For hours before Secaucus' official 100th Anniversary celebration was slated to start March 12, people began to filter in. The town had set up a huge tent, one that filled the parking lot where police cars and civilian vehicles usually parked. A five-piece ragtime band, dressed in straw hats and red and white striped jackets, played turn-of-the-century tunes as a host of younger citizens greeted residents at the door, handing out key chains and programs. A sea of white chairs inside the tent inspired the expectation that hundreds would come, an expectation more than realized later when the ceremonies began and staffers hurried to install additional chairs near the front for former mayors and councilmen. Officials feared the torrential rains of the previous day would scare the public off, and though the sky still hung heavy with gray clouds, the crowds came, deposited at the front of the tent by the town bus or riding up to the parking lot via bicycle. Charlie Schumacher, the town's director of communication, toured the crowd with a TV camera, doing spot interviews for posterity, asking questions about the last century and what the new one might bring, a tape of which would be included in a time capsule local officials will bury nearby to be opened in 2100. Upstairs, anxious public officials rehearsed. Even the mayor's wife had not been privy to the costumes the mayor and council would wear to re-enact the ceremony that had set Secaucus free from North Bergen on March 12, 1900. Each contemporary council member was to play the part of the original council, voting again symbolically for that resolution that had made Secaucus a town. Mayor Dennis Elwell, dressed in bowler hat, thus became Mayor Jacob F. Huber for a day, a lanky, more-than-a-little nervous official no matter which name he used. As the procession marched up the aisle to the tune of Ravel's Bolero, residents cheered and laughed, all fully engaged in this play that helped them remember the past. Even Police Chief Dennis Corcoran dressed up, looking very much like an English bobby, with tall helmet adding to his height. Town Administrator Anthony Iacono came with crooked cardboard moustache and black tophat that made him look a little like the silent movie villain, Deadly Nightshade. But no one could have mistaken the era as trucks roaring down County Avenue often competed with speakers on the podium for volume, the voice of the present defying the remembrances of the past, as today's officials committed themselves to preserving the small town flavor for the future. A historic moment
James Spadola, a professional actor, played the part of town crier, ringing his hand bell to begin the proceedings with roll call and a flag salute aided by Samantha Jaeger, Lauren Waiver, Howard and Harrison Allen of the local scouts who carried in the colors. Lindsaynann Collazo sang the national anthem. The legislation that separated Secaucus from North Bergen was introduced into the state Assembly on Jan. 23, 1900, and resulted in the establishment of the town as of March 12. The first council meeting was held on April 16, at Old School Number 2 on County Avenue. Among those invited were former mayors Anthony Just and Paul Amico, former councilmen George Davies, Charlie Voorhees, Kenneth Reuter, Robert Campanella, Richard Steffens, Mike Lari, Sal Manente, Howard Hockenbock, James Clancy, Nelson Howard Elwell, George Zangle, and Pat DeFerarri, the only woman to serve on the Town Council in its first 100 years. "Today's celebration is about keeping promises," said Mayor Elwell in his address. "The founding fathers made a promise to the community. The issues of the day were about taxes and lack of services. Strangely enough, they are probably still the same today." Elwell said the founding fathers sought to get a greater form of freedom when separating from North Bergen, something the current government intends to maintain. He said that each mayor and each council had its own legacy. The early administrations brought power and light and the building of schools. There were the administrations of John Kane, who helped Secaucus residents through the Great Depression, and Mayor Jimmy Moore, who built new schools and brought the town out of the Great Depression. Elwell credited Paul Amico with expanding Secaucus and Anthony Just with preserving open space. "So each mayor had his own time and his own period and dealt with his own problems," Elwell said, noting that the founding fathers have left future mayors with the challenge of keeping the small town character of Secaucus alive while still being able to move into the 21st Century, helping to educate its children to deal with issues they will face in a modern world. Officials read resolutions from the state legislature and the county executive's office, although the only official from outside Secaucus to attend or speak was State Sen. John J. Matheussen (D-4th Dist.), who was born and raised in Secaucus, with family members still residing here. "And although my sister and I no longer live in Secaucus, I can tell you Secaucus lives within us," Matheussen said. "The most important things of our lives are things like family values and friends. And it was truly Secaucus that instilled early on in me those values that are important to me now: family values." In a touching moment that seemed to heal some of the wounds of last year's primary battle, former Mayor Anthony Just thanked Mayor Elwell for the phone call personally inviting him to attend the celebrations. "I'm only one and a half years away from three quarters of this century, and that's scary," Just joked, saying - more seriously - that he still believed in natural recreation and the concept of open space. In his remarks, former Mayor Paul Amico recalled how much different Secaucus was 80 years ago when his family first moved there. "It was a nice country town," he said. "It had a very small population. In those days, there were very few sidewalks (and) no paved streets until County Avenue became the first." He recalled the horses and wagons and the trolley cars, and the lack of kindergarten classes in the schools. He also remembered that students had to go out of town to attend high school. "Our family lived in the Plaza area," Amico said. "The meadows came right up to what was then a narrow plank road, and the heavy mosquito population was just unbearable. Secaucus has come a long way since then and has much to be proud of and celebrate about. Town history in a nutshell
The first council meeting in Secaucus was held at the former School No. 2 on April 16, 1900, beginning what has become the first 100 years of town history. "As the mayor and council left that little school house on County Avenue, I'm sure they saw a very different landscape than they see today," said actor James Spadola in a thumbnail history of the town during the 100th anniversary celebrations on March 12. "Those early officials recognized that Secaucus was unique, and should be separate from North Bergen. But could they ever thought in their wildest imaginations [that] with its farms, its nurseries and its iron foundries, one day Secaucus would be proclaimed Hudson County's first suburb?" World events also shaped Secaucus' destiny, he said. "Historians tell us that the stock market crash of 1929 spawned more pig farms in the south end of town," he said. Yet numerous factors helped destroy farm life in Secaucus. Military service drew away many young men who needed to run the farms, and later, construction of the New Jersey Turnpike "cut a swath" through southern Secaucus, destroying the pig farms. "The large tracts of farm land became prime real estate to be sectioned into small parcels for individual homes," Spadola said. "From the late 1940s to the 1960s, neighborhoods of mainly one-family homes replaced the sprawling (farms)." In the early to the mid-1970s, Hartz Mountain Industries filled in many acres that eventually became the outlet centers of Secaucus with indoor and outdoor malls. Harmon Cove condominiums and then Riverside Hospital rose along the Hackensack River in 1976. Office buildings followed, into which national and international corporations installed their offices. "Hotels sprang up, and the town even had two Hiltons at the same time," Spadola said. "Today, the town of Secaucus is proudly -- and rightfully - called the Jewel of the Meadowlands."