Edgewood Country Club is situated on the grounds of two former pre-Revolutionary War farmsteads that were converted in the late 1800’s to a country manor estate. It was later sold to a farmer who became a golf architect. He converted the land into a twenty-seven hole golf course. It was sold again to a group of investors, and ultimately leased to a small group of men wanting to play golf in a subdued family- centered atmosphere.
Edgewood’s Early History
• American Revolution •
Edgewood Country Club sits on two farms once owned by Abraham Johannes Blauvelt and Garret Johannes Blauvelt. The farms, producing wheat and corn, bordered on Overkill Road (now Rivervale Road) and were very near to the historic Baylor Massacre site. Evidence suggests that one or two of the Blauvelt farms may have quartered patriots serving in Lt. Col. George Baylor’s Third Regiment of Light Dragoons (part of the New Jersey division of the Continental Army).
• Late 1800’s- Early 1900’s •
The Haring family took ownership of both farms in the mid-19th century. Julius Kessler bought the 400 acre Haring farmstead in the late 1800’s and converted it into an estate housing an elegant mansion.
Julius Kessler (born Gulag Kessler) was a larger than life whiskey distiller and salesman who pursued the American dream. Kessler, a Jew, was born in Budapest in 1856, emigrated to the United States before he turned 20, and traveled to Denver, Colorado, at the time of the Colorado Silver Boom.
Mr. Kessler set out to sell whiskey produced in his own distilleries to every saloon in Colorado. He personally used pack mules to haul whiskey over the Colorado Mountains to many thirsty silver miners in Leadville, Colorado. He founded Kessler Whiskey Distillery in 1888 and manufactured an American blended whiskey called Kessler Whiskey, advertised “As Smooth as Silk.”(Time Magazine August 26, 1935)
Mr. Kessler retired in 1921 when the Prohibition Act was passed and returned to Vienna with several million dollars and 38,000 cigars that he had bought in Cuba while buying molasses for his whiskey formula.
He returned to the United States in 1933 when prohibition was repealed. Records do not show Mr. Kessler living in the Kessler mansion again, but his wife, Eva, lived there until her death in 1943.
Kessler, his niece, Ilona, her son, George T. Rado Seagram's acquired the Distiller’s Securities Corporation known as the Whiskey Trust in 1935. Kessler’s brand of Bourbon is still sold as Kessler Bourbon.
The Kessler Estate, situated on the present day Edgewood Country Club property, contained a mansion, various buildings, a farm, wooded land, and a 70- acre enclosure filled with non-native animals such as elk, large deer, moose, peacocks and unusual birds. Kessler constructed a pond close to Rivervale Road and stocked it with 100,000 trout. A fierce rain storm in 1913 caused an old wooden dam situated several hundred feet upstream from the pond to give way. Most of the fish were carried through the breech and became part of the fish population of the Hackensack River.
One entered the estate by driving onto a long driveway (site of Edgewood’s present day driveway) bordered by overhanging pines that led to an elegant three story mansion, considered to be one of the finest homes in New Jersey.
Alongside the mansion stood a long building housing a full sized bowling alley and a billiards room. Another building, called The Bungalow, contained a large indoor swimming pool lined with elegant tile. Masons had been imported from Italy to lay the tile!
An oversized barn also stood on the property (site of today’s pro shop and cart storage building) containing a large ramp which provided automobile and truck access to a large cellar and to a second floor.
• The Conlin Years •
The Conlin family assumed ownership of the Kessler estate in 1940. Benjamin J. Conlin, known as “The Cotton King,” was a stock broker on the Wall Street Cotton Exchange and was married to Dorothy Brady, a daughter of Kessler’s business partner who may have been Kessler’s niece. The Conlin family lived in the house till March 1948.
• John Handwerg, Sr. •
John Handwerg, Sr., born in 1896 in Old Tappan, was first a farmer. He had operated several farms in the area, but lost them as others did, in the Great Depression. He secured a Government Reconstruction mortgage in the 1930’s and converted his farm into a golf course, the present day River Vale Country Club. Bob Secor, a Pascack Valley historian, believes John Handwerg, Sr. not only converted his farm into one of the best golf courses in the East, but also “put this little farm town of River Vale on the map.” Handwerg’s golf club, the River Vale Country Club, was an unrestricted course and attracted many New York business people and New York celebrities who were not welcome at other Bergen County courses.” Handwerg went on to design at least four other golf courses; one in Spring Valley, New York (Empire State Golf Course) and three more in New Jersey (Manalapan, Scotch Plains and River Vale), the last of which is the present day Edgewood Country Club.
John Handwerg, Sr. sold The River Vale Country Club Golf Course in the late 1940’s. He purchased the Kessler Estate from the Conlin family in March, 1940 and converted 300 acres, a portion of which is today’s Edgewood Country Club’s 27- hole golf course.
People in River Vale remembered John, Sr. as a big man, always in work clothes, busy, and driving a big Chrysler. He had a reputation as one who would never ask his workers to do a chore that he wouldn’t do himself. During WWII, when labor was scarce, he worked on the golf course from morning till night preparing it for the next morning’s golfers.
John Handwerg, Jr., also active in the golf course business, bought and converted land on River Vale Road near the Harrington Park border. That course, Valley Brook, is still in operation. He and his wife, Beatrice, lived in the Kessler mansion until January 1, 1950 when the house burned to the ground.
The Handwergs lived with their families on the Greenwood Country Club property until 1956.
• 1956 - 1959 •
Greenwood Country Club, owned by the Handwergs, was situated on what is now the Edgewood Country Club property. However, Greenwood had fallen on hard times. A group of investors called the Market Associates bought the Greenwood Country Club in approximately 1956.
At that time, 16 to 25 families mostly drawn from Aldercrest (now Alpine Country Club) and the Greenwood Country Club were involved in forming a new country club that would sit on the Greenwood Country Club grounds.
• Edgewood 1959 - 1961 •
With the exception of the Clubhouse, Edgewood’s configuration was similar to today’s design.
The pool area had a large pavilion with a barbeque and picnic tables. The Olympic size pool was the same as it is today, but unheated.
Edgewood’s present day Midway served as a kitchen. The main dining room was situated in the present day pro shop with windows overlooking One White.
Edgewood’s present day bag room served as a pro shop.
• Edgewood’s Twenty-Seven Hole Golf Course •
The condition of the original golf course contrasts sharply with today’s superb facility.
• The Contentious Clubhouse •
A decision to build a clubhouse was made during the first year of operation.
Today, though decorated differently, the Clubhouse is beautiful, housing on its top floor a dining room, kitchen, large bar, card room, and an all purpose room. Members’ locker rooms situated on the lower level contain red maple lockers and ladies’ and men’s card rooms. A screened in porch overlooks the pool area.
• Converting a Lease into a Deed •
In 1984, Edgewood’s lease was converted into a deed. Before then, Edgewood Country Club leased its property from the Market Associates Group at $90,000 a year for a 60 year duration.
• Changes •
Edgewood Country Club has continued to thrive since its early days. Additional Har-Tru tennis courts were built with a viewing area. During the early 2000’s a permanent ‘kiddie’ pool, a heater for the Olympic sized pool, and a state of the arts play ground for young children were added.
Edgewood’s golf course has become a more beautiful, challenging, and well maintained course.
We hope you found hearing about the history of Edgewood interesting.