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Branch Brook Park is a county park in Essex County, New Jersey and protects the largest and most diverse collection of blossoming cherry trees in the world. It began in 1896 as the first county park open to the public in the US. In 1927 with a donation from the Bamberger (department store magnate) family, the cherry trees were planted. The expanded park was popular during the Great Depression. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
The groves grew to around 2000 trees, but by 2005, the original trees were dying out. Through public support and the Branch Brook Alliance, the park was saved and restored. Today there are close to 5000 trees blossoming in the Spring.
Having seen beautiful photos of this place on social media for the past few years, I decided to head over there on the first sunny April weekend. I was a little apprehensive about going there alone and at the crack of dawn. The park is within the city limits of Newark and there are some rough neighborhoods there.
So I decided to begin at the Cherry Blossom Welcome Center which is on the outskirts of town. The welcome center has some displays inside and tours are offered from here seasonally (there is also a self-guided mobile phone tour which I did dial in to a few times.) When I arrived, there were a few other people wandering around with cameras, so it seemed safe enough. I took a few pictures here and then drove to the other end of the park via the park road.
Branch Brook Lake is at the Southern end of the park with the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart on its East side. The blooms were just starting here. We’ve had a very cold Spring. In fact, it was only 34 degrees while I was snapping these photos.
On the west side are the Prudential Lions. These are replicas of the original limestone sculptures, crafted by Karl Ritter at the turn of the 20th century. The originals were restored by the former CEO of Prudential (whose wife was president of the Branch Brook Alliance) and moved to the Essex municipal building for their protection.
There is also an interesting sculpture, awarded to a Newark choral group for winning a competition in 1909.
Location: Lake Street & Park Avenue, Newark, NJ 07104
Designation: County Park, National Register of Historic Places
Date designation declared: 1/12/1981
Date of my visit: 4/21/2018