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Earlier this week, the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture and the Modern Experience along with Newark Celebration 350 hosted a presentation outlining the early days of Branch Brook Park and it’s development over the last 121 years. The presentation also shared the success of the Branch Brook Park Alliance’s partnership with Essex County to restore the Park and present the research required to develop the plans for the mulit-million dollar restoration of the Park.

DSC_1027Created in 1895, the crown jewel of Branch Brook Park is without question the cherry blossoms. Each spring, more than 4,000 cherry trees produce a wonderful array of blossoms – celebrated annually in a festival attracting 100,000 visitors from Newark and around the world. In fact, the park has the largest collection of Japanese flowering trees in one location in the United States.

The landscape features an extraordinary system of lakes, streams, and ponds. Nineteen unique bridges traverse the park’s miles of waterway. Branch Brook Park Lake covers 24 acres and is stocked with trout.

Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, the landscape architect who also designed Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn among many other landscape projects across the country.  Land donated by the City of Newark and Tiffany & Co. provided the 360 acres of space to design and build out the park, although the creation of Route 280 ate away from the acreage.  Branch Brook Park has been placed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places as well as the National Register of Historic Places.  During World War II, the park’s grounds served a tent city for recruits, as well as a landing strip for airplanes of the United States Postal Service.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Branch Brook Park has undergone significant change. Once an unfortunate site of benign neglect, the park has been beautifully revitalized due to the efforts and partnership of the Branch Brook Park Alliance under the leadership of Barbara Bell Coleman and Essex County under the direction of Joe DiVincenzo.  It had been determined at one point that only about 1,000 of the 2,500 cherry blossoms that were originally planted still remained.  

Currently, the park is undergoing a $50 million renovation.  In 2004, the Park Avenue bridge was repaired, as were the baseball fields in the center of the park. In 2007, a plan was created to provide for more than 5,000 cherry trees in the park and renovate and rename the Welcome Center. The plan uses a $650,000 grant from the Essex County Recreation and the Open Space Trust Fund from 2006 and private donations. Now the park is celebrated all year around by Newarkers and tourists alike.

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