HILLSDALE, N.J.– Hillsdale Police Capt. Sean Smith began doing his own kind of detective work when he become a patrolman nearly three decades ago.
“Becoming so familiar with the town, knowing all of its nuances, got me thinking and looking back," said the Tenafly native, who is the Hillsdale's unofficial historian. “I’m a big believer of putting things in their place and having things be appreciated."
The 19-year veteran from Northvale has created two books and various YouTube videos depicting Hillsdale's history from when it was incorporated in 1898 up to 2010, thanks to a collection of photographs and newspaper clippings from police archives, the Pascack Historical Society and the borough library, along with contributions from current and former residents.
"It's like putting a jigsaw puzzle together," said Smith, a Northvale resident and father of three. “I felt like I had a duty to share them. I had to bring them to life.”
By his count, Smith has assembled 5,000-6,000 photos, which from time to time he posts to the Facebook "Hillsdale, NJ Memories Page."
Eventually, he plans to donate his digital archive – broken down by date and category – to the Pascack Historical Society and Hillsdale Library.
Smith's interest in local history began when he took the police job in 1997.
After finding out "a few tidbits" about the borough, he hit the library.
"It's kind of like detective work," he said.
The discoveries have been fascinating. Few know, for instance, that the Ku Klux Klan once had a presence in Hillsdale. Twin constables Albert and Alpheus Rawson were arrested 39 times, Smith said.
"There were all sorts of charades," he said.
Smith become part of his own Hillsdale history footnote when he and his partner came face to face with a rare creature at Hillsdale Avenue near Pascack Road.
“I thought it was an iguana or a lizard, but it was extremely large," the captain said. "It could have been an alligator."
After snaring the reptile, the duo learned that it that it was actually a domesticated nile monitor.
“From what I understand, it had the ability to snap your hand off it it was mishandled,” Smith said. "We didn't know what we were dealing with."
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