Haworth, N.J.: A ‘True Hometown’ 20 Miles From Midtown Manhattan


Like many newcomers, Jessica Shreefter and Corey Hennig had been unaware of Haworth, a densely wooded borough in northern Bergen County, N.J. There are no apartments, chain stores or industry — just 1,150 single-family homes, a duck pond, a red-brick school, two traffic lights, a couple of country clubs, four churches and a one-block business district.

Ms. Shreefter, 43, and Mr. Hennig, 50, were living in a two-bedroom co-op in Washington Heights, the Upper Manhattan neighborhood where Ms. Shreefter runs preschool and after-school programs. Wanting more space and a suburban environment, they began looking in Tenafly, N.J., a short drive over the George Washington Bridge, because they have long been members of a swim club there.

Then, Ms. Shreefter recalled, their broker suggested another area, four miles northwest of Tenafly: “Have you ever heard of Haworth? It’s the cutest little place.”

In April 2019, Ms. Shreefter and Mr. Hennig paid $745,000 for a three-bedroom tri-level on a half acre next to a playground and ball field. Neighbors dropped by with wine and barbecue invitations when the family moved in, and with homemade soup and bread a year later, when Ms. Shreefter and the children, now 14 and 5, contracted Covid-19. The support further validated Mr. Hennig’s feelings about the affluent, two-square-mile community, which he initially liked for the absence of through traffic.

“Because we’re a multiracial family, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Mr. Hennig, a restaurant consultant. “I wouldn’t call it the most diverse neighborhood, but there are a lot of cultural influences here. As a Black man, I have to say it’s an incredibly welcoming town for how small it is.”

Bill Beckett, a Haworth resident and the broker-owner of McSpirit & Beckett Real Estate in Tenafly, said it is common for New Yorkers to find their way to Haworth after starting a home search in more populous suburbs closer to the city, like Tenafly and Cresskill. “They find that by going farther afield, they can get a quieter pace, and a bigger lot, for the same price,” Mr. Beckett said. “And there’s a sort of exclusivity thing with Haworth, because it is so small.”

For Farabe and Justin Algor, formerly of Frisco, Texas — the booming suburban city where the Dallas Cowboys have their practice facility — Haworth took a bit of getting used to. A career opportunity for Mr. Algor, 38, who works in finance, brought the family of five to the New York area. In 2018, the Algors paid $999,000 for a circa-2000, six-bedroom colonial that was in foreclosure and in need of updating.

“Our first year was like, whoa, where did we move to?” said Ms. Algor, 36, a stay-at-home mother to 9-year-old twins and a 7-year-old. “But we’ve grown to love it here. It’s sweet and quaint, and everyone knows everyone. It’s a true hometown.”

Now, her children play on the soccer field across the street and fish in the duck pond, and the family joined one of the country clubs for the golf, tennis and swimming. “It’s been a wonderful escape from the crazy we’ve all lived with this year,” Ms. Algor said.

Removed from highways, Haworth is 20 miles from Midtown Manhattan. It is bordered by Oradell, Dumont, Demarest and, on the west, by the Oradell Reservoir, a regional drinking-water source. The White Beeches and Haworth country clubs occupy much of the borough’s western third, and a forested hiking trail follows the reservoir shore.

The main drag, Haworth Avenue, is residential and postcard pretty. The tiny downtown, along Terrace Street, has new sidewalks and lampposts and is anchored by an apothecary-and-gift shop. Whole Foods, Target and other major retailers are in Closter, a two-mile drive.

Buying a house in Haworth means getting a big lawn. Most houses — colonials are plentiful, but there are residences of all styles — sit on at least a quarter of an acre. Properties are older and larger on the west side, nearer the country clubs. On the east side, the so-called Manor section was developed in the 1950s with ranches and split-levels, many since renovated and expanded.

But change is coming to this borough of 3,400: A 41-unit townhouse complex, Haworth’s first multifamily development, was recently approved. Some of the units will satisfy the state-imposed obligation to provide affordable housing, said Thomas Ference, the mayor.

Haworth’s average annual property tax — $18,117 — was the 17th highest in New Jersey in 2019. Ms. Algor, the Texas transplant, admitted sticker shock at her $30,000-plus tax bill, three times the tab in Frisco. “The way we justify it is we have three children in the school,” she said. “Our daughter has eight kids in her class this year because of Covid restrictions; last year she had 15. Class sizes are extremely small. It’s essentially a private school without tuition.”

Haworth is the quintessential small town, and it shows. Children congregate on the one commercial block, where Naturoll Sushi Takeout and the Minit Mart convenience store are popular. A single-lane bridge carries Ivy Avenue over the freight-train tracks, an alternative to waiting at the Haworth Avenue grade crossing. Many households rely on the Blue Book, a ring-bound telephone directory published by the Home and School Association. And the trees in Haworth Avenue’s median wear yellow ribbons in solidarity with borough homeowner Omoyele Sowore, a journalist and human rights activist who has been detained in his native Nigeria since August 2019. Mr. Sowore, a legal U.S. resident, spent four months in jail without being formally charged with a crime; he is now under house arrest while his wife and children in Haworth await his return.

“Our community has risen up around him because of the injustice he has suffered,” Mr. Ference said. “The family are our friends and neighbors. To the extent we can, we’re trying to get the federal government to pressure the Nigerian government. But aside from that and giving emotional support to the family, there’s only so much we can do.”


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