Friday, April 13, 2012

Discovering the colony near the foot of the GWB

Not far from the site of the actual Fort Lee in Fort Lee, there's a tiny enclave that's been both a haven for the well-to-do and a camp for Depression-era day laborers. Edgewater Colony's history that reflects several parts of American history and experiences, and you'd barely know the community is there, but for the small sign at the entrance near River Road.

I found it as I was driving to visit the famous parakeets of Edgewater. The entrance looked pleasant and welcoming enough, but I sensed that maybe it wasn't a driving around kind of place. Thus, I waited till I got home to do my exploring online. When I did, I found I'd discovered what's essentially an accidental planned community. Residents own shares of the cooperative community rather than the ground below the houses they buy there, so there are no property lines, and it's run by its own board and bylaws though still part of the town of Edgewater.

That in itself isn't all that remarkable; it's the history of the place that makes it interesting. Originally known as Burdette's Landing, the area seems to have been part of Fort Lee (again, the fort that the town is named for) during the Revolutionary War, acting as a vital ferry link to Fort Washington on Manhattan. Nearly a hundred years later, the area became the site of the Fort Lee Park Hotel, a massive riverside resort hosting wealthy New Yorkers seeking fun and entertainment outside the city boundaries. The hotel burned to the ground in 1914, leaving the property open to less well-off working-class families who set up homesteads there.

The foundation for what became Edgewater Colony was set in the 1920s when Hartnett's Camps opened as yet another vacation haven on the shores of the Hudson. Unlike the old Fort Lee Park, however, the accommodations were more rustic, with bungalows that rented for $30 per season. When the construction of the George Washington Bridge started nearby in 1929, the men doing the nuts-and-bolts work adopted Hartnett's property as their temporary home, just a few miles from their worksite.

Mr. Hartnett (I haven't been able to find his first name) died in the 1940s, leaving a will that gave the the bungalow renters first rights to buy shares of the property for $1300 each. Those who decided to stay eventually incorporated into a formal cooperative that to this day maintains the roads and other common elements.

Reading the Edgewater Colony website, it sounds as if it's a tight-knit, friendly community whose residents appreciate and take pride in the location's heritage. It's kind of nice to see how down to earth the place is, especially given how pricy and exclusive some of the neighboring areas have become. In fact, if you see an opportunity to buy in, it might be worth a shot: the share price hasn't gone up since the original offering, making the Colony one of the most reasonably-priced places in Bergen County.

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