Sunday, December 30, 2012

100 Years Ago - part 6



Belleville Day 1912


There are so many stories to tell of the glories of Belleville a Century ago. Still, we must avoid focusing overly-long on just one time period in a town whose history dates back to the 17th Century . With that thought in mind, we will close our series, "100 years ago", with this present offering.  Never-the-less,  there will continue to be new material added, as it becomes available, on our sister site,  http://secondriver.webs.com/ , where you will also find additional photos that would not fit here in this Blog as well as popular music from 100 years ago played on period victrolas and in the near future, other memorabilia.  It is all the more appropriate to close out the series now since it has focused on the year 1912 and we here in this time are seeing the closing hours of our year 2012.


 Today, we will turn a nostalgic eye to that grandest of all town celebrations; "Belleville Day".  Civic pride was so strong then that one could almost see it glow in the dark.  The townsfolk were always willing and eager to celebrate themselves , who they were and what they had done. There existed a group of exuberant citizens who called themselves "The Belleville Celebration Association.".  This group assumed the responsibility of organizing one of the town's most important events, the highlight of each year,  the celebration of "Belleville Day".  In addition, they published a booklet  explaining to the world in general and to citizens in particular, why Belleville had a right to be bursting with pride. The names of the 21 members of the Association's Executive Committee may ring familiar tones in the memory banks of some of our older citizens.  A photo of them still exists (shown below). From left to right, top to bottom  there was;  John Abbott, Ira Shattuck, John Denike, George Bechtoldt, Edward Livingston, John Burke, Thomas Fleming, Henry Haigh, Joseph Williams, Andrew Bagnall, Ida Kane, Mrs. William Otter, Dr. Joseph C. Winans, Mayor Lyman Dennison, Anna Scaine, Anna Glennon, Walter Gilby, Robert Crisp, Henry E. Wilson, Alfred Cooper and Joseph McCarthy.
  


The booklet they produced, 40 pages long,  is a marvelous snapshot in time of our town as it appeared to them 100 years ago, including photos of leading citizens, industries, businesses, municipal buildings, civic buildings, churches and entertainment venues. Then there were articles describing the town's past, present (1912) and anticipated future. here are some excerpts :
  


It went on to tell of our postal service which delivered mail twice a day throughout the town and three times a day in business districts. 


We are told of four highly regarded public elementary schools plus a high school department (located in School No. 3 in 1912) and a large parochial school. 


Belleville Day, itself, was a sensational day of activities and recreation.  It began with a parade starting at 2:00 P.M. sharp. 



The parade, after trooping its way through major streets in town, would make its way to Hillside Pleasure Park on Washington Avenue near Greylock Parkway. Then the fun would begin. From 3:30 P.M. 'til 5:30 P.M., there was a field day of athletic events such as;

  • 75-Yard Dash for girls under 18 years of age.
  • 60-Yard Egg Race for girls under 14 years of age
  • 220-Yard Dash closed to Grammar School Juniors of Public and Parochial schools under 5 ft. 1 in.
  • Half-Mile Run open to working boys
  • Three-Legged Race; Distance 100-Yards
  • One-Sixth Mile Closed to High School Boys
  • 100-Yard Sack Race
  • One-Mile Run, open
  • Two-third Mile Relay Race for Firemen and Police
  • Two-third Mile Relay Race for Belleville Clubs
 Prizes included gold watches, silver and bronze medals for individual events and silver cups for relay races. 

After the games, arrangements had been made for a "First Class Supper" at the Hillside Park Restaurant beginning at 5:30 P.M.  until 7:00 P.M.  After supper, one hour and fifteen minutes was reserved for speeches.  There must have been a lot to say about Belleville!  Avoiding the speeches was unlikely because townsfolk would have wanted to get the best possible seats for what followed. A vaudeville show, the most popular form of entertainment in those pre-television days would hold the crowd's rapt attention as the evening part of the show began to unfold. Even then, the day was not over. There would follow an enormously popular event, a world class Wild West Show.  The arena would have been filled with the pungent odor of gun smoke, the shouting and shooting of cowboys and Indians along with numerous western style variety acts. Entertainment of this kind continued until 10:30 P.M.   For those who preferred less boisterous entertainment, there had begun at 8:30, about the same time as the vaudeville show, a reception and formal dance at the Park's pavilion.  The dance lasted 'til midnight. If all of this were not enough, there was Hillside Pleasure Park itself, host of all these entertainments, with its very many rides, games and side-shows.  

Here we are in the 21st Century, 100 years later.  Yet, we don't really have to imagine how much fun it might have been for our fellow citizens of 1912 because Belleville, while different in many ways since then, still experiences great civic pride, still knows how to enjoy a town party as each year we turn out in large numbers for our annual "Just A Party" event every September. The excitement and large numbers of participants at our own party gives us a pretty clear picture of what our civic ancestors were enjoying back in the "good old days". 

The old townsfolk were making history a hundred years ago; so are we today.   Let's create history that will cause townsfolk a hundred years from now to look back at us with awe, amazement and admiration.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

100 Years Ago - part 5

A Village of Mansions


While 1912 was the flowering of a golden age in itself, it was, simultaneously, the twilight of an immediately preceding age of prominence, indeed, one grand era upon another. It was a time of transition. This earlier, Victorian era, was built upon the first output of the industrial revolution. The Industrial Revolution had dealt kindly with our town. In its latter stages, it was a time of barely imaginable opulence characterized by lavish displays of wealth, of towering affluence.  While the country at large was awed by the magnificence of the Morgans, Carnegies, Roosevelts and Rockefellers, Belleville had its own cast of characters to be classified as tycoons. It was these people who transformed our town into a graceful village of mansions.

Let us take a deep breath, summon up our best imagining powers, and allow ourselves to see the shadows of what once was in that time when the kings of industry walked the lanes of our village.  We can see it in our minds eye, yet we can hardly believe what we see.  Of course, walking is not the way to go, we must be transported in a fine carriage drawn by a matched pair of high-stepping horses whose hoof beats would sound in unison.  Dressed in our finest Victorian fashions; gentlemen in neat cut suits, vests, cravats and spats, ladies in afternoon frocks, flowers and picture hats; let's not forget to say "How-do" to those in a passing carriage.  Along Main Street, to the East, overlooking hedgerows and between the spikes of hollyhocks, we see; the sparkling waters of the Passaic with its man-sized sturgeons leaping, sailboats drifting, their sails puffed out with clean, fresh breezes and we see the healthful waters for which our resort town were known. To the West we would see one great mansion after another. The  shady streets are lined with stately elms, great oaks and graceful weeping willows.

We see remarkable homes with tall columns mimicking the grandeur of old Athens,  stately English manor houses, Italianate mansions with their prominent towers - a favorite of the period,  grand, imposing Dutch colonials, sea captains fantasies - replicas of villas seen in their world travels, classic Victorians with those wonderfully wide wrap-around verandas all bedecked with ornate gingerbread.  There were riverfront villas with fine docks for their owner's yachts.

Each entrance was finely designed and detailed to ensure you that you were about to enter the residence of someone of consequence, someone who understood elegance.  Awnings shaded almost every elaborately detailed window.  We cannot help but admire the stained glass windows, finely crafted cornices and braces; no fashionable architectural detail was forgotten, the wood crafters art was at its finest. At each manor there are stables with the finest horses, carriage houses with carriages suitable for the royalty of the Industrial Revolution.

Gardening was an art form enjoyed by many a lady of the manor. Everywhere there are beautifully manicured formal gardens, extended grounds, We see trellises crowded with climbing roses, arbors, white picket fences, gazebos, a wide variety of well cared for, delicate blossoms clamoring for our admiration.  Don't be surprised to see an occasional peacock strutting about the grounds.

This is Belleville as it once was, only a hundred years ago.  Our fellow citizens, our predecessors in 1912, were the last to see our town as a village of mansions.  Floods and pollution from up-stream industries took away the pleasantness of it all.  Your author-here-present, while living here in the 1950s and 1960s saw the last, faded remnants of the old mansions.  A couple of old timers, trying to survive as rooming houses, trembled in the wind on Main Street, but were in such poor repair, they could not last. Then, one might still see an abandoned mansion, brown with lack of paint for 40 years, peeking through an overgrowth of weeds, still looking proud and elegant though near collapse; a last and final reminder of a once grand era. They are gone now, all of them.

Surviving images from our Victorian age are few and most of those that do survive are in poor condition, but they must be presented here as they are as no others exist which allow us to peer through a window into this almost forgotten time. Twenty of the old mansions are shown here; do your best to imagine them back to their time of splendor.



















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Sunday, August 26, 2012

100 Years Ago - part 4

Memoirs - Chapter 2

The memoirs of early 20th Century Belleville resident, Bertha Feuer, are continued and completed in this installment. These memoirs are a historical treasure for we modern residents. And, really, a hundred years wasn't such a long time ago. It concludes with a heart felt wish that all future generations would enjoy our town just as she knew it; with kindly people, open space for children to run and play, fields of wild flowers, fruit and berries, the "fast-food" lunches of a hundred years ago.

---
Year 1914 the fever of war was in the atmosphere. As we had many typical Irish folk residing in Belleville, mostly up the Hill Street known as Quarry St., Bridge St. and all along near St. Peter’s parish. They were a fine lot of people who lived and let live. A pleasure to come in contact with. Full of pep and wonderful spirit, these Irish folk were. Churches were plenty, but they moved from where the Hey Day of Belleville was on Main Street to the Hill of Washington Avenue. But the old landmark like the old Methodist and Episcopal Church are still at main Street. Old relics. The Dutch Reformed at the foot of Rutgers and Main still is being used as a church of worship. Main and Rutgers Street had the place where the faithful horses were able to get their drinking water. Across the bridge from Belleville, up Schyler Hill, was a copper mine. Our Belleville boys would slip over to see what they could explore and before our part of the Passaic River became polluted, bathing, fishing, boating and all river sports were enjoyed.

The shad fish that were caught in the Passaic were the finest you could eat. To this very day the Regatta runs up the Passaic during the month of June. Many residents, old and modern, were boat owners who took part. Mr. Toots, Mr. Brenenridge, Mr. Hamlin, were members of the boat house where many a fine party and even wedding were held.

The Elks Hall, a fine building, Dr. Skinners Mansion, Dr. Clark Jacksons Brooks Boarding house, Brandt Bret Webster, all old timers, still have remains of their footprints in this La Belleville, the Beautiful. Mr. Pokenhorn, Bessie Moore, Miss Underwood, Mr. Sargeant, who worked for M. Depuy Tell and Grocery Store, still were reminders of old times in the year 1917.

At the foot of the bridge, corner of Rutger Street, in 1917 was Osborne’s Drug Store, Rodmackers or Rhineboldt Saloon, Madison and the Pickler works where we used to go down to the good old soul who made sour kraut and get a good portion for a two bit or two shilling. Then Depuy’s Groceries Store, old Mr. Tedesco Shoe cobbler, Ross the moving man who was too honest with his patrons.

Mr. Tedesco was known afterwards as Mr. White. Old Mrs. Fairchild’s property of a few stores and her house at Main and John Street, today known as Belleville Ave., ran to as far as Stephen St. next to part of George Stephen’s Estates. Here we enjoyed many happy greetings with neighbors. The firehouse at Stephen Street was still in operation and our kids enjoyed racing after a fire, whose signals we all knew well.

To the present day, the firehouse hook and ladder that once occupied quarter and during the war of 1917, with our allies, our home guard met there with their numerous guns. Mr. Liddy took care of the place after the fire department moved out, and today it is known as a Veterans Hall. Gosh! How I did feel I was away sleeping when for a short period I went on a trip for business or an occupation. I could not imagine what happened in Belleville to see quite a change. I thought I was in a trance. I asked for the homes that were torn down on the banks of the Passaic. I inquired where every one was. There were very few who knew. All newcomers started moving in and great industries started making their way into our little town as I moved from the Essex station of the Erie Station to the Belleville Branch. I became more acquainted with folks at the lower end of Main St.

Habits of the people down the lower end of Main St. were a little different than those living near the Essex Station. As Ralph Street only ran to Academy Street a good bit of the empty lots of the town were always covered with wild flowers and various berries grew wild but good to eat. Many times the fields of whose property we did not know the owners was full of fruit trees that were neglected, but the fruit always tasted good to the poor of the town. Black walnut trees grew and the trees were all beautiful.

We would walk through these wild fields, picking whatever grew wild. John Eastwoods home was on Main Street and was kept up in a shape until it was torn down. From Ill(?) Street up to John Street now only known to the modern crowd as Belleville Avenue (was the Eastwoods?) . Isaac street along the railroad was supposed to be named after Isaac of the copper mill at Soho. Isaac Hendricks who was very fond of Howard Osborn always made sure to do his part for Howe Osborn during their municipal elections. Howard Osborn fought for the first electric lights installed in Belleville. Many street that were lighted by lamp lighters as of old. Mr. Howe Osborne also fought for that parkway we have on Mill Street with the thousands of Japanese trees. But he did not live to see his dream come true. He was one of the first members of the B.P.O.E. when the elks Hall was on Main Street near Rutgers. He also organized the Hook and Ladder Hose of the exempt Fireman. Any old timer like Harvey Sieglor will repeat these stories. Or the Reid family who had sort of Auto Accessory at Main Street near Madison Ice Cream Saloon, the Rokenhorsn that now live on Stephen Street could relate these tales or old Mr. Bernard Forgive our retired post master.

The old post office still remained on Main Street near John Street (213) now Belleville Ave. and the stories of Stephan being postmaster then. I guess everyone went to the post office to gather their own mail. From over the river at Lyndhurst, walking distance from Belleville, every Sunday was seen the McCreery family in their horse and carriage proudly coming to St. Peter’s church in Belleville. All the other side where the Jersey City Water Works was almost wilderness as Howard Osborn would relate, belonging to the Sanford family on his maternal side of the family, of how they got a grant of land from King George III of England. They were early settlers, I believe, of Holland Dutch descent. Then came the Osborne’s also land rich, the Dickinsons, the Colde family, the Schylers which became Seely Farm, the Beardsley Farm.

Mr. Osborne would tell me beautiful tales of the city of Belleville, as he was born in this La Belleville, the beautiful. That is what it was when he was born there. He played and chummed with Alfred Skinner, Arthur Sanford, Jackson’s and some of the boys from the Dixon Pencil Co. Dr. Clark and Dr. Skinner whose homes were on Main Street were, and still are in existence. To me, this gypsy that I call myself, the stories were like fairy dreams like they tell in Ireland. Up the hill at Washington Ave. was Gibson Shoe Store where Mr. Gibson made and repaired the finest shoes one wore; also Howard Osborne’s father who was a real old shoe doctor as he made the boots of the farmers famous of his time. The old homestead where Mr. Osborne was born still exists on Main Street, but the house at 127 Main Street that should have stayed a landmark does not exist as Mr. Mertz sold the property after he foreclosed on Mr. Osborne. Being bondsman I suppose it had to be done. The house was bought by Papa Joe Surano and he certainly made a mess of the poor old mansion that once was lived in by Holmes. Mrs. Fairchild’s uncle and I believe, Mr. Davey, who was a Bulard was married there. Mr. Osborne bought the place, fixed it up to live in and it was a dream. Theodore Browe did a lot of plumbing there. Mr. Dick Hoogs worked to keep the grounds landscaped and cut the grass and took care of the horse called Pet that Mary Ella loved to ride and the one the Osbornes took to Palenville up the Catskill Mountains.

Then, on William and Washington Street, Mr. Cooper had his general merchant store. A very good old English store. Cheese could be got there. We would hoof up to that store and buy of him. He was an older resident of Belleville than Chester DePuy. At that year of 1918, I know from observation we only had between 10 or 12,000 population.

We were now living at 45 Stephen a house belonged to Geo. Stephen, and there were no electric lights in it, we lighted with kerosene lamps.

Our old moving picture house, now torn down , was called the Alpha Theatre. There we enjoyed many vaudeville or country store night, with the Old Farmer taking part, which gave us a kick.

Then there was a dairy where we bought our milk. They were near the old Episcopal Churchyard on Main St. At that time they bottled their own milk. It was most everything that we ate then, we got from the neighbors farm or grew it ourselves. Up William St., not far from Washington Ave., one of our neighbors had a cow and also a horse. Many goats were once seen grazing in the fields up near the Hill Side Park where now is only left a skating rink.

Let us meet in the fields, in the woods, play, pick flowers. Watch our grandchildren do likewise. Let us gaze back to this little suburb of Belleville, to look back on the happiness we found while residing there. Let us come back here once in a while. Gaze up and down the river, to see the people passing by and think of the faces that were our neighbors. Let us meet once in a while. While we stay on for our living, our occupations, whatever they be. Dear little town of Belleville, I will remember thee.

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

100 Years Ago - part 3

Memoirs - Chapter 1

Your author-here-present has enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of acquiring the memoirs of a completely delightful lady who lived in Belleville from 1910 until 1952. Originally a resident of New York City, she made frequent vacation and weekend trips here beginning in 1910 until, so captivated by the beauty of the town and it's people, she moved here permanently in 1914. With an enchanting pallet of glowing, heart-felt, flowering phrases, she paints for us a wonderful word-picture of our town as it was at the beginning of the 20th Century. We will meet her friends and neighbors, many of whose names are familiar to us who know our town's history, and see our town through her eyes as it was in those days. Bertha Feuer wrote these words during her final days with the hope that they would be transmitted to future generations so that they, too, could understand what a special town it was. That will happen. Those parts of the memoirs which cover the period from 1910 to 1918 will be presented here in two parts, this is the first.

A huge Thank-you is in order to Carolyn Acceturo, granddaughter of Bertha Feuer, who provided these memoirs to me, and through me to the Town of Belleville and Susan Carpenter, another granddaughter, who so kindly provided an electronic version of the original hand-written text.

It begins -

To Bertha, the city of Belleville was a real vacation after leaving the crowded City of New York, How she enjoyed the row of houses that belonged to old Joralemon Station at Cortlandt St. between Joralemon Street near Little. The rents that year was only $15 for a whole house of 10 rooms and beautiful grounds to the bargain. Well, at the corner of Joralemon and Cortlandt lived a friend of ours, also from New York.

Previous to 1914, say about 1910, Grader Kahn namely Manz, now deceased, rented that house and we did enjoy many a weekend vacation. Her daughter, Flora, who was as wild as we were, always gathered us all together with her Aunt Rose B. and up to Hill Side Park** for a great time. That’s what the Park was called then. ** [this is a reference to Hillside Pleasure Park, Belleville's great amusement park.]

Later we all decided to move to Belleville and settle down. Our friend Mildred Stone known to us as Millie, jolly and full of fun, rented at 401 Cortlandt St. from the Joralemon Estate. The lumber yard always was at the corner of Cortlandt and Joralemon. The Main St. north of Joralemon, past Eastwood's Wire Works was known to us as lovers lane. Up Belleville way to the Nutley line our children and crowd would walk to the reservoir on Main St. to fish for gold fish and steal a swim in the cool reservoir.

Along the roads of Main Street from Joralemon to the Delawanna Bridge we would walk and pick Elderberry blossoms, when in full bloom. These were to make our pancakes from which were delicious. When the berries were up we would pick them ripe, to make Elder Berry wine.

They were real good old days and the gang of us felt like children that had discovered the Fountain of Youth as we never wanted to grow old. Years slipped by and changes always come about so we moved to Main St., No. 367, a very nice house owned by Eastwood's.

Our main entrance was Main Street, but we also had a side entrance at Joralemon Street. Billy Hamel, one of John Eastwood's employees, would come for the rent and tell us tall tales. How we laughed. It Kept us young.

My friend Millie Grady, a Mrs. Halderman also formerly Mrs. Wells, lived next door to us. Mrs. Halderman taught Sunday school at the Methodist Church. The people now mentioned have all deceased. We had grand days and picnic together.

It was Belleville like the song La Swiss, La Bella or Belleville is Beautiful. Along the Passaic River that flowed thither to dither occasional boats would sail along, especially tug boats. It was everlastingly interesting to us, to get up in the attic rooms where we could gaze quite distances, almost to the skyline of the Palisades of the Hudson River, across Sigler (?) Hill Sides Farm to what seemed to us a vast wilderness. We were able to walk across the bridges of the Passaic, the Rutgers St. bridge, also the Delawanna, to all the different suburbs across the river.

We could walk to Clifton, Nutley, Bloomfield, which was at the border of Soho or where Isaac Hendrick's Copper works were. We could put a foot in the Silver Lake, Newark, or Silver Lake Belleville or Bloomfield and even walk through the woods straight up dirt roads into Glen Ridge and Montclair. For 5 cents car fare we could go almost anywhere. Almost to Eagle Rock for not much more than a nickel. Dear old nickels, then, meant so much to us. Sometimes we would walk to city line, North Newark and then to Newark on the No. 18 bus; in 10 minutes we were to Broad and Market. A very old market was on Broad St, which ran on the old Morris Canal near Commerce St in Newark all the way to Mulberry Street, then the downtown of Newark, was a thrill to us even though it had no comparison to New York’s Chinatown.

We would leave early in the morning for Newark, to the market, and bring home large shopping bags full of all the goodies money could buy. Sometimes the packages were larger than we were able to handle. We would also love to browse over to New York by the way of the Erie Railroad or the Hudson Tubes. We were the gypsies that knew our way around. Dear, merry, laughing days of good 1914.

The part of Main Street from Joralemon St. going toward Newark on both sides of Main St. were real old time beautiful homes as far as Mill St., Belleville, where our town ended and then River road of Newark began. It was also a pretty sight to see, although Belleville once took in territory as far down as Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, Woodside and Forest Hill in 1914 it only started from Mill St. to the Nutley line, taking in the swampy section of Silver Lake, Belleville and good old Soho.

Those were just a few of the neighbors mentioned at that part of Belleville. Tenants of Eastwood. Old man Roberts worked for Eastwood, when they had a team of horses to pull their work. And in the neighborhoods on Ralph Street etc. were many Roberts as they were a large family. In a little house at the corner of Joralemon lived Mame and her family. Roberts. These folks all are deceased now.

Mamie had the finest garden of corn and tomatoes. For 50 cents we could buy a bargain of her. The house was sold so she moved to Ralph street right in back from where we lived. An old type brick building on this street lived Norman and his wife and most of the Roberts family. Up at Washington Ave. opposite the Episcopal Church was Richard's Hardware store, Kenworthy the corner bakery and Levine the tailor.

We would stroll up to Kenworthy's and have an ice cream soda and buy our newspapers of him. Old Westlake, now passed away, had quite a paper route, but we only purchased his papers when I moved toward the Town Hall at Main St., 127, in the year 1918.

(In 1918) ..I moved into two rooms rented from Mary Ella Osborne. The house was an old revolutionary landmark built in about 1765 or somewhat by an Englishman and was one time owned by Hugh Holmes. Mr. Osbourne was one of the first druggists in town and his father-in-law, a Wessely Dickinson liked the place so much that Mr. Osborn bought the place and fixed it up for us to live in. He, his wife Mary Ella, and Julliette Dickinson and Wessley Dickinson, moved in and were happy and proud of the place. They had horse and carriage. Dud Hogs, an old time colored man worked with the horse whose name was Pet and Mr. Dickinson, the bank note engraving inventor, brought a peacock to run around the grounds.

It was a beautiful sight to pass and gaze into the place. Mary Ella Osborne nee Dickinson loved flowers and garden work. Nothing was missing out of those grounds. Julliette was the artist who taught painting. Since Wessley Dickinson invented his engraving machine, his 3 sons Ed, Charley and Clem (?) went to foreign lands to teach students to run the said machines.

Wesley Dickinson worked in his little machine shop in Belleville, Ed Dickinson went to China for two years. While he was gone, Nellie his wife, and daughter Stella, lived with Ella Osborn at the mansion. Clem went to England and Charley to Portugal. While in foreign lands Mr. Wessley Dickinson died, so Charley was not notified until he came back.

The homes on the river were beautiful and there were many old landmarks.
Next door to the old mansion house on Main St. the Cole family lived. Mr. Cole brought the old Osborne homestead from Mr. Mertz. The house ran from Main St. to about 50 ft. and its other 50 ft. facing Stephan St. lived Will Osborne a nephew of Howard Osborn’s. We all got along splendid. Singing Pat used to deliver mail at that time.

There were two great big cottonwood trees very old, every bit of 100 or 150 years of age about the center of the grounds and they were beautiful. Flowers would grow very high and when a bad storm came up what a beautiful sight. Flowers would blow down that looked like a tulip. We would exhibit at Howard Osborne’s Drugstore they were that beautiful. To the Cole family, one of them, Margaret, would swear she seen ghosts under those trees.

Typical Irish Fairy Tales were told by Mrs. Cole herself. She was from County Kerry or Cork Ireland. I would sit hours listening to the fairy tales of Ireland and their haunted castles that sometimes I would go home and dream that I was also haunted, as the rooms at 127 Main St. were immensely large. What a joke. We finally had to move from there. The property was sold after the Osbornes occupied the house 27 years. Ed Dickinson once enjoyed many a day at this old mansion of Main Street.

They are gone the houses on the river. Gone like Rip Van Winkle who slept 20 years in the mountains. I face up and down the street of Main Street thinking to myself about the houses and the characters that lived on the Passaic River. The fire that burnt down a row of houses, the flood, etc.

Howard Osborne’s drugstore was flooded. So were all the houses as far as Main to Second River and the Delawanna Bridge, to Cortlandt Street, Stolz Bakery. Damages were terrific and many lost what belonged to them. Row boats and hip boots were used in some of the Main St. homes. What could be saved was carried to higher floors and attics. John Osborne’s house on John St. was flooded bad enough to rot everything, as the house was built without a cellar. Mr. Howard Osborne related the story to me.

It seemed the deluge was on after the water receded. Thousands of people came to view the flood. There were two of these. The last one was the most serious. Some dam, I believe, the Dundee near Passaic or Paterson, gave way causing the river to rise above level.


[Continued next installment.]




An engraving of one of the many mansions that lined Main Street

Lover's Lane in 1912 from an old postcard.

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Need a Clark Bar ?


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Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Retired Ghost

We Second River villagers know well how replete we are with residents who keep one foot in each of the worlds, and, even though we recognize that there are other jurisdictions claiming to be the home of a spirit or two, we know our local demographics, we know the extraordinary population of lost spirits who find this a suitable place to call home, and we are tempted to claim the title of "Ghost Capital" of the East Coast. What's more, we claim to be one of a very few villages anywhere that is home of a "retired" ghost, a story to unfold herewith. It must be admitted that the veil which separates the worlds is tantalizingly thin in our precincts, such that the opportunity to slip through the veil for both spirits and citizens is much facilitated by certain vibrations which emanate from the ground here-abouts.

Now, you must understand that we are a modern, sophisticated people who will never openly admit that we believe in ghosts, but sometimes a thing will happen, a vision will appear, that makes us pause, scratch our heads and say, "Hmm ...". And after all, it is nearly Halloween. So what better time is there for pulling out the musty old manuscript of a Second River ghost tale, dusting off the cobwebs and reading it anew.

Old Second River, before it's banks were adorned with Cherry Blossom trees, was once lined with stately, perhaps somber, weeping willow trees. If ever you have been in such a place, you know the chilling sound of the woeful whine of wind in weeping willows. Add to that, such as could be heard here, the higher octave timbre of a female voice wistfully whimpering over sorrowful remembrances in her heart. Here is an orchestration that could send a shiver up your spine, raise the hairs in the back of your neck and set your fight-or-flight self-defense mechanism on high alert.

Thus, the scene is set for this oft' told tale from our village annals. Indeed, we have been telling each other this tale, confirmed by several generations of historians, for beyond a century-and-a-half. It is repeated here that it may be transmitted to still another generation.

The roots of this story are anchored in the last decade of the 18th Century, just after the end of the Revolutionary War, near to the time when the Village of Second River became Belleville. Benson's Grist Mill stood on Second River near the bridge by which the old Back Road crossed the river. Mr. Benson, most recent owner of the mill had been found, quite dead, in the mill race minus his head. It is said that he was done in by a rival for some fair damsel’s affections. You might say he lost his head over her. Never-the-less, his apparition was seen by several, reportedly sober, townsfolk, howling in anger, demanding revenge, from the old bridge on dark, moonless nights. Now, the townsfolk were not afraid of ghosts, per se, but it was considered a matter of good common sense to not cross the bridge in the dark of night.

Stories of the apparition lingered for a long time, becoming more terrible with each telling, especially in the village taprooms. There was, however, a young lass of the village one who lived near the bridge, who looked with disdain upon ghosts, lost spirits and other such apparitions, who thought she might make use of the natural apprehensions about the bridge for her own purposes. It seems she had become disenamored with young men whom she thought were haughty and arrogant, even supercilious as a group, though perhaps not as brave as they boasted. She, with malice aforethought, would wait upon the darkest night to unfold her plot to terrorize wayfarers approaching the bridge. A young buck who had stayed out a bit too late would be making his way cautiously along the old back road approaching the crossing in the dark of night with naught but a hand held lantern casting light just a few steps ahead. There, at the bridge, with the murmur of the wind in the willows whispering warnings in harmony with the strange gurgling messages of the mill brook, perfectly accented with the hoots of an owl disturbed by the traveler's footsteps, the scene painted with odd shaped shadows cast by the lantern, there was reason here to give pause to the faint of heart. but not to a fearless, though on-guard, young man. But what? .. what ho is this? .. leaping out unto the bridge, a specter clad in gossamer, white powder and candle glow, wielding a detached head looking much like a carved pumpkin but flaming from every aperture, casting wild shadows all about, shrieking wicked shrieks, swearing ungirlish oaths in a high pitched voice, shouting terrible unpleasantries in an otherworldly voice. Then, if the lad had not already turned to run, she would hurl the flaming pumpkin head so that it crashed and exploded at his feet. It was a sight that would encourage the boldest young lad to return from whence he came and forego the notion of crossing the bridge.


This went on for a number of years, the bridge was declared off-limits after dark by rational folk. Too many people had actually seen the ghost to deny the truth of it's existence. But, in the course of time, the hauntings stopped. It seems that the young lass, Mary Ann Andrews by name we are told, had matured and become pretty. It no longer suited her purposes to frighten young men away. She hung up her gossamer gown, put away her pumpkin carving tools to become our village's first "retired" ghost, choosing the flesh and blood life of a winsome, eligible maiden instead. The headless ghost of Back Road Bridge was no more, at least not for Mary Ann's natural lifetime. She lived to an old, old age, surviving 'til the first days of the 20th Century. After her passing, in more recent times, although the spirit has not reappeared to the eye, and the willows no longer grace the banks of Second River, on dark nights it is said that hysterical laughter can be heard in the precincts of the bridge. It is thought that it is the spirit of Mary Ann reminiscing over her pranks.


For those who demand historical accuracy, I offer this epilogue. An elder historian, Charles Gilbert Hine, author of "Woodside", active at the beginning of the 20th Century, has told this tale with details similar enough to what we have heard from other historians to allow us to conclude that it is the same story, but with one remarkable difference. In Mr. Hine's version, the young lady is Mary Ann Adams, daughter of old Sam Adams. Mr. Hine tells us that he was acquainted with the lady, she, having died, ancient in days, just six years before the publication of his book about Woodside, had confessed her identity to him as the haunting spirit of the old bridge. Now there's a task for a modern historian-detective with a brave heart; track down the true identity, if you dare, of our Back Road Ghost! Perhaps if you stand there by the old bridge on a dark and foggy night, when the mill stream is gurgling it's secret messages and the hoot owls are about, she may come to you and whisper her true name in your ear, that is, if she doesn't hurl a flaming pumpkin at you!

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For those who find our village spirit stories a little incredible, perhaps because you have never personally encountered one of our resident specters, may I respectfully suggest that you visit our neighbors at the "State Scare Factory", down on Main Street. They are more than capable of convincing you that Belleville is indeed the Ghost Capital of the East Coast!





Visit the State Scare Factory site.

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Related Articles:

Belleville's Bones

The Hollering Hole

The Old Town Miser

Haunted Village

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

100 Years Ago - part 2

Shopping
Up-dated 9/3/11

In this installment of "Belleville 100 Years Ago", we will explore the ways and means and opportunities available to townspeople for that time honored folk ritual known as shopping. Our main business district at this time was Washington Avenue and the connecting side streets between Joralemon and Mill Streets. Main Street, the former business center was nearly abandoned by this time because of a series of devastating floods during the previous ten years. A few businesses remained on Main Street, but the movement was toward the higher ground of Washington Avenue. The reason is made abundantly clear in the photo archives of the Belleville Public Library and Information Center where pictures depicting the extent of the massive flooding on and around Main Street can be viewed.

Shopping a hundred years ago was a very different kind of experience. Shopping malls, as we know them, were still 50 years into the future. But, no matter, most everything you needed was usually available in a neighborhood store. Special interest items beyond the ordinary could be purchased in New York City, only a 40 minute train ride away. Best of all, there was nothing you could imagine needing from anywhere in the country that could not be purchased from the Montgomery Ward catalog. These catalogs continued to be available well into the '80s, but those from this earlier decade were far more comprehensive.

Transportation was limited. Motor cars were still a luxury item, and would remain so for a few more years until Henry Ford perfected the assembly line making them easily affordable. At this time motor cars were owned by only the well-to-do; driving them was an adventure as the controls were not yet standardized and the driver needed considerable skill as a mechanic to ensure a motorized return to his starting point. Shoppers were aided by an electrfied trolley that ran the full length of Washington Avenue. Transportation to Newark was available, but at this time it was actually still easier to go to New York City. Train service to New York was frequent, reliable and inexpensive. In spite of these travel limitations, there were really no hardships.


Trolley to Newark


Grocery shopping, for example, was most often done at a small, nearby store. There were a lot of grocery stores in Belleville. There were not many residents who did not live within two or three blocks of a grocer. There were, however, no large loads for the housewife to carry for several reasons. First; the kitchen "refrigerator" was actually an ice box with minimal storage space. Shopping for food stuff was carried out daily or every second day. Secondly; most housewives shopped the "modern" way, by phone. The lady of the house, would crank-up her phone, tell the operator to connect her to the grocer who would write-down her list. A short time later, a young lad pulling a wagon would deliver the goods to her kitchen door. If there was no hurry for delivery, the grocer might deliver her order on his horse-drawn wagon while on his daily rounds. Although motorized trucks were common, most local merchants still preferred the reliability of the horse. Also; many fresh vegetable and fruit vendors came through the neighborhood each day. Dairy products and bread were delivered to the door daily as well. Food shopping took less of a housewife's time in those days than it would today, so there is no need to feel sorry for her on that account.




Actually, any purchase you made which would not fit into an easy to carry bag, would be delivered to your door, this was standard practice. Since most folks were so accustomed to hands-free shopping, is it any wonder that many an evening of shopping pleasure, especially in the absence of televisions, radios and computers, were spent turning the pages of the Montgomery Ward Catalog or that of their chief competitor, Sears and Roebuck.

If the reader will take a moment to recollect the largest shopping mall ever visited, consider the variety of merchandise offered, multiply that by five, then one can begin to understand what might be found in those 800 to 900 pages of the catalog. Every kind of kitchenware, fashions, lamps, oriental carpets, books, victrola records, toys, exotic teas and coffee, even drugs were offered. Not that there were no drug stores in Belleville, there were several, but if the buyer were not in urgent need and could wait for delivery, Montgomery Ward, at a discount, would send anything that existed, hundreds upon hundreds of drugs, herbs and patent medicines, from Aspirin to opium, Epsom salts to morphine and even Carter's Little Liver Pills.

A glance at the array of advertising by Belleville merchants which has survived gives us an idea of what we would expect to find on the streets of Down Town Belleville 100 years ago. Although, since we are only able to present surviving ads, it may be misleading, but it does seem that there are at least as many confectionery / candy stores as there are grocery stores. It is almost tempting to think that our town folks had a sweet tooth! ... perhaps.











A peek into the past




Washington Avenue looking North towards Williams Street.



Store front at 127 Washington Avenue.

Even this brief survey of merchants who set up shop along our streets and those other recourses available, shows us that our civic ancestors were in want of nothing to be purchased at retail.



There were many others. One might plan a days shopping while sipping coffee at Mougel's Cafe at 5 Washington Avenue. If a camera was on the shopping list, a stop might be made at the Belleville Pharmacy, the prescription drug store whose ad claimed to be "the only store selling Kodaks and Camera Supplies, Rexall Remedies, Huyler's Candies and was the headquarters for postal card views of Belleville". Mr. W.D. Cornish, Ph. G. was the proprietor. If new clothes were on the agenda, Mr. Testa, the custom tailor at 267 Washington Avenue would be accommodating. His ad implores prospective customers to " Try me for that new suit at reasonable prices". He was also available for cleaning and dyeing. Perhaps the pantry needed restocking, in which case a stop at E.R. Plath at 408 Washington Avenue would be in order. Mr. Plath was a "dealer in superior coffees, teas, rice, spices and extracts. Satisfaction is guaranteed. Prompt delivery. Our wagons deliver daily in Belleville. Our coffee is roasted daily".
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The list of merchants goes on; John Reilly, Jr. sold "sanitary milk" from his establishment at 100 Oak St.
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Jno. Nevin Klien, reliable Drugs only, at 111 Washington Avenue.
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H. Kuntz, meats and provisions, first class market, telephone connection 2539-M Washington Avenue.
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Washington Market, Otto Groner, Grocer and Butcher, phone 2418-J, 122 Washington Avenue.


A look inside Otto Groner's store.


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M.M.Ryno staple and fancy groceries, hay, grain, Chesterfield and Tom Keene Cigars, phone 2416-R, located at 223 Main Street.
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Charles Kuhlmann, dealer in Meats and Groceries, fruits and vegetables, 249 Washington Avenue.
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Gustave Fleur, Groceries, Delicatessen and Stationery, Telephone 2438-J, Belleville, 36 Washington Avenue.
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It seems a fair assessment that free enterprise was alive and thriving in our town a hundred years ago. The many merchants listed here are by no means a complete list. Only a handful of advertisements have survived for a century. The number of privately owned small businesses was impressive. Pride in entrepreneurship was part of the culture of our civic ancestors. There is a certain "home town feeling" that comes with shopping where the storekeeper knows your name and caters to your tastes. Shopping with neighbors in friendly, local stores was a very pleasant experience.



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Friday, April 08, 2011

Belleville High School

Belleville, New Jersey

The 4 High Schools


No, that's not the name of a DooWop group, it is how many high schools there have been since the beginning of Belleville's high school program. To find the first, we must reach back from our vantage point in this 21st Century, entirely through the 20th to the closing decade of the 19th Century when, in 1896, we find our village's first advanced learning curriculum, the first acknowledgement that more than rudimentary education might be needed by young people to get on in the world. It was slow getting started. Public education at any level began not much earlier.

It was in the middle of the nineteenth century when attitudes toward education were changing such that sentiments leaned more and more toward thinking it a public responsibility to prepare young people for life with advanced learning. The concept was not entirely new as our village, along with our sister Dutch colonies, had been first in the New World, as early as the late 17 Century, to ensure the education of all children in a tax funded school system. Our public school system, however, ended abruptly when the English invaders became the new masters of the colonies. Free, tax funded education was not an English custom. It was abolished. The Dutch church assumed the responsibility of educating the young, but unable to collect taxes to that end, the system was funded by subscription, thus it was no longer free to young scholars.

Modern parents of the mid nineteenth century, a generation steeped in Victorian sensibilities, having seen the consequences of 150 years and so many generations of under-educated children, were demanding a return to a tax funded system to ensure at least a rudimentary education for all children. Belleville responded in 1853. In that year, a public school furnishing six grades of elementary education was established.

High school was not yet a part of the new system. High school was a noble concept existing in only a few places. In those days, students went to grammar school through six grades. This was considered a complete elementary education. The young scholar knew how to read, write, do basic math and had been introduced to the "logic" of geometry. Education beyond that level was considered excessive. A young boy could then begin his apprenticeship at work and a young girl her apprenticeship in the kitchen.

For those with higher educational expectations, after grammar school, there was prep school to bridge the gap between elementary school and college. Trouble was, prep schools were private schools, expensive and available only to well-to-do families. In a world of exploding industrial achievements, it became clear to worried parents who wanted a higher standing for their children than was their own in industrialized society, that something more must be provided in the public school system. The eventual addition of 7th and 8th grades did help to bridge the gap in the public system, cutting down on the time needed in prep school. Still, public schools did not make the young scholar ready for college until finally, there was the addition of the public high school program. At first, in Belleville, high school was a two-year program, but it was not long before a full four-year curriculum was in place and students could be "prepped" for college, trade school or the military in our village public system.

The "Academy", built in 1853, was Belleville's first public school. Later, it was enlarged and re-named School 1. The old, original Academy, now behind and dwarfed by School 1, became our first high school in 1896. Lacking anything remotely resembling modern amenities, it was a challenge to study there, but Belleville's scholars were a hardy lot and they made do.

The situation improved, but only a little, when the high school program was relocated, in 1903, to the newer School 3 built in 1897. Many old photos and period postcards identify School 3 as "Belleville High School". Well, .. that was partly true. School 3 was a multi-purpose school. It housed a complete elementary school system, including grades 7 and 8. The high school program occupied the third floor, so to that extent, School 3 was the high school and remained so until 1915.

1915 was a year which underscored the importance of the high school program. It was then that the Washington Avenue building was completed. It was the first building used exclusively by the rapidly growing high school program. In that sense, the Washington Avenue school was the first high school; that is, the first building dedicated to only the high school program.

The original building was designed by famed Belleville architect Charles Granville Jones. It was a royal beauty. Several photos of the original building still exist. There were three additions to the school. No photos of the intermediate stages have surfaced so far. The final addition completed in 1937, including the gymnasium, is the way we see the building today. The Washington Avenue school, School 6 according to the town numbering system, served the community for 50 years as a high school and serves the community still as a middle school. It is well cared for, looks really spiffy with all new windows and is now surrounded with Cherry Blossom trees.

The new high school, our fourth high school, situated on campus-like grounds adjacent to the stadium, is pleasant enough. Although we call it the "new" school, if the truth is to be told, it is 45 years old now. Your author-here-present, having taken various adult school courses, once trying desperately to learn Italian before a trip to Rome, has thus been a student in the new school. It is reasonably comfortable, but lacks the classic charm and character of the Washington Avenue school. Perhaps I am prejudiced, after all, I graduated from the Washington Avenue school.

The Academy, located on the grounds where School 1 is today, is the historic beginning of learning in Belleville.

School 3 as it appeared in 1908. Several additions were constructed in later years.

The familiar south elevation, side entrance, to the Washington Avenue school.


The grand auditorium and balcony of the Washington Avenue school designed by famed Belleville architect Charles Granville Jones.


The main entrance to the "new" school.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

100 Years Ago - part 1

Our Neighbors

This is the first installment of a project that will be presented here from time to time, between regular featured essays, during the next 18 months. The theme is "Belleville 100 years ago". The target date for the project is August 24, 1912. It was then when everyone in town celebrated their civic pride on "Belleville Day" with much pomp and circumstance. While I am jumping the gun on this a bit, after all it is only 2011, there is a considerable array of material to put into a presentable format. By the time the target date actually arrives, it should all be in place for your enjoyment.

In this first installment, we'll meet the folks in town. These are people worth knowing. Belleville entered one of the two golden decades that occurred in the 20th century while this generation of citizens was active. 1912 was a peak year of the elegant, high-tech Edwardian age

It must be noted that there was significant lag time on this side of the Atlantic when discussing the Victorian and Edwardian eras. In England, where these eras were defined, the Edwardian era began in 1901 with the ascension of King Edward VII to the British throne and lasted until his passing in 1910. In America, however, we had been so enamored with the Victorian Era styles and customs that we were slow to make the change. Movement toward the lavish, fashion conscious Edwardian era in America did not really begin until around 1908 and it continued until war broke out in Europe in 1915 which effectively cut off our access to European fabrics, goods and fashions. Thus, 1912 was the height of the Edwardian era in America and we loved every minute of it.

The American Edwardian era was a high-tech age like no other before it. The gaslight, horse and buggy era was over. With enthusiasm and soaring expectations these folks welcomed the changes happening all around them. It was just 9 years ago that a man, for the first time in all of history, had flown through the sky in a flying machine. Now, these flying machines were everywhere carrying with them the eager sureness that everyone would soon be flying. Those amazing motor cars, a curiosity a decade ago, were now seen everywhere, they had become desirable consumer commodities. Everyone was saving their money in the hope of owning a motor car. Some of them could go faster than 25 miles per hour! That was faster than most people had ever gone in their entire lives. This was exciting. Motor boats were replacing sail boats. Telephones were already commonplace. Victrolas played all the recent hit tunes like the popular American Quartet version of Moonlight Bay, Bob Robert's Ragtime Cowboy Joe, or Scott Joplin's New Rag. Our civic ancestors loved to dance. There was a dance pavilion over at Hillside Pleasure Park. The two-step was in fashion. The teenagers liked the turkey-trot, although that was frowned upon in many places as an inappropriate display for young people .. shades of rock and roll forty years later! Ragtime music, popular a decade and two ago, was making a major come-back

Nothing explains better what it felt like to live in a time or place than does the music. Let's take out one of those old 78rpm victrola records, put it on the record machine, crank it up a few times, set the needle down on the record and listen. Imagine your civic ancestors doing the two-step to this music. This is Ada Jones, a very popular recording star of the time.


Below is a link to a collection of music popular at the time. These are the songs you would have heard in the living rooms, on the front porches and at the many social clubs throughout the town. Let yourself feel the rhythm, it's the rhythm of life in 1912.


1912 was a wonderful year! Business is thriving. New factories are moving in. The population is 14,000, growing at 10% per year. The town is boasting 40 miles of streets with 30 miles of them "macadamized". Public sewers are being installed. Electric street lights have been in place for over 25 years. The public school system is among the best in the state.

Let's stroll about the streets in our village, tip our hats and say, "How d'you do", to our neighbors. These are the people who are demanding a newer, better Belleville. Civic pride can be seen in their eyes in every photograph.

Let's begin at Town Hall on Main Street. Yes, that's right, on Main Street. There is a new Town Hall under construction on Washington Avenue, but that won't be ready 'til next year; 1913. For now, the town offices are located on the second floor of a multi-purpose building on Main Street about ten car-lengths south of the old Dutch church, on the river side of the road. There are stores on the first floor and a Sunday School along with the municipal offices on the second. Let's meet our town officials -



Moving along through the center of town, we meet old William "Doc" Hood. He's been active in recreation, athletics and schools for as long as anyone can remember.

William "Doc" Hood

Look ! .. there is William Bennett and his family in their 1910 Rolls-Royce.




And there is Stella and Mary standing by their front gate.



There is a large collection of photos of townsfolk from 1912 available, more than can reasonably fit in this blog space. However, they are assembled into a photo album for you to view. Click here to see the album -

Photo Album

As this project evolves, you will become intimately familiar with every aspect of Belleville as it was a hundred years ago. I hope you enjoy this trip back in time. It may be interesting to see how we have changed. Or, perhaps we haven't changed at all; we are still good people striving to build an increasingly better town. Perhaps the old folks we have met today would be as proud of us as we are of them.

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