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Historic Preservation Committee

Oral History -- David Higgins

David Higgins, interviewed by John Grossmann on October 11, 2006.


John
Grossmann:

David, tell us when you were born and where that was?
David
Higgins:

I was born in Mountain Lakes in my paternal grandparentsí home.  A doctor came around to the house in those days.  That was 89 Melrose Road.  May 25, 1922.
JG: Did your parents live in that home too?
DH: For two years after they were married, then they bought a home at 63 Laurel Hill Road.  At that time it was 10 Prospect Road.  I think the name of the road changed sometime in the early 30s.  It used to end where North Briarcliff and Laurel Hill Road now meet.  Laurel Hill Road used to come down what is now North Briarcliff to the Boulevard.
JG: Did you live in any other houses in Mountain Lakes?
DH: No, just where I was born and the Laurel Hill address.  I left Mountain Lakes when I went into the army.  My parents moved to Rockaway Valley in 1952.
JG: Whatís your earliest memory of Mountain Lakes or of your grandparentsí house or your parentsí first house?
DH: I remember Prospect being a dirt road and the elevation was also changed when it was paved, and I know it caused my Dad some problems, because it dropped it down about 10 feet and we had a big stone wall in front of the house which was undermined and he had to support that.  And what is now North Briarcliff from Laurel Hill Road up to Lookout was an unimproved road.  It existed only on paper.  There wasnít any road there.  It was called Vista Avenue but it was not a through road.  You could walk it but not drive it.  In wintertime we used to ski down it to Laurel Hill Road.  We used to sled on North Glen, starting at the intersection of North Briarcliff and Lookout, go down Lookout to North Glen, which was Addington Avenue at the time, all the way down to the Boulevard.  The town used to put gravel or cinders on the road there to stop us from going out onto the Boulevard.  On the other side of the Boulevard sledders primarily used Pollard Road.  I remember going down there once when it was icy and I had a young lady riding with me on my Flexible Flyer, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old at the time.  I had on big gloves and the edges of the gloves scraped along the stonewall there.

Tower Hill road was another popular location.  But I never used that.

JG: Would you go sledding at night or just during the day?
DH: Both, but primarily in the daytime.  But people knew to stay off of North Glen Road during the sleigh riding time.  There was a lot more snow back then.  And a lot fewer cars.
JG: As long as weíre talking winter, letís spend a minute or two on the lakes in the winter.  That, too, is very different from nowadays.  What do you remember about winter on the lakes?
DH: The town fathers use to make sure the ice was safe before they allowed people to skate.
JG: How would they do that?
DH: At the old firehouse at the corner of Boulevard and Briarcliff Road they used to raise a flag with a white background and a red ball on it when the ice was safe.  They stopped in World War II because it looked like the Japanese flag.  They did the same thing at the Mountain Lakes Club.  I donít remember if they switched to another flag but sometime after the war they stopped entirely.  When I donít know.

One winter the ice was so thick and strong that the town put a small truck out there to plow the snow off for the skaters.

JG: Were there lights? Did you skate at night?
DH: We had lights, we had music.  There were lights on an empty lot on Wildwood Lake controlled from the old firehouse and the music was piped from there. 
JG: What kind of music was played?
DH: The current popular music.
JG: So there was courting that went on?
DH: Oh yes.  I think it was two winters I served as a special police officer to keep an eye on things to make sure things werenít getting out of hand.
JG: Would the lights go off at a certain time?
DH: I think it was around midnight.
JG: Was there a warming hut?
DH: We had an outdoor fires -- that was part of my job to keep the fire burning.
JG: Did people play hockey?
DH: Yes, kids took up hockey.  I do remember some of my elders in those days, would do the curling on Wildwood Lake.  I just remember them using the stones and the brooms.  In the wintertime, must have been about 1938 or 1939, there was a particularly heavy snowfall at Thanksgiving time.  I was visiting a young lady on the other side of town and I got caught walking home in that knee-deep snow on Thanksgiving evening.
JG: Letís talk about schools.  Tell me which schools you went to.
DH: I went to St. Johnís School, which is now The Wilson School.  As did my brothers and my sisters.  It was a private school for boys through the eighth grade.  Girls went up through high school.
JG: After 8th grade?
DH: At that time you went to either Boonton High School or Morristown High School.
JG: How did that work? You had a choice?
DH: I donít know, because I went to Montclair Academy.
JG: Any memories of school that would be important to share?
DH: Just that I used to commute to Montclair on old public service bus route 116.  It took about an hour.
JG: Why did you go there instead of the other high schools?
DH: I guess my folks thought Iíd get a better education than what they knew of Boonton and Morristown schools.  Thatís only a guess.  I spent four years there and graduated in í39.
JG: What are your fondest childhood memories -- before high school? What was it like to be a kid growing up in Mountain Lakes in the twenties and early thirties?
DH: You knew practically everybody in town.  I guess it was the late twenties, early thirties, there were a lot of empty homes -- been foreclosed, because of the Depression.
JG: They stayed empty.  Was there a problem of vandalism? Who took care of the yards and kept them up?
DH: They were not maintained.  Probably up until World War II time.
JG: How many houses might that have been? Dozens?
DH: Oh yes, many many.  There was one across the street from us.  There were two up Laurel Hill Road up toward Condit Road, where that comes in.
JG: Houses where the yards were very shabby and where the lights did not go on at night.  Did that have an effect on the atmosphere in the town?
DH: Not that I can remember.  No.  It was almost like two different towns.  Uphill from the Boulevard was one area.  This side of the Boulevard (where the interview is taking place) was another.  We very seldom got over here, for some reason or another.  We got over this side of town to the railroad station.  My dad commuted into the city.  I remember going over there and waiting for the train to come in.  My mother would drive us over there.  And we used to go to Yaccarinoís, the grocery store.
JG: Tell me about that.  Thatís where The Market is now.  What else was in that building back then?
DH: When you face the buildings, on the extreme left hand side was the post office.  My grandfather on my dadís side was the postmaster for a number of years.  When the post office moved out it became Rhoades ice cream parlor.
JG: What was that like?
DH: It was quite a gathering place for the young peopleóafter school and in the evening.
JG: What happened there in the winter months?
DH: As far as I remember, it stayed open.  But there was a fire in the building, Iím going to say, winter of í38 or í39 and it took out the two end portions of the building thereówhere the post office had been and whatever was next door.  It didnít affect Yaccarinoís on the other end and beyond it, which was a drug store.  The garage was owned by a fellow named Hamilton and it did have one gas pump.
JG: That was more of hub then, than currently?
DH: Yes.
JG: What was it like when the trains pulled in?
DH: The trains must have been more a part of the town then, as very few people commute on them from Mountain Lakes nowadays.  I guess it was about 95 percent of the working male population commuted to New York City, so the train was pretty well filled up in the morning and in the evening.
JG: Your mom would come down and meet your father at the train station?
DH: Every day.
JG: You remember what train he would take?
DH: He would leave about seven oíclock in the morning and get home about seven oíclock in the evening.
JG: When he got off that train, it must have been scads of Dads, right? So, a lot of the town must have been down there to meet that train?
DH: Yes,
JG: What are your recollections of what that was like?
DH: After I graduated from high school, I did work in the city for a short while as a messenger boy on Wall Street.  I guess it was a lawyer firm.  It was quite a ride in those days.  The train would fill up in Mountain Lakes and Boontonóthen it was express all the way into Hoboken.  Half a dozen cars.  After Hoboken, I either took the Ferry or the PATH, which was called Tubes at that time.  Dark and dingy cars as I remember.  Coming back out in the evening it was the same way.  Express to Boonton, then Mountain Lakes.
JG: Was there an entertainment car?
DH: No, but the men used to play penny ante bridge.
JG: Did you play?
DH: No.  My dad was too sharp at it.  Even my mother would not play bridge with him.
JG: Tell me about the two houses you lived inóyour grandparentsí house and the house that your parents had.  Were they both Hapgoods?
DH: Iím not sure about the one Melrose Road, my grandparentís house.  My parentsí house was a Hapgood.
JG: Do you know when that house was built?
DH: I think it was 1916.
JG: So if youíre there in the twenties, youíre in a house thatís a dozen year old or something, which makes me wonder what a Hapgood House was like before they started leaning and everything else started going on with them.  What are your memories of a Hapgood House in its infancy?
DH: It was 13 rooms, three stories.
JG: Have you been able to get back inside? Talked to the people who live there?
DH: Oh yes.  Number of years ago, my wife and I stopped just out of curiosity and told them who we were.  There were some changes inside.  And there was an interesting commentóthe owners at that time said it was their summer home. 
JG: What year was this?
DH: Mid to late 1950s.
JG: Tell me about your family.
DH: I was the oldest of five children.  All of us were born at home.  Dr.  Frederick C.  Knowles, from Boonton, came out to the house.
JG: What room in the house was the birthing room?
DH: My motherís bedroom.  Looking at the house, it was the right front bedroom.
JG: You were old enough to remember the birth of how many siblings?
DH: My two sisters.  I can remember my grandfather coming up to St. Johnís school and telling me I had a new sister.  That was my younger sister.  I can remember going to Dr.  Knowlesí office in Boonton on Boonton Avenue.  In those days, he also made house calls.
JG: What do you remember of the house calls he made?
DH: Only when my grandfather died, he came out to the house.  That was in 1934.
JG: So, born in the house, died in the house back in those days often?
DH: Just about.  My maternal grandparents moved to Mountain Lakes somewhere around 1920.  They lived further up on Laurel Hill Road.
JG: Do you know what attracted them to the town?
DH: No, but they originally came from Yonkers, New York.  They moved to Passaic.  My maternal grandfather was -- I havenít been able to document it yet -- was the founder of Raybestos Manhattan, a manufacturing company, rubber goods, rubber with asbestos in them.  They moved from Yonkers to Passaic and from Passaic to Towaco.  There was a nice farmhouse there.  They owned quite a bit of property.  From Towaco they moved to Mountain Lakes.  Why, I donít know.
JG: One of the things Iím reading in your notes, which is interesting, gives me a sense of the look of the town back then.  There were people with some very big gardens, maybe even Victory Gardens during the war, but also vineyards.  Tell me about this?
DH: The only reason we had fresh vegetables on the table during the Depression was because my dad had a big vegetable garden out back, behind the house on Laurel Hill Road.
JG: Pretty hilly.  How did that work?
DH: There was a flat space out back there.
JG: How big do you guess the garden was?
DH: Hundred by twenty.  He turned it over all by hand.
JG: Getting the rocks out of there couldnít have been fun.
DH: No rototillers in those days.
JG: You helped in the garden?
DH: Oh, yes.  And eventually I took over and did it all.  Thatís where I learned to do my gardening.
JG: What all grew back there?
DH: Just about any vegetable you can think of.  Lettuce.  Corn.  Tomatoes.  Peas.  Carrots.  I think he had some onions.
JG: Did you can?
DH: My mother did a lot of canning.  And jellies and jams also.  She had a place in the basement where she kept them.  She used to buy sugar in 100 pound sacks.  She manhandled them herself from the car into the house.
JG: Itís hard to imagine big gardens in the town now because the trees are so big.  But these trees looked like what when you were a young boy?
DH: Saplings.  Six inches in diameter.  Some were bigger.  Now we did have for a number of years, some chickens.  The chickens my dad first got were given to him from the neighbor next door --
JG: You had a rooster, too?
DH: I think we did.
JG: So you remember a rooster crowing in the morning?
DH: Oh, yeah.  I used to sell eggs around the neighborhood.
JG: How would you transport them?
DH: In a little cardboard box, nothing special.  Didnít have the formed containers.  I handled them very carefully.  Iíd sell them by the dozen.  To some of the local neighbors, not too extensive.
JG: How far did you go?
DH: Maybe three, four blocks from home.  Up and down Laurel Hill Road.  Lookout Road.
JG: How many chickens did you have?
DH: Every spring my Dad would buy 100 baby chicks through the mail.
JG: Theyíd arrive at the post office? Chickens would come through the mail?
DH: I donít know where they came from.  We used to keep them in the kitchen near the stove to keep warm until it got warm enough to let them go outside.  Weíd lose about half of them during the year.  My dad built a chicken house, somewhere around 1930.  Itís still there.  Itís made of wood and stucco on the outside.  Part of it was closed off to keep feed in.  Hundred pound bags of feed, which my mother would manhandle out of the car, until I got old enough to do it.  There was a fenced-in area for the chickens.  They were white leghorns and the big problem with them was, they could fly.  We had an eight-foot fence and we had to trim their wings so they couldnít fly over the fence. 
JG: You would sell a dozen eggs for how much money?
DH: Twenty-five cents in those days.  The money went into a savings account in the bank in my name.  It was in part to teach me responsibility and a little bit of business acumen, shall we say.
JG: This raises the whole matter of animals in town back then.  There are stories of elephants on Pollard.  You might as well tell me what you know about that and other animals in town.
DH: It was Hill -- the name of the circus people who had elephants there at their house on Pollard Road.  I donít remember seeing them.  I just remember hearing about it, after the fact.  I remember, I think it was a pony, a young fellow had, my age bracket.  That was quite the thing to have.  He didnít keep it too long.  He used to rent a space in a garage across the street from us.  He lived down on the Boulevard.
JG: You also had a magazine route?
DH: Magazines in those days -- Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Liberty, Ladies Home Journal.  I had customers all the way down into Boonton.  During the good weather I could do it by bicycle.  During the winter, most of it was by pulling a sled with the magazines on it.  I probably had 50 to 60 customers.  My mother used to take me in the car down to the Boonton customers.  My grandmother lived in Boonton.  She was one of my customers.
JG: We didnít talk about the vineyards in town.
DH: There was a fellow across the street.  He was of Italian descent.  He had quite a garden, including a nice vineyard.  He used to grow some nice Concord grapes.  Very much of an attraction for young people.  We had to make sure we could see him walking up North Briarcliff coming home from the station so we could get out of there.
JG: You had a guard posted?
DH: Right.
JG: And he made wine from those grapes?
DH: Yes, he did.  And one year my dad decided to make some wine out of wild cherries, little things we called choke cherries, and elderberries that were picked in the woods behind us.  I can remember this gentleman coming across the street, talking off his shoes and socks and getting into the bucket to smash the grapes and stamping on them with his bare feet to help my dad.
JG: How was the wine?
DH: Not bad.  One year my mother decided to make dandelion wine.  I had a friend in high school, of French descent.  He was supposed a great wine drinker, but it was a little too much for him.  My mother used to put up root beer and store the bottles underneath the refrigerator.  In those days, we had an electric refrigerator with four legs and it was open underneath.  One year she decided to make some grape juice and put it in the same place.  One night the whole dozen bottles of grape juice exploded in the kitchen.  Grape juice all over the place.
JG: I want to take a second and veer off of your history for a minute and ask you about various places in town.  We talked a little bit about the railroad station, because you were there so often, when your dad came home and also when you commuted by train.  Now thereís a restaurant in there.
DH: I know it is there, but Iíve never been in the restaurant.
JG: What was the station like?
DH: It was two-level and the lower level was the waiting room and ticket office and the freight office.  I can remember the railway express baggage cart sitting outside there.
JG: What kind of freight came in?
DH: I donít know.
JG: But a lot more freight trains passed by then?
DH: Oh, definitely.  There used to be four tracks.  Two eastbound and two westbound.  On each side there was a local line, closest to the curb.  The inside line was for express and freight.  At one time it was the main route from Hoboken to Buffalo.  It was called the route of the Phoebe Snow.
JG: Train whistles.  They must have been going all the time?
DH: Yes.  And from our home up there on Laurel Hill road, depending on the atmosphere, you could see the smoke from the train.  On a heavy, humid day it would stay close to the ground.  On a clear day you could see the smoke rising up from the trains.
JG: They were what kind of trains?
DH: Coal-fired trains.  Soft coal.
JG: What was the Esplanade like back then? Originally that was built so Hapgood could have a carriage there to meet prospective homebuyers at the train.  Did the town do anything there back then?
DH: Not that I know of.  I can remember, somebody would get on that train going into New York, who didnít know or hadnít ridden it before.  When it approaches Hoboken you go into a tunnel underneath Jersey City.  In warm weather, some people would have the windows open.  They learned in a hurry that you didnít have the windows open going through a tunnel, because of the smoke.  The trains were dirty because of that soft coal. 
JG: The Midvale Dock.  Did that exist?
DH: Yes.
JG: And Island Beach, tell me about your experiences in summer time.  What was summer in Mountain Lakes like with the lake and the beaches?
DH: I can remember Island Beach before it was a public beach.  It was a wooded area, a promontory that stuck out the way it does now.  It was owned by a family named Kelly.  We called it Kellyís Point.  I think that was in the thirties.
JG: Where was there public access for swimming?
DH: We swam for a number of years at Wildwood Lake at Leonardís Beach.
JG: Which was where?
DH: At the end of the dam toward the Boulevard -- there are houses in there now.  In the collection of photographs in the Mountain Lakes file thereís a picture there of Leonardís Beach.  It wasnít too much of a beach, but it was white sand.  Then for a number of years there was a small beach on Sunset Lake, on the corner of Pocono and East Shore Road.  Not too many people used it.  My mother used to take us up there, until it was closed off for some underwater government work.
JG: Did you ever have a boat?
DH: I had a sailboat -- a 21-foot Snipe.  In those days they were all wood.
JG: On the big lake?
DH: Yeah, on the big lake.  It was all informal, nothing organized.  We had about eight or ten people with boats on the lake.
JG: When did you tend to sail?
DH: Weíd get the boats in as soon as you could after the ice went.  And get them out in the late fall.
JG: You remember tipping over a time or two?
DH: Oh, yes.  There was enough deck on it, I could lay it down flat in the water and jump over on the centerboard and bring it back up.  But you had to be quick, before the sail got filled with water.
JG: There were canoes?
DH: A lot of canoes and rowboats.  My wife, as a child, had a canoe she kept over at Midvale Dock.
JG: Did anyone back then have a motor?
DH: Not allowed on the lakes.
JG: Fishing?
DH: Nothing extraordinary.  Sunfish.  Few bass.
JG: The Mountain Lakes Club.  Was your family ever members?
DH: No.  We were not.
JG: Did you ever go there because friends were members?
DH: I can remember when the original club burned on New Yearís Eve.  My mother took myself and my two brothers down to a dock a couple houses away from the club and watched.  1926 I think it was.
JG: So there were a lot of fires back then.  The ice cream store burning, the Mountain Lakes Club burning...
DH: And there was one, back sometime in the early twenties.  The only reason I can remember it was the gentleman who lost his life in it had something to do with St. Johnís School and they had a memorial service for him.  It was cold night and he went back in to get a coat for his wife.  Never saw hide nor hair of him again.  That was at the Fanny Road end of Melrose or Hanover.
JG: What caused these fires?
DH: Electrical.  Nob and tube wiring.  Some were chimney fires, but not too many.
JG: Lake Drive School?
DH: One Halloween, there at the Lake Drive School, friend of mine and I took a construction lantern, a kerosene lantern with a red globe and flew it up to the top of the flagpole.
JG: You did this why?
DH: This was Halloween.  The next day the custodian was very upset.  He wanted to know what was wrong with the top of the flagpole.
JG: From what Iíve been reading there were quite a few practical jokes back in the old days.  And it seems like they were taken for the most part in good spirit.  What were some other practical jokes you remember?
DH: Like sticking pins in doorbells so they kept ringing.  Nothing damaging or destructive.
JG: Iím hoping you can help with recollections about the Little Theater.
DH: I think Roberston is the name.  She, I think, was a good friend of my motherís.  I can remember visiting there with my mother.  The Little Theater was in a separate building behind the house.  I performed in one of the performances there.
JG: What was the performance and how old might you have been?
DH: In my early teens.  Something to do with Cleopatra and I was one of the guards with a spear.
JG: Describe the building? Was there an actual stage?
DH: Yes.  Small.
JG: There were a number of productions each year?
DH: Yes, they were put on by a community theater group.  The operation is now in Montville, but this is where they started.  I understand they were in a couple other places before they acquired this place in Montville.  Theyíve got quite a nice stage there now.  I visited there a couple years ago.
JG: Did you attend a church in town?
DH: St. Peterís Church was our church.  My grandfather was one of the original members who started the church.  There is a bronze plaque in his honor in the church.  My brother Gilbert was the first child baptized in St. Peterís service, which at that time was held in St. Johnís school, before the church was built.  1923 was when my brother was baptized.  Thereís also a bronze plaque there for him.  He was killed in World War II.  I was surprised to get a phone call one day to hear they were going to have a service to commemorate the plaque and my wife and I came down from Connecticut.
JG: There was a drugstore and an ice cream story and a grocery store in town, but beyond that where did you shop for things? Was it Boonton?
DH: Usually Boonton.  Quite often weíd go to Morristown---Salny Brothers, menís clothing, over on Speedwell Avenue; Epsteinís, which I see in the news now that the building is going to be torn down. 
JG: How long trip was it to Morristown?
DH: Close to an hour in those days.
JG: Your family didnít go to Denville?
DH: No, my mother never shopped in Denville.  There was the movie house in Boonton, State Theater, which we used to attend quite regularly.
JG: A Saturday matinee kind of thing?
DH: Oh yes.
JG: And how would the kids get to the theater?
DH: Walk.  Hitchhike.
JG: Shows like what?
DH: Some of the early Fred Astaire Ginger Rogers shows.  Early westerns.  Tom Mix.
JG: Movie cost what?
DH: I think it was 25 cents.  Then as we grew up and could start driving weíd search around and see if there was a movie we hadnít seen.  Weíd go to Denville, to Morristown, to Dover, once in a while, to Montclair.
JG: You were showing off for a date, probably.
DH: Right.
JG: Were there special people in town you remember that really contributed to life here in Mountain Lakes? People who somehow epitomized the town or made it a better place to live in?
DH: I remember former Mayor Halsey Frederick.  He was a good friend of my mother and dad.  He had three children, two were older than me.  My dad was active in some of the town affairs.
JG: How did people entertain back then? Did your family have guests or neighbors in?
DH: No, my mother was never much for entertaining. 
JG: What about special events? What was the 4th of July like here in town?
DH: Fourth of July was a big celebration.  Fireworks.  My dad bought them in a store in Boonton.  My dad was afraid of fire, so he kept a ladder on the roof over the front porch, just in case.
JG: And a hose at the ready?
DH: Right.
JG: Did the town have a fireworks display?
DH: I donít know when it started over Mountain Lake.
JG: What about Christmas?
DH: Lot of lights around the town.
JG: What was trick or treating like?
DH: Nothing special other than going around and begging for candy.
JG: You wore costumes?
DH: Oh yeah.  Anything we could dream up.  One time I had a devilís costume.  All home-made.  We went house-to-house, maybe a couple blocks.

We used to have what they used to call Young Peopleís, at the Community Church.  It was run by a young fellow -- he was probably eight to ten years older than the children.  We went once a week, I think it was Saturday.  It was primarily dancing.  I think he had soft drinks.  There were records playing.  Old 78 rpms.  Big band music primarily.  I think that lasted for a couple years, but I donít remember ever having any problems.  Even though I wasnít going to the same high school, I would associate with the other kids socially.  I used to go to some of the affairs at the high school.  I had the advantage of both schools.  Both at St. Johnís private school with social activities there, and then later on at the high school.  I didnít do anything socially with Montclair Academy.  It was too far away.

JG: Were there chaperones at the Community Church dances?
DH: He was the only one.
JG: How many kids would come?
DH: Couple dozen.  I can remember in later years when my wife and I were talking about it.  She said she couldnít stand me at that time.
JG: But you had your eye on her?
DH: Not really, not until, 1942.  I had a friend of mine home from school with me.  I was at a prep school, Bradens School at Cornwall on Hudson, taking cram courses to get into West Point.  I thought: thatís a pretty girl, Peggy Lodge.
JG: What house did she grow up in?
DH: 14 Dartmouth Road.  She moved into Mountain Lakes in 1939.  She was a relative newcomer.  I knew her in high school.
JG: But she wasnít the one you had your eye on?
DH: Not until April of 1942.  She was wading at Island Beach with some of her classmates.  That was it, for 61 years.
JG: So you would have been in that 14 Dartmouth house a number of times.  Thatís a Hapgood?
DH: I donít know.  The main entrance was on the front of the house through the enclosed porch.  Now itís been changed.  The entrance is on the right hand side.  Three stories.  We lived there, I think for a month after I got my commission.
JG: You lived with her folks after you were married?
DH: Third floor.
JG: And then you moved away and never lived in Mountain Lakes again?
DH: We moved in 1952.
JG: So itís more than a half-century since youíve slept a night in Mountain Lakes?
DH: What do you miss the most and what was most important to you about Mountain Lakes?
DH: The small town, friendly atmosphere.  Everybody was about on the same level.
JG: Meaning what?
DH: There was no, I hate to bring up current things, big problems.  You knew practically everybody.
JG: People were all kind of from the same socio-economic status? Nobody thought they were better than the next guy?
DH: Yes, not at all. 
JG: Did your family lock the door?
DH: No.
JG: Did anybody lock their doors?
DH: I donít think so.
JG: Anything else about Mountain Lakes that made it special? Youíre proud to say you lived in this town?
DH: Yes, and Iím thankful that my folks were able to let us grow up here in Mountain Lakes.  Itís a town Iíll never forget.  I still kind of consider it my home.
JG: Mountain Lakes had a very different feel to it, did it not, than Boonton?
DH: Oh, definitely.  More of a park-like setting.  Everybody was more or less on the same economic level.  Ninety-five percent of the men commuted into New York.
JG: What did Mountain Lakes provide to you, then, aside from your spouse of 61 years, which is no small gift.  What other gifts did Mountain Lakes bestow?
DH: Still some very good friends that Iím still in contact withóall over the country.
JG: How do you correspond today?
DH: E-mail.  Letters.  Telephone calls.  Amateur radio.
JG: Have you ever had a reunion with those people back here in Mountain Lakes?
DH: Yes, Iíve attended several of the high school reunions, even though I didnít go to the high school (here).  The last one was I think three years ago, now.  My sister and I came up.

This last one they had Saturday lunch brought in by Mountain Lakes Market at the old high school, Briarcliff School, in the cafeteria.  For everybody at the reunion, that was high school.  Saturday evening we had dinner at the Mountain Lakes Club.  We used to have music, records playing, but evidently now they canít do it because of restrictions on using music at public affairs without paying some kind of a fee.  We had a nice dinner and socializing.  There must have been 50 people thereóthat was for 10 classes.

JG: When youíre back, do you tend to walk around town at all? Is there a part of town that for you is quintessential Mountain Lakes?
DH: Couple of times, when my wife was still alive, weíd walk down to Island Beach and sit down there, reminiscing.
JG: Thatís where the sparks first went off.
DH: Right. 

Thereís one place, I donít know whether I could find it.  Behind Briarcliff School, in the woods there, heading down to the football field, my wife and I walked down there.  Probably June of í42.  There was a great big oak tree on which I carved our initials.  I donít know whether itís still there or not.

JG: Want to look for it? Iíll take you over there, to the football field.
DH: No.  Iím not up to walking like that anymore.
JG: Did you carve a heart?
DH: Yeah.  My initials DH and her initials MSL, Margaret Stanfield Lodge.  With a pocket penknife.  I was 20.  She was 18.  That was the year she graduated from high school.

You mentioned the football field.  In 1938 and early 1939, the American Legion Post here in Mountain Lakes, my dad was the post commander, saw the need for an athletic field for the high school.  The legion undertook the job of cutting the trees out.  All by axe and hand saw.  Trees about six, eight inches in diameter.

JG: Who did all the cutting?
DH: The legionnaires, their sons.  I was one of them.  It started in the fall and most of the winter, and on into the spring.  Oaks.  Maples.  I suppose some sycamores.  The chestnuts were gone.  There were no evergreens.  Just hardwoods.
JG: What became then of the fallen trees?
DH: That was the big problem.  We just let them fall helter skelter.  We had a hell of a job cleaning them up.  We couldnít give the firewood away.
JG: How did you get it out of there? What did you do with it?
DH: One Saturday, couple fellas and myself got down there, early in the morning, before the men got down there.  We decided to burn some of it.  Got away from us.  So we had to call Freddy Webb at the firehouse to come down with some Indian tanks and put it out.  He says, next time you want to do this, get some brooms and some Indian tanks. 
JG: What about the stumps?
DH: The town contracted that out.  They had a steam shovel.
JG: Where did the high school play its home games prior to the opening of the field?
DH: I donít know, probably went to Boonton or Morristown, far as I know.
JG: That was a hurricane year, too, 1938, right?
DH: That was my first day of my senior year at Montclair Academy.  I got the last bus home.  Decided to go down and take a look at my sailboat on the lake.  It had dragged anchor from in front of the club all the way across the lake, by Midvale Dock.  I just tied it down and when the weather settled down went back and rescued it.
JG: Power went out all over town?
DH: Yeah.
JG: When there were power outages then, how long did the power stay out?
DH: Primarily in the wintertime it was because of ice and snow -- three or four days.
JG: Pipes freezing? How were folks heating their homes?
DH: Everyone would sleep in the living room and weíd hang up blankets in the doorway from the living room into the hall and use the fireplace in the living room. 
JG: That was a fairly common occurrence?
DH: Oh yeah.
JG: In a way, was that kind of a nice thing, a bonding thing?
DH: I can remember making coffee over the fire in the fireplace.  Of course the milk would be delivered to the house by the diary.  Glass bottles.  I remember one year when the people on Lookout Road had electricity and we did not.  My dad ran a line from their house to ours to get some electricity.  Must have been a football field length.  It was a dangerous thing to do.  We didnít run many appliances.  I can only remember that once.  People by the name of Pallister.  The house has since burned down.
JG: Lot of fires then, obviously.
DH: Yeah.  That was probably in the 1950s.  The man of the house had left -- gone to work.  Somehow, the place caught on fire.  The rest of the family got out, but they lost their dog in it. 
JG: What else do you remember?
DH: The woods, which is now Richard Wilcox Park near the Tourne.  There used to be several log cabins, built by young fellows who lived in Mountain Lakes.
JG: The kids cut down the trees, sawed the logs, assembled the logs?
DH: Yep.  Everything.  When you think of it, just hand tools, no power tools.  This was the twenties, early thirties.  I remember two log cabins, specifically.  One was in what was called Rattlesnake Swamp.  That was called Adams cabin.  It was relatively small.  There was another one on the hill going down into Rattlesnake Swamp, on the side of the hill about a quarter of a mile away.  This was built by a fellow by the name of Shute and his friends.  He lived on what is now North Briarcliff.  When you think back, it was quite an undertaking.  It had a second floor that overhung the first floor -- all out of logs.  There was a fireplace and chimney -- stones mortared in.  About the size of this living room weíre in, on the ground floor.  The second floor overhung about four feet.
JG: Fifteen feet wide and about twenty feet long?
DH: Yeah.  Open windows.  A dirt floor downstairs, a wood floor on the second floor.  A roof with planks and tarpaper on it.  It was probably a good half-mile down this hill.  Little narrow path.  Sand bags of cement and stones for the fireplace and chimney were hauled in and water from a nearby stream.  It was quite an undertaking.
JG: You spent some overnights there?
DH: Oh yeah.
JG: They were just kind of there for Mountain Lakes kids who were friends of these individuals.
DH: Yeah.
JG: How many kids might spend an overnight in them?
DH: The last time I remember it was myself, one of my brothers, and two other neighbors.  I remember when we woke up, my brother whoíd gone outside came running back yelling: ďSkunk.  Skunk.Ē
JG: So summers you were here in town, doing what?
DH: Swimming.  Boating.
JG: Some nights you might overnight in the cabin? And cook hot dogs?
DH: Cook in the fireplace.
JG: No girls allowed.  This was a guy thing?
DH: This was all guys.  Smoking, I guess.  But in those days there was no problem with drinking.
JG: Meaning it didnít get out of hand or it just didnít happen?
DH: It didnít happen.
JG: Those log cabins, theyíve since disappeared?
DH: The last time I was at the big one -- it had purposely been torn down.  That was in 1942.  It was sad to see it go.

I remember, must have been summertime, a friend of mine and I had gotten a job making an outdoor fireplace for a friend of my mother, up on Laurel Hill Road.  Weíd never built an outdoor fireplace before.  [He laughs.] We used my motherís car and went up to the Tourne area and picked up stones.  It was a wonder we didnít ruin the car. 

JG: Howíd that fireplace turn out?
DH: Good.
JG: Still there?
DH: I donít know.
JG: When youíve been back to visit your old house, what are the current owners doing with your old chicken house?
DH: Storage, the last time I drove past it, couple years ago.

We had trouble with the baby chickens disappearing.  Rats.  We tried poison.  We tried broken glass down the holes.  Couldnít get rid of them.  And my dad wouldnít have a cat in the house.  Never solved that problem.  Of course the feed was an attraction point, too.

I remember skiing up on the Tourne -- on old wooden slats.  Iíd take my dog and go cross-country skiing with him.

JG: Didnít have your dog pulling you did you?
DH: No.
JG: I understand people do that nowadays.
DH: During the early part of 1942, when we got into the war, we had this airplane spotting service here.  We had posts all over the country watching for aircraft.  I worked with an elderly gentleman who was retired from the army who fought in the Mexican War and was in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1906.  And I worked with him and our outpost was on a hill in the Lake Intervale section.  We had a little shack there.  We had a telephone service to it and lights.
JG: How much time did you spend down there?
DH: It was the whole evening.  Our sole purpose was to look for aircraft and report what we heard.  Direction.  Estimated number of planes, Estimated height.  No jets in those days, of course.  We reported what we heard.  Evidently they could tell if it was bad or good news.  We never had any problems.
JG: How did you report it?
DH: Right on the telephone, as you heard it.  It followed the British system.  He was quite an interesting character, a good friend of my folks.  During WW-II, he put together a little mimeographed newspaper type of thing, which he sent to as many people in the service that he could think of, about what was going on back home.
JG: There were party lines in your day?
DH: Yeah.
JG: What was that like? How many on the line?
DH: I donít know, but I know there were others.  You had to make sure there was nobody on the line when you went to use it.  Youíd pick up the phone and the operator would say, ďNumber, please.Ē Youíd tell her the number.  We had a Boonton exchange.  Our number was 0395M, for party line.  And the exchange was over the bank on Main Street in Boonton.  Used to be Boonton National Bank. 
JG: When you were talking to a girlfriend, you had to hope the operator wasnít listening in.
DH: Right.
JG: Did that continue through your childhood here in town?
DH: It changed.  It went to a Deerfield exchange and became 334.
JG: David, thank you very much.  Itís been a pleasure talking with you.

End of Interview

Transcribed and edited by John Grossmann, coordinator, Oral History Project of the Historic Preservation Committee of Mountain Lakes, December, 2006.



 Oral Histories and Recollections