Settled in the mid-17th century by Dutch emigrants, Paramus may have derived its name from the Indian word "permessing", for "abundance of turkey's." Over 50 years ago the town was described by the WPA guide to New Jersey as "an old Dutch farm community...growing vegetables for the city markets." You can still find scattered about the town a half-dozen or so old Dutch stone houses, but any sense of being in anything as compact as a farm community is gone.
In fact, Paramus is noted among historians of the city for having led in the development of the post-World War II shopping mall. The Garden State Plaza, which opened in 1957, was an early example of the open mall that served several regional community functions, and the Paramus Park Mall is an early example of the newer type of enclosed mall that for many has taken over some of the function's of the city's downtown. Paramus Park Mall is architecturally interesting: the exterior is severe, yet the interior, with its waterfall, fountain, hanging shrubs, and diagonally intersecting skylights, is open and light.
The Bergen County Museum of Arts and Science is housed in a mid-19th-century brick building, once the Bergen County Almshouse and the County Old Folks Home. The museum's science exhibits feature a well-known mastodon skeleton unearthed nearby, Lenape artifacts, minerals, fossils, and a nature room. Art exhibits change every eight weeks and usually consist of one-person shows by artists from northern New Jersey and metropolitan New York City. The museum also has a youth gallery devoted to work by students in the Bergen County schools; here the exhibits change roughly every six weeks. Occasionally items from the permanent collection are on display, and the museum has an active schedule of children's educational programs and workshops.
Behind the museum in the same county complex is the award-winning Norman Bleshman State Regional Day School for the Handicapped, designed so that everything will be not only convenient but pleasurable for someone in a wheelchair. The horticultural center in the same area, part of the county's vocational and technical school facilities, includes an old barn, a modern airplane-type windmill, buildings with solar panels, greenhouses, and a wood silo.
Van Saun Park, one of Paramus' two county parks, is one of the county's most popular parks. Van Saun can be crowded in the summer, and two of the parking lots are reserved for county residents. Its ten acre zoo features some 200 animals representing 65 species from North and South America. The zoo is involved in an endangered species program and has managed to use its small space so that the animals do not appear crowded. A 4,000 square foot aviary constructed like a circus tent and covered with netting replicates the environment of the Meadowlands. A boardwalk goes through the aviary over a 9,000 gallon artificial pond, which contains native fish turtles, and waterfowl. The zoo offers a wide range of educational programs - some 10,000 children a year take part in the formal programs - as well as seasonal events like sheep shearing. An 1860s Bergen County farmyard, complete with appropriate animals has been re-created, and during the summer months a miniature train with a replica of an 1866 locomotive runs around the zoo and the farmyard. At Washington Spring Park, so called because Washington's army camped here in 1780 and according to legend took water from the natural spring, is a shade garden. There are also picnic grounds, a lake and boat basin, a bicycle-pedestrian path, sledding slopes, and a tennis center.
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