Historic Ballantine Gates at Branch Brook Park are restored

Photo Courtesy of Essex County
County officials and members of the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association gathered Sept. 25 for the announcement that the restoration of the historic Ballantine Gates in Branch Brook Park has been completed.

NEWARK, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. announced Sept. 25 that the restoration of the historic Ballantine Gates in Branch Brook Park has been completed. The project is part of an ongoing initiative to preserve historic features within the Essex County Parks System and ensure all facilities are safe and up to date.

“The Ballantine Gates are a recognized feature of Branch Brook Park and a landmark in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Newark. Restoring this entrance during the 125th anniversary of the Essex County Parks System underscores the rich history of and beautiful architecture found in our open spaces,” DiVincenzo said. “Preserving historical elements such as the gates keeps the history of the parks system alive and enables our residents to enjoy and gain an appreciation for our open spaces.” 

“You can’t lose sight that a national treasure, Branch Brook Park, the first county park created in the United States, is right here in our backyard. This project demonstrates the county government listens to the concerns of the public and functions as a partner with the community,” NJ State Sen. and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz said.

“This is a tremendous project and I’m humbled to work with everyone to restore a symbol of Branch Brook Park and the Forest Hill community,” Freeholder President Brendan Gill said.

“It’s amazing that this project to beautify a symbol of Newark’s history was done during the pandemic. I am lucky to reside in a community filled with such great activists,” Newark North Ward Councilman Anibal Ramos said. 

“For 125 years, Branch Brook Park has been at the heart of the city of Newark and an anchor for the Forest Hill community. The regal presence of the Ballantine Gates serves as a gateway into the park and links our historic Forest Hill neighborhood with its surrounding community, city and park,” Forest Hill Community Association President Paul Agostini said, adding his thanks to various county and city officials. “Open spaces like Branch Brook Park make a city livable, desirable, and provides a haven of tranquility during this time of great uncertainty.”

“The association’s mission is to protect and maintain the historical integrity of the neighborhood and Branch Brook Park is an important element to that. We thank the county for bringing the Ballantine Gates back to their original glory,” Forest Hill Neighborhood Association secretary Jackie Jay said.

“This is such a happy moment. The gates are such a tremendous symbol of Newark’s richer and diverse history,” Newark historian Liz Del Tufo said.

“The restoration of the Ballantine Gates is exciting both for the restoration of this historic resource in Newark, but also because they literally serve to connect two other historic resources of great importance and grandeur in Newark. Branch Brook Park, the nation’s first county park, and Forest Hill, a residential historic district of approximately 1,200 residences, are now tied together with the sensitively restored gates. The advocacy work of the residents of the Forest Hill Community Association to push this and other preservation and community building efforts forward in their district is impressive,” said Emily Manz, director of Preservation New Jersey.

Attention to the two gatehouses was needed because of the age and wear-and-tear on the 120-year-old structures. The two gatehouses received a complete facelift with new roofing installed, masonry and brownstone repaired, non-historic windows replaced and the interior completely restored. Lighting inside and outside of the building was upgraded, drainage around the site was improved, the fence was repaired and paving done around the site was recreated based on historical documents. Landscaping and plantings by the gatehouses were installed based on historical documents.

The Ballantine family donated 32 acres of property to be added to Branch Brook Park in the late 1800s. In 1898, Robert Ballantine presented the park with the beaux-arts entrance gateway at the corner of Lake Street and Ballantine Parkway.

Netta Architects from Springfield was awarded a professional services contract for $145,760 to design the improvements. ZN Construction LLC from Saddle Brook was awarded a publicly bid contract for $760,000 to perform the construction work. The restoration project was funded with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. Work began in March and was completed in six months.