Celebrating Bloomfield’s history BLOOMFIELD CENTER:


Bloomfield Bicentennial Kickoff

By Jeff Bahr

Over 200 years ago, the large chunk of real estate now known as Bloomfield existed in relative anonymity as a part of the City of Newark. The vast tract of land, originally purchased in 1666 from the Yantecaw (a sub-tribe of the Lenni –Lanape Indians) and encompassing what would later spin-off into the neighboring towns of Belleville, Montclair, Woodside, Franklin (present-day Nutley), and Glen Ridge was quite rural in nature, but it certainly wouldn’t remain that way. English settlers from Connecticut would colonize the southern section, while Dutch settlers from New York’s Hudson River Valley would set up farms in the zone’s northernmost reaches.

Through the years the region would grow in leaps and bounds. This expansion was helped along by thriving industrial outposts that centered on three waterways: The Second River, Third River, and Toney’s Brook. Drawing perpetual energy from these liquid-enablers sawmills cut prodigious quantities of lumber and gristmills ground innumerable pounds of grain. As a result, progress across the region was steadfast and swift. Eventually, this industrial base would include paper mills, tanneries, factories; all of the necessary ingredients for a self-sustaining village.

In 1812, it was decided that this parcel should be separated from Newark and turned into a town. Planners mulled over an appropriate name. They eventually settled on Bloomfield, lifting the name from the Presbyterian Parish of Bloomfield (itself named for General Joseph Bloomfield) that existed at the former Old First Church (today’s Church on the Green) since its opening in 1797.

Two centuries later I’m sitting in the beautifully renovated Bloomfield High School auditorium, awaiting the kickoff of the township’s bicentennial celebrations. Bloomfield has seen oodles of history transpire from those days of yore, and a number of scheduled speakers were on tap to try to bring that flavor across to the audience.

Eloquent, heartwarming, folksy and fun were the warm recollections and rich stories of Bloomfield told to the audience by former citizen Rich Ruffalo. A motivational speaker, author and educator, Ruffalo’s unabashed love for the town was as obvious as the town’s much-celebrated Church on the Green. Introduced as a “Bloomfield boy done good” by the Hon. Janice Litterio (Chairperson of the Bloomfield Bicentennial Committee and acting master of ceremonies for the evening), Ruffalo, who is unsighted, was led to the lectern. He wasted no time in putting the crowd at ease before getting on with his tales. “You’re a beautiful-looking audience,” said Ruffalo to the throng, who took a few seconds to get the humor of the comment. Just as it registered and the audience began to chuckle, Ruffalo added the show-stopping, “I was a blind spear thrower” during my school days. Not surprisingly, uproarious laughter ensued and the audience was his.


Photos by Jeff Bahr/ Clockwise from top left: Joseph Cataldo as General Joseph Bloomfield. Mayor Raymond McCarthy. Members of Bloomfield High School’s Madrigal Singers


Ruffalo spoke of high times at Foley Field watching the Bengals Football Team squash the competition. He recalled poignant if bittersweet moments spent at Brookside School, the place where he learned reading, writing and arithmetic, which has since morphed into a nondescript condominium complex. He talked of scary and unsure moments listening to blaring airraid sirens during our nation’s Cold war period, but most of all he spoke of the people that he encountered while growing up; everyday types who helped to make Bloomfield the “great town that it is.”

“There’s a saying that all roads lead to Rome,” Ruffalo said to the crowd with emotion in his voice. “As far as I’m concerned, all roads lead to Bloomfield… (Even though I now live elsewhere) This is still my home. Good ol’ Bloomfield, U.S.A.”

Throughout the evening, others spoke in similar fashion about the town and its profound effect upon them. Mixed in with these trips down memory lane were performances by the Bloomfield Girl Scouts, who presented the flag and led the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Bloomfield Madrigal Singers who were in fantastic voice as they sang the “Star Spangled Banner” and “Bloomfield, U.S.A.”

A multimedia presentation showing Bloomfield in its many phases was cast on a large screen, as was a timeline cataloging Bloomfield’s upcoming Bicentennial events.

And then, seemingly from nowhere, it happened.

A town crier, dressed in early nineteenth-century garb, hurriedly ascended a platform on the auditorium’s north side to introduce the arrival of General Joseph Bloomfield (played by John Cataldo) who in turn commenced to read Bloomfield’s original town charter. This led to a reenactment of the 1812 Town Charter Signing by a group of “actors.” Who were these rather stoic looking thespians dressed in three-pointer hats, felt jackets, skin-tight leggings and squarebuckle shoes? None other than the illustrious Bloomfield Town Council comprised of Councilpersons Carlos Bernard, Elias N. Chalet, Peggy O’Boyle Dunigan, Bernard Hamilton, Nicholas Joanow, and Michael Venezia. And who was the fearless chief who led the brave group to the signing table? Fittingly, ‘twas the very same gentleman that presides over regular Town Council meetings. That’s right. Mayor Raymond McCarthy, like his compatriots, sacrificed his personal dignity in order to make sure that Bloomfield’s story was told. The selfless overture certainly wasn’t lost on New Jersey Assemblyman Rob Caputo who later quipped with a grin, “If I was on the town council dressed like that, I would resign!”

After the mock signing concluded, along with the mocking of said signing, McCarthy thanked all involved for helping to make the event a reality. “This is a great event for a great community” the mayor said with pride in his voice. “Our future is great; our past is magnificent; Happy Birthday Bloomfield!”

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