commission of Essex County New Jersey, 1913, pp. 6-7
3 Report of the Park Commission of Essex County New Jersey, 1915, p. 20
5 Report of the Park Commission of Essex County New Jersey, 1917, p. 10