Name: Charles Woodrow Wibel
When and where were you born? 06/04/1939 – Morristown, NJ
What years did you live in Mountain Lakes? 1939 – 1940 and 1946 – 1962
Tell us something about your family did your parents also live here?
Mother born in the Bronx and moved to Mountain Lakes with her parents in 1914. She lived on Rockaway Terrace. House is still there. Father lived in Mountain Lakes on Morris Avenue directly at end of Briarcliff Rd. House was torn down a few years ago and replaced with two Hapgood look-a -likes. Step-father born and raised in Boonton. Was a football star for Boonton High School.
Where have you lived in the Borough?
First House on Blvd. when entering from Boonton; Morris Ave., third floor of Sewall’s Hapgood House and 60 Boulevard.
What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?
No real remembrance of first house as we lived there but 9 months after I was born.
Second home in town was on third floor of the home of a friend of my mothers after my father left the family. Third floor was shared with my brother, mother and great grandmother. Plenty of room but as we were renting it was not ours so to speak and we had to be quieter than, as small boys, we might have liked to have been.
Third home – 60 Boulevard – Mother remarried – Frances “Bud” Tucker and we moved as a merged family with my mother, brother and now two step brothers and my great-grandmother. That did not last too long. Great-Grand mother was moved to an apartment in the house adjacent to Dells Village on the Boonton side.
This must have been a bit of a stress point for my mother as our great-grandmother (her grandmother) had basically raised her from the age of around 15 when her father passed away. Her mother having passed earlier from TB.
Side story of our great grandmother. Family came originally from Ireland via Liverpool (first potato famine) and she and her husband came into the US via Castle Island immigration center in New York City. This facility burned and all records were lost. It took her and my mother’s efforts until the late 1950’s before she was able to secure citizenship.
Her husband was a tile setter and worked on the grand tileworks of the original NYC subway stations.
What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?
We were a bit naughty back in the day and enjoyed being disrupters. Nothing really bad but we did keep the authorities on their toes.
Loved the traditions that the old high school had. They did away with all of them when they opened the new one. Our favorite was the blocking of the senior door during senior week. For our year 1956, we filched and stored a very large number of items to use in this blocking. Lawn furniture one or two tennis judge stands, many pieces of road construction saw horses, smudge pots etc., 55-gallon drums and railroad ties. As luck would have it the school brickwork was being repointed and there was a substantial iron scaffolding around these senior doors that year. We used this as the base and built around it. Took off the panic bars from all four doors, put four 55-gallon drums filled with water in front of the four doors then stacked and nailed railroad ties together in front of that and then piled all of the rest of the “stuff” we had collected for the year in front. Many signs, street and personal ones etc. Then we set up a tent city on the oval and spent the night before moving up day on the lawn. It took the janitorial team a full week to reopen the doors.
Enjoyed being an acolyte at St Peter’s Church from 7th grade through high school.
Where did you go to school?
St John’s School K – 5th grade; Lake Drive School 6th grade; Mountain Lakes High School – 7th – 12th grade. Graduated 1956. I am the youngest in my class having turned 17 but for a few days on graduation. I began Kindergarten at St. John’s School a year earlier than usual as an accommodation to my mother as she had to work, my father having bailed on the family.
What particular memories do you have from your school years?
I remember at St. John’s school every Christmas the entire student body gathering around a very tall Christmas tree in the auditorium and singing “Oh Christmas Tree” in German.
Also remember at St. John’s that we, as boys, always had to stand up whenever a woman even one just one class older would come into a room. Once I failed to do this and was required to go and apologize to those I slighted.
One learned how to study which proved quite useful when switching over to the Mountain Lakes Public School in 6th grade as that did not seem to ne something they taught at the time.
My mother would take me to school every day as we were living in Boonton between Mountain Lakes times (she was working out in the Valley at one of the defense plants in the office) I would take the Public Service bus home from in front of Island Beach to the bottom of the road we lived on in Boonton (Overlook Ave.) One day we had half day classes. So, the bus I took (An old model bus that actually had a front end that looked like a truck rather than the flat nosed ones). This bus took a different route when it got to the bottom of Main Street in Boonton, so I got off the bus and began walking home. About half way there a policeman stopped and wanted to know why I was not in school (Boonton not having a half day). He put me in the police car and drove me home.
Only time I have been in a police car except when traveling by Amtrak and the waiting room was in the Canton Ohio police station due to safety issues at the actual station. When the train would approach the station, the engineer would radio the police station and a patrol car would take passengers to the station and wait until everyone had boarded and the train left.
At Briarcliff School 6th grade we began the new year with 10 -15-minute verbal math quizzes. The teacher would state the question – “6 time 9 and so on and we were to write down the answer. I had never had such things at St. John’s, so it was terrifying for a week or so but then I got it and have been very comfortable with math ever since.
Are there any special stories you associate with that time of your life?
Loved growing up in Mountain Lakes. Had a paper route for the Newark Evening News that took me from the railroad station through a few side streets up past the old high school and down to the flats before ending up at home at 60 Blvd.
Also worked at Sodano’s behind the soda fountain. Learned how to make change as the register was manual. And how to run a retail business at the age of 14. I would arrive right after school, Neuf Sodano would leave for one of his famous “golf” games with the local ladies. At 6 P.M. I would leave and a classmate would arrive until 9 P.M. he would close the store, take the day’s receipts, bike home along Morris Ave, and leave the money in the mail box to be picked up by Neuf.
Loved dancing classes at the Community Church. Went to open houses throughout high school and when home from college and beyond until getting married in 1963.
Where did you and your family shop?
Early on it was the A&P at the bottom of Main Street in Boonton for food. Eventually – Dells Village. For clothing we went to Newark and then when the department stores began branching out we shopped in Morristown for clothes at Bamberger’s and Epstein’s. Shoes and gifts etc. were purchased along Main Street in Boonton. Main Street Boonton was considered rather fashionable for the suburbs at the time. Sadly with the coming of Dell’s village and then the regional malls that is no longer the case.
What were the roads and the lakes like?
Roads have not changed at all except the traffic bumps and the one way near the lake.
Big Lake was the place to swim. Learned to swim off the dock at Lowkamp’s on Lake Drive. Due to septic leakage, the lake would grow significant algae in August which would drift to the Club end of the lake. Town road guys would sprinkle way too much copper sulfate on the algae and kill a lot of fish. Happened every year until they sewers were installed.
Upper lakes were just there, no development of a beach or picnic areas.
Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town?
Coach George Wilson made the high school basketball team into a state championship team. I published a small book about ML basketball – the library has a copy.
Originally patrolman and eventually LT. Castalucci (he came from the Jersey City police force) – Tried to make our lives miserable but soon got the Mountain Lakes way of life and enjoyed a long run on the town police force and became friends with many.
Neuf Sodano – Owned Sodano’s stationery store and ice cream shop. It was where all of the kids would hang out after school. Middle store in the lower strip next to the old basketball court.
Neuf along with running the shop enjoyed many an afternoon of “golf” with the local ladies at the Rockaway Country Club.
Why do they stand out in your mind? See above
What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?
Was on the High School track team (High and Low Hurdles) and Cross-Country Team. Played Little and Babe Ruth league baseball in Boonton. Mountain Lakes did not offer summer sports at the time.
Played drums in the High School marching band and orchestra
Attended and taught at the local Saturday dancing school held at the Community Church. 7 & 8th grade as a student all four years of high school as an assistant instructor.
Other than that we all entertained ourselves. There were at least one open house party every weekend almost year-round in town where every high school and junior high school child was invited. Many attended. Never had any fights, no destruction. Just rock/n roll music, soft beverages and chips. The Harmon’ twins held the most open houses over the years.
When one of our crowd obtained a driver’s license and could borrow their parents’ car (in my high school class of 64 only three or four had their own vehicle and only a single one received a new car for graduation. Her father had a dealership) we would put upwards of 300 miles on the car over a weekend and never leave town expect to go to Paul’s Diner and maybe a cruise up and down Main Street in Boonton if were felt daring.
Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?
The meeting of my wife one evening at Paul’s Diner.
Myself and my best friend from high school after graduating from college and leaving the 6 months of active military duty (NJ National Guard) would regularly have a coffee and cake in the evening at Paul’s Diner. One evening we noticed two young girls in another booth whom we had never seen before. We chatted them up and to make a short story longer than needed, I married one of the two girls and my best friend married the other, both of us in 1963 and were in each other’s weddings. They were by the way best friends both from Towaco. My wife passed in 2011 from ALS and my best friend passed in 2017.
Having Joan Baez at my second birthday party seems like good fun. Of course, no one knew at the time that she would be famous. Her mother and my mother were best friends, school mates at St. John’s School and she was my mother’s Maid of Honor at my mother’s wedding.
The lighting of the flares all around the big lake just before the fireworks on the Fourth of July. We always dressed well and attended the party the Lowkamps held at their home on the lake.
Did your parents and the parents of your friends work nearby? In New York or elsewhere?
Step-Father sold wheat by products to laundries and hardware stores thought out upstate New York. He would be on the road most of the week and home on the weekends.
Mother worked during WWII in the defense plants in the Valley in the office to support my brother and I plus our great-grand mother as our father had bailed. Then she was a housewife during the first few years of her second marriage until it became time for the four boys to begin college (tuition was expensive at $400 a semester for tuition and room and board). She sold real estate for a bit then switched to clerking at the Boonton Stationery on Main Street in Boonton and then went over to banking with the Boonton Trust Company and ended up as the very first female bank officer in the State of New Jersey.
How did they get to work? Auto
How did commuting change over your time here?
Original Train service was steam engine driven. I had a paper route that required picking up the Newark Evening News papers at the train station in ML and I had the opportunity to be there for the very first diesel engine passenger train arrival.
There was local Denville to Paterson Public Service bus service that ran right by our home on the corner of Powerville Road and the Boulevard with a stop at that corner. Then the Lake Land bus Company began service from Dover through Denville into ML and Boonton and onto NYC. Also stopped at our corner.
How did various laws affect the way people lived?
Never found any law to be even discussed let alone bothering anyone. In the 1940 & 50’s there were two policemen. Harry Dennis the chief and Patrolman Ginder. They used their own cars and knew everyone and pretty much where all of the kids were at any one time.
I always find it amusing that the town had basically the same population then with two policeman and a volunteer fire department, a single town clerk. It ran extremely well and now the same population and a battalion of police, a large fire department and hot and cold running town employees.
Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?
From its very beginning Mountain Lakes has been an upscale community built on land that today could never be built on due to environmental laws. In the beginning it required a decent financial ability to move to the town and some vision as it was almost at the end of the commuter rail line and most everyone who lived here commuted to NYC. Over the years, with the depression taking out many fortunes and the leveling of WW II with the birth of Diaper Village there was a period where, yes there were plenty of well to do families but also plenty of very middle-class people just making it to the end of the month. Growing up we understood that our family was at the lower end of the financial spectrum, but we never once were made to feel such by any classmate or resident.
Over the years the town has been blessed by both chance (the taking of all the tax liens when the first developers went bankrupt) thus allowing the town to control its growth and then the passing of an ordinance prohibiting the destruction of the original Hapgood houses. Both of these events have been a very stabilizing factors in the town. This sense of history mixed with all of the lore of such things as the Circus animals, famous people etc. has helped bring new residents under its spell.
My one concern is for the young child today who may not come from one of the 1% ( as that would appear to be just about the level one needs to navigate $30,00 – $60,000 real estate tax rates, income and sales tax and commuter fees and survive) but lives in one of the more modest homes that still exist surrounded by huge manses and may not have the same experience that we had has children growing up in ML. The gap between the bottom and the top appears too great and too many young people seem to have sense of entitlement that may spill over into mental bullying.
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?
During the Irish Rebellion when the British were after the leaders of the Irish Republic Army leaders, Eamon De Valera fled to the US and lived in Mountain Lakes for a period of time
I was born in 1939 so nothing prior to that except above item – Gone from town before assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, Watergate, etc.
One interesting JFK story pertains to another Mountain Laker since passed. He was my best friend in High School and we did basic training together at Fort Dix. We were doing our two weeks in the field at the time of JFK’s election and on the day after the election my friend stood outside his tent and in a loud voice declared that “That man will not serve his four years.” Very prescient.
I do remember all the rumors about the Hartmans who lived in the house all the way at the top of the hills in ML. They spoke German, had two large German Shepard Dogs and a Japanese house boy who used to bring the dogs with him when he would pick up the mail at the post office. People claimed they were sending Morse code signals to German submarines lurking outside New York Harbor.
I remember my mother negotiating with the meat man at the supermarket during WW II for meat when the coupons ran out. We never had butter until I moved away.
What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?
An excellent school system. I was accepted to the University of New Hampshire based on my PSAT scores and the school reputation. I am aware of at least one or two people who never graduated but learned enough through tenth grade to go on to be very successful business people.
The freedom to be. To grow up with few restrictions beyond good parenting. It provided a strong social rounding that might not have been possible for my family’s economic situation in other places.
There is something that cannot be put into words about Mountain Lakes. It is and has been since the first homes were built and it continues to this day, a very special spirit. One can be away for a life time and return like one never left. Basically the town/school anthem says it all.
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