Friday, September 30, 2016

Branch Brook Park

Branch Brook Park is a county park in Essex County, New Jersey that is best known for its springtime cherry blossom festival. This oasis in the very urbanized North Ward of Newark (with a portion within Belleville) has as its east side Forest Hill, Newark's longtime most affluent neighborhood. That is also where the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart Basilica, one of the largest cathedrals in the United States, is located.

The park has the largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the United States, having over 4,300 in more than fourteen different varieties. Yes, more than Washington, D.C. The Cherry Blossom Festival each April draws many visitors. But its 360 acres has reasons to visit all year, and it is especially pretty in the autumn.

Vintage postcard view of the lake

It was formally created in 1895 by the newly created Essex County Parks Commission, making it the nation's first county park.

It has been placed on both the New Jersey (1980) and National (1981) Registers of Historic Places.

The Morris Canal originally ran on the park's west side. The old path was used for the Newark City Subway.

The park served as Army training ground during the American Civil War when the northern portion of the area had been a marsh known as Old Blue Jay Swamp.

The swamp was converted into a landscaped lake in 1898 when the park was only 60 acres. Private donations from those neighborhood prominent Newark families, including the beer barons of the city, such as the Ballantines, helped it grow to become one of the largest urban parks in the United States.

The Olmsted Brothers were asked to redesign the park at the start of the 20th century and they used a naturalistic design much like their father's earlier designs of Central Park and Prospect Park.

During World War II, the park's grounds served a tent city for recruits. It was also a landing strip for airplanes of the United States Postal Service.

Besides the spring and autumn tree shows, you can see architecturally significant beaux-arts structures: bridges, buildings, gates, and sculptures, including ones dedicated to sports figures Althea Gibson and Roberto Clemente.

The famous spring cherry blossom show

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