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Bergenfield Museum Society

Tunis R. Cooper property, site of Bergenfield Museum.

Preserving our heritage
 The history of the Tunis R. Cooper property is the history of Bergen County. David Demarest originally purchased the site of the chair factory. The Demarest family first arrived in America in 1663. They were Dutch Huguenots and settled in Staten Island before moving to northeastern New Jersey. This site was under ownership of the Demarest family until 1758.

Between 1785 and May 2, 1840 the property changed hands several times until it was sold to Richard Tunis Cooper and his wife Effie Huyler. The seller, Fredrick Mabie, had developed the site in the early 18th century and had constructed a gristmill on Long Swap Brook, a frame house, and a barn. Richard Tunis Cooper by trade was a chair maker and continued his trade at the site. On January 2, 1849, Richard’s son, Tunis Richard Cooper bought the property from his father and developed a very profitable chair making business. He converted the gristmill into a saw mill. The business flourished between 1859 and 1863. Besides the site in what is now Bergenfield, the Coopers’s had a nine story warehouse and showroom at 442 Pearl Street in New York City. The chairs were shipped through out the east coast.
 In 1860, the Cooper Chair Factory was the largest industry in Hackensack Township employing 25 workers. The business started to decline in 1863 when the New York showroom closed. Some contributing factors for the decline may have been the economics of the Civil War and suspected embezzlement by Tunis R. Cooper’s son-in-law, Peter Banta. Peter Banta was drafted during the Civil War but never returned and is believed to have gone west to avoid scandal.
The manufacturing of chairs ended in 1894, seven years after the death of Tunis R. Cooper. The entire property was divided and his son, Henry Cooper, inherited the section with the factory. In 1897 Henry Cooper sold the property to Oscar Marin, a toymaker. Oscar Martin remained the owner until 1908 when he sold it to a piano maker, Amos Bergman. Mr. Bergman died in 1948 and left the property to his housekeeper, Daisy Coringrato. In 1949 she sold it to Alec and Catherine Marchbank. Alec Marchbank, a New York City wool importer worked to preserve the property because of its historical significance. In 1995 he was able to place the property on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

When Alec Marchbank died in 1997, the Borough of Bergenfield would not allow this important part of American history to go the way of development. In 2004 the Borough of Bergenfield was able to purchase the property and four remaining buildings. It is the intent of the Borough of Bergenfield to restore and preserve this important part of American industrial history.

The property is listed on the National & State Registers of Historic Places. Currently the site is not open to the General Public due to the condition of most of the buildings. Plans are to stabilize, to eventually restore, and maybe create a  Welcome / Museum Center so the site can be opened for limited tours.
The Welcome / Museum Center would provide the public with information detailing the development on manufacturing in Bergen County and the history of the Tunis R. Cooper Chair Factory. The Borough of Bergenfield will work with the Bergenfield Museum Society and Bergen County Museum to establish displays of interest to the public.
Long term planning seeks to create a Living Museum on the site. The antique refinisher currently located in the barn building may be relocated to the mill building. Other artists or manufactures of that historical time period could be brought in to present their craft to the public.
A Welcome / Museum Center could be constructed with in the shell of the existing barn building. There is a restroom in this structure and with a ground level entrance could meet the ADA requirements. This structure is also out of the flood zone, and at the entrance to the site. By building within the shell mandated code requirements and the view shed requirement. The structure’s historic character and integrity will be preserved.
There is great concern to meet the accessibility code requirements of the remaining structures without losing historic preservation requirements. Plans are to give access to all structures with the lowest level impact. These remaining structures may have to be limited to first floor displays.

Since the entire Historical site is listed on the National and State Historic Places future funding is available from various County, State, Federal, or private sources for the continued preservation and restoration of the site. The preservation must be done in stages due to funding. Once the structures are stabilized from further deterioration, funding will requested to actually start restoration to turn the site into a Living Museum. 

Bergenfield Museum Project
Bergenfield has a long and rich history, and you have been a part of that history.  But it is in danger of being lost forever.  The thousands of artifacts, documents, and pictures which have been donated to the Bergenfield Museum have been in storage for over three years waiting for a new building to be erected.  Now that building has been planned and can be built .  But we need your help for the new home of the town's history to be built on the Cooper property.  Much of the funding for the building has been raised by a dedicated core of volunteers as no municipal tax monies will be used, but we need more with your help.  Please make your contribution in goods, services, and especially money to keep the memories of the past as a legacy from you for the generations to come. 

To become a member, or for more information please contact: 
Gloria Fuerbach at 201-384-7811 or Barbara Steitz, Treasurer of the Museum Society at  201-384-7811.

To make a tax-deductible donation, please mail a check or money order to: 
The Bergenfield Museum Society
P.O. box 95
Bergenfield, NJ  07621

We will be sending a newsletter with progress reports to all members after the new year.  The ground breaking is scheduled for spring, 2006.Please honor your town.  Your chance to help is needed now for our beloved Bergenfield.

Bergenfield Calendar of Upcoming Events