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Historic Preservation Committee

On-Line Questionnaire

  1. Name:

    Abbie McMillen
  2. Mailing address:

    Harborside, ME 04642
  3. When and where were you born?

    1942, New York City.  Mother was born and grew up in Morris County.
  4. What years did you live in Mountain Lakes?

    1952-1964, but last 4 years away at college.
  5. Tell us something about your family did your parents also live here?

    Yes, during same years.
  6. Where have you lived in the Borough? In which houses?

    21 North Glen Road.
  7. What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?

    Our house was one of the smaller Tudor-style stucco numbers painted the typical light ochre color.  I believe my parents paid $28,000 for it.  It was on a large corner lot.

    When we moved in, the house had a lot of "issues."  The previous owner had a dog which had left its fleas on the carpet in front of the fireplace.  Naturally, the fleas decided I was the next best meal.  We had no idea what the little itchy bites were until we visited Doctor Rickert in Boonton.

    The septic tank - or maybe it was actually a cesspool - was acting up and required excavation.  The furnace exploded at one point, sending fly ash all over everything.  Lighting inside was poor, and the interior was painted a brilliant salmon-pink color.  With so many trees and overgrown shrubs shading the windows, you felt like you were entering the mouth of a whale! The bathrooms, both upstairs, had fixtures and tiles in shades of brown, peach, and mint green.  The kitchen was tiled, both wall and ceiling, with yellow tiles.  My bedroom was over the garage, and occasionally I would be bitten in the middle of the night by a large spider.  Once, a tiny mouse ran across my pillow.

    But some aspects of the property were very pleasant, at least to me as a child.  Outside my window was a wonderful mock-orange bush.  The lot had an overgrown back yard between us and the Kuntz's on Cobb Road.  (My father would burn trash in a barrel there.)

    The back yard contained very tall tulip trees, many oaks, and a wonderful stream.  Until I got too old and "sophisticated", I would play by this stream for hours! The evening air was filled with the lovely and memorable song of the wood thrush (and of course, bluejays screamed during the day.) The slope down to Cobb Road was a sledding hill, although it was used only a few times while we lived there.  Down the slope by Cobb Road was a lovely, huge beech tree with daffodils growing beneath it - at least until mother killed them accidentally, with an out-of-control autumn leaf fire.  One of the oak trees on the slope accepted a rope swing.  You would run off to the side, holding onto a large knot at the end of the heavy rope, and swing around the tree, out over the slope.  When my friends and I got too "old" for that, mother planted the hillside in pachysandra.  The oak trees also housed many gray squirrel nests.  Mother would feed the squirrels from an upstairs window.  She had a name for each of them.

  8. What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?

    What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes? (Most of my memories are of school, but I'll deal with some of them in the next section.) I was a candy-striper, working at St. Claire's hospital in Denville.  I worked mostly in the pediatric ward, keeping the children company and distracted during their very traumatic experiences.  My boyfriend at the time ran the 9th hole refreshment stand at the Rockaway River Country Club, which was near the hospital, and we would commute to our "summer jobs" together.  I also remember singing in the choir at St. Peter's Church.  I remember many of the hymns we sang, and the dark red robes we wore.  I remember walking home from school, trailed by a group of boys who came to my house because my mother fed them, very well.  I remember taking typing during the summer, in Dover I think.
  9. Where did you go to school? What particular memories do you have from your school years? Are there any special stories you associate with that time of your life?

    OMG, I could fill a book! My first school in Mountain Lakes was St. John's Episcopal School.  I hated absolutely everything about it, and transferred to the public school on Briarcliff Road after about 3 months.  I attended school there for 4 years, and then the new high school.  I think I will only tell stories about the teachers, because to some readers, they are probably the most interesting of my scores of memories.
    • I remember loving to read the books Miss Kerr suggested, and actually having fun diagramming sentences.
    • I remember Emma Katherine Appleby Brocklebank, who often used her full name, and made us fill out sheets of paper with all the numerals from 0 to 9, and do it over until everything was legible.
    • I remember a couple of trips to the Principal's office for bad behavior, mostly from tormenting the 8th grade science teacher, a quiet and gentle man.
    • I remember a bunch of us also tormenting the 8th grade music teacher by signing the attendance sheet with fake names we hoped would be read out loud.
    • I remember Mr. Yaudis (spelling?) who taught math my freshman year - his contract was not renewed.  He sat on top of his desk, wearing Bermuda shorts and a bowtie and telling off-color jokes.
    • I remember Miss Vincent, and the artifice of having to choose a French name, and the mortification of having her look at our class photos and telling everyone that I had eyebrows like hers.
    • I remember the awful 1950's food we cooked in Mrs. Coyne's home-ec class (e.g. creamed fish on toast points, jello salad.)
    • I remember "Birdielegs" McManus, a wonderful biology teacher, even if she was a bit daft about the yellow bellied sapsucker.  We had a hard time believing it when she married and became Mrs. Ketterer - she was so OLD!
    • I remember one day Mrs. Harris, our Latin teacher, showed up very properly attired as usual, in a navy blue suit, but minus her skirt - she had on a navy blue slip and probably didn't notice until after the class, when she went home.
    • I remember Mr. Davidowski hurling an eraser at the boys who were in the back of the class and not paying attention.
    • I remember putting together science fair exhibits, and hauling them to Princeton NJ.
    • I remember shelving chemicals in Jay Elicker's stockroom as a volunteer, and becoming fascinated by organic chemistry in his class.
    • I remember falling asleep in Mr. Pitt's physics class.
    • I remember Miss Phelan saying over and over "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" and asking us what we thought about that.
    • I remember Miss Blanchard trying to get all the girls to apply to Mount Holyoke.
    • I remember the fun of taking drivers' ed with Coach Ciardi.
    • I remember Mr.  McDowell and feeling very grown-up in his seminar-type class, analyzing the poetry of W.B. Yeats.
    • I remember the dynamic Mr. Ready encouraging me to take voice lessons and giving me and another girl a very embarrassing duet to perform at the spring concert.
    • I remember performing the part of "Ginger" in the drama club play, "Time Out for Ginger," and forgetting one of my lines in one of the performances, thus disappointing Mr. Harrison as well as myself.
  10. Where did you and your family shop?

    I think food shopping was done in Boonton or Denville - I rarely went, and still detest food shopping.  Clothing (what little we bought, mother and I both being big on sewing) was in a couple of tiny boutiques in Boonton and Dover, at the big department stores in New York, at Bamberger's in Morristown, and later on at New Jersey branches of New York department stores located the new Paramus mall.  We bought fabric, tons of it, at both J.C. Penney in Dover (36 inch wide 100% cotton prints for about 33 cents a yard, similar fabric now selling for upwards of $8 at quilt shops), and at a fabric store in Parsippany.  I think there was a little "convenience" store down by the train station that we very occasionally visited.  I occasionally got my hair done by Lillian, in the same building.  She was a lovely person with a lovely name.  Mother liked Boontonware (now a collectable item) and we bought ours direct from the factory in Boonton.  We also had old silver pieces re-plated at a place in a nearby town - can't remember which town - but I was fascinated by the big vats of chemicals.
  11. What were the roads and the lakes like?

    I took the roads for granted.  They were well maintained - I didn't come to know what a pothole was until long after moving away, even though I have a dim memory of the end of Cobb Road being unpaved.  The sidewalk along the Boulevard was very convenient and a friend and I used to walk to the soda fountain in the tiny mall just across the town line in Boonton - was it called Del's village? I first heard "Rock Around the Clock" there.  In retrospect, the sidewalk, an old trolly line right of way (?) would have made a fantastic bike trail, but nobody I knew rode bikes in high school.  The lakes were fantastic.  They seemed always clear and swimmable to me, and we spent many hours in and around them.  We used to tip canoes over and swim up underneath them, marveling at the way the light shone through the water and up into the canoe.  We'd stay under there until the oxygen level got uncomfortably low.
  12. Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town? Why do they stand out in your mind?

    I know what you mean by "the life of the town", but as a kid, I was largely unaware of who made stuff happen.  I would like to send out a belated appreciation, though, to the intrepid souls who organized, chaperoned and taught the ballroom dance classes for middle schoolers at the Community Church.  It must have been gruesome to watch, and it was awkward (to say the least) to participate in, but in the end, the memories are of sweet chivalry and good manners.  Other than that, I remember my parents calling the town fathers the "Board of Frozen Cheeseholders!"
  13. What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?

    Outside of the mandatory school sports, I loved to walk in the woods at the Tourne.  I didn't often get a chance to go there, because mother didn't want me to go alone and rarely would anyone else go with me.  My father tried to get me interested in golf at the Rockaway River Country Club, but it didn't "take".  I did spend quite a bit of time at the pool, though.  I loved swimming, and got my YMCA life saving certificate in the summer of 1960, along with three friends.  We would head out to Birchwood Lake at 6 am every morning, swim as much as a mile on some days, and then go back to one of our houses where the parents would have prepared a breakfast fit for a lumberjack! Movies in Boonton or occasionally Denville were popular.  Then there were many, many parties, dances, sleepovers, home and away games, pep rallies with bonfires.  Occasionally a group of kids would decide that there would be an "open house" at somebody's house, and a hoard of teenagers would suddenly descend.  The parents would scurry out for sodas, potato chips, and the famous Lipton-dried-onion-soup-and-sour-cream dip.  There was a certain amount of hanging out down by the train station where there were basketball hoops.  Some of us cavorted around quite a bit on "Mischief Night" (October 30 I think), decorating trees with toilet paper and rigging up water balloons on some people's porches. 

    We kinda moved in a flock, like Starlings, as most teenagers do, given the chance. 

    As a younger child in Spokane, there were great opportunities for ballet, and I had studied it since age 3.  However, opportunities near Mountain Lakes were extremely limited.  A decision had to be made, was I going to devote my life to ballet, commuting to New York to study, or to academics? For me, as interested in science as I was, this was a no-brainer.  But for a time I did take acrobatic dance classes in Morristown.  We gave a recital that involved doing a hula.

  14. Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?

    Watching the July 4 fireworks over the "big lake." I think the Picatinny Arsenal also blew up at some point.  A bear once wandered into town, from the Tourne, and was shot by the local men, which distressed many.  Other than this, almost all "special events" that I remember were school-sponsored, and they occurred with great regularity.
  15. Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere? How did they get to work? How did commuting change over your time here?

    My father was an auditor for J.C. Penney on 6th Avenue in New York.  (The name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945, but my parents, being New Yorkers "in exile" in Spokane at the time of the name change, continued to refer to it as 6th Avenue.) Father commuted on the train most of the time, parking his little Studebaker at the station.  Sometimes he would take the Lakeland bus, which picked people up on the Boulevard one block from our house and deposited them at the Port Authority Bus Terminal on West 42nd St. in New York.  I used this very convenient service daily while commuting to NYU during the summer of 1961.  Incidentally, as an 18-year-old female, I had no hesitation riding the subway in New York from the bus terminal to Greenwich Village, even on the 9 pm return trip.  I would not recommend that today.
  16. How did various laws affect the way people lived?

    I am not aware of any effect due to laws on the books at the time, but there were major effects due to the LACK of certain laws.  Because there was no law against open burning, autumn leaves and even household trash were regularly burned on our properties.  A friend died shortly after graduation, falling out of a car.  If there had been a seat belt law, maybe he would be alive today. 

    I'm sure there were laws against underage drinking, but being a studious type from a teetotaling family, I wasn't directly aware of them...  but some of my classmates apparently were intimately familiar with them.

    Because there were apparently no laws against discrimination in housing, there were no Blacks, hardly any Jews, no Latinos in town that I was aware of.  My parents told me that the real estate agents just would not show the available houses to people they deemed "undesirable." This subject came up when they noticed that I was dating the son of the "only" Jewish family in town.  They didn't object, just mentioned it in passing.

    This boyfriend lived during the school year in Florida and went to military school there.  His mother often drove us to the movies in Boonton in her 1957 powder blue T-bird.  I loved that car!

    From a teenager's perspective, the "greasers" lived in Boonton, and black women came out of Newark on the bus to houseclean.  The young people I knew wore madras plaid Bermuda shorts and "alligator shirts", and were expected to go to college. 

  17. Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?

    Well, of course.  It was a green oasis in a sea of increasing strip-malls and "garden apartments".  It was a town where children came first, and where the arts, and the life of the mind, were at least as important as sports.  This is not to say there were no problems.  Alcoholism, depression and suicide, a few teen pregnancies, bullying among the kids... but on the whole, the town was an harmonious, white/Christian enclave where the dads worked and the moms stayed home.
  18. How did the world's events -- World War I, the Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, Watergate, etc.  -- affect you and fellow Mountain Lakes residents when you were growing up?

    I lived in the town during the years between all these things, moving in right after the Korean war and leaving just before JFK's assassination.  It was hard for our teachers to get some of us, me included, very interested in current events.  Probably the most excitingly newsworthy thing to happen during my time in Mountain Lakes was the launch of Sputnik.  It created much more interest in math and science in school, and I didn't feel so out-of-place.
  19. What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?

    I think the teenage years are the years in a person's life when we are the most open, sensitive and vulnerable.  It is the time in life when we start to see ourselves as independent of our parents, responsible for our own destiny, and occasionally intimidated by that responsibility.  Mountain Lakes provided a very safe environment for beginning to reach out of the cocoon of childhood.  The education I received was superior, although it could not in any sense be called "multi-cultural".  We learned the type of critical thinking that is so badly needed today. 

 Available Oral Histories