Montclair's Anderson Park marks 110th anniversary

Anderson Park had a big birthday this year. To celebrate 110 years, the park was transported back in time on Sunday with vintage bicycles, Victorian crafts and a tree planting, for a celebration called Victorian Day.

"It's nice to have this event to get a feel for what it was like back then. If only I had a time machine," said Scott Kevelson, the president of the Friends of Anderson Park, a co-sponsor of the event.

As a Dixieland band brought George M. Cohan's music to life again with "Give My Regards to Broadway," a demonstration cricket game was played and people in Victorian-style costume chatted with attendees.

But Sunday wasn't just a dress-up day for Dolly Rosen, a Montclair resident. The Victorian era is a part of her life year-round.

"I want a century reassignment. I'm not comfortable in my time period," said Rosen, a past president of the Northern Jersey Chapter of the Victorian Society in America, a national nonprofit organization. The Montclair-based chapter, a co-sponsor of Victorian Day, had displays including a dessert table and a vintage tea service to give a sense of the bygone era.

For Rosen, it's Victorian Day every day. She often dresses in period costume, which she buys online. As a culinary historian, she collects antique cookbooks and has a special interest in 19th-century desserts.

The past is so present for Rosen that she can rattle off a Jubilee tea cake recipe from 1887 just as easily as someone could tell you how to make chocolate chip cookies today.

She isn't alone in her fascination for all things Victorian. Movies have fueled an interest in the age, noted Rosen, citing films like "The Young Victoria," a 2009 period drama.

"It's so stable, so long, so many things happened," she said about the era's enduring interest. "If I go to England, [Queen Victoria's] alive in the architecture, museums," she said. Rosen finds that people appreciate the architecture of the time because it's a contrast to modern straight lines.

People also appreciate Essex County Anderson Park.

"This park has become a cherished gem of Montclair," said Lisanne Renner, the historian for the Friends of Anderson Park. Renner said the park has played a big role in many milestone events in the lives of the community - things like learning to ride a bike, first kisses and weddings.

The day was commemorated by the planting of a red maple tree. Boy Scouts, including Eagle Scout John Macksoud and Life Scout Spencer Urie from Troop 13, took part in the ceremony along with elected officials including Essex County Freeholder Brendan Gill, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr., Mayor Robert Jackson and Deputy Mayor Bob Russo.

Township Council members Bill Hurlock, Robin Schlager and Renée Baskerville were also on hand, along with Essex County Parks Director Dan Salvante, and Diane Esty, president of the Upper Montclair Business Association.

Jackson recalled that his own children played soccer and lacrosse in the park. Gill spent time there as a youth and now passes the tradition to his own kids.

"It's a real treat to visit our parks, something I wish I could do more often," said Schlager.

Kevelson said the Friends of Anderson Park intend to plant 30 trees by the end of the year. The group has come a long way since he started with it nine years ago, he said.

"Now we have 360-degree irrigation," he said, recalling the days when watering foliage involved a pickup truck and a bucket to manually do the job.

Bridging Generations

The well-kept park provided a lush backdrop for perhaps the greatest visual attraction of the day: vintage bicycles.

Elizabeth Sanderson, 15, turned heads when she circled the park on a replica of an "ordinary" or "high wheel" bike, a model popular in the late 1880s.

"It's a cool thing to do," Sanderson said. "My grandpa used to do it and it carries on the family tradition."

What started as a school assignment has turned into a hobby, creating a bond that has fused the generations together.

"She's become quite a good little rider," observed her grandfather Gary Sanderson, adding that not every teenager would enjoy such an old-fashioned pastime.

The elder Sanderson, a Verona resident whose business card bears the title Ordinary Bicyclist, is captain of the New Jersey Chapter of The Wheelmen, an organization that tours the nation displaying early bikes.

It turns out this former Montclair resident is quite the adventurer. In 2004, he rode his 1891 Columbia Volunteer high-wheel bicycle from Perth Amboy to Newport, Ore. With a friend from Ireland, he completed the 3,600-mile journey in 60 days, averaging 60 miles per day. He was 69 at the time.

"You die or you get stronger," affirmed Sanderson, who has been a lifelong modern bike rider. It was his love of bicycles that prompted him to make the trip, and the desire for a personal challenge.

It also fulfilled one of the missions of the Wheelmen, to spread the history of these nostalgic bicycles.

They definitely had obstacles en route including headwinds as they rode uphill. Sanderson found he could be resourceful on the road riding on the shoulder on the interstates while traveling in the west. When one of his long spokes broke, he hooked two smaller ones together to make up the difference and continue the ride.

"Maybe the hard work makes it worthwhile," said Sanderson, now 80.

Sanderson's wife, Irene, helped them once they reached Erie, Pa., by driving a van along the same route, a mobile respite from the road they could visit every 10 or 20 miles. She carried their luggage and coordinated hotel arrangements.

He said he chose the locations because there is a tradition of dipping the rear wheel in the ocean at the beginning of a long bike trek and wetting the front wheel at the trip's end.

In this case, Perth Amboy might not be near the ocean, but it is situated near water. His Oregon end point is close to the Pacific Ocean. He also picked Newport because his grandfather had a hotel there during World War II and Sanderson never had the chance to see it.

Sanderson believes he's the oldest of only 20 people to have experienced this cross-country trip on a high wheel bike.

Even though he doesn't ride the bike anymore due to health issues, Sanderson still attends events and finds time to nurture the next generation.

Elizabeth is growing too big for her replica bike. Sanderson plans to get her an authentic antique in "due course." The price tag will be steep. He said her current bike sells for about $2,000 and the antique version could range between $3,000 and $10,000.

It's easy to see why these demonstrations are rewarding when people like Montclair resident Marc Gurtman come to watch with his children, Mia, Sasha and Jonah.

The kids were intrigued by the vintage bicycles and kept asking their father how someone would mount and ride such a bike.

"This is really a gift on a Sunday afternoon, old-fashioned fun," said Gurtman.

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Brendan Gill Freeholder