Environmental Resource Inventory

Incorporated as a borough over 100 years ago, Hawthorne, New Jersey, has a diverse history dating back to the Lenni-Lenape Indians, who likely occupied the area in seasonal campsites. Hawthorne was first settled by Europeans as a farming community in the 1700s. The borough has seen a lot of growth since then and currently, the majority of Hawthorne is developed with residential communities, commercial districts, and some older industrial properties.

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Hawthorne lies in a shallow valley that rises in elevation toward the north and has localized high points. The First Watchung Ridge, a volcanic extrusion of ballast that created precipitous cliffs and steep slopes, lies along the western edge of Hawthorne. Goffle Brook, a tributary to the Passaic River, which is part of the Newark Bay-Hudson Harbor estuary, flows through the valley.


Although Hawthorne is a well-developed borough, due to its location in the Passaic River watershed, and its diverse topography, it still contains many valuable natural resources. In 2022, the Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI) was updated. The Environmental Resource Inventory will continue to be reviewed and updated at that time of the Re-Examination of the Borough's Master Plan in accordance with the Municipal Land Use Law by the Hawthorne Environmental Commission. This information can be used to facilitate smart development and/or redevelopment so the existing natural resources are protected for this generation, and future generations of Hawthorne's residents to enjoy.


The Borough of Hawthorne, incorporated in 1898, will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2023. In the 1600’s, East Jersey, of which the Borough land was a part, was a province belonging to Sir George Carteret.  Upon his death in 1681, his land was sold along the Passaic River to two windows, who subsequently sold the trace in 1706 to the Ryerson brothers. This original tract of land extended from the top of the Goffle Hill, east to present day Lincoln Avenue, and north from the Passaic River to present day Diamond Bridge Avenue. 


The Ryerson’s home at 40 Wagaraw Road still stands, not being used as a residence, but as an upscale restaurant. In the autumn of 1780, General Lafayette’s headquarters was stationed on the land, and his light infantry occupied the land with tents during the Revolutionary War, which extended to where the U.S. post office on Diamond Bridge Avenue. The Borough of Hawthorne is rich with history, going back before the Revolutionary War. 


This area was originally part of Saddle River Township in Bergen County, New Jersey. In 1837, Passaic County was created from portions of Bergen County and Essex County. The history of the area of present-day Hawthorne, is much older that, going back hundreds of years. Thousands of years ago, the Native American Lenni Lenape lived and hunted in this area along the banks of the Passaic River and the banks of the Goffle Brook. The Dutch word Goffle, does, in fact, translate to “fork,” and specifically relates to where the Goffle Brook ‘forks’ with the Deep Voll Brook, which travels south to the Borough from the ravine. Early deeds of the area mention the Goffle Brook, and the Native American trails followed these streams, brooks, and rivers. Early Dutch settlers hailed from New Amsterdam, just 28 miles from the wall at the northern most boundary of New Amsterdam on the Island of Manhattan. Modern day residents can view present day New York City from the ridge of the Watchung Mountains which grace the western border of the Borough.   


Source: Bulletin of the Passaic County Historical Society, November 1962. 


Diverse landscapes of water, mountains, residential neighborhoods, bustling commercial districts and older industrial sections define the Borough of Hawthorne as a northern New Jersey suburb.  Hawthorne is a mature community that is almost fully built out. Fortunately for its residents, however, as the municipality developed, efforts were made to protect much of the environmental resources that provide for the community's character and high quality of life.  But in the future, Hawthorne will be faced with new conservation and environmental challenges that will require measured and thoughtful environmental planning.

The Environmental Resource Inventory (ERI) will provide this guidance by providing information and insight on the environmental conditions and limitations of the environmental resources that comprise this community. This ERI is produced to increase the public's awareness of environmental resources in the community and to emphasize the value of protecting environmentally sensitive areas.  Developing an Environmental Resource Inventory is an ongoing and continuing process, and the ERI is a living document that should be periodically updated to address changes in the community.

Varied Terrain

The terrain of Hawthorne is extremely varied.  Much of the municipality is located in a shallow valley through which flows the picturesque Goffle Brook.  The valley is predominantly flat increasing slowly in elevation to the north, but also containing localized high points.  At the southern end of town, Goffle Brook flows into the Passaic River as it winds its way to Newark Bay and the Hudson Harbor estuary. Along the western edge of Hawthorne, the First Watchung Ridge, a volcanic extrusion of basalt, rises abruptly creating precipitous cliffs and steep slopes.



Prior to European settlement, Lenni Lenape Indians resided at various times along Goffle Brook and the Passaic River as evidenced by numerous artifacts that have been found.   The first European settlers were the Ryerson family, which purchased 600 acres of land along Goffle Brook and impounded the stream at several locations for milling.  During the Revolutionary War, the Marquis de Lafayette encamped with the Continental Army's Light Infantry during the fall of 1780 at the John Ryerson house on Wagaraw Road next to Goffle Brook and the Passaic River.   The location in Hawthorne was selected to protect the northeast approach to General Washington's headquarters at the Dey Mansion in Totowa.


Originally, the area of Hawthorne was a part of Saddle River Township, Bergen County, until the County of Passaic was created in February 1837.   At that point, Hawthorne became a part of Manchester Township that included Totowa, Haledon, North Haledon, and Prospect Park. The Borough of Hawthorne broke from Manchester Township and was established as a municipal corporation of the County of Passaic on March 24, 1898.


Stable Community

The Borough of Hawthorne is a stable community 3.6 square miles (5.76 Km) in size with a population of 19,637 residents in 2020.  This population total is much the same as it was in 1960 and represents a slight increase from a peak in population of 19,173 in 1970.  Over half of the residential structures in town were constructed prior to 1947 and only 12 percent of the total housing stock after 1970.   The community is mature and essentially fully built out.

Environmental Decisions

However, there are still land use and environmental decisions to be made.  Some vacant undeveloped lands remain with environmentally sensitive wetlands and steep slopes that could be developed, and older industrial sections that will be redeveloped and rehabilitated.  The Borough of Hawthorne is built around Goffle Brook and receives its drinking water from municipally managed public wells that tap into the aquifer that underlies the community. Understanding Hawthorne's land and water resources will allow for correct decision-making in the long-term health of the municipality and the protection and preservation of the environment.