Borough of Closter, NJ

Historic Preservation Comission

Why Preservation?

Closter is a special place. One of the aims of this website is to uncover the many layers of history that surround us, and explore the evidence of that history, namely our historic resources. A good number of the historic buildings and landscapes that have arisen within Closter over the past 300 years still remain as a testimony of the past that defines who we are today.

A look about our older neighborhoods reveals much. Notice the old Victorians clustering about the old Closter City train depot. The lots are somewhat narrow, and much smaller than those of a few blocks away. Why? Well, it’s because of the railroad! Lots near the depot were a premium for nineteenth-century Dashing Dans; hence their small size. Business owners could afford finer homes situated on larger lots, far away from the depot; they could afford to stroll into their offices at any hour. The walk down Durie from Knickerbocker must have been pleasant for these small-town moguls.

Other clues remain, as well. Notice the few remaining stepping stones that rest curbside. The higher the steppingstone, the taller the wheels of the carriages of your guests that stopped by; the taller the carriages, the more expensive they were; the more expensive the carriage, the richer your guests; the richer your guests, the higher up you were in the Closter social whirl. If you were really grand, your guests rode up your driveway, and alighted under the protection of a port cochere; they could step out three feet above the drive, right onto a high porch, and through your front door; no stepping down, and no steppingstone.

Other clues about the past abound. A series of roof lines along Harrington echo the tastes of the fashionable French Empress Eugenie, showing us that Closterites were attuned to the latest in Continental fashions. Porches decorated, not in gingerbread, but in a Japanese-influenced style imported from England tell us about that styles traversed the world with lightening-flash rapidity. In fact, porches, and their absences, tell us a lot about social history. What can it mean when people began to enclose their porches in the early twentieth century? When they began to build homes without porches?

Can you identify which houses were made for the families that settled the area, or those made for the Victorians who came in at a later time? How can you date a house? A look at how foundation stones are cut can tell you a lot about when a house was built. Can you spot an old farmhouse amid Victorian suburbia?

All of these elements are historic resources and they are the evidence of our history. How we use our resources today will shape what our community will become in the future. In order to preserve the quality of life we know and hold dear in the Borough of Closter, the preservation of our historic resources are a key to our future.

Closter has resources that in many areas of New Jersey and the region have been lost forever. The borough itself is rich in early Dutch Sandstone houses. Until recently, Closter came in second as the municipality richest in stone houses; sadly, we now are first because Dutch Sandstones elsewhere in Bergen County continue to fall to the bulldozer. We have a nice collection of early frame houses in Federal and vernacular Greek Revival styles, but our largest resource is our Victorians. The Victorians range from high style to what we call vernacular, or ordinary. They are followed by early Twentieth Century building styles, many of which chronicle Closter’s change from a railroad to an automobile suburb.

These many layers of history could be obliterated forever if we aren’t careful. Historic preservation can do much to shape development in our town, giving us the opportunity to save our neighborhoods by preserving their buildings.

How can this be done? It takes work on many levels. The importance of many of our historic resources was recognized by their placement on the National and New Jersey Registers of Historic Places. Other resources, though not yet on the Registers, are also eligible. Inclusion on these registers are not, however, protection from demolition or unsympathetic alteration. Historic preservation is zoning, and all zoning is locally enacted legislation.

In 1998, the Mayor and Council of the Borough of Closter, voted to create an advisory body to address preservation in Closter; in 2001 they voted to create the Closter Historic Preservation Commission, which has the ability to recommend historic resources for protection against demolition without oversight or unsympathetic alteration.

It is the objective of the Preservation Commission to preserve, protect, promote and enhance the historic resources for current and future generations to enjoy. The Commission also can provide assistance by offering recommendations, alternatives and information on the techniques used in historic preservation. On the most basic level, however, the success of historic preservation depends upon private stewardship of historic buildings. Homeowners can take pride in knowing that by properly maintaining or restoring their historic homes, they are not only increasing their property values, but also helping to assure that Closter’s past is part of its future.