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Branch Brook Park


Branch Brook Park is one of America's finest urban parks. At 360 acres, the park begins just north of University Heights and continues for four miles through hill and dale, forest and field, up into Belleville. The park is large enough for several tours, in this first installment we will explore the northern third, the land of the Cherry Blossoms.
Branch Brook Park is a park of streams. The Second River runs through the heart of Cherryblossom land in the northern part of the park and the remnants of the Meadow Brook runs through a series of small lakes in the middle of the park. The long gone First River used to run in the southern section of the park.
Branch Brook Park's Cherry Blossoms were not in the original Olmsted Brothers design.

It is Caroline Bamberger Fuld, the sister of department store magnate Louis Bamberger and widow of Felix Fuld, whom we have to thank for the cherry blossoms that enliven this park every April.

Mrs. Fuld was an avid gardener and traveller. Impressed by the cherry blossom groves in Washington DC, Fuld wanted Newark to have something similar. The Cherry trees were planted in the northern part of Branch Brook Park because it was the newest addition to the park, and had not been fully landscaped.

In 1926, Mrs. Fuld announced her gift of 2,050 "Oriental cherry" trees. Over the next few years the trees were grown at her Orange, New Jersey estate (site of the present VA hospital), until they were large enough to be planted in Newark. It was not until the 1940s that the cherry blossoms really came into their own, and "cherryblossomland" was born. At the time, Newarkers seemed not to appreciate Fuld's gift due to the trees' association with Japan.

Cherry Blossoms, the sakura, as my readers no doubt are aware, have a unique role in Japanese culture. The short-lived blossoms remind Japanese of the shortness of life, and their March/April bloom is a time for hanami, or flower-viewing parties. During WWII, kamikazi pilots painted cherry blossoms on the sides of their planes.

Many Japanese poets have written of the cherry blossoms. The Medieval (Heian period) warrior-turned-Buddhist monk Saigyo wrote several famous waka about cherry blossoms:

Wishing to die under cherry blossoms in spring
Cherry blossom season in full moon time

Sleeping under the trees on Yoshino mountain
The spring breeze wearing Cherry blossom petals

Branch Brook Park's Cherry Blossoms come in twenty-eight species, in three main varieties - Single Blossoms, Double Blossoms, and Weeping Cherries. Some of the finest Weeping Cherries have been planted along the Second River.

These trees are called "cherry trees," but the Double Blossoms do not actually produce any fruit. Instead of the stamens that give rise to cherries themselves, these trees have an extra row of blossoms.

Branch Brook Park has a number of beautiful bridges. This gothic bridge is for pedestrians.
This elegant bridge was built for the Erie Lackawana railroad.
The stream spanned by these ornamental bridges is the Second River. Central Park may have many things of beauty, but one thing it does not have is a stream as beautiful as the Second River.

Dedicated readers will recall the Second River from On Broadway. But, for those who don't, the Second River begins on the First Mountain in West Orange, flows through Montclair, Glen Ridge, and Bloomfield, and then forms the border of Newark and Belleville.

So, if there's a Second River, what happened to the First River and the Third River?

The First River is now completely bricked over. It used to flow from a pond at what is now the skating rink in the southern portion of Branch Brook Park, through the present vicinity of Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and into the Passaic River.

The Third River has had a better fate. It is now the border of Nutley and Belleville.

Cherryblossomland is more than just cherry blossoms, though I acknowledge that the cherry trees have been my primary focus.

Here, in a hilly section in Belleville, we have a great playground.

The Belleville section of Branch Brook Park is labelled on some maps as "Hendricks Field."

Hendricks Field was named for Harmon Hendricks (1771-1838), a Sephardic Jew from New York who founded America's first copper mill here (then called Soho) in 1812. The land was owned by the Hendricks company until 1924, when it was donated to the Essex County Park Commission by Harmon W. Hendricks, a descendent of the copper company's founder.

Finally, here we have a vista of cherry trees, the vale of the Second River, and, in the distance, the tower of the old Tiffany factory.

Branch Brook Park is currently in the midst of a $20 million renewal. At the ir peak, there were 2700 cherry trees in the park, now there are only 1100. Once Newark had had the nation's largest display of cherry trees, but now Branch Brook Park is in third place, behind the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. and Fairmount Park in Philadelphia.

Essex County and the Branch Brook Park Conservancy are currently trying to renew Branch Brook Park and put the park in first place for cherry blossoms.

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