During the ’30's as I was growing up, it seemed to me that the majority of people living in River Vale were of German heritage. Many of the people that we knew actually came from Germany to this country prior to World War I and then others that came over during the 1920's. At the yearly fireman's picnics there would be groups of people sitting around speaking in German. I didn't even know that my grandfather spoke the language until one of these picnics.
As World War II started to appear to be inevitable we were aware of
the stress within some families because of those of their family that were
still living in Germany under the fanatical rule of Hitler. I think the
outward use of the German language lessened as the clouds of war came ever
Another thing that I will mention here is that I cannot think of one
house in the entire town that had a fence for the purpose of keeping people
out. There were a few fences for decorative purposes, but none for "protection"
Also I never remember anyone telling us to ‘get out of their yard’ or
‘get off their property’. It was not as if they didn't have reason because
when hunting or fishing or just walking to and from school people were
not concerned about property boundaries and we would walk wherever we wanted
to. We had a large tract of land and people would walk across it at any
time or hunt on it and we never cared. Looking back at those years I wonder
why things are different now. I suppose one reason might be that we were
often instructed to respect the possessions of other people and we would
not even think of destroying or damaging another persons belongings whatever
Rudy Shieshank: (possibly Zieshank) In the early ’30’s this fellow
named Shieshank drove around River Vale on a Harley Davidson motorcycle
in a police uniform. I was told that he was a retired Jersey City policeman.
I don’t know what his official capacity was, but he was always there somewhere.
He might have been a marshall or special cop of some kind, but anyone going
through town who saw Rudy and his motorcycle would surely know that we
had the law in town.
Alfred Blakeney: Was the mayor for as long as I could remember.
Mr. Blakeney was always well dressed and looked like a mayor. He usually
drove around town in a fairly new Buick with white wall tires. I never
remember seeing his car dirty.
Pete Ambrogi: The Ambrogi family lived on Cleveland Ave, next
to Sabin's dairy, for long before I can remember. When Pete got out of
the service, after WWII, it seems as though he was immediately in the construction
(earth moving) business. Pete had a bulldozer, with a tractor trailer to
transport the thing around, a big shovel, a big army surplus truck plus
enough energy to run all of them. As I remember, Pete dug house foundations
by the hundreds and would dig, scrape, move, or build anything else that
needed doing. My most memorable thing of Pete was that no matter how busy
he was, he always had a moment to stop and say a kind word to us younger
fellows when he would see us. Pete was another good "role model" for the
local young people.
Garrett Holdrum: Was a nice, grandfatherly type person always nice to kids. Probably knew more about River Vale and the surrounding area than anyone.
Nelson Roberge Jr. : Followed his father as police chief. Was a good fellow and a good chief. Well liked and well respected by anyone in town that I ever came in contact with.
Charles Blakeney: I have often thought of the many River Vale men that took an interest in the youth of the town and would spend time talking to us or making us feel like people rather than just another annoyance. Charlie was probably number one in this category. He took the job of scoutmaster and spent about two or three years doing this. He spent many, many hours at this task and I’m sure using up time that he really didn’t have to spare. Charlie, and several others from town, were great role models for the local young people in River Vale.
William “Bo” Blauvelt: Had the 4 corners gas station for years. Would go out of his way to help any young person with a problem if at all possible. He was a good friend.
The Artz Family: Lived on River Vale Road between New Street and the Blakeney property. The Artz’s owned all the property in this tract of land, which went all the way down to the Hackensack River where it formed a nice, well-protected meadow. At times our horses would be kept in that meadow. We would go there and climb up on the back of the big, slow moving, draft horse and think that we were going to ride him. The horse would calmly walk into the river, which was about 4 feet deep, and rollover and we would jump for our dear lives. The Artz’s had a big white house about 100 feet off River Vale Road and two or three barns behind the house and always kept in good repair as were the barns.
My aunt was one of the Artz family so the whole place was pretty much open grounds to me. My uncle farmed this place from River Vale Road down to about where River Road is now.
The Zeller Family: Owned and operated the Blue Hill Tavern on
Orangeburg Road where people came from miles around to feed on “Blue Hill
Pizza”. Was our favorite eating spot.
“Lou” Hashagen: lived in the house next to the firehouse. He
was the only roofer in the area. Probably put a roof on most every house
in town at one time or another. The town now owns the house, and, I believe,
uses it for the DPW office.
Danny O’ Neill was a radio personality and a great Irish tenor
who lived for a couple of years on Poplar Road. The back of his house backed
up to the River Vale Country Club, where he spent most of his time anyway.
You can still hear some of his records being played on the radio around
St. Patrick's Day. During the mid to late ’30’s many well-known people
would come to Handwerg’s River Vale Country Club and play golf there or
just hang out for the day. It was the best "open" golf course in Northern
New Jersey and people such as Jack Benny, Fred Allen, The Dorsey Brothers,
Benny Goodman, Barry Wood, Rocky Graziano, Joe Louis and many, many more
personalities, whose names I have forgotten, found that place as a great
spot to relax on a weekend. In the days of radio, much of the entertainment
came from New York City.
August Quantmeyer: lived two houses east of school number 1.
He was a member of the Board of Education and must have been the paymaster
or whatever it was called. About once a month our door would pop open and
in would come Mr. Quantmeyer. He would walk briskly over to the teacher,
hand her an envelope, do an about face and just as quickly he was out the