Oral History Interview
- Jack Lee, 17 South Rockaway Drive, Boonton Township, NJ
- INTERVIEWER: Ruth Harrison
- DATE OF INTERVIEW: November 8, 1995
I’m Ruth Harrison and II m interviewing Jack Lee (John E. Lee) who grew up in Mountain Lakes and was a member of the government and I’d like particularly to find out some of his memories of growing up here.
- Let me find out from you something about yourself — when and where were you born?
I was born in Wilmette, Illinois, March 25, 1900.
- And when did you come to Mountain Lakes?
I came to Mountain Lakes at the end of the f irst World War. My father was an architect — had been in the service for the year, Naval Department. And had been switched from Great Lakes Naval Station to Amatol, New Jersey where they built a munitions plant.
- Now you say your father was an architect, and I think his name is famous one for Mountain Lakes. What was it?
H. Vernon Lee.
- That’s what I thought.
He was a graduate of Purdue University and Chicago Art Institute in Chicago. —— board architects in also New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
- And you were about eight when you came here in Mountain Lakes.
I had my ninth birthday.
- Ninth in Mountain Lakes. Now, did you stay on here after you went to school — college, did you stay right on as a Mountain Lakes resident? Or did you live elsewhere before you were married and came back here?
No. I didn’t quite give the story.
- All right you didn’t give the story.
We lived in Mountain Lakes on Howell Road to begin with and I attended the third grade in the old stone school- house which was the third the size that it is now. And we rented that place and my dad had to find another place which we couldn’t find so we spent a summer and part of a fall in Towaco on the canal in a home there. We commuted to Mountain Lakes to school — my older brother Vernon and I did by train and then we purchased a place that we perhaps rented — the old Taylor farm at the end of Williams Street in Boonton. And we still attended the Mountain Lakes school from there. I used walk way down to Main Street and take the trolley to Mountain Lakes to school.
- Oh, you were a trolley rider.
From Towaco we had taken the train.
- But you did have the chance to ride on the old car.
Oh my, the trolley was the thing in those days.
- And then when you moved into Mountain Lakes you could walk to school.
Everybody walked to school.
- Yes, yes, of course.
on Main Street. I was down in the village of school. The switchman put the train.
- Well, I always understood that it was basically in there for the workmen who were working on the old Hapgood houses.
- No, the the connection between Boonton and Denville.
Sure is a lot of history of this place here.
- Well, I think this . . . .
Before and after job the traction company persuaded to come through Mountain Lakes and they were circling around in the other side of the Tourne.
- Oh, Hapgood persuaded them to go —
To follow the line of the Morris Canal.
- And so Hapgood was the one who persuaded them to come to Mountain Lakes —
He wanted them to come through this community.
- Right, right. He was’going to have two types of transportation.
He’s got one track that had a switch at one end down towards I don’t know exactly where the stop is — just before you reach the Mountain Lakes portion — there’s a switch out there and there’s a switch out by the stone schoolhouse.
- A switch near the pillars, for instance? The pillars are near Brackins on the Boulevard. Was it near that?
Yeh — half ways —————
- Towards Powerville.
There were three switches — one switch out there, switch up at Lake Drive and another switch out at Rainbow Lakes connection. Be somewhere the Catholic church is now.
- Well, would that be a switch to enable the cars to stop or to ….
Two trolleys run but only one track.
- I see.
Between Denville and Boonton and the one that’s coming from Boonton he got to switch. Near Brackin’s there was a box. He turned a key in a box to show he was going through. He had gotten there first and that would turn a light on at the Lake Drive one so that he would wait there until we got through.
- So was there a siding that he could wait on there or what?
That’s what it was.
- It was a siding for him. Isn’t that interesting?
It should turn around.
- I didn’t understand the fact that that would move. Two cars could use the same track going in a different direction.
A switch out there you see so they could tell each other where they were so that they wouldnl;t hit.
- Well, do you have any special memories about going to school or what the school was like while you were here@5
I first went to the school, Curtis was the principal, I have pictures of him.
- That’s great.
You think it was found? I didn’t know that.
- Yup, yup.
Only Washington. Those days that was it. Going to school and meeting your friends in school and so on. The walk was in by trolley(?) except when it was raining sometimes Dad would give us a dime to take the trolley. Everybody went by trolley from Denville, Morristown, Dover.
- Were you one of the ones that I’d heard about that when you skated in the bad weather skaters were on the Boulevard to school?
Oh, sure. That Boulevard was the only one that was paved really. Was some pavement on Briarcliff Road and Lake Drive but you would be coming ice skating in the wintertime. But in those days they didn’t put any salt down and on the — all the other roads were dirt and they were frozen. So that once it snowed you had snow for the entire winter. Deliveries were made by sleigh, by Stickle who delivered milk
- Oh, milk — every day milk,delivery?
Yes. Game for the kids was to get your sled tied behind the sleigh — he would only let three or four people do it and the first one there got it.
- And this was a horse-drawn sleigh then actually.
Of course. The game then was to see who would stick with the sleigh the longest going out towards Powerville Road towards Stickle farm.
- But he’d be able with the sleigh to go off on all of the side roads — Barton, Hanover, Melrose and so on. Any of them.
Oh, sure. Mountain Lakes everywhere.
- Well, what other kinds of deliveries did they have at home? Coming to the house.
Oh, they had — Mr. Griffith delivered came from Whippany and he delivered meat and Perry Seraf ino who later on had the Chrysler agency there in Boonton, used to deliver kerosene. He also made deliveries for the Tucker store in Boonton. Actually there was Dixon Brothers and they delivered ice and coal.
- Oh, I remember ice being delivered to my house.
The coal was the main way to heat and the kerosene lots of people used that not only for heating but also for the kitchen range. Used to be a wagon that came up from Towaco with vegetables in the summertime.
- That must have been something too. Well, I can remember ice being left on the porch in the wintertime and you’d have an inch or so of cream sticking over the top pushing the top of the bottle out. With the milk, I can remember that. What did you do for recreation? You say you went to school and meet all your friends there what kind of games did you play and well let’s start with that.
Oh, lots of recreation by the lakes. Swimming and fishing in the summertime. And everybody. And you made .your own dugout.
- Oh, you made a dugout.
Sure. A fun thing. In the winter you had sleighriding and each would come down which is now Glen Road and Addington and
- Addington Road?
Yeh. Addington Avenue. That was right at the corner of the Boulevard. And it was one of the early houses — was “E” house — the letter. And the trolley conductor would come along there — he’d holler out “El’ house.
- Oh, that was the location.
Sleighriding down you start with at and Crestview Road we’d go down Mt. Addington which is now North Glen, right on across the Boulevard and on beyond Hanover Road almost to Melrose.
- Oh, my.
There was wonderful sleighriding. On Hillcrest you’d go down to Midvale and Midvale all the way to Intervale Road. And then Pollard we used to go down Pollard Road most of the way to, well beyond Rockaway Terrace.
- Well, I can remember my kids doing that when we first moved to town.
. They’d closed off — there were many cars to speak of so with somebody stationed say down at the Boulevard.
- Oh, they’d stop all the cars coming.
They stopped cars, warn the kids so they could ditch the sleds instead of going across the road. But the adults used to sleigh too. They had these great big sleighs where you could, high like a bench with rudders on it, and there’d be half a dozen or eight people used to sleighs for grown-ups and they’d go fast down the road.
- Were they flexible flyers? I remember the flexible flyers
…. flexible flyers all the time. Three people. We just sold one for a hundred dollars. It wasn’t in very good shape but they wanted to buy my — my daughter wants us so we can have lem.
- Oh, sure. We probably have an old flexible flyer somewhere in the house. I don’t remember where. And what in the wintertime — that’s a wonderful thing for all of the summer — you say swimming and fishing.
Well, basketball court at the school.
- Over at what is now the Lake Drive School?
The stone schoolhouse. As I said before that was a third the size it is now when we first came. Then they added on to it. There was quite a good size piano if you’ve ever been in that room in the basement and there was quite an auditorium on the third floor. That’s where the people that met for a gathering before the borough was formed. There was a Mountain Lakes Association. And it was active till they decided to get together to form a community of their own and it was the Association that prevailed and took it over from that. Boonton Township and from Hanover Township. This is made up mostly of Hanover Township. And when I went to grammar school there fellows from the borough from all over Hanover Township — remember Parsippany and Troy Hills were both part of Hanover Township. Those are just places — they still the names — people down there if you went to the Parsippany Presbyterian Church there was one pew that used to sit with Parsippany people. Another group was Troy Hills.
- Segregating the two.
Where all the farmers were and the farmer children used to come up to school with us and remember DeGelleke was in my class and Jack Crowell — he had charge of the Vail Cemetery year ’round. Later on when —
- Was the Vail Cemetery connected with the Presbyterian Church?
Oh, yeh. I was chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Presbyterian Church. Later on when they got a little service we had bought a home in 1942 on Cherry Hill Road, it’s the one house that still exists on Cherry Hill Road.
- Oh-h. Yes.
At that time you couldn’t even see Route 46 because there was hill in between. And Cherry Hill Road wound around. Was quite a picturesque little road.
- Oh, I remember somebody was trying to drive through.
. We had a big pond behind us and we had apple trees and grape arbor and huge garden.
- And you lived there?
We kept chickens.
- That’s where you lived.
Well’, Kate lived there by herself with my daughter went in the service. Yes.
- You had interesting — well, I remember that house on Cherry Hill with that lovely curve came around and they — there were orchards in there seems to me that were in bloom and then the butterfly woman.
People used to swipe our apples. The apples were right on the road and the pear trees
- That was a beautiful street.
Charlie French lived down there. I knew Charlie French when he — he was a Mountain Lakes boy(?) (very soft)
- I don’t remember him particularly.
When I was president of the National Iron Bank in, The First National Bank in Morristown (too soft)
- Oh, Local boys doing local things. Are there any special events that stand out in your mind there. Celebrations — now, of course, you were there af ter the end of the war and were there celebrations that people started to realize that the war maybe was ten years behind?
Which war are we talking about?
- I’m talking about World War 1.
World War I was too much in everybody’s mind at that stage game. I remember when we first went to the school there the older fellers used to make believe — I didn’t realize it was make believe at that time — but they were going to hang this feller called by the name of Wheeler, who was a German fellow.
(Laughter) You could find some of these younger kids to death — used to grab one of them and play they were going to hang him. But Wheeler lived down on Morris Avenue, lived there for many years. We had Boy Scout troop. Captain Higgins was the big army man in Mountain Lakes at that time. I think he was a postman if I’m not mistaken. And he used to, I remember was there on the dedication of the — when they f irst set up the park there by the Mountain Lakes Club.
- Oh. Memorial Park.
They had troops in the (sof t, soft) near the big Mrs. the big lecturer — that’s who we could get — less we forget (laughter). I forget the wording.
- Oh, yes, yes. Was Memorial Day a big affair here?
It always was. And we had a big do when one of the French generals came to visit Rev. Macfarland. The Boy Scout troop met him down at the station, marched with Macfarland.
- Oh, my. Was there a parade on Memorial Day too, the way there is now?
No, there was no parade. But the club was always had activities, swimming meets, canoe tilting meets.,
- Did they do that on the Fourth of July too?
- Did the club play a large part in people I s lives with the activities early on? Did they have many other events?
Well, not the expensive — not one in the twenty miles, something like that. It did later on when people — the old clubhouse burned down. After the new clubhouse — it was open more to the general public nowadays. So they had — the best beach in Mountain Lakes was the beach on Wildwood Lake. That was right at the corner — remember Bacon Villas house?
- Oh, it was —
Where the fire siren is.
- Oh, not by the Boulevard at all. It was on the Glen Road area then.
Oh, sure. That was always two words. This is by the dam.
- Near the dam. I didn’t realize that.
Just where Kenilworth Road comes in. Right now the school, the grammar school and always I thought it was just a dump. ‘Member they’d get rid of the ashes from old furnaces. And that was hardly ashes. Other type — it
- I hope it was ashes and nothing toxic. (laughter) We think about toxic things nowadays. I guess they didn’t have many toxic materials.
——- toxic things
- They didn’t have the toxic things to worry about then.
You asked about sports and all. Maybe’s field was a big item in those days on the Fourth of July. The older men would get together and play baseball against the children. Maybe’s field was where Gyper (?) Road is now. That was all big farm land. They get in shape (static). Maybe’s was the big white house on Intervale Road.
- Now on the corner of Yorke?
You know, it’s down beyond the big white house.
- Oh, that way.
The other houses, if you got Grimes recital — he goes through every house on Intervale Road. (Talking too softly) — old ones used to — you know, when the borough was formed a lot of people who lived in certain areas didn’t want to be taken into Mountain Lakes. Mountain Lakes wasn’t necessarily an effluent society as it is today. That time Boonton people and Parsippany-Troy Hills people used to call it Mortgage Lakes.
- Ah-ha. In the depression I remember this was a — you know
During the depression you could find not many houses in Mountain Lakes for five to ten thousand dollars. There were other fuels too. There was a plant down where Norda Chemical is now. Plant used to make bakelite. And end up a ball diamond down there. Used to be down there and play. We’d play them.
- Was there much inter community — like with Mountain Lakes and Parsippany, Mountain Lakes and Boonton, Mountain Lakes and Denville? A league of that sort?
Oh, yes. There was a school on South Beverwyck Road I think it’s still there. We used to go down there they had a ball diamond in back of the school. We’d play them and they’d come up and play us in Maybe’s field. A Makosky boy from Boonton. I remember that name particularly because one of them went on later on to play for the Yankees. You used to play ball with them where the Norda plant is. There was another ball diamond in Boonton Township where the hospital is now.
- Oh, there.
Mountain Lakes kids a great deal used to play in the playground behind the stone schoolhouse. Touch football was around there for many years. Every holiday a group would get together and play. Before that we used to have baseball teams between Melrose. We played the Boulevards. They’d play the Midvales and so on.
- Now Mountain Lakes is currently recreation oriented and I would say that it compared with path. It’s always been a —
Oh, I think so. We’ve always had real good athletes in town.
- Large families.
When the Community Church was enlarged back in the late twenties and early thirties Mr. Springsted, I remember he was the Sunday School teacher, he wanted to make sure that they had a basketball team. That (too soft) —
- And so they put the church — an indoor thing so the church house was made a basketball —
Kids from all over town could play there. Actually, there were only two churches in Mountain Lakes when we moved here. And that was true until the Episcopal church was built I guess in the thirties.
- Well, the Community Church
Christian Science Church
- Oh, the Christian Science Church was there too at that time. Same place?
People knew it as the Community Church. —
- And that’s in the same location it’s now.
Oh, no. It was — you know where the old borough hall was’? It’s not a part — well, borough hall was the Christian Science Church.
- Oh, is that right?
Christian Science Church bought across the Boulevard where they are. They sold it to the —
- They sold their old church for the borough hall?
And as the borough hall and the fire house was underneath.
- Yes. I remember that when was here. That was the case for many years.
The Wrights I ived right across from the fire house, where the Bacons later on lived. Castle was — they were all Christian Sciencist.
- Oh, is that right?
The Wrights, the Castles, Thees, the Canadin — there was a rift between the Boonton and Mountain Lakes shortly after Tom Mix became a pro. (?) The borough had sent its high schools students to Boonton and the Boonton principal at that time, I’ve forgotten his name, his son’s was in Yale Law School when I was there — He was fired and he went to Bound Brook and then because of his being fired the students had a strike. And the reason for his firing was the fact that he was taking too much time with the studies group — students going to college — which comprised a good part of Mountain Lakes students. Cuz all of Mountain Lakes students were always going to college. And the strike was led by Fred Castle and Stirling Wright. And at that time the Board of Education gave the Mountain Lakes students the right to go back to Boonton. Then Boonton got out and came back and Morristown. A large majority of them went to Morristown except for probably the senior class. And Stirling Wright and Fred Castle were seniors. So they went back to Boonton. They both went to West Point. And they both became generals during the war. Castle Field in California was named after Fred Castle. Was honored because he ditched a plane after his officer parachuted out to avoid coming in the army below.
- We heard about his story —
Stirling Wright was an aide-de-camp he had gone in the cavalry. He was aide-de-camp to Secretary of War Stimson. And he didn’t get over to Europe till later on much to his disgust because the only way to get promoted was to be on the front, yo u know. Later on he got there. He was a general. He Is the one that made a speech at the Memorial Day services several years ago.
- Well, I don’t remember that particular one. But that’s my memory and not his speech. Well, now, were you aware — you must have been about 15 or so when Mountain Lakes became it’s own community. Were you aware of this change of government? Was there much discussion of it among the kids, for instance?
Oh, yes. Because I mentioned before some of the people were not pleased with being within the boundary of Mountain Lakes. For instance, Tom Brackin, his mother was a Baldwin. And the Baldwins were quite an important family in Parsippany.
- As in Baldwin Road.
That’s right. They’ve been clients of mine for years. (laugh) I represented their estate and estate of the mother — because of that we learned about it. Actually, Tom Brackin when he was married and had children and he had taken over the parents home which was in Mountain Lakes no he hadn’t taken over the and the grandchildren he was actually living there, he bought a home across the way from it and so his kids could go to Mountain Lakes school and they were the parents.
- Oh. (laugh) So they weren’t too unhappy about it. Well, now tell me when we were speaking about that particular year and that location, didn’t your father have something to do with Yorke Road and the whole development in there?
He was the architect for Yorke Village.
- Oh, I thought of those nice brick houses.
Later then. Designed them.
- Was it his idea to have the mews concept? Was that his idea?
I really can’t tell you that.
- That wasn’t your field, of course. So you wouldn’t have to think about that.
I know he didn’t think much of the old Mountain Lakes houses. In the early days, you’ve probably seen pictures of Mountain Lakes houses, where the bearings (?) — isn’t beautiful the way it is today. No large trees and you could walk along the Boulevard
- Trees make so much difference then.
You could see the smoke f rom the steam trains as they went by.
- Oh, my.
But the old homes were — Dad used to say the only thing you do with them is to hide them as much as you can with shrubbery and paint them so that they don’t glare at you.
- Well, now that’s really interesting because that’s right in line with the craftsman thinking that the first homes(?) were the ones that should be used on the houses. So that’s an interesting concept.
Well, I’d have to use the chestnut blight. As you know, the older homes had these chestnut paneling. Our home on Briarcliff Road had lovely chestnut paneling and beams overhead were probably covered with chestnut. And stone fireplaces with a mantelpiece over it all chestnut. And in the dining room the chestnut way up so that you had a plate rail all around.
- Right, right.
And it made a lovely home to live in — very roomy —
And very pleasant. But as far as from the outside they’re not very handsome to look at and Dad never thought much of any architecture —
- I think you have to learn to love them. I think that you have to say this is something I’m used to and then becoming use to it
Well, he actually worked on the remodeling of a number of them (end side 1, Tape 1) — very old. Person and his daughter married Taft who was
- Oh, that was a bishop house
Later on, Mary and then I was used to just sharing — like now — it was very lovely. He did that with a number of places in Mountain Lakes.
- Change. Did he actually take down the porte cocheres?
I guess so. (laughter)
- As a general rule.
I’m not when he
- I love the porte cochere now.
I guess Dr. Williamson’s —
- What about the dealing with the depression. Did that have any particular effect on your life in the depression where they didn’t dress much more somberly or
I got out of high school in @29 —
- Oh, yes.
And Dad always said we were going to high school.
- You mean going to college.
Going to college. My brother Vernon and I were going to Morristown High School and he went to Princeton. Ralph Perry the principal was a great one for having students go to college.
- At Morristown.
At Morristown and so on. Most of the students from Mountain Lakes went to Morristown went to college.
- Did many of them go to Princeton too?
Oh, a number of them did. James Macfarland. He’s my brother’s partner (?) — (so soft) — I don’t think he went to high school. Number of the students in my class and Vernon’s class had gone to Morristown Prep Schools to make sure they got into college.
- Did any of the Lee boys go to Princeton too along with their dad?
Oh, Danny went to Purdue.
- Oh, he went to Purdue.
He didn’t go to Princeton. Dad wanted me to go to Princeton but I refused. I told him I followed my brother long enough. He’s quite a smart fellow. I hated to go into a new class and have the teacher say, “Oh, you’re Vernon Lee’s brother?” Well, I’m smart as he is. I said I wasn’t going and finally Dad dug enough money up and he said “if you’re not going to go to Princeton what are you going to do? You want to go to prep school for a year?” I said, “no,’ I don’t want to go to school. ” Some of the students were going to American University. So I called down there and I got into American University. Went down there for a year. And I came back and I went back the final year and I stayed out of school for my mother was very sick and she died when That’s when I worked on a surveying crew in Mountain Lakes. that’s when they were putting in the roads then. We surveyed,– a number of crews who worked f rom time to time so we surveyed the roads and the bridges [very softly speaking) roads and it was very helpful in having titles to Mountain Lakes. I knew how they fudged a lot of the roads in between the stones and the walls and so on.
- That would have been helpful. Would the people that are in there do you keep up with those people? Was there such a community enough so that you would want to keep up with the people you grew up with? Did you have community and a —
Oh, yes. A lot of them came back, living.
- Where did you meet Kate? Was she local at all?
She went by trolley to Mount Tabor as did I. I met her in Morristown High School. She was a smart one too. She was valedictorian of the class. She was three years behind me. She was out of school for a year [too soft] — rheumatic fever.
- Oh, dear. That was a bad one to have.
She went to Smith — the same principal, Ralph Perry, was very instrumental in — she just showed me the other day she still had some scrapbooks and showed a letter from Mr. Perry.
- Now tell me when you got back into Mountain Lakes what was your involvements in government. When did you first become aware that you might want to be in the government? Did you attend meetings of any sort and then got appointed to a board or —
Wasn’t government as such. Fisher was our neighbor and he was a lawyer and he took me to court a couple of times when I was school board. After my mother died my dad didn’t have any money to loan(?), being an architect of and so I was on my own. I worked the summer at in the ice house at Morristown, Shelley’s Ice
- In Morristown, not even up here at Fox Lakes.
. Not in those days. This was the manufacturing establishment.
- Oh, manufacturing.
I pulled ice out of the icehouse and then went on the ice truck. And during the winter I shovelled coal. I used to tell the fellows in my law practice in Morristown — I knew all the back doors in Morristown. (laughter) What I was going to say was my mother died and I wasn’t going to school so I’ve heard about Wesleyan. So I wrote to Wesleyan and dad took me up there. My record in American University wasn’t tops and American University was not an accredited college so they decided to let me in on probation. I did very well in Wesleyan. Worked with the professor, worked in the library, at a shoe repair business and scrubbed floors at the professor’s parties and so on.
- You were able to get through.
I graduated cum laude. I had a distinction in history.
- Oh, isn’t that nice.
To protect all(?) the Dutcher prize and it was given by Arthur Vanderbilt who was ‘. and was a trustee of the university. He wanted to meet me. And so when he came to visit the Professor Dutcher, he invited me over and Vanderbilt wanted to know what I was going to do. I said I was going probably to law school. He said, well that’s hardly a radical place, you know. He was school. I had already obtained a scholarship at Columbia through the president of Wesleyan. I had seen an advertisement on the board for a scholarship at Columbia students and I went into see the president. He said well you’re doing it. I had spent the whole summer with him in the library he could certainly write a note. He called the people at the university scholarship and they said sure. So I took an exam and got in. And following my visit with Vanderbilt I went down to New Haven and took a test at Yale. And I got a scholarship to Yale.
- Oh, my.
I lived with a professor as I said before Professor Banks at Wesleyan. He was an English professor. And he knew a prof essor in New York. He taught in New Haven at Yale. And he got in touch with him and I got a room with him. So I found out through law school practically done and I got a job because I worked in the main library at Wesleyan. I got in touch with the librarian at Yale University which is a tremendous library and they said sure, I could have a job there to work with them. This was while I was going to law school. And the law school librarian found out that I was working at the Yale library; he said, how come? Why don’t you work in the law library? So he gave me a job in the law library (laughter) which was quite special.
- Well, now, speaking of law were you aware of the various changes in the laws that our local people were enacting because that was a little before you were really interested in law?
Well, I knew about the change from the Mountain Lakes Association which had no authority at all. I had gotten a grammar school diploma from Morris County but through Hanover Township.
- Yes, yes. Well, I was thinking of what they had to do, I think particularly the Board of Adjustment coming before the Planning Board. I mean the Board of Adjustment I think was officially started in 1927. You wouldn’t have been aware of that at the time. Now, 1929 Mountain Lakes was one of the f irst if not the first Planning Boards that was appointed. And so they apparently had men who were very thoughtful calibre serving in the government and trying to make sure that they were go the way that they wanted. Were you aware of that at all? It was a little before your time.
I knew f rom my dad and I knew Mr. Doremus who was the first mayor. We were fortunate we had a lot of Bell Lab people and I had been working for years around Mountain Lakes. I mowed lawn and there weren’t many lawns in Mountain Lakes that went space(?) but I had lawns. And I — can’t think of her name but one lady I mowed lawns for got me jobs around town and her husband was a Bell Labs man and later on they visited Andy in Indiana and I remember talking about Andy, but Mountain Lakes was made up of a lot of smart people. They were either professional people that worked in mostly New York or executives and back in the early days 99% of the people lived in Mountain Lakes, worked in the city and commuted.
- Oh, yes.
My dad was among them.
- That were the days when there were 500 commuters to New York. (laughter)
That was terrific commuting. But they had come out and set this Gradually a lot of people did at night too. But it wasn’t until some years till the corporation was started that Mountain Lakes got an influx of local people living in town and commuting to New York. I know I knew about the Mountain Lakes type of person they had that lost on the college grades (too soft)–
- You had a feeling this is a special community.
My dad came here for that reason. He tried to pick schools.
- In fact, people are still doing that. They set up a pattern a long time ago.
My dad lived in Ridgewood, Chatham — we traveled all over the area in trolleys. My dad went all over the place looking for where to settle. Mother wanted to go back to the midwest. The lovely towns and —
- Well, tell me about your connection with the Fox Lake property — the acquisition there.
Well, I had been practicing law — I started out with — I went to the Vanderbilt in Newark initially and I went into the service when I was working with Vanderbilt. And when I got out of the service I always wanted to practice locally. I then went with Beman, Kelly in Boonton. Kelly was a state senator and Alan and I had clerked with him for one year when I was in school. One summer. And he said that I should go to an office like Vanderbilt’s when he learned that I could go there’and learn how top offices run. That’s what I did. When I got out of service I went to Price at King and Rhode(?) he really picked up a phone call to Vanderbilt and I got a job right away. (laughter)
- What I remember you I don’t know whether this was probably 1947 — you don’t remember this — but I was at a closing the mortgage at the house. You were representing whoever we were buying from.
Who was that?
- I think it was the Klinghorns. When we were buying, I think that was the one. Or it might have been later than that when we were buying from the Eastmans up on Ball Road. I’m not sure.
The Eastmans, yes I knew them.
- But you were representing the sellers and we were buying and I said I wanted to have a nofault clause put in that if I wanted to pay ahead of time I wouldn’t have any penalty. And my lawyer was saying, Oh, that isn’t necessary. And you shook your head at me. No, definitely not. And I said, I think I want to insist upon this. And you shook your head and I said I was very glad that you were there representing the other people.
We had a statute in those days you could prepay. You had the right to prepay. They didn’t hold you up.
- That was exactly it. And so I was real pleased you were there and that it was something that you could have an opinion on and wouldn’t mean anything to your clients. But it meant a lot to me to be able to have that. And I always appreciated your coming up with that. And I don’t know whether that would have been in 147 or 156. I don’t which particular —
I was doing practically at the —
- I guess maybe it was ’48 not 1947.
I was there in ’46 which became Schenck, Price and King, the same year that I got there.
- Well, now an the Fox Hill tract that was about 1952 I think it was. Were you on the Board of Adjustment at the time?
Gee, I don I t remember when I was named to the Board of Adjustment.
- Well, you had the thought that we should buy this — this property.
Oh, I don’t know — I was always looking out for Mountain Lakes. Let’s see — we moved back from Cherry Hill Road to Mountain Lakes and took over the Levernback(?)Road property from dad and my stepmother in ’48 I guess. But I always intended to come back to Mountain Lakes when I found a house I wanted to come to. And dad decided to build his own home I was very happy I cuz he had remodeled what was the Taylor house and I knew it was in good shape.
- Yes, Yes. And he built his own home on the corner of North Briarcliff and the Boulevard, is that it? Where the Putnams live now?
- That was the house when we moved into town.
- Yes. And you had the thought that in looking out for Mountain Lakes they’re acquiring that big piece of land instead of —
Oh, sure. Well, what happened was this — I represented Mountain Lakes Building Supply and they had a little development over on Parsippany Blvd. and they had formed a corporation called the Radiant Builders, Inc. And so I stopped in there frequently with papers for them to sign. And one day I stopped in there and as I was leaving Sam Klotz said to me, he said to me, John had a strange thing happen today, he said, this fellow Oxman who as you probably know, I said, sure. I had the corporation. He was going to develop all of Fox Hill Lakes and owns a good bit of that property. He said he sold out to Land 01 Lakes Corporation. He said, yes, but they went broke and he doesn’t want to go back in the development of it. And he stopped by and he said that since I’ve been doing a little developing I would like to think it over. I told him I couldn’t do that — that’s probably too big for me. I couldn’t swing that. And I said, Sam, well, you know the borough of Mountain Lakes owns that property. And I said this was a prime time for them to do it. They’ll never take it by taxes because whoever gets hold of the thing before they let it ‘go for taxes you’re gonna sell off a lot of the lots which won’t cut them then. I said, tell you what, why don’t we try to get an option on the thing. Oxman did purchase it. See what kind of a price we can negotiate it and then we’ll approach the borough and see if they won’t take it over. I said you’ve always wanted property right across the street from your place Route 46. I said you can tell them that you want to hold onto that, you’ll give them all the rest of the stuff. You ought to be thankful to him for giving the opportunity to let you swing it that way. He said, that’s not a bad idea. (laughter) And so, he called Oxman and the arrangement entered the city and I was in there and we drew an option to purchase it and Oxman said to me now, Lee, he said, you know this is owned by Land 01 Lakes and I’ve got to foreclose’the mortgage before I can actually go for this option. So we’ve got the condition upon my ability to get title to that foreclosure. And he said, by the way, about your hand in the foreclosure, I said, I wouldn’t do it myself. But this fellow in the office does a lot of foreclosures .I’m sure he’ll take it over for me. He said, sure, that’ll be fine. So that’s the way the option was done up. And when the foreclosure was completed Mr. Reid who handled the office came to me and said, hey, you can exercise your option now and I said, okay, I’ll get in touch with Mr. Klotz. So I got in touch with Mr. Klotz next. You ought to go see Mr. Wilcox now and tell him what you’ve got here. And explain what you think about it. Then I said suggested that the borough ought to take it over and see what he says. Well, he went to Wilcox. And Wilcox turned him down flat. I said, well, Sam don’t be too discouraged. He knows as well as I do that the borough will have that property. And he knows as well as I do that they aren’t going to take it for taxes So you hold onto it and did you tell him when the option expires? He said, ya, I think I did but I’m not sure. I said, well you wait a month or two on that. Then go see him again and tell him that the option’s about to expire and if he wants it he better latch on to it. Well, that’s what Klotz did. Wilcox still gave him a “no” and he said he’d think about it. Well, that’s when the mayor who happened down the commuting train and asked the commuters what they thought about it. He didn’t have to take it to the borough council and all.
- When you say the mayor, that’s Dick Wilcox.
- And up and down the commuters.
And everybody was in favor of it. So he turned tail right a bit and immediately became his baby.
- Ah, hah.
So, it was just at that time that I had an appendicitis attack. Was sent to Morristown Hospital just as they were moving out into the new hospital. I was one of their last patients.
- Oh, my gosh.
And, so, the f irst I heard about their accepting was I got a telephone call from Wilcox. He said, you represent this Radiant Builder, this fellow Klotz. I said, yes I do. He said, well, I want you to exercise the option. Well, Dick, you’re too late I said. I’m home from the hospital and I’m not going to be in the office for at least another week. He said, the option expires in a day or so. I said, well, I’m sorry. You waited too darn long. He insisted. So naturally, I got in touch with Klotz and (soft) and went in there and we got the deal closed.
- But you gave him a little scare there for a minute.
Yah. I was worried for both He’s always treated me as — I was a kid when he was in town. He was fire chief when I was in school. I was just a little boy then. He knew as much about Mountain Lakes as I did. (too soft)
- Well, you certainly had the best interests of the town.
Well, the thing that surprised me though went to town and he got approval from Trenton and I guess Mountain Lakes had the money in their coffers most of it which they were holding onto for a rainy day. (laugh) But he got to the closing and I had drawn the deeds just like our option read and Oxman owned not just property in Mountain Lakes but he owned about one hundred acres in Denville Township. It stuck the taste — quite a rattlesnake — we had in Mountain Lakes and part in Denville Township. And he got to the closing and he saw that Denville Township — we’re going outside Mountain Lakes. You have to take that out.
- Oh, Dick said?
Yeh. I thought it was the craziest thing I ever heard about. I could hardly talk against it because after all, I did represent Klotz.
- Oh yes, yes.
And he was very happy to be able to retain that property. From then on he bought a lot of property and then all adjacent to that property. He sold it all to the Park Commission.
- Oh, making Tourne Park.
Yeh. And I also represented Steel and all that property that Steel sold the park. So I had all that stuff. Either the fellow who bought it for the county, all of that title.
- Well, Steel owned that stuff that was down towards in Denville as well as the 16 or 20 acres, whatever it is, up by Crestview?
That’s what he owns.
- Oh, that’s it.
And Denville — in back of all the property on Old Denville Road is stuff that Klotz bought.
- Well, that’s very interesting. Well, that was the most important things for me to get. And I think I’m going to be running out of the tape in here and I don’t want to do that but
I have a lot of information I’d like to give you for the historical society.
- Oh, I’m very anxious to get — well, let me turn this off and thank you very much. I think this is going to be very interesting and I’d like to have that story saved for posterity too. (laughter) [end at 384 – Side B]