Vanishing Mahwah Farms: An Interview with Alvina Pelz Frey and Judy Pelz Coughlin

This article, by Carol and Dick Greene, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in Fall 1987

vanishingfarmsThe American tradition of the “family farm” lives on in Mahwah because of one tenacious holdout — Alvina Pelz Frey. She is Mahwah’s last true “farmer.” A farmer, by popular definition, is one who produces most of what he (or she, in the case of Alvina) sells.

In the past five years, urban and industrial growth in Mahwah has raised the population from 10,000 to 14,000 and, in another five years, this figure may reach 20,000. The wonderful farms, barns, fences and cultivated fields of the rural past are almost all gone. Yet on 16 acres of land on Airmont Avenue in Masonicus, Alvina Frey raises vegetables and flowers, and takes them to market in New York City twice a week. Can this small, gentle woman, stylishly dressed, who smiles with enthusiasm while expounding on farming really be what she claims? “I used to sell at the wholesale market in Paterson or from a stand here on the farm,” she said, “but, now, the best place is the bestes online casino. (This is a public casino for small players set up by the Environmental Council of N.Y.C.). I get up at 4:00 A.M., load the truck and drive into the City twice a week. I finish selling by early evening. My annuals go fast, because I arrange them into beautiful bouquets…”

The newsworthiness of the ten-hour days Alvina puts in cultivating, dusting, irrigating, and harvesting crops, as well as her success and popularity at the Greenmarket, has not gone unnoticed. She has been written about in the New Yorker Magazine (7/3/78), Working Woman (2/79), and various trade publications and newspapers including the New York Times, the Daily News, and the Record. At the astounding price that an acre of land now brings, most Bergen County farmers have sold out and retired. According to the New Yorker article, there were only 48 farms left in Bergen County in 1978. Today, that number would be drastically less. What could possibly keep Alvina on the land, choosing her tractor over a golf cart, her hoe over a tennis racquet…?

Judy Pelz Coughlin is Alvina’s “great-cousin” and, like Alvina, a native of Mahwah who grew up on a farm. Judy, blonde-haired, green-eyed and perennially cheerful, didn’t become a farmer, but one look at the property on Miller Road where she lives with her husband, Don, confirms the love of the land that she shares with Alvina. From one corner to the other, Spring through Fall, the Coughlins’ yard is a profusion of beautiful flowers and healthy vegetables. Presiding over all from year to year, in the middle of a row of cabbages, is “Oscar,” a grinning, denim-clad, straw-stuffed fellow who may well be Mahwah’s last scarecrow. (In 1984, the Coughlins’ garden was featured in a Mahwah Historical Society Garden Tour).

ALVINA’S STORY…

PelzThe farm Alvina operates once belonged to her grandmother, Alwine Deitzman Pelz. Alwine and her husband, Franz, were immigrants from Saxony (Germany) who came to America about 1896. They had twelve children, some of whom were born in Germany and some here. (Alvina’ s father, Frank, was born two months after the family arrived in America). “Grandpa got a job as a loom-fixer at the silk mills of industrial Paterson,” explained Alvina, “but Grandma wasn’t happy in the city. She had grown up on a farm in Germany and that’s what she wanted for her family here, so they looked around and finally found fifty-five acres in Mahwah.” Their first house was small and close to the road. A fieldstone well, built for irrigating the crops, is all that remains of that homestead. Later, they built another house further back from the road. on the hill, which was enlarged a number of times as the family grew. (That house, #177 Airmont Avenue, was torn down in 1968). They also built a large fieldstone barn. It is deteriorating, the area around it is developing, and its future is uncertain; but, nonetheless, it is one of the most beautiful turn-of-the-century barns left in Bergen County.

pelzhouse“Grandma was only 4′ 8″ tall and weighed 98 pounds,” marveled Alvina, but there wasn’t anything she couldn’t do. She bought, sold and traded her own livestock, raised chickens, gathered eggs, made butter, and cultivated the fields. She raised all kinds of vegetables, and had an apple orchard and several acres of strawberries.” Labor, with a handful of strapping sons, was no problem. At least twice a week, the bounty of the farm was sold at the Island Market in Paterson. “Grandma drove in by herself with her horse and wagon,” Alvina said. “My grandfather was willing to help, but she didn’t trust him not to stop at the taverns along the way. I know it wasn’t liquor she was against because she made her own — it was spending the money. Grandma bought stale bread for fifty cents a barrel at the Paterson market, because she couldn’t possibly bake for so many children. After working all day, she knitted their clothes at night.”

Eventually, the children all married and left home, except for Frank (Alvina’s father). He took over·the farm. Alwine stuck by her horse and wagon, but good-naturedly gave her blessing when Frank insisted upon buying himself a truck. In 1929, when Frank was 34, he met Mildred Oeser, who was 39. Mildred, like Frank, was the child who stayed home, and was taking care of her mother. She had given up thoughts of marriage, but Frank persuaded her that the time left to both of them would be best spent married. “Either marry me or don’t — but make up your mind right now!” he said one night. Mildred decided on life with Frank, and they moved into the farmhouse with Franz and Alwine.

“Two women in the kitchen didn’t work out at all,” said Alvina, “especially since Mildred was as set in her ways as Grandma.” Mildred thought she and Frank should move to Paterson, but he loved the farm too much to leave it. As a compromise, they bought the adjacent Fisher farm over the Ramsey line, where they could have their own house. Alwine and Franz didn’t like the lonely feeling of a big house with empty rooms, though, and offered to sell Frank and Mildred the farm if they would come back. They did, and harmony was restored even in the kitchen. In 1931, Franz died; and Mildred and Frank’s first child, Alvina, was born. A son, Frank, was born in 1936, and arlother daughter, Elsie, in 1941.

“I helped Grandma out in the fields,” remembered Alvina. “She loved working on the land, growing things, and talking about the changing seasons. She was always cheerful. No matter what the weather, she wore the same thing all the time — long sleeved blouses, skirts and aprons that hung down to the ground, a kerchief on her head, and high men’s sneakers that were a size too big. Walking in from the fields, she looked like Charlie Chaplin. Her face hardly had any wrinkles. As long as I knew her — I was 22 when she died — she looked the same.”

“My father had a cider mill with a one-cylinder engine in those days,” continued Alvina. “Grandma told me that when it was running the other side of Cragmere could hear the racket, and people were constantly complaining. (I knocked the mill down 15 years ago, but kept the steps). Grandma didn’t think much of the cider, but she really got involved in homebrew gin during Prohibition. She didn’t just use corn, but added peaches, cherries, potatoes, raisins…and she taught my mother how to make delicious potato wine.”

With a grimmace, Alvina described her childhood fashions: “Grandma knitted clothes for me, Elsie, and Frank. German things …they were awful! There were high stockings with horrible garters to hold th’em up, and long, limp knitted dresses … When I started first grade, the Cragmere children made fun of me. We spoke German at home and I could barely speak English, so I couldn’t even fight back. I wanted so badly to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like the other kids, but my mother was scornful. “That’s no food!” she said, and made me great, big ham and bologna sandwiches on pumpernickle bread. The other kids traded with me, though, to have something different.”

“Except for her style of dress, which she never changed, Grandma accepted progress,” said Alvina. “When I became a teenager, she never criticized me for my rock music, bobby sox and large, circular skirts. She got along with everyone.”

“Grandma didn’t expect me to be a farmer,” explained Alvina, “but my father did. I was the oldest child, and I must have been selected in the crib to carry on the family tradition. By the time I was twelve, I had become my father’s “right-hand girl,” plowing the fields with the tractor, dusting the crops arid everything.” If Alvina had felt free to choose a career, she would have become a musician. All through childhood and adolescence, she studied piano and loved it. It was her father who introduced her to music. He played the violin beautifully, and had a teacher who came to the house from Paterson. But music didn’t pay, he insisted, and discouraged Alvina. “Farming was hard work, seven days a week, and I didn’t like it,” admitted Alvina. “Frank and Elsie left home. I stayed, and the farm became my life. I can’t remember exactly when I grew to love it, but eventually I did. Grandma didn’t stop working until six months before she died in 1954, at the age of 91.” As for Alvina’s music, it is still a part of her life. She is known for her ability to play the piano beautifully.

ChodowoskiIn 1953, Alvina married Anthony “Tony” Chodowowski. They worked on the farm together, raising peaches, strawberries, corn, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, tomatoes and peppers. Tony had been in the lumber and construction business, but he grew to love the farm — and everyone loved Tony. Local people began to call the place “Chad’s Farm.” Tony and Alvina spent thirteen wonderful years farming. Then in 1966, on the very day they opened their stand, Tony had a heart attack. Three years later, at the age of 46, he died. To this day, the sign saying “Chad’s Farm” stands on Airmont Avenue, next to the old fieldstone well; and the fieldstone barn was recorded in a 1985 Bergen County Historic Sites survey history as “Chad’s Barn.”

At the time the Chodorowski’s ran their farm, the other farmers in Masonicus were Walt Rozanski, John Sudal, John Werling and Ed Litchult. However, the farmers were rapidly dwindling in numbers. Authors Bischoff and Kahn’s, in From Pioneer Settlement to Suburb: A History of Mahwah, New Jersey 1700–1976 (page 333) explain why:

The census listed 222 farmers and farm workers in 1940 and only 33 in 1970. Although the market for food was growing, local farmers found it increasingly difficult to compete with the large farms and the corporate agribusiness of the South and West. Roadside stands were still popular, but the farmers no longer had the political power to resist increased regulations and taxes … Thus one farmer after another decided to take advantage of rising land values and sold their land, mostly to developers…It was a rare farmer like Frank Pelz who kept his farm operating until recently by selling small parcels of land each year to pay for taxes and operating expenses.

“It isn’t correct that my father had to sell land to stay in business,” said Alvina. “The one and only sale he made was in 1964, because of rising taxes.” Frank Pelz sold the Ramsey portion of the farm to the McKee Brothers. (Then McKee sold to the Ramsey Industrial Park Corporation, where Minolta and Oakanite are now located). The remaining land, 58 acres in Mahwah, he kept. Two years later, Frank Pelz died at the age of 70. After that, Alvina’s mother had the old house torn down and built a new one at #297 Airmont Avenue. (This was on the site of the old house, where Alvina and Tony built their stand in 1966).

In 1970, Alvina married Edward Frey, her present husband. His business was sewer connections and excavating — and he had no inclination to farm (but wait and see… ). So, Alvina continued alone. Labor, as always, was her biggest problem. She has no children of her own –no one to carry on the family tradition, and would they, anyway? “You couldn’t get adult farm workers in Bergen County,” explained Alvina, “except for migrants, and then you’d have to house them. I never got involved in that, like the Secors and some of the other farmers did.”

Instead, she hired young people, because she likes them – -and because she thinks its important to share her love of the land. At the most, she employed three young people at a time. “Once,” she said, “I had a 21-year old bearded hippie from a rich family. He was well-educated and had· even been on an archeological dig in Egypt. But he was mixed-up and suicidal. One day, I found him lying flat on his face in the parking lot. “What are you doing?” I shouted. “Meditating,” he mumbled back. I pulled him to his feet and made him go out in the field and pick eggplants. I never knew what was coming next with that guy. He was a vegetarian and ate a lot of nuts, but he kept them in the stand and I wound up with mice. Then he wouldn’t help me kill the mice because “they hadn’t done him any harm.” I finally had to let him go because he was such a worry, but we parted friends. He said working for me had been a great experience.” And no doubt it was. The young people who worked for Alvina will one day tell the tale of “Mahwah’s last farmer.” And they’ll remember the sweet smell of the earth, and the feeling of well-being they had cultivating its bounty. It’s an experience that simply cannot be duplicated at the produce department in the supermarket.

For the past five years, Alvina has been growing beans, tomatoes, corn, peas, peppers, strawberries, blackberries, and currants. Recently, she made a connection with a food broker in New York who persuaded her to grow french beans, which are quite profitable. As are cut flowers –zinnias, marigolds, dahlias, snapdragons, and so forth. There are about 30 “Greenmarkets” in the City, set up on street corners or in school lots. The biggest one is on 14th St. at Union Square, open Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; and another popular one is at 67th St. by Sloan-Kettering Hospital. Some markets became unsafe, like the one at 175th St., near Broadway and Wadsworth Street. “My sister, Elsie, used to go into Brooklyn with me,” said Alvina,”but that has become the worst neighborhood of all.”

Launching into her favorite subject with the down-to-earth assurance of an old pro, Alvina explained the business of farming from her point of view: “Years ago, markets would take only large quantities, like a bushel, and you had to sell at wholesale prices. I stopped going to Paterson because the quantities they deal in are so large that I couldn’t produce things as cheaply as they sell them. Now, there are the Greenmarkets where you can sell either wholesale or to the public, and it doesn’t matter if you have only three squash or a pound of beans. Without the Greenmarkets, small farmers like me couldn’t survive. One year, I devoted an entire greenhouse to herbs and sold them out immediately, but the minute something becomes successful everyone starts doing it. I’m one of seven people who have lasted ten years at the Greenmarket.”

Last year,” continued Alvina, “I closed the stand because I couldn’t find anyone to manage it. Besides, I sell more in a day at the Greenmarket than I did in a week at the stand. I miss dealing with local people, but I’ve made a lot of friends in the City. Very often, customers invite me to lunch or dinner. They can’t imagine a woman farming, and they think I’m a character. Actually, as the article in Working Woman points out, a lot of women today are operating small farms –but those farms are mostly in the south and midwest.”

Alvina’s husband, Ed, gave up the excavating business recently for health reasons and started raising house plants. (What took him so long?) He recently built two greenhouses behind the stand, on the site of the old house. “He finally found something he likes to grow!” said Alvina cheerfully, “and his plants are beautiful. He and I make four trips a week into New York: I go alone on Wednesdays, we go together on Saturdays to two different markets, and he goes alone on Sundays. He sells his plants, and I sell the produce.”

In 1983, Alvina, her brother, Frank, and her sister, Elsie, sold 21 acres on the west side of Airmont Avenue (opposite the stand), which is scheduled to be developed under the project name, “Beaver Creek.” When Alvina’s mother died in 1985, the family sold 11 more acres on the west side of the road to pay the estate taxes. Three contemporary homes were built on that site. Alvina still owns 16 acres (where the stand is located), and is in the process of selling 9 acres to the south towards Ramsey. “I intend to keep’ farming,” she said, “because I don’t know what else I’d do — I couldn’t stand to sit home. In fact, I already look forward to Spring coming. It makes me happy. It’s like being reborn, and I love it…I always will.”

JUDY’S STORY…

stanleypelzJudy’s grandfather, Max, was one of Franz and Alwine Pelz’s twelve children. He was born in Germany, prior to 1896 when the family emigrated ‘to’ America. In 1914, Max married Mae Shuart. a local girl, and moved into a house on the east side of Airmont Avenue. (This house, 1107 Airmont Avenue, dates back to 1861). Judy’s father, Stanley, was born in 1916, and was Max and Mae’s only child. In 1918, Max· and Mae bought the 3 acre Doremus Farm to the north; (The house. #168 dates back to the late 1700’s. It is opposite the Athletic Field at the intersection of Airmount Road). Stanley was 17 when he took over the family farm. He married Arilla Bobb (whose mother was a Wanamaker of Suffern, N. Y.), and bought 40 more acres. 168AirmontStanley and Arilla lived in the house between 1168 and 1107. They had two children, Patricia and Judy. In 1949, Stanley and Arilla built a ranch house across the street (1104). In 1969, they moved to 1168, and named it “Blue Spruce Farm” because of the tall blue spruces surrounding the house. Judy said, “My father lived his whole life within a four-house radius!”

Judy vividly remembers the harvests, the rewards and rigors of her father’s life. “He had a wonderful disposition and loved the farm, in spite of the hard work,” Judy said. “He raised peaches and apples. He harvested the peaches from July through September, and took them to the “day market” in Paterson, which opened at 4:00 P.M. He harvested the apples in September, and packed them in the cold storage barn for sale during the winter and early spring. The barn was equipped with a conveyor belt and grates for sorting the fruit. Throughout the fall and winter, Dad sorted apples during the day and packed them in various size boxes. Then he slept a few hours, brought the fruit to the “night market” in Paterson which opened at 11:00 P.M., came home, slept a few more hours, and returned to work in the morning. It was a grueling schedule. By March, all the apples were sold. Then came pruning and dusting, and caring for the trees and grounds. Migrant help, which was all he could get, was a constant problem because the men kept leaving him for jobs in the city. In 1962, he dug up the orchards and began raising vegetables. He didn’t need as much land for that, and sold 38 acres to Mrs. Currans, a Mahwah resident.” (This land is now the Orchards development).

arillapelzThe hard work of framing took its toll on Stanley Pelz, and he began to complain of not feeling well. In 1968, Judy and her mother opened a stand, so Stanley wouldn’t have to go to market. Nonetheless, he kept up his routine of working by day and selling by night for another year. Then for the next four years he relied entirely upon sales at the stand, which Judy and Arilla operated. “I worked in the fields and got used to picking vegetables in the hot sun,” said Judy, ·we had corn, cabbage, eggplants, peppers…” At this time, there were three other stands on Airmont Avenue: Chodorowski’s, Litchult’s, and Werling’s “Peach Hill Farm.” Just over the border in Ramsey was Sudal’s on East Crescent Avenue, and Secor’s at the intersection of Route 17 and Lake Street. “There was plenty of business for everyone,” recalled Judy. “I loved the stand because we were dealing with people on a one-to-one basis. There was a lot of laughter and talking, about families, recipes, everything…It was as friendly a place as the old corner candy store — so different from the large-scale farm markets of today.”

In November, 1973, Stanley had a fatal heart attack, and Judy and Arilla closed their stand.

In 1974, Arilla Pelz sold 21 acres of her farm to Charles Secor, whose family still operates the gas station, produce store and nursery in Ramsey. The Secors use the land they bought from Arilla to grow strawberries, raspberries, cabbage, beans, cauliflower and peaches. They also raise crops on Route 202 in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River. Charles, the father, lives in Upper Saddle River and Daryl, the son, lives in Mahwah. Daryl Secor is the only other person in Mahwah besides Alvina engaged in farming, although relative to what he sells, it is on a more limited basis. (The Secors, like the Pelz family, established farms in the area in the 1800’s). “Alvina and I are fifteen years apart in age,” said Judy. “In fact, she used to babysit for me. We share so many of the same memories. I remember my Great-grandmother Alwine — so tiny, always working outside, and bent over with a little hoe in her hands. She was very kind and loving.”

If Alwine Deitzman Pelz were alive today, imagine how proud she would be of her granddaughter and great-granddaughter…

Judy Coughlin has three daughters, Christine, Connie and Bonnie, who live at home with her and her husband, Don. Alvina’s brother, Frank, has two children, Robert and Laurie, from his first marriage, and he and his wife, Sue, have a daughter, Stephanie. They live in Ramsey. Elise and her husband, Steve Wickenheisser, live in Sussex County.

 

A Growing Town

This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable”  in May 1982.

In 1892 John Y. Dater started the Ramsey Journal in what was then the principal town of HoHoKus Township. It was started in the two story frame house which he built on what was then the corner of Dater Avenue (now W. Main Street) and Maple Street. He used a hot air engine to operate his presses. This engine was very noisy and offended the neighbors. The building was afterwards moved down Maple Street.

In 1896 he started the old brick Journal Building at 2-10 Main Street. He already had two tenants: William Henry Pulis for grocery and hardware and John Garrison of Darlington for a butcher shop The first was where Electrolux now is and the second where the Deli is now. A deli and candy store opened between the two which was run by John Guatelli. The second floor was partly rented to the Ramsey Building & Loan. Other offices housed insurance and real estate and later borough clerk and the library. One of the two big rooms was rented by the Improved Order of Oddfellows and the Jr. Order of American Mechanics. Later a basketball and sports club occupied it. The big room next to the railroad had a stage in it which traveling shows rented and movies (silent) were shown. I remember my 1910 grammar school graduation there. A frequent tenant was Claude Rouclere of Ridgewood who put on magic shows.

John Y. Dater installed a coal-fired steam engine in his shop next to the track to run a newspaper cylinder press and smaller job presses. There were two type-setting aisles by the windows. Emerson McMillan, who bought the Crocker mansion, used to take the railroad to New York. While waiting for the train, and he saw me setting type, he would come over and chat with me. He made his money running several electric trolley lines across the state. I also folded papers and helped with job work.

This growth in the town was certainly influenced by the newspaper with its local news and advertising. Mahwah, Allendale and Waldwick all came here to shop. The post office was in the Pulis store and about 1904 the Vanderbeek Drug Company opened in the front of the Journal area. This was also the telephone switchboard until 1906 serving local phones, Havemeyer in Darlington and Mahwah. All of these facts had a hand in the local development. Of course there were two liquor saloons on Main Street, which were very popular on election days. The Township Committee met in a part of one on .the corner of Church Street. Up where Spruce Street is now, William Slack built a store where he made furniture, sold hardware and ran funerals. (He made the coffins).

In 1909 the First National Bank (now Citizens First) opened in the old Valentine house which stood where the bank is now. E.F. Carpenter, who managed the Crocker estate, was its first president. In 1908 Ramsey became a borough and there was a new phase of development. About this time an electric-trolley was built from Suffern to Paterson with the Ramsey station on Main St. where the high tension electric line crosses. Ramsey was a complete town with lawyers, doctors and vet, also drygood store and clothing store. The first ice cream and soda fountain was in the drug store with ice cream corning on the railroad from Paterson where it was made. There was also a lunch room on Main Street, a shoemaker, plumber, hay grain and feed store. As mentioned movies were also shown upstairs in the Journal building.

The Journal did all forms of job printing, even books. The operation of the newspaper and the print shop were all in the age old tradition of printing. That in itself, is a long story going back to the Middle Ages. With handset metal type hand-fed presses and hand-powered paper cutters.

The railroad was growing in those days with its fine old steam locomotives, and at least 800 daily commuters and lots of freight. When the rich people in Darlington went off or came back from Newport, or the seashore, in the summer there would be a big load of 6 to 10 trunks to be shipped on the railroad.

John Y. Dater switched to a typesetting machine for use on the newspaper. It deposited a line of type, set in words, which another operator justified into a column for the paper. Later on he bought one of the first Lino-types which cast metal slugs to be assembled in a column on the paper.

Now it is all different. Newspapers are produced by offset printing in which a typewriter-like machine produces type in a column. If handset ads are used, they are reproduced on paper for insertion. When the sheet is pasted up, it is made ready for the press by a photo-electric process. I learned .offset printing on board ship in the Navy and installed it in the Journal. Advertising was the reason the old Journal was sold and the Store-News started in its stead. The shopper generated a circulation 10 times greater and carried a greater and more varied advertising service.

 

 

 

Cemetery of the Old Ramapo Lutheran Church, Moffatt Road, Mahwah – Chapter II

This article, by Charles Anderson, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in April 1980. For the first part, click here.

Henry Frederick, 1729-1790, and several of his children are nearby.

John Bush, who died in 1812, could have been a son of Samuel Bush, who owned lot #96A south of the Frederick land.

Michael Fisher owned #154, including Hilltop Rd. There is a stone listing Mikel Fisher, 1722-1802, with two Fisher women, Mary, who died at 89 in 1812, and Catrin (Fishar), 1777-1793. A few years ago, Fanny Fisher Bartold, who lived in the Fardale section, died in her 100th year. She was raised in the Airmont area of Ramsey, which includes the old Fisher tract.

Adjoining the Fisher land is that of Conradt Brown, -1793 and Mary, his wife, 1777-1793. On the stone, the name is spelled Broun and Conrad loses its T.

One small stone reminds us that “Here lyeth the body of John Suffern, son of John and Mary Suffern of New Antrim, 11 mo., 1777.” On Darlington Ave., west of Grove St., lot #132 is in the name of Mary Ramsey. The young couple settled in Suffern (New Antrim) in 1773 and probably came to the nearest church for services. John Ramsey was one of the founders of the Dutch Reformed Church, and there he and many of his family are buried. There were 11 children just a short distance away from the boy who might have been his firstborn.

The Messenger family settled lot #24. This family too varied the spell ing of its name. Coonrad Mausenger, -1804, Nicholas Maysinger, 1760?-1804, Susannah, the wife of Nicholas Messenger, -1843, and Michael, 1774-1852 and Mary, 1777-1859. Lot #24 was taken by Henry Messenger. It was he who originally gave the church land to the Lutheran Church. Although not marked, he MUST be buried there.

There are many Carlough graves, and since a Carlough was an owner of a lot in the tract, here could be another of our very earliest residents. Some of the stones leave us wondering. Was Molle Hunter really Molly? Who was the Asler (Esler) family who was buried between 1774 and l798? What early names are hidden in the initialed and unmarked stones?

And what of Elias Fall; who died Jan. 31, 1771 at the age of 88? Who could the man have been, a strange name among the German and Dutch families of the early congregation?

This forgotten burial ground is as important in the history of Mahwah as Lorn Hill to Plymouth or Trinity Churchyard to New York. There must be some way that it can be saved for the future. It’s almost too late!

 

Hohokus Township

This article, by John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in February 1982.

From the late 18th century this area of Bergen County was part of Franklin Township, named for the last royal governor of New Jersey. He was a son of Benjamin Franklin., February 5. 1849, the New Jersey Legislature established HoHoKus Township running north from the Ridgewood line to the state line at Mahwah. It ran from the Ramapo Mtns. East to the Saddle River and embraced the towns of HoHoKus, Waldwick, Saddle River, Allendale, Upper Saddle River, Ramsey and Mahwah. The bill mentions crossing the Paterson and Ramapo Railroad at HoHoKus.

The name HoHoKus comes from the Lenape Indians. It means “cleft in the rock” and was their name for the 100 ft. deep cleft where the railroad crosses HoHoKus Brook near HoHoKus. Ramsey was the chief town. The new Township Committee first held meetings in the old Mt. Prospect Inn on Franklin Turnpike. Later it went to a building part of the Ramsey Hotel at the corner of E. Main Street and Church Street. Here township elections were held using locally printed slip of paper and a box with a slot in the top. Here were the Township offices where you paid your taxes and collected the 50¢ bounty for killing hawks.

In the 1890’s the State passed the borough act and as a result Waldwick withdrew, also Saddle River and HoHoKus. In 1908 Ramsey became a borough and in 1910 Mahwah became HoHoKus Township. From 1792 there was a stage line on the Franklin Turnpike running from Jersey City and New York to Goshen, N.Y. and then to Albany. The first train on the Paterson and Ramapo railroad came through in 1848 running to the state line. To get to Suffern and the Erie station you had to take a horse and wagon. The Erie then ran over the Piermont branch to the Hudson and then by boat to New York. ‘In 1852 the Erie acquired the Paterson and Ramapo and the Passaic and Hudson from Paterson so that you could get to Jersey City and New York by Ferry in about an hour instead of the previous4 hour trip. Ramsey and HoHoKus and Glen Rock were the only stations before Paterson.

 

 

 

1866 – Oil Found in Mahwah

This article, by  John Y. Dater, was first published in “The Old Station Timetable” in February 1979.

The scene of operations was in Mahwah near the Ramapo River 676 yards south of the Bear Swamp bridge almost directly across the river from the house of Abraham Garrison (see diary). He performed most of the field work with assistance from others. The company was incorporated for 500,000 shares listed at $5 each. They had 25 leases of land for operations totaling 3500 acres..

The big day in the Ramapo Valley was March 1, 1866, for that was the date of the incorporation of the Ramapo Valley Mining and Petroleum Co. under the laws of the· State of New York. The office of the company was 49 Exchange Place, New York.

I remember when I was a youngster seeing very peculiar objects of cast iron in our back yard when we lived on Maple St., Ramsey. My dad told me they were connected with the old oil well of which he did not know a great deal since it had happened before he was born.

When they stopped drilling in the well as set forth in the Garrison diary, the company folded. The 25 leases apparently just lapsed. They did not go deep enough to find paying oil or gas; yet there is evidence that more drilling might be productive.

Referring to the list of trustees on the centerfold – There were three Peter Ramseys involved in this area. The first one completed the purchase of the Ramsey homestead lot in 1806 on Darlington Ave. where William had established a home in 1740 and also acted as an agent of the Proprietors of East Jersey. The second Peter at his demise set aside 60 acres in the center of Ramsey for development. The third Peter is the one who was a trustee of the oil company. Both he and the first one are listed on the 1806 deed purchased from William Penn of the proprietors. Coming from New York they all apparently had plenty of money.

It was Ramsey land (60 acres and 200 feet of right-of-way) that led the Paterson & Ramapo R. R. Company in the 1840’s to call the station Ramsey’s. There is also a family legend that one of the family made very good beer. People who enjoyed this beer used to say “They were going to Ramsey’s”.

Two other locals who were trustees of the oil company were former New Jersey Governor Rodman M. Price and former State Senator John Y. Dater. Mr. Price was governor from 1854-57, the only resident of Bergen County to hold this office. His administration was very progressive. He established schools for training school teachers, and otherwise improved the public school system. He also instituted a geological survey of the state. He was previously elected to Congress in 1850 and when he failed to be reelected he was made Governor.

Born in 1818 in Vernon Twp. in Sussex Co., a member of an old pre-Revolutionary family of this county, he came to Bergen at an early age to pursue his education. He entered Princeton but ill health caused him to leave. He then secured an appointment as a Purser in the Navy and eventually arrived in one of the ships which was taking over California from the Mexicans in 1846. Price was put ashore and was very active in establishing the state government in that area. In l850 he returned east to be elected to Congress. After his term as Governor Price started the New York-Weehawken ferry which he operated for a number of years. In 1862 he settled at Hazlewood in the Ramapo Valley. This property is now owned by Fred L. Wehran.

Price still remained active in public affairs. J.Y. Dater and he were very close friends and they had a lot to do in securing the commission of the Ramsey Post Office in 1855. It is the 5th oldest in the County.

A point of interest by Price in the oil project was his insistence at the time of the geological survey while Governor that the various rock formations should be analyzed, as it was called in that period. He personally knew the people who made the survey which attracted widespread interest. It is thus very possible that it was the knowledge from this survey which sparked the idea of the oil well.

John Y. Dater (the writer’s great grandfather) was the treasurer of the Ramapo Valley Mining and Petroleum Co. He was born in Mahwah in 1815 in what used to be part of the old Island Road very near the Ramsey line. It was all part of Hohokus Township from 1848. He operated the family grist mill which stood on Masonicus Brook near the Ramsey pump station. One of the mill stones is in the front of the building. His grandfather Abraham started the mill in the l790‘s and his father Adam was also in the business.

Dater and Price had persuaded the Paterson and Ramapo R. R. to pursue its route through Ramsey and not up the Ramapo Valley. When the first train came through in 1848 Dater shifted his interests south to Ramsey. He solicited farmers to help on the right-of-way, sold ties and afterwards cord wood to fuel the locomotives.

As mentioned before Dater and Price got the Post Office started in Ramsey. According to the records in Washington the Office was opened in John Y. Dater’s general store March 31, 1855. This is also the date of the deed by which Dater purchased 22 acres from William J. Pulis who had acquired the land after Peter Ramsey’s death in 1854. Dater apparently had some agreement with Ramsey that enabled him to build the brick store and the right to stack ties and cordwood on the land. After purchase Dater erected a store building, started a lumber and coal yard and also a wagon and carriage and sleigh factory. In 1866 Dater owned a house and considerable land around the Cleveland Bridge (Bear Swamp) which he had a hand in building. The house on the east side of the Valley Road is now in a burned out condition and by the records is one of the oldest houses in the Valley. The Abraham Garrison who worked on the well was a relative by marriage to the Dater family.