Photography by Jared Kofsky
Newark is filled with many densely populated neighborhoods, such as the Ironbound and Lower Broadway, that contain multi family housing, dozens of businesses, and mixed-use developments, all alongside each other. However, in the city’s North Ward, there is a neighborhood that is more reminiscent of some of Essex County’s old streetcar and railroad suburbs like Glen Ridge and Maplewood than other parts of Newark.
Known as Forest Hill, this community is not as well known as other parts of the city that are growing with new construction like Downtown and University Heights, but is still a picturesque and historic corner of Newark.
Forest Hill, with its tree lined streets and homes in a variety of styles that date back nearly a century or longer, has a variety of properties. According to The New York Times, when the neighborhood was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries into its current state, “it offered one of the first suburban-style refuges in the middle of an urban environment,” and included land owned by some of Newark’s wealthiest families, including the owners of the P. Ballantine and Sons Brewing Company and developer Elias Heller.
Ballantine Parkway and Heller Parkway, two of the neighborhoods busier streets, are named after the former Newarkers. As Images of America: Forest Hill describes, this part of the city was once known as Woodside, but when Heller and his family members created the Forest Hill Association to bring more residential offerings to the once rural community and as streetcar service was added, the name changed.
According to The Star-Ledger, “Forest Hill features several sets of matching houses, built by doting fathers for their married daughters,” and the Forest Hill Literary Society, a neighborhood group founded in 1896, remains in operation, and has sponsored recent events in the city such as the Newark Literary Festival and Literature Speaks. The Forest Hill Community Association also serves neighborhood residents, and hosts events such as historic house tours, Porches & Patios, and other activities.
Although Forest Hill is Newark’s most expensive neighborhood, houses are usually listed for sale at far lower prices than if they were located in similar communities such as Upper Montclair or Westfield, and come with lower property taxes as well. Some homes that are currently on the market include a six-bedroom colonial at 449-455 Highland Avenue, which is listed for $625,000, a nine-bedroom Mediterranean-style house with a patio at 245-251 Ballantine Parkway that is listed for $799,900, and a five-bedroom 120-year old home at 338-340 Parker Street that is going for $515,000.
One of the most appealing aspects of Forest Hill is that it is situated adjacent to Branch Brook Park, which was “the nation’s first county park” and “is noted for the largest collection of cherry blossom trees in the United States.” according to the Essex County Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs.
The park, which hosts the annual Cherry Blossom Festival that brings thousands of visitors to the area, connects to the neighborhood street grid with the grand Ballantine Gateway, which, according to the county, was donated by Robert Ballantine in 1898. They were built at a cost of $27.895.25, and were designed with brick and limestone by Carrère and Hastings, according to Images of America: Branch Brook Park.
Plus, alongside the park on Old Road to Bloomfield, is the Sydenham House, the original part of which, according to the Newark Public Library, was built around 1710, and is Newark’s oldest home. Unlike many other historic homes in the region, it remains a private residence.
Although Forest Hill was once served by Erie Railroad service to Hoboken, there are currently no commuter rail stations within the neighborhood limits. However, aside from driving, there are still several transportation options available to residents, including the Davenport Avenue and Branch Brook Park Stations on the Newark Light Rail, which are situated just a short walk through Branch Brook Park from Forest Hill, and New Jersey Transit buses 27, 74, and 99 to University Heights, Paterson, and the suburbs.