The park, conceived in 1867 by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and Calvin Vaux, was the country’s first county park for public use. The APA cited its “mixture of iconic Olmsted–designed elements — including long, rolling greenswards, statuesque tree groupings, waterways, and naturalistic woodlands — and more utilitarian areas for general recreation, team sports, and special events.”
The association traced the park’s “beloved status in the community” to its downward trajectory into “benign neglect and delayed maintenance”:
To direct public attention to the park, several local citizen groups, including Friends of Branch Brook Park, Concerned Citizens of Forest Hill, and members of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Women’s Board, joined together. Among their initial steps was getting the park added to both the state and national registers of historic places in 1980 and 1981, respectively. This was not enough to prevent the space from being “loved into decrepitude,” which is how the park was described in the five-volume “Cultural Landscape Report, Treatment, and Management Plan” published in 2002.
A successful voter referendum in 1998 established a county open space trust fund and a source of money to start a comprehensive, $50 million restoration of Branch Brook Park, which the county began in 1999. Five years later, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. was elected Essex County executive. As someone who grew up next to Branch Brook Park, he was a strong and vocal proponent of the county park system and of Branch Brook Park in particular. Under DiVincenzo’s leadership, additional funding for Branch Brook Park’s capital improvements and repairs has been secured.
The American Planning Association, a non-profit educational organization, each year designates ten neighborhoods, ten streets and ten great public spaces for its Great Places in America program. The New Jersey chapter of the APA this year designated Montclair Center a winner in its Great Downtown category.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons