History of the District
The Meadowlands region was formed by the Wisconsin Glacier about 20,000 years ago. The glacier stretched all the way to Perth Amboy. When the ice sheet began to melt and retreat, it gouged out the area between what is now the Palisades and the ridge along Schuyler Avenue. It also formed a deep freshwater lake now known as Glacial Lake Hackensack.
Native Americans became less nomadic and gradually established permanent settlements in the upland regions bordering the Meadowlands and the Hackensack River estuary. Food and clothing were obtained by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Reeds, clay, and forest provided the basic materials needed to make baskets, mats, nets, pottery, and canoes. Archeologists seem to agree that the Meadowlands was used significantly in the prehistoric period, although scant evidence has been recovered. Though Native Americans farmed and hunted, their low-intensity use of the Meadowlands did not significantly alter its appearance or physical condition.
Atlantic White Cedar forests once covered as much as a third of the Meadowlands. This recent photo of a stand of White Cedars in the New Jersey Pinelands shows what parts of North Jersey likely looked like before the arrival of European settlers.
Studies of dated pollen cores found beneath the soil established the Meadowlands as a constantly changing environment. Modern marsh grasses have been found in the area for only a few hundred years.
The historic period, beginning with the European settlement in the 17th century, centered on two related land-use themes:
2) The development of transportation networks: From the 17th century, the Meadowlands has been a significant part of the major transportation networks that deliver resources from the region’s interior to the international ports lining New York Harbor.
Beginning with the early turnpikes and railroads, which led to ferries on the Hudson River, and continuing with today’s highways and railways leading to international air and sea ports on both sides of the Hudson River and over bridges and under tunnels to New York City, the culture, history and economy of the Meadowlands have been intimately tied to the development of local and regional transportation systems.
Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
The Meadowlands was originally part of several land patents. Among these patents were:
The subdividing of these early patents in the late 17th and 18th centuries resulted in settlement taking place in the higher ground surrounding the Hackensack River basin. Early towns included Bergen (Jersey City), Hackensack, Newark and Acquackanonk (Passaic). These towns were inhabited primarily by Dutch settlers from Manhattan and Long Island, except for Newark, which was settled by the English from Connecticut.
Boats likely provided the main form of transportation in the early years of European settlement due to the location of settlements along the major rivers and the difficulty in crossing the meadows by foot or by horse. Improved Native American trails provided some overland routes.
The 19th century was marked by the introduction of road and rail networks across the Meadowlands, the establishment of historic settlements on high ground, the operation of mills and clay mines, and land reclamation activities.
Presumably placed across the mouth of Kingsland Creek, the sluice gate produced land for grazing. The Swartwout brothers attempted the first large-scale reclamation project in 1816 by draining and diking some 4,200 acres in Hudson County. The project succeeded in embanking 1,300 acres that produced vegetables, flax and hemp. Damage from high tides and muskrat burrowing soon resulted in the flooding of the reclaimed land. The Swartwouts abandoned their attempt by the 1840s.
After the failures of the various land reclamation projects, the Meadowlands remained a vast, largely vacant tract of land between the urban New York City and the developed, but more suburban areas to the north and west. Individual pockets of settlements generally centered on industries located at the edge of the meadows.
The NJMC has worked hard to carry out its mandates. The landfills were cleaned, development occurred where appropriate and more than 3,500 acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands have been protected. As a result, the Meadowlands District today is an environmental jewel teeming with wildlife and an economic engine spurred by commercial and industrial development. Billions of dollars in development now occupy once fallow land. One operating landfill, the Keegan Landfill in Kearny, remains in the District.
Twenty-first Century -
Environmental and Economic Turaround
The NJMC has made great strides in its commitment to guiding orderly development. The Commission has adopted several redevelopment plans that aim to bring about economic growth by transforming underutilized and abandoned properties into thriving homes for industry. These include the Kingsland Redevelopment Plan in Lyndhurst, Rutherford, North Arlington and Kearny; the Secaucus Transit Village Redevelopment Plan; the Koppers Coke Redevelopment Plan in Kearny; and the Teterboro/Industrial Avenue Redevelopment Plan. In addition, the Commission reviews its rules and regulations on an ongoing basis to find areas where common-sense changes can reduce the cost of doing business.
Once written off as a land of unregulated landfills and pollution, the Meadowlands is also now experiencing an environmental renaissance thanks to the conservation efforts of the NJMC. The Commission has preserved thousands of acres of environmentally sensitive wetlands and conducted numerous scientific studies that have helped bring about environmental revitalization and wildlife re-emergence in the District and improvement of water quality in the Hackensack River.
The NJMC’s efforts in this area have led to the establishment of the Meadowlands District as a premier ecotourism destination. The Meadowlands District includes 20 parks, several providing access points for waterfront recreation. The NJMC offers pontoon boat and canoe tours and guided nature walks to give visitors an up-close view of the environmental renaissance.
The NJMC has also become a regional leader in the promotion of renewable energy. The NJMC built the first solar farm on a State-owned landfill, an innovative approach to finding a productive use for a landfill that had been closed for 30 years. The 3-megawatt installation, now operated by PSE&G at the NJMC 1A Landfill in Kearny, includes 12,506 photovoltaic panels mounted on 13 acres atop the 35-acre landfill that supply electricity directly to the electric grid.
The Commission has also built a 120-kilowatt solar carport canopy built over its administration building parking lot in DeKorte Park. The 504 solar panels on the canopy provide approximately 20 percent of the electricity needs of the Commission’s headquarters.
As the planning and zoning authority for the Meadowlands District, the NJMC remains committed to building upon the solid foundation that has been set for economic growth and environmental revitalization in the region.