Sunday, June 3, 2012


I would readily say that most people in the state of New Jersey never heard of the town of River Vale. Of those that have heard of it, very few even know where it is. Of those who have heard of River Vale and even know where it is, there are only a handful of people who knew this quiet little town as do those of us who grew up there during the 20s, 30s, and 40s, before the town's population "took off" after World War II. Included in these three decades are what we refer to as "The Depression Years". This is the era that I will endeavor to cover in my recollections of River Vale.

I will attempt to break down this writing into two sections. One being "places" and the other being "people". I might add some personal observations, also.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why this book?

Why am I writing this booklet? To start with, I am not a writer by any stretch of anyone's imagination. Nor am I a historian of any kind. To answer my own question: I have found in recent years when meeting people who now live in River Vale, that they know NOTHING of the charm and uniqueness of this beautiful little town tucked away in Bergen County. The generation before mine is almost gone from this earth and if someone from my generation does not tell what he or she knows, pretty soon my generation will be gone also.
I am not, and will not attempt to write a history book about River Vale. Anything like that is, I'm sure, a matter of record somewhere and does not have to be repeated by me. The dates in this are as I remember them and very possibly off by a year or two. 

I will give this booklet to other people that grew up with me so they can verify or contradict the content before I complete it. By doing this, any errors will have to slip through the minds of others also.

For the record: I was born in River Vale in 1929, with my older brother, Bill, grew up on Echo Glen Road, graduated from River Vale School Number 1 in 1943 (Westwood Avenue) and Westwood High School in 1947. I do not intend to write anything unless I remember it personally. If I vary from this it will be noted in the text.

Written by one who will be forever grateful for the experience of growing up in early River Vale...

Robert L. Secor, Maywood, NJ 1998

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Kessler/Conlin Estate


For a town that is about three miles from North to South and a mile or a mile and a half from East to West, there were many places that could capture the interest of a young boy with an adventuresome (and snoopy) nature such as myself.

The Kessler/Conlin Estate 

Kessler/Conlin Estate

There were several estates throughout the town that surely should not go without being recognized. The largest and most impressive of those being The Kessler/Conlin Estate. This was a huge three story wood frame house on the site of the present Edgewood Country Club.

The house was constructed by Julius Kessler, who was one of the first mayors of River Vale and the owner of the Kessler Whiskey Distillery. The estate covered over 300 acres and at one time had many "wild" non-native animals wandering throughout the fields and wooded areas of the estate.

Sometime during the 30s the place changed ownership from Kessler to a Mr. and Mrs. Ben Conlin. Mrs. Conlin was Mr. Kesslers niece, Dorothy Brady Conlin. About the year 1944, my friend Bob Castello and I became friendly with Don Conlin, the son of the Conlins and we spent every day of our summer vacations at the estate. For two young fellows who hardly got out of the boundaries of the Pascack Valley, this was something that really had us in awe. The major rooms in the house were huge with ceilings that I would guess were 12 feet high. As you moved through the heavily carpeted rooms, you had the feeling that you could easily have been in the company of New York's finest social set, who also spent many hours being entertained in the very same rooms. There was even a "card room" all done in natural wood, possibly a teakwood or something similar. Each and every room in that house just smacked of elegance. It could have been from a Hollywood movie set like "Gone With The Wind" or something of that sort. There was an indoor swimming pool (unheard of in those days), a pool room, a bowling alley, a separate maid's quarters, a kitchen that could have come from a small New York City hotel, that elegant card room that I mentioned previously, and best of all was the hospitality and charm that Mrs. Conlin offered to these two local urchins.

As soon as you would turn off River Vale Road and go into that driveway with the huge pines overhanging the driveway and parking areas you would have thought that you were someplace far from River Vale. The outer areas of the estate were maintained by a Mr. Albert Miller from River Vale who worked for the Conlin family. The inside of the house was managed by a very charming and cheerful Japanese lady, who was relocated in the East from California, against her wishes, by the U.S. Government during the early days of the war. As I remember, Irene was born in Japan, but came here as an infant and was considered a "threat" to our country and thus shipped East. Irene was a dear person who always kept us supplied with cookies, wonderful sandwiches and ice tea during the summer months.

The entire estate was sold to John Handwerg (the golf course builder) in the late 40's and soon became a 27 hole golf course. John Jr. moved into the big frame house and remained there until about 1950 when the beautiful house burned to the ground. A very sad day for all of us who knew the place as we did. One somewhat interesting sidelight of this fire was told to me by John Handwerg himself. On the night of the fire when the Handwerg family was sound asleep they were awakened by a loud clanging bell. This enabled the entire family to get out of the house alive. But what was that bell? It seems as though Julius Kessler had a big fire alarm system installed in the house probably prior to World War I. No one even knew of the system until the firemen went thru the ruins and discovered the thing in the cellar. When the time came the thing did exactly the job that it was supposed to do.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sears Roebuck "Pre-Cut" Houses

In looking back at our little town, I am reminded that it seems as though every corner in the road, every bridge, every house had a name assigned to it. The corners in the road were usually given the name of the family living closest to the corner. Names such as Leslie's corner, Ford's corner, Fondiller's corner or Lachmund's bridge, Overbrook bridge, Slunski's bridge, Leslie's bridge, Fondiller's bridge were "assigned" to these places. Not necessarily an official name, but one give to the place by the locals to describe or identify a particular place. Almost every house had a name too, most always the name of the family living in that house. Not always, however. Sometimes the name of the original owner stuck with the house regardless of who was living there at the time.

There were several Sears Roebuck "pre cut" houses throughout the town and it took awhile for them to wear off the name "Sears Roebuck houses." They are still standing. At that time, one could purchase a house right out of the Sears Roebuck catalogue and have them construct it or even - if you wanted - build it yourself.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Blakeney Estate

The Blakeney Estate is surely another of the fine properties that stood out in River Vale. It was located on the east side of River Vale Road with the property boundary starting at the easterly end of Cleveland Avenue and running south for several hundred feet, all the way to what was then the Spencer's house. The property ran back to the Hackensack River and was one of the nicest parcels of property in the entire town.

Blakeney Estate
The house was a majestic looking place, always with very well maintained grounds with a big white stone driveway that went back to a couple of well-kept barns or garages. The house itself was a three story place of masonry construction. It was a place that anyone passing by would certainly notice and be impressed. For as many years as I can recall, the place was maintained by a Steve Bickoff, who was a former Russian soldier in World War I. About 1960 the place was razed to make room for "progress"... needless to say, some of us "natives" did not consider this "progress". Was kinda sad to see it being demolished.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Holdrum Estate

The Holdrum Estate was located at the first turn in River Vale Road about 400 feet north of where the police station now stands. It was an older building than Blakeney's or Kessler's judging by its older architectural style. This place sat on the hill facing south looking toward the present DPW building and firehouse. During it's earlier days, it was facing the same direction, but at that time, overlooking Echo Glen Lake and the Holdrum Ice houses that stood on the south side of the lake. Immediately south of the ice houses was Holdrum's Gas Station and auto repair garage. This building is now the DPW building and the ice houses are long since gone. The main house, which was very visible by anyone traveling north on River Vale Road, had behind it several other buildings. One building years before had been a schoolhouse on Piermont Avenue for the few local youngsters in the township and then was moved and converted into a much needed firehouse for the area. There were other large buildings, also.

I remember the remains of a stable and another building which was a storage barn of some kind. At the end of these buildings was a most fascinating little building that was the workshop of Abe Holdrum, son of Garrett Holdrum*. Abe was about 15 years older than I was, but for many reasons he was surely "our hero." Abe could fix anything that was ever assembled by anyone. Within that little workshop he had constructed the only short wave radio in the area, at least that we knew of. I don't know who or where he ever spoke to, but we could hear the static and crackling from the outside while snooping around. Abe worked in the Holdrum garage for many years and was considered the foremost Packard mechanic in Pascack Valley. I cannot remember ever seeing Abe get mad or lose his temper although an auto mechanic in those days had every right to do either. The Holdrum garage was the very best place in the entire town where a young fellow could spend his idle time.

* full name: Garrett Samuel Milton Holdrum.

Holdrum Estate
This is a picture taken about 1927-28 looking at The Holdrum Estate from it front of our house on Echo Glen Road, looking North. You can see only the West side of the lake and you can see the bridge on River Vale Road. At the extreme right, you can just see the edge of one of the ice houses. To the right of that would be the present DPW building.

Holdrum Estate
The large estate became too much of an upkeep for the owner, Gary Holdrum, and was torn down and the property sold, probably sometime in the mid-40's. They didn't have garage sales in those days so they auctioned off all the excess furnishings as was the usual practice at that time. I remember the auction and even then I felt kinda sad knowing that this indeed was the end of an era. I've recently noticed that the big, old locust trees there were at the end of the footpath leading up to the big house are still standing in the same cluster that they were in 1935, and even before that.

There were several other large, well-cared for homes in town, but the three mentioned were the most impressive to me.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Firehouse

About 75 feet south of Holdrum's Garage, where the present day firehouse now stands, was the only firehouse in town. This building housed whatever fire trucks that River Vale owned. I seem to remember that in the early 30's one of them had solid rubber tires, an oddity even back then.
River Vale Firehouse
This building was a great place to spend a rainy or snowy day or a day that was too cold or too hot. The door was usually unlocked and the couple of kids in the neighborhood would go in and play board games or just sit around and kill time talking or whatever. We were always careful to leave the place exactly as we found it so no one would think that it was necessary to lock the place up. The building was also the town hall and unmanned police station. It was also used for town parties or meetings, so very often it was a busy place. Or at least as busy as sleepy old River Vale ever got. That, too burned down, probably sometime in the mid-70's.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Echo Glen Lake

Not many people know that there was a beautiful lake right in the center of River Vale. It was created by the Holdrum family by constructing a dam that blocked the little stream that presently runs under River Vale Road about 200 feet north of the police station. The lake covered the area from the present DPW garage north to the base of the hill where the Holdrum Estate stood. It went eastward about 400 feet to where the broken dam still stands. It went westward for probably 1500 feet or more and on the West side of River Vale Road. It was quite wide in some places. On a weekend you would see a crowd of people fishing off the bridge on both sides of River Vale Road. A crowd in those days meant 8 or 10 people. This lake was directly across Echo Glen Road from my home and I spent many, many hours playing along the grassy shore of this wonderful lake.

During the winter this place attracted even more people than in the summer. There was no television with which to watch football or things like that on a Sunday afternoon, so people headed out to various ponds in the area to go ice skating. Occasionally, an ice boat would show up on "our" lake as the lake was long enough for an ice boat to get moving. Saturdays and Sundays would bring dozens of people onto the lake and a couple of bonfires would be started so the skaters could take a time out and get warmed up. As I remember, I would spend more time playing with the fire than I would playing on the ice.

Echo Glen Lake
At left is a picture of Echo Glen Lake looking south from the front lawn of the Holdrum Estate. The two buildings are a rear view of the Holdrum ice houses. To the right of this, behind the old car would be the site of the present day police station and DPW garage. The row of trees further to the right would follow the path of River Vale Road going south. I don't know when this picture was taken. My guess is that it was the late 20's. The forward two people in the canoe are my father, Roy Secor, and my uncle, Harold Riedel, the other two I cannot identify.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hackensack River / Race Track

As it is yet today, River Vale has at its' Northern and Eastern boundaries the Hackensack River. There presently seems to be a big lake at the North end of town running from Popular Road to the state border and then some. When I was growing up, this was all woodlands with the Hackensack River winding all through the countryside from Rockland County, south to the Harrington Park section of the Oradell Reservoir.

This river provided a year round playground for any young fellows who loved the outdoors as much as some of us did. In normal times, it was a great place for swimming and fishing. There were along its' banks several sandy swimming spots that provided free, clean, safe swimming holes for those people that knew of them. Especially on weekends, many families would head through the woods to their favorite swimming hole and spend the day at the "beach". For the most part, the water was clean enough to see the bottom in all but the deepest spots. The kids, like myself, would drink the water from the river with no reservations. I never knew of any one of us getting sick from it.

There were more exciting times on this normally peaceful river, though. There was no flood control of any kind, because there were no dams in the river all the way up to New York State. In the spring, when the rains would come, the river would flood its' banks and sometimes even come up to the back yards of houses along New Street and River Vale Road by the firehouse. The river would occasionally come up to within feet of the white church at the end of Echo Glen Road. These were great times for us. We would be in the river all day long with its' rushing, muddy, debris filled water. We would always be able to get a free inner tube from Mr. Holdrum at his service station and we would often float from Kessler's bridge down to behind the Blakeney or Artz property. This might have taken a couple of hours with several spills along the way and several harmless encounters with the large black snakes that were also driven out of their homes by the flood. In looking back at this I've often thought how dangerous this was, and wondered why anyone would let little kids do these things. Sure was great fun, though.

The Race Track

Sometime around the year 1934 or '35, someone brought a large parcel of property on Piermont Avenue and proceeded to start constructing a complex of stables, a race track and a big grandstand for the purpose of having horse races there. I can remember my grandfather pulling a little wagon with my brother and I sitting in the thing and going over there to see the place being built. Never before had we ever seen these huge construction machines and the whole thing was quite a thrilling experience. They had bulldozers and shovels moving dirt all over the place. There was almost too much activity for a four or five year old to watch at one time. The place never really caught on as a race track, probably at a time other than in the middle of "The Great Depression" it would have fared much better. I do remember seeing sulky racing over there once or twice and one time saw an outdoor night boxing match there, also. The big event on those grounds was the yearly River Vale Firemen's fireworks display that was held right in the center of the big oval. The place was sold once or twice and then became a private stable. The stables burned down and then the entire complex was sold to become what is presently the Holiday Farms development.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fertilizer Plant / The Ice Arena

Not every memory or River Vale is necessarily pleasant! Sometimes in my time frame of memory, probably in the early 40's, it seems as though someone built a plant adjacent to St. Andrews cemetery on Cedar Lane. This thing was an eyesore to begin with, but when they started cooking their vats of manure everyone probably forgot what the thing looked like. The smell that came out of that place was beyond description. They usually cooked the stuff at night, but in the summertime and before air-conditioning everyone slept with their windows wide open, and boy, did that things smell! We lived over by the firehouse and the smell made it directly to our house and came in every window. The town fathers tried to get the thing out of town, but as today, the plant people tied things up legally, so there it stayed. One wonderful night, the place caught fire and pretty much burned to the ground before the firemen arrived. Thus an happy ending for the town residents!

The Ice Arena

In about the year 1938 or 39, John Handwerg constructed the largest building in River Vale. It was his ice arena on River Vale Road at the intersection of Prospect Avenue, adjacent to the then Public School No. 2. He brought a minor league team into town made up of mostly Canadians, who came down here with the hopes of making it into the "big time" league in New York City. I can remember going to several of these games and this was surely as big time as it ever got for a seven or eight year old River Vale kid like myself. At that time, my father worked for John Handwerg and I had pretty much the run of the arena. I can still remember how scary it was to be in the room with the big compressors running with all the accompanying noise. I was always glad to get out of that room. The sport was starting to catch on and attendance was picking up when Canada became involved in World War II. It seemed as though all the players left immediately and thus, no team. I do remember one night when our mayor, Mr. Blakeney, who had a front row box seat, got hit in the mouth by a wayward hockey puck and it messed him up quite a bit. The arena closed up as a hockey rink and for awhile was just a recreational ice rink. This didn't last for long, and it was then closed down. During World War II it was a warehouse for Lederle from Pearl River. After the war, it became a factory that manufactured canvas sporting goods such as boxing mats and things like that (Premier Athletic). The building still stands as one of the few industrial buildings in town. Was exciting while it lasted! Dick Button, the olympic skater, learned how to skate here.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

9 Hole Golf Course / The Gun Club

The 9 Hole Golf Course

This golf course was NOT the River Vale CC on North River Vale Road, nor was it the golf course that runs along Piermont Road on the old Kessler estate. It also was NOT the course on the south of town on the water company property. This course was a golf course that ran along Rockland and Cleveland Avenues. The course ran along Cleveland almost to River Vale Road and south on Rockland as far down as Central Avenue. The clubhouse for the place was on Cleveland Avenue about 100 feet east of Rockland. It still stands and was converted into a residential home many years ago, probably during World War II. Golf courses and any place that required automobile transportation were really hit hard during the war because gas was very hard to get and many people did not want to use it for nonessential purposes.

The place fell into disrepair and eventually just closed up, probably during the very early days of World War II. There was a nice golf course in Old Tappan that closed down about the same time, I suspect for the same reason. It was called Ripple Creek Country Club and ran all along Washington Avenue from Tappan Road into Norwood. One or two fellows who lived along Washington Avenue had airplanes and landed them on the remains of the old course and parked them in their back yards. This must have been in the late 1940's.

The Gun Club

One of the most exciting days of the year came sometime in the fall of the year when the annual clay bird shooting competition took place at the River Vale Gun Club. The gun club was on what is now Victory Place, about 100 feet in from Rockland Avenue. There was a clubhouse right on the dirt street and firing stations, facing north, all along the north side of the building. There was a little booth about 50 feet out from the house that launched these clay pigeons and the competitors would stand at the firing line and fire at these things to see how many of these lifeless "birds" they could hit. This went on all day and, boy, was that a great day! The day after, or the same evening we would go out in the bushes and find the "birds" that were missed and escaped unharmed. These were great treasures for us and we kept them until they inevitably got broken by some uncaring individual who didn't realize the great value of these things, or the family dog might sit on them and break them into small pieces, as happened to me one time! I remember many of the Westwood, Hillsdale, Old Tappan and River Vale sportsmen, dressed in their finery, coming together for this big event.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Airplane Landing Field

Just across Rockland Avenue from the 9 hole golf course was a large tract of vacant land. This property was actually a defunct housing development that had for it's boundaries Cleveland Avenue on it's north and Central Avenue on it's south. It went east and west from Rockland Avenue to Cedar Lane. Except for 4 houses on Cleveland and a couple on Cedar Lane the place was just a big field. It did have sidewalks going thru it and unpaved streets could be found if one looked hard enough.

These long packed dirt streets provided a great place for wandering airplanes to set themselves down on a Sunday afternoon so the occupants could stretch their legs or whatever. When we would hear an airplane buzzing around the sky, usually on a Sunday, we would run as fast as we could to this big field, hoping that this was one of the days that they would land. When they did, our eyes would almost pop out of our heads. Imagine standing next to a real live airplane (fabric covered) and sometimes we would even get to touch it. Almost more than a young boy could stand! We regarded these pilots as men from outer space, which to us they really were. The names of two of these fearless pilots come to mind as being Vince Moore and Bob Sona. Seemingly there were no restrictions as to where or how men flew these planes because they would cruise just over the treetops where they were about to land. Of course, they were landing on residential land, too. But then again, the residential land had no residents till years after this.

The street that they landed on is now named Roosevelt Avenue, probably was then, too, but no one knew it. This was surely a big thrill to all the local kids, after all, back then there would probably be no more than 3 or 4 planes fly over the town in an entire week.

This same field, known by us as "Ford's Field", also provided another thrilling experience for us. There was a glider club that I believe came from Hillsdale that also would use this field to test their skills on flying their frame glider. They would pull this with an automobile attached by a long rope and get it up in the air much like you would fly a kite. If the pilot was lucky to get into a draft of some kind he could make a big circle around the neighborhood and hopefully get back to the field. If he did not get the draft the thing would make a very abrupt turn and set down pretty much from where he just took off.

As soon as World War II came along, all these fellows joined the military as did most of the young men in the entire country. One of these glider pilots from Hillsdale, Frank Hill, became quite an American hero during the war as a fighter pilot. Flying a British Spitfire he shot down several enemy planes in the air war over Europe. I seem to remember that there was a Fritz Snow from Hillsdale and a fellow from Washington Township of the Beuerlein family in this glider club also. There were a few others, but I either never knew their names or have since forgotten them.

One day the glider didn't make it back to the field and crashed onto Mayor Blakeney's front lawn. I don't think that there were any physical injuries involved. I have also been told that the area where the 9 hole golf course was located was a little airport before it became a golf course. Supposedly this went back to shortly after World War I. This was indeed before my time and I don't know if this was true or not...

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Beacon Light / Herrmann's Grove

As far back as I can remember, River Vale had a beacon light. This light was one in a series of lights that would guide airplanes at night that were headed to the Newark or Teterboro airports. As was told to us, there were mail planes that would fly through the night from points north, such as Albany or Boston, and they would use these signals, that could been seen for many miles, to guide them on their flight.

There was also one in that series on the top of the mountain in Haverstraw, NY. The signal from our light was 3 red flashes and one white. When the pilot got over that, he could see Teterboro and head directly there. I saw that 3 red and 1 white signal flashing on my bedroom wall for many years and went to sleep many times watching it sending out it's constant signal. For years it was mounted on a concrete slab right next to the gun club, about 50 feet off Rockland Avenue. It was then moved to the southeast corner of the property that was know as "Herrmann's Grove". This property is now part of the River Vale Town Hall complex. I think that I remember that this light was originally on the easterly end of the Holdrum complex, but I can't seem to find anyone who can verify this, so that is also a "maybe".

Beacon Light Again

This same beacon light became significant on an evening in about 1938 or 1939.. On this particular evening a young fellow was flying a WWI army surplus biplane called a "Jenny" and hopefully heading for the Teterboro airport. The Jenny was the United States' principal plane used for training in the war. It had two wings and was fabric covered and although not spectacular the country had thousands of them. (top speed 55 MPH) As this fellow approached River Vale, following the beacon trail, a sudden fog rapidly formed and the poor fellow was instantly lost. He did locate our beacon though and kept circling around it hoping for a miracle to happen. We could hear this thing going over and over our house at about 500 feet. The "miracle" did indeed happen... One of our residents, living on Rockland Ave, had a radio of some sort and luckily was able to get on the same frequency as this hapless fellow in the plane...Our resident somehow managed to guide the plane to a safe landing on Roosevelt Ave much to his relief. The pilot stayed the night in a local home and was off again on his trip early the next day.

Herrmann's Grove...

The parcel of property that is now occupied by the town hall, senior citizen's place and the library was all known as "Herrmann's Picnic Grove". This was owned by Leopold Herrmann ("Lep"). This was a great place on weekends as it very often had a picnic going on being run by some Hudson County organization of some kind. There was lots of loud music and often a place where a wily interloper could "con" some unknowing citizen out of a hot dog or something eat-able. Sometimes we could even get a free bottle of Sattley's soda along with it. This would last until some observant person would notice that we didn't belong there at all and suggest that we move on.

Of course, by far the most important day of the entire summer was the annual River Vale Fireman's picnic at this grove. We counted the days until this great day arrived. Imagine, free soda and hot dogs and even ice cream!!! Also there were contests of all kinds, sack races, potato races and all that wonderful stuff. It surely was a day that we wanted to never end. As the day came near its' end some of the lively adults would move to the dance hall in the grounds and encouraged by some of the beverages they may have ingested during the day they would dance up a storm. The kids like myself were wearing down and would be content to sit and watch these grownups acting crazy... Great day, it was!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Peter's Store

If there was a "center of town" in River Vale, it would've had to be the four corners. There was a gas station, owned by William Blauvelt ("Bo"), a tavern named Grummans or Germanns and a general store owned by Ed and Elsie Peters. In the early '30's there was a butcher store somewhere in there that was run by one of the Artz family. Fred, I think.

Peter's store was the most memorable in town because it was a place where you had to stop every day on the way home from school and if you arranged your lunch money (15 cents) carefully you would have a nickel with which to buy a delightful Mrs. Wagner's cherry pie. It seemed as though Mr. Peters spent his entire life in that store. He was always somewhere behind the counter when you would walk in.

There was also a soda fountain in the front of the store where you could get an ice cream cone or something nice like that. The Peters family were certainly a pleasant part of our town and well thought of. In that store was the only public phone that I can remember. You would pick up the phone, hear "number, please?" give the operator the number, deposit your nickel and the operator would complete the call for you.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Dairy Farms...

During the '30's there were at least 3 dairy farms in River Vale. The one that we knew best was Pascack Dairy. It was located on the north side of Cleveland Avenue almost down to Cedar Lane. It was owned and operated by a kind and generous man named Harry Sabin. The Sabin family lived in a house out by Cleveland Avenue. Behind the house was a "milk house" where the milk would get processed and bottled, for mostly home delivery, by Harry and his milk truck. Harry usually had one of the local boys go with him on the route and take the milk from the truck and put it in the wood or metal box that the customer had on their front or side porch. The Pascack Dairy cows could almost always be seen grazing along the north side of Cleveland Avenue or over along Cedar Lane where they could freely walk. There was also a huge hay barn behind the Sabin house that provided another place where we could play and romp around.

Another dairy farm was owned by a Mr. Barnes and was located on the southwest corner of Prospect Avenue and River Vale Road. Mr. Barnes apparently did not have as many cows as Pascack Dairy and it seemed as though he worked very hard on that piece of property to make a living. I seem to remember that he grew quite a few vegetables on the property also.

A third farm was still further north up River Vale Road. It was owned by the Iten family and was located just across from where the Woodside School now stands. The Iten cows would wander all through the woods going even further north on River Vale Road.

The Iten cows would also go down the back and graze all the way through to Orangeburg Road. The Iten family eventually sold the farm and moved to Catskill, NY, where they had more space to raise even more cows.

There was a 4th dairy farm but I'm not sure how much of it was on River Vale land. That was Stockdale's farm on Prospect Avenue. It was a well-kept place with rather large dairy barns and a pond in the middle of the place. I know that some of it was on River Vale property so I suppose that it could be counted as a River Vale farm.

Just as most of River Vale has gone, so have these dairy farms. Each one was sold off and its' property was developed with houses being built where the cows used to roam.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Holdrum's Gas Station

In the building that is presently the DPW Garage was the best "hangout" in the whole town. This was the gas station and repair shop of Mr. Garrett Holdrum. It was a cement block building with an office on the right side and bays for 3 or 4 cars on the left. As you walked in, there was a candy and cigarette counter on your right and a lift top Coca Cola box on your left, kept cold by blocks of ice. There were fan belts and hoses hanging all over the walls of the "office" that would occasionally find their way into someone's car in the garage section.

During the depression there were many people out of work so there would always be someone found "hanging around" the place.

The mechanic in the place was Abe Holdrum, probably the best auto mechanic in the entire Pascack Valley. He was a quiet person, but very kind and friendly to the pesky kids that were often underfoot.

It was in the office of this garage that I heard the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor and that event will remain embedded in my head forever. I'm not sure I completely understood what it meant, but I did know that it was indeed bad news!

There were about 6 young men in there at the time and Mr. Holdrum was usually in the office ready to pump gas or wait on the rare person who came in to buy something, so I always knew someone who would be willing to tell me stories of old River Vale. My interest in this kind of thing went that far back. I can plainly recall Mr. Holdrum telling me the story of The Baylor Massacre about 20 years before it was uncovered. I was surprised that everyone made a such a big fuss over the thing because I thought that it was common knowledge that no one cared. The most amazing thing was how accurate Mr. Holdrum's description was of the location of the mass grave. The whole thing surely was no secret to him... that garage provided many fine memories for many young people like myself...

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Automobile Junk Yard

Just behind Holdrum's garage, setting back about 75 feet, was an automobile junk yard. This ran back toward the river and went from behind the fire house to the shoreline of the then empty lake. This thing probably showed up about 1938 and was there for a few years and for reasons unknown to us it moved to Old Tappan. This junk yard was a great place to spend our constant idle time. We would play in the old Packards, Studebakers, Hudsons, Terraplanes and many other unfamiliar named cars that are now only found in the history books. The place was usually unattended and even when there was someone working there, it was only a hard working guy named Joe. Joe didn't seem to care what we did in the cars. I guess because he knew that they were to be scrapped anyway. It would be a great day when we found a new arrival setting up on a little hill so we could kick it out of gear and then "drive" it down the hill and usually bump into some other wreck...

The picture at left was taken in the mid 1920's. It was taken of my grandfather, John Riedel, walking west on Echo Glen Road with two unidentified friends. The men are about 250 feet west of River Vale Road. All the property, which ran all the way to Rockland Avenue, became farmland and was farmed by my uncle, Harold Riedel.

The picture at right is taken of our favorite swimming hole known as the "clay hole." It was down behind the fire house at a bend in the river. On a weekend afternoon, there could be as many as 20 people swimming in this place, or sitting around on the banks of the cool, clear Hackensack River...

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

River Vale Roads

As one would look at River Vale Roads nowadays, it would be hard to imagine that River Vale had many roads that were not paved until after World War II. Our street, Echo Glen Road was not paved all the time that I was growing up. Many times after a heavy rain we would wake up in the morning and see a car imbedded in the street just past our house. We lived about 250 feet off of River Vale Road and the street would end at our house any time there was bad weather. It would be mud or snow all the way up to Rockland Avenue and those that tried to get through would often get stuck in something.

There were many other streets that were at least as bad. The ones that come to mind as the worst were Poplar Road, Cooper Lane, Rockland Avenue, the south end of Cedar Lane, all the streets that run from Westwood Avenue through to Central, also Central, Elizabeth, Roosevelt, Hermann, New Street and most other local streets.

About once a year a truck would come through and pour some kind of oil on the streets to kinda keep the dust down and this would pack the streets for a few weeks, but as soon as any bad weather would come along you would travel these roads never knowing if you would reach the other end or not. We would walk to school on Rockland when it was passable and I can remember more than once seeing a car up to its' running boards in mud and it would sit there possibly for two or three days until somehow someone extracted it.

New Street at times was so bad that people with cars would park their cars by River Vale Road and walk home. Poplar Road and Cooper Lane were impassable a good part of the winter months. Once a year the county would pour hot tar on the county roads and cover it with small crushed stone. Then for days people would be driving around with tar speckled automobiles and these small stones stuck to every part of the car that you could imagine. It was like undercoating your car while driving. This was really bad news for those of us who traveled around on motorcycles...

Over a period of time, probably in the '50's, the streets were all gradually paved and the citizens quickly forgot "the good old days"... I remember!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Mink Farm / Collignon Property

On the north side of Cleveland Avenue, about 200 feet from River Vale Road, stands a big white house. Sometime during the early 40's this place was rented out by its owner, Andrew Artz, to two fellows that had a mink farm in their backyard. This place was directly behind our house so we would visit the mink quite often. Was kinda interesting watching these things being raised from little ones to rather good size mink. The partnership was dissolved rather abruptly, shortly after the two partners had a knife fight on the front lawn of the place. I assume that they were settling a partnership issue. Made all the local papers for a short time.

The Collignon Property

Just north of the four corners, about 400 feet, as you went around a slight bend in the road you would have seen a parcel of property on your right that was owned by the Collignon family. Setting down in a small dwell on the property was an old building that housed the necessary equipment for Mr. Collignon's cider mill. Most of the year there was not much activity on this spot, but when the apples got ripe the place was a hustle and bustle of activity. There would be trucks full of apples coming in to drop off their apples to Mr. Collignon so he could put them into his big presses and squeeze out all that wonderful cider. This became another place where we would stop in and visit on the way home from school and while there sample Mr. Collignon's cider. If he did mind us taking his cider, which I doubt, he never complained a bit.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dobroslovich's Farm

The property adjacent to Collignon's was owned by the Dobroslovich family and was an active farm. Mr. Dobroslovich would work on this property from morning to night and raise some of the nicest vegetables that you could find. He had a little stand in front of the house where he would sell his produce to the passersby on River Vale Road. He surely worked very hard and very long for whatever he got out of it.

Other Places

During the early 30's there was a big baseball field on the southwest corner of the four corners. I can remember baseball being played there on Sunday afternoons with organized teams from the area. First time I ever saw baseball being played with people actually wearing uniforms.

On the southeast corner there was a big field, probably a couple of acres, that was at times filled with nice, big strawberries. These were grown by a family named Lentz who lived in a big old house on the property facing Westwood Ave. After the strawberry era, someone used the field for growing gladiolus which were then trucked to New York City and sold in a flower market over there.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Schusten's Hotel

On River Vale Road directly across from the end of Prospect Avenue was a big old hotel building. I went there once or twice with my grandfather probably in 1934 or 1935. I guess the only thing I remember about the place was that it was old and big and had several old men sitting on chairs on a big porch that faced north. It was the kind of place that you would have expected to see Wyatt Earp sitting and rocking back and forth in a old rocking chair. I've been told that this was once a night spot of sorts with music, dancing and whatever. Like other places in town this place had an ignominious end by burning to the ground in about the year 1935.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Westwood Avenue

Coming into River Vale from Westwood on Westwood Avenue as you cross Fondiller's bridge was the one and only street light that our town had. Don't even know why it was there. We thought that it was a mistake or when they put lights in Westwood they had one left over. 

Continuing east on Westwood Avenue, as you passed the chicken farm on your right, you would come to Rockland Avenue, same as you would today. One difference is that back then you could have stopped on your right and bought gas at Jandris's gas station or you could have gone inside and purchased some basic canned goods or other odds and ends. If need be, you could have driven your car around behind the gas station and have it repaired by Al Jandris who had a nice repair station back there. This also was a frequent stop for penny candy for the school kids like myself. I believe that the Jandris house still stands directly across from Rockland Avenue. The gas station was next door on the west side. 

Another couple hundred feet and you came to School No. 1, which when I first went there in 1935, was a wooden school on the left side and an brick school on the right. About two years later the old wood school was knocked down and a new school was erected and joined to the existing school on the right. I can remember walking amongst the construction equipment and on make shift walkways that were put there by the WPA construction workers who built the place. 

On the property immediately next to the school (east) was an old house that could hardly be seen from the street although it was only set back about 25 feet. This place was covered with overgrown shrubbery and thick with trees all around it. There was, what we thought, a very old man and a very old woman living in there that young school kids were afraid of. Little did these kids (us) know that this woman had been a secretary to one of our presidents and was a very accomplished woman. I'm pretty sure that she was a secretary to Warren Harding, although I'm not positive of that. Many years later The Bergen Record had a big write-up about this woman, Mrs. Workman. 

Continuing east on Westwood Avenue and having passed the four corners you would pass on your left a small dirt road that led back into the woods. This went down to a favorite swimming spot on the Hackensack called "Far Eastwood". This was at a rather large bend in the river and was a nice clean place for swimming or just "hanging out." Many people from Harrington Park, Closter and the Dumont area used this spot because you could get there by car, bike or take the number 12 bus to the four corners and walk a short distance. This was one of the better spots for river swimming. 

This particular dirt road received much attention sometime about 1948 or 1949... Seems like every once in a while when someone no longer wanted an automobile they would drive it into the woods someplace, take the plates off it, and just walk away and leave it....There it would stay until it rusted away or it got stripped of anything strippable.. One day in the summer this exactly what happened to someone's unwanted automobile.. It's fate was a bit different though. A couple of our local young men saw the thing and thought that it would be great for target practice. They spent the better part of an afternoon shooting holes in the thing and then walked away. Another citizen saw this car in the woods suffering from a couple hundred random bullet holes and called the police. We had police from all over the place plus a team from the Bergen Record on site ...Thinking this was a mob execution, at least, the thing got areawide publicity for a couple of days, with photos. When the authorities determined that this was just some random activity they seemed to know exactly who to talk to.....and they did. I have been told recently that the target shooters spent some time as "state guests" for their participation.

Leslie's Bridge
A bit further, as you reached Cooper Lane, there was a little gas station and store directly in front of you (long since gone). Westwood Avenue bears left and heads for Old Tappan. Just after this left turn, you would pass, on your right, the Huttick chicken farm where you could hear, see and smell hundreds of chickens trying hard to produce eggs for Mr. Hutticks egg route. The Hutticks moved to the Blairstown area in the mid-40's. 

Another couple of hundred feet and there on your right was Van Orden's tulip farm. Sure was a pretty sight when all the tulips came into bloom in the spring. 

A little bit further and you would cross Leslie's bridge, leave River Vale, and enter Old Tappan.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More Places

There was another gas station located on River Vale Road at the end of Piermont Ave. Actually if you were traveling east on Piermont and did not turn when you reached River Vale Road you would have driven right into the place. It was operated by an old couple named Kastfield. I can remember having to walk all the way up there to buy a plug of Red Apple chewing tobacco for my uncle whenever Mr. Holdrum was out of it. I think I received a nickel for my efforts...

Another gas station was on the south west corner of the Demarest Avenue and Cedar Lane intersection. It was operated by a Mr. Wiedmann. As I remember he sold Tydol gas and would do minor repairs. The station is still on the same corner.

Traveling north on Cedar Lane you would come to The Pascack Pool on your left (Hillsdale) and yet another gas station on your right. This was run by Mr. Ploger and had a repair garage just to the right. For quite a few years, Bob Winters from Hillsdale was the mechanic that did all the repair work for Mr. Ploger. If you wanted a Country Club ice cream cone you would go to Plogers. If you wanted a Breyer's cone you would go to Peters. You could get any flavor that you wanted as long as it was vanilla, chocolate or strawberry. Oh yes! 5 cents.

On River Vale Road just below Orangeburg Road was a old grocery store that was run by Mrs. Scarangella. It was in "upper River Vale" and we didn't go there too often because it was too far to walk when Peter's was so much closer. If I remember they had gas pumps in front of the place, so there was one other place that you could buy gas. This place operates as a country store till this day although the gas pumps have long since been retired.

In those days there were no gas stations open at night. If you ran out of gas at night you'd better remember where your car stopped because you would have to go the next morning and retrieve it. Shortly after the war a station in Westwood, Pete's Esso, would remain open until 10 PM so that was kinda like an oasis of sorts. Not too long after that others would stay open in the evenings also, including the one on the Four Corners in River Vale.

Friday, May 4, 2012

About Some People...

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 closer.

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" or privacy.

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 they were.

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 Sr.: To the best of my knowledge was our first police chief. Had the appearance of being a stern fellow, but in reality was just the opposite. Was real nice to the young fellows in town, like myself, who needed direction once in awhile.

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 door.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

I Remember...

I remember standing on the northwest corner of Piermont Avenue and River Vale Road, looking towards the northwest and seeing about 200 acres of corn planted on the Kessler property by Bill Handwerg. Now the same space is the 27 hole golf course.

I remember Mrs. Fischer, who owned all the property at the end of New Street, having her house flooded out almost every spring. It was all the way down by the river so it was in constant jeopardy. She had the place moved closer to New Street, which was much safer, but then constructed another place just at the end of New Street. This area was probably the best fishing spot along the river. It sure was my favorite.

I remember the big gun fight on Beck Place on New Year’s Day 1950. A friend who grew up with us probably had too much to drink and started shooting up the neighborhood and then did battle with the many police that came to quell the action. Our friend, John, was shot and killed by a local policeman. Many, many shots were fired, but John was the only one that was injured. It was a very sad thing for the entire town.

I remember, during World War II, waiting for the Thursday edition of the Westwood News to come out so we could see if any of the local military people were going to be listed on the front page as killed or missing in action. In such a close knit area as Pascack Valley, most people knew each other and all were affected by any of these grim announcements.

For many years, the River Vale kids went to either Park Ridge or Westwood High school. I can remember in Westwood High School, as being referred to as one of the River Vale “hicks”. As far as I can remember, we didn’t mind that label either, probably had some truth in it…

I remember the Hill Bus number 12 that would go through our town coming in from Harrington Park and travelling all the way up River Vale Road to Piermont Avenue and then turning left to Westwood. This bus came only once an hour and if you missed it, you walked to Westwood. For a short time during the war this service was cut to every two hours, but this didn’t last for long. This bus was our main connection to the “outside world.”

Dumps. I remember dumps! Every house had a household dump pile on its grounds somewhere. In the summer months when suffering from extreme boredom, we would tour our section of town and see what valuable things that we could find in other people’s dump pile. A great find would be a certain baby carriage that had removable wheels. I would take these treasures home and make a coaster car which would keep me occupied for several days.

There was a fellow named Merritt Dean, from Harrington Park, who had a pretty good size truck. With this truck he would take the job of cleaning out people’s houses as they were getting ready to sell them, or clean out a store that was to close. Merritt would then dump the whole thing in the back yard of Mr. Hashagen to try and fill up the swamp that was there. This was better than Christmas! We’d be in that dump pile for days until we had examined each and every box, bag or dresser drawer that found its way there.

During the war there were “scrap drives” where men from town who may have had a truck would volunteer themselves and their truck to travel around the town and pick up any metal that people would donate to the “war effort”. All this metal was heaped into a big pile behind the firehouse. That was our exclusive territory, at least so we figured. The pile sat there for a couple of weeks so we had plenty of time to be sure that there was nothing donated to that pile that would have been badly needed. I remember taking many things home that I figured would have a better future with me. I used some of that valuable stuff for trading material for several years after that. We won the war anyway…

About the same time I remember that if we took an aluminum pot or anything aluminum to the Pascack Movie Theater on Saturday afternoon all we had to do was toss the aluminum article into a big pile in the lobby and we got in to the movie for free. That was easy. All we would have to do is go to one of our favorite dumps and pick up a pot and we had free passage into the double feature (plus cartoons and a newsreel), saved us 11 cents!

I remember crawling through the drainage pile that came from the Pascack Pool to get into the place at a greatly reduced rate. Saved 25 cents there, too!

I Remember... (continued)

About the years 1943 or 1944, the government would keep Italian prisoners of war in Camp Shanks which was just across the New York border in Orangeburg. Very often, on Sunday afternoons, we would hear loud singing coming down River Vale and coming around Holdrum's Corner. There would be about 20 or 30 POW's, dressed in their Italian uniforms, out for a Sunday afternoon walk with one American soldier. Each POW had with him what was remaining of a long thin bottle of some kind of powerful smelling wine. By the time they reached River Vale they were not walking too good and seemed to think that they could sing pretty well. Usually the American fellow was not feeling much pain either. We would sit by the side of the road across from the firehouse and try to communicate with them. Of course this was a lost cause because they knew no English and we knew no Italian. They were nice fellows and all very friendly and were no threat to anyone. Those poor fellows never wanted to fight anyone anyway.

Sometimes when walking got too difficult for them, an army truck would come down from Shanks and scoop them up and drive them back to camp. About the same time, many American families, mostly from Hudson County, would bring their single daughters up to Shanks on a weekend and match them up with one of these nice Italian boys and every once in awhile they would have "mass marriages" up at the camp where they would marry about 30 or 40 of these couples all at the same time.

I do remember being told that they would not allow the German POW's to leave the camp because they thought that they were still supposed to fight the war, whereas the Italians had long since lost interest in the whole project. There were very few Germans there anyhow because it was not a very secure place.

One time an Italian POW "escaped" and made his way to River Vale and hid out in an unused chicken coop down by Brookside Avenue. The poor guy was really scared, I guess and hung himself in the chicken coop. If he had walked up to any house they would have probably invited him in for dinner. Many townspeople were quite sad about that...

The principal purpose of Camp Shanks was as a port of debarkation, or "staging area." This is where the army would gather troops from army camps all over the country and prepare them for transfer to Europe where the war was going on with great intensity. When they had gathered several thousand troops, they would load them into railroad cars and transport them to Hoboken or Weehawken to meet up with the troop ships that would carry them.

Many nights, when trying to sleep, we would hear the constant rumble of these trains going south on the railroad tracks through Harrington Park. These trains usually would be 140 or 150 cars long and there were many trains during the course of one night so the process often took hours to complete. I remember it as being somewhat of an eerie feeling and also quite depressing.

When Camp Shanks closed in about 1945 or '46, it seemed as though everyone left the place at the same time and apparently they didn't leave anyone there to "mind the store". Everyone disappeared. We would at times go up there and drive through the camp just to look things over. We found that there were clothes lying right where people had left them; dishes, coffee cups, books, magazines left on tables and a few warehouses still full of supplies that were left unlocked and unattended. Looked as though everyone made a mad dash for the door and no one thought to stay and watch the place. A couple of months later, there was big news in the local papers about how the camp had been looted and "they would find the villains".

As I remember, they did find a couple of people who pilfered "big time" and prosecuted them, but all the people that took little odds and ends stuff naturally were never located. I guess the local civilians saved the army the task of removing all the things that were left behind.

The camp then became a place for low cost housing where many newly married couples lived in converted barracks until they got started in their own homes. The place then just kind of went away a bit at a time until it all became a residential area, such as it remains today.

This story did not happen in River Vale, but it should not go unremembered. About 3/4 th of a mile west of Camp Shanks, still in Orangeburg, there were many empty fields as that section was not developed at all. Almost at the River Vale border was one of these fields, almost empty, but not quite.

In the center of this field was what appeared to be a old building about the size of a two car garage..

We all knew the building, however it never looked interesting enough to investigate. One warm summer afternoon, probably in 1949 or thereabouts. I was leaning up against a building on Washington Avenue in Westwood and all of a sudden there was a noise that sounded like thunder. Many of us heard it, and felt it, but of course no one had any idea what it was. It was not thunder. It seems as though some young lad from Pearl River was out wandering around shooting his 22 caliber rifle at inanimate things in that same field. If by accident or on purpose he happened to put one of these 22 bullets into the little house. Unbeknownst to him or anyone else that little place was a storage place for gunpowder used in the manufacturer of fireworks. That little house totally disappeared in a tremendous blast and all that was left was a hole that looked like a WWII bomb was dropped there. As far as I ever knew the fellow, although quite surprised, was not injured in the blast nor was he ever charged with anything and nothing came of it other than a big hole in the ground. The entire area is now under the present reservoir on that site...

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Big Snake

The center of "our world" was the one and only firehouse in town and reaching out about 1 mile in every direction. We knew just about every tree, hole in the ground, every swimming spot and just about anything that was to be known within "our territory".

About the year 1938 or '39, every once in awhile I would hear someone at Holdrum's garage talk about seeing "The Big Snake". As the story went at that time, there was to have been an exceptionally big snake in the area within our "territory". When certain of the older fellows that hung around the garage would talk about this creature, I would figure that they were just trying to scare the "little guys" like myself, and I can still remember wondering if this granddaddy snake really did exist. I probably would not have given it a thought, except that both Abe Holdrum and his father Garrett went along with the stories and the Holdrum's would not try to fool any of us kids or in any way try to scare us. I remember asking my mother about this "monster" and she said that she had heard about this thing for years, but did not know if it was a true story or not. One could find those large, lazy, harmless black snakes most any time just by going down behind the firehouse on a summer day and with a little looking, you could see them sunning themselves on a log or something. A small one would be 2 feet long and a big one would be 3 feet or slightly larger. They didn't scare us at all.

One day, probably about 1940 or 1941, I was going somewhere in a big hurry and was running at my top speed on a path that ran from the big Holdrum House in a Westerly direction going towards the race track. As I approached a wooden bridge that crossed a little creek on the pathway, I noticed that someone had left an old tire on the bridge. I kept on running. As I got real close, I suddenly realized that this was not a tire and not an old hose, but in reality was "The Big Snake". I jumped over this thing, and was sure that I jumped at least 4 feet high (probably more like 2 feet actually), but I had the presence of mind to stop and quickly return to the spot to see what exactly I had seen. Sure enough, it was "The Big Snake". As he slowly slithered away, I tried to estimate exactly how big he really was. Judging by the fact that he spread out the the entire length of that bridge, he was at least 5 1/2 feet long and most likely a few inches beyond that.

One odd thing that I noticed and others affirmed was that his tail was blunt and did not taper down to a point as it should have. He must have had a close call with something at one time in his life. I do know that on that one and only occasion, I truly saw "The Big Snake". They really were telling the truth!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Fire Department

I have previously mentioned the firehouse, but this section looks at the firemen themselves. These were the fellows who took care of the firehouse, the fire trucks, and actually headed out to extinguish any fires that managed to get started in town. It was very rare, during my era, to have anything burn other than some woods, a vacant field, or just untamed brush that lined the streets of town, River Vale Road in particular. People who travelled through town, especially on weekends, would occasionally throw cigarette butts out of their car windows and in short order we would have a brush fire somewhere in town. The big noisy horn on top of the firehouse would blast out the coded signal as to the location of the fire. This could be heard from one end of town to the other end. All the kids in town (about 8-10 of us) would immediately jump on our bikes and head for the fire. Some of us would get to the fire before or about the same time as the fire department.

The first thing we would look for as we approached the fire trucks would be to see who was left at the truck to be on duty there. We would hope that it would be our good friend Nick Dobroslovich. Good-natured Nick would always be willing to give us equipment to assist in putting out the fire, such as a broom or on a real good day he would give us portable "Indian Tanks" which were water spraying tanks that went on your back. This was total delight, to be able to play with water and fire at the same time. We could get into the fire and help the couple of firemen put out this pesky brush fire. Most of the firemen didn't seem to care if we were there or not, but one fellow in particular would attempt to scold Nick for giving us this equipment. Nick would, in his nice way, laugh and pay no attention to this fellow, who would go away grumbling. Which is what he did about most things anyway.

I remember one other scrap drive also in the early days of the war. This was a paper drive that the town organized and someone's personal dump truck was used to pick up the paper. While the truck was traveling along Westwood Avenue, it decided to dump it's load of papers and teenage boys onto the hard Westwood Avenue pavement. There was lots of paper and kids lying all over the place for awhile, but everyone and everything got picked up and all it cost anyone was several yards of bandage, and, I imagine, a good supply of Vaseline and a bit of iodine. The paper drive continued... No yelling, no lawsuits. Things were different back then!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

More Memories

I remember swimming in the nice, clean, sandy-bottomed pool that John Handwerg built between the 4th and 5th holes on the River Vale Country Club. The pool never received too much attention from the golfers, I guess because they came there to play golf and not to play in the water. The pool shut down probably prior to the war.

By far the best and most memorable memories of mine all related to the outdoors of River Vale. All the years of my growing up in town, the woods, fields and little rivers were totally open areas. Anyone could go anyplace that they wanted. I can remember coming home from school and running toward the house already removing my school clothes so I could get out into the outside world in my old clothes with a minimum of lost time. I think that I hunted each and every day of hunting season and fished every day of fishing season and even beyond that.

I always felt that all the fields and woods and streams were my private playgrounds. All during the War it was very rare to meet anyone else in the woods because all the younger fellows were in the armed forces and all the older men were working in the defense plants day and night. No one but me seemed to have the time and passion to be out in the open all his waking hours. Sometimes with a friend, but very often all alone. Either way was fine with me.

Another outdoor pastime was muskrat trapping. I did a little of that for one or two years but I guess I left that up to those who were more interested in that pursuit than I was. We would sell the pelts, usually to Gordon's Hardware store in Westwood for about 3 or 4 dollars each. I think that people that went in to trapping seriously probably made quite a bit of money during the winter months. I was not one of these people.

There are just so many things that can be put on paper. The things such as the feeling and smell of the fresh air blowing through the tree tops or blowing across the field or the total peacefulness of fishing or playing in the beautiful Hackensack River cannot be transferred to paper, so they will remain only in the memories of those who have experienced them firsthand, as those of my era have experienced them. These things, coupled with the friendliness of the adult community of the little town of River Vale, have left me with most pleasant memories of the best possible place in the world where anyone could have grown up during my era.

The End. (almost)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Old Tappan

Old Tappan was so close to River Vale and much of their beginnings were connected so I will put a page in here about Old Tappan. All we had to do was walk across the Hackensack River and we were in Old Tappan. This we did quite often...

A place that was most fascinating to me was about 200 feet into Old Tappan on Poplar Road. It was a most memorable place. About the year 1936 my uncle, Harold Riedel, took me to see his friend who lived there in this little place not much bigger than an old chicken coop. This was just across Slunski's bridge on Poplar Road which is presently covered by the big reservoir. This friend came from Missouri and looked to us kids like a big bear. He and his house and property could easily have come from a scene from " The Grapes of Wrath." We barely made it down Poplar Road because of all the mud and then had to park my uncle's truck on the road and walk 100 feet to the house. The path leading to the house had mud at least a foot deep and there was no other way to get there. The house did not seem to have any heat except a kerosene heater and part of the house had a dirt floor. I think that the ceiling was not much more than 6 feet high.

The best part of the short visit was when 2 goats came out of the back bedroom to see what was going on in the front room of the place. We were informed that the goats lived inside because it was too cold in the outside barn.

I used to wonder why my uncle and my father were so friendly with this man until I learned a few months later that they helped him process some great firewater in his working still on the property. Fortunately neither one of them were working the day that the federal agents raided the place and took this fellow off to jail. Seemed like he was back in town only a day or two later.

He also had a herd of unruly pigs that he would let roam around where ever they wanted to go. A while later the pigs made a real mess of Mr Handwerg's golf course by rooting up the place with their snouts.

Someone probably could have written a book just on this unusual man alone. He always told us that his family left Missouri because of Jesse James. Supposedly Jesse would rob his father's store once a year at least. Taking this as an unfriendly act the father packed up and moved to New York and then to Old Tappan...

A Little More Old Tappan...

If you were to cross Lachmunds bridge and head into Old Tappan you would have come upon this building about 400 feet into Old Tappan. This was what was known to us as Lachmund's Hotel. This place was built in the 1870's and was where most everything happened that happened in Old Tappan. It provided a place for wedding receptions and dances, occasional silent movies, had a general store on the right end , had a bar room, also had rooms for the "city slickers" who would come to the "country" for a brief stay, also had the local post office for a time plus a meeting hall for town meetings . You could buy your hunting and fishing license there too... It surely was the most important place in the town. (This picture is from a very old post card)

In 1894 this small area was not a part of Old Tappan, but rather a part of Eastwood, which was later to become River Vale, but when Eastwood disincorporated in 1896 Lachmunds all of a sudden was not part of any borough.

Soon after, also in 1896, John Lachmund petitioned Old Tappan to annex the small area so he would be part of something. Old Tappan had no problem doing that so thus Lachmund's became part of Old Tappan. They then used the Hackensack River as the boundary between the two towns..

This place was one of our regular stops for penny candy, soda or an occasional cupcake when we happened to be walking or bicycling by...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Map of River Vale Circa 1930

This is a map of River Vale as it was when I was growing up. You can easily see that there were not many streets in our little town. We didn't mind a bit. The folks who lived here were very satisfied with the rural setting of the town.

Map of River Vale circa 1930
Map of River Vale, circa 1930