ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
INTERVIEWEE: Jack Lee
17 South Rockaway Drive
Boonton Township, NJ
INTERVIEWER: Nell Sellers, daughter
DATE OF INTERVIEW: November, 1986
Jack Lee — Reminisces “Remembers When” with daughter, Nell Sellers interviewing.
- Okay, Dad. Let’s start with where you were born.
I was born in Wilmette, Illinois. As a matter of fact, I was a seven months baby. And my dad said that was the last time I was early. He would repeat that over the years. My mother was Mel Lundy and my father was Harry Vernon Lee. They both hailed from South Bend, Indiana.
- . . . about Wilmette.
My memory is a little vague. But I remember that Vern and I used to do some plan although I f irst remember was my mother and dad on a Sunday placed me in the carriage my brother right under my feet. I remember one time we went by this place in and remember Mother saying to my dad that’s a blind pig. Let’s get by as fast as we can. I never learned till years later what a blind pig was.Know what it is. It was a speak easy. Remember those were Prohibition days. I can remember my Uncle Clarence coming from South Bend, Indiana, in an old Studebaker. It must have been quite a thing in those days because this was around 1915-16. I had been born in 1911. 1 can also remember being visited by both grandfathers. Both of them had gray hair and gray beards. I remember particularly Grandfather Lee used to walk us down to the shore of Lake Michigan which always was half to three- quarters of a mile@ away and we’d stand on a bluff overlooking the lake and remember we used to talk about the ocean. I didn’t know at that stage of the game what he was talking about. But as you may recall my grandfa- ther was a sea-faring man and came from Newburyport, Massachusetts. I understand he was a cook on his father’s ship when he was twelve years old.
One memory about Wilmette I was at a party with Bill Yonkers in Mountain Lakes one time and learned that he came from Wilmette. We were the same age. And he asked me if I had gone to school in Wilmette. I said, Oh, yes. I was in kindergarten and probably first grade there. He wanted to know if I remembered anybody. I told him, sure, I remembered a girl by the name of King. I forgot what her first name was now but he remembered her right away and said, Oh, I graduated with her from high school, Neutral High School.
- . . . . your first crush?
I’ll be boomed if I know. I remember now her name was Frances King. And Dad and Mother always used to kid me about it. So I guess she was.
- When did you move to Mountain Lakes?
It was quite a history before moving to Mountain Lakes. I had my ninth birthday in Mountain Lakes. I think we went there in 1918-1919. I was in third grade I believe. However, we had moved from Wilmette east during the war. My father being an architect and having three young children, they wouldn’t let him go in the service. So when he went up to Great Lakes Naval Station and got a job with the navy. And they sent him to Amatol, New Jersey where they were building a munitions plant. He was in on the designing of that. We lived in Atlantic City just across the bay from Amatol, I guess it was. Later it was a race track there if I recall.I don’t believe we lived in Atlantic City long enough for Vernon and me to go’ school. After the war we went to Brooklyn and lived in an apartment there for awhile and then we moved from there and went to Yonkers, New York. And in Yonkers Vern and I went to school. I remember when we lived in Yonkers my mother was very sick and it was during the influenza epidemic and she almost died. All this time dad was working. I think he was working a couple of jobs as an architect in New York and when he finally got settled in a job he looked around New Jersey for a place to live. I remember he went out to Ridgewood at one time. iFinally went to Mountain Lakes and decided he liked that place. So we moved to Howell Road in Mountain Lakes, that was our first home in Mountain Lakes. We went to what was Hanover Township schools, the Stone School House in Mountain Lakes at that ‘time. Mountain Lakes was not yet a borough. I Our lease ran out on the Howell Road at the end of that school year and I remember then we spent a summer in Towaco along the old Morris Canal. Vern and I had a lot of fun fishing in the canal and going up and down the canal in a neighbor’s canoe. Dick was five years younger so he didn’t get in on some of the fun that Vern and I had there. Vern and I when school started again and I don’t know how it happened but we used to take the train f rom Towaco to Mountain Lakes and then go to school in Mountain Lakes.
At the end of that summer we moved f rom Towaco to Boonton up at the end of Williams Street on what was called the old Fleck’s farm. That was almost a mile from Main Street. I remember we used to walk down to Main Street and get a trolley to Mountain Lakes to school at that time. Then walk back afterwards, in the trolley and up hill. it was quite a jaunt for little kids. Living on the Fleck farm was rather primitive and Vern and I got rather a good education at an early age. I say Vern and I did because Dick was still a youngster. He was five years younger than, still is, I am. It was so primitive. There was no central heating in the f arm house and it was heated by a wood stove in the center of the house. There was a cistern that furnished the water for washing and when cooking and drinking water was required we had to go out to the old well’and thelold oaken bucket wound by chain around the pulley that went down in the well and pulled it up and had to lug that into the house.
As far as cooking was concerned we had an old iron stove that burned wood and I think there was a pilot that may have had some kerosene went with it that the cook stove with the wood went all tthe time and heated the whole kitchen and the downstairs. I said it was heated by wood. Vernon and I learned very early I had to go out and saw down a tree and sort the logs and chop them up. Dad was a great hand at it and he really showed us how those things were done. At that time there was the chestnut blight. The chestnut trees around Mountain Lakes were used in the building of the Mountain ‘ Lakes homes and the nice chestnut trim. But there on the Fleck farm we cut them down and burned them.
The farm had its attributes though. We had a wonderful garden there and had a good number of apple trees and there were hickory nut trees around. I remember we picked — we used to get a lot of the hickory nuts and keep them all winter and we had a cold cellar where we kept vegetables and apples all winter long too.
Sometime in 1920 we moved from the Fleck farm to Mountain Lakes. Dad bought a house that had been formerly owned by the Gad family. We were the second owners of the house. It was on Hanover Road. I guess it was number 80 at least when they numbered the houses. That was number 80. Later on in the thirties they re-numbered all the houses and became 44 and is still 44 Hanover Road.
Life was not quite so primitive in Mountain Lakes. We had central heating by steam heat. However, it was a coal furnace and we had coal routinely. Dixon Bros. delivered coal in those days and they put it in by chute into the basement and then we had to keep the fire going and keep coal in it all the times. One of our jobs, Vern’s and mine, was to shovel the coal and shake the ashes out, poke the fire, take out the clinkers and ashes we carried out and dumped in the back.
We even had an electric stove on which Mother did her cooking. I remember, I don’t know when it was, but it was several years later we had our first washing machine. It was called a Gaynor-Day and it was a great big copper bucket type of thing. Had a wringer on top of it and when Mother did the wash it was the kids job to turn the wringer so that she could put the clothes through the wringer and we had to be very careful we didn’t get our hands in the wringer. Therefore, Mother didn’t want us to put the clothes in. She wanted to put ,them in herself.
We had some nice neighbors there. And we had them for many years. The Wubedoos (?) lived across the street on the corner of Rooklyn (?) Road and Hanover. He was a retired mining engineer. Later became when Mountain Lakes was made a borough he was the borough engineer. Had to do with the construction and design of all the news roads that were put in. Another neighbor was Tom Allerdyce. He was in construction work in the city, I believe. I think he had been a bricklayer originally. Across the street f rom him and next door to us, I say next door, there were several lots in between, was Van L. Visher, was an attorney, and member of a leading law firm in New York City. When I was older it was Mr. Visher who would ask dad if I could take time off from school so he could take me to court. It was also Mr. Visher had three daughters and I took care of their bikes and mowed their lawn and so on, never anticipated I had three daughters of my own.
I say Mountain Lakes wasn’t primitive it was a lot different fromwhat it is today. The roads were all dirt except for the main boulevard and maybe several other streets like Briarcliff Road but they had rocks on the side. In the winter time the roads would freeze and if it melted in between there’d be ruts in the road. Riding a bike was a real horror story. Most people didn’t have cars in those days. We walked to school; walked back again, even came home for lunch. It was a good mile or more walk to the old stone school house f rom where we lived.
As far as finding things to do we had an awful lot of fun playing around with fellows at school as well as the neighbors. One neighbor was Sidney Austin who lived across the street and up a block from where we did. His father was a naval officer. It was his father that died in the house fire about six or seven years after we moved there. Fires in those days in Mountain Lakes were pretty bad because there wasn’t much fire protection. ,And once a house caught fire it really went up in flames. In fact, when we lived in Howell Road there was a house where the present post off ice and library and that. house went up in flames while we were there. Burned down entirely.
I remember the closest times with the family, by close, I mean living near by were the Canadas. They had three boys — one was just Vern’s age, another boy was just my age. Went through school together. Mr. Canada was a Yale graduate and he had a Studebaker touring car and I guess it was the only car we ever had a ride in for some years. In those days we didn’t have any trouble in finding things to do. We, the kids, would get together and play the can. The fellows would get up a baseball team and go down to Nafee’s field which was way down below the Mountain Lakes station and play other teams in town. We had one called the Melrose Road Gang and they would play the Boulevards. We had all sorts of varied teams. We also played touch football either at Nafee’s field or by the old stone school house on the Boulevard. Probably the commonest sport was to kick stones from along the sides of the dirt road and heave them. I got quite accurate throwing stones. One of the sports was to hit the light bulb which actually we didn’t let our parents know what we were doing. But I remember later on Oakley Dutton, a girl in my class, told me years later that she always liked me best because I was so good at throwing rocks. (laughter) Incidently, she was voted the best athlete in our class in Morristown High School later on. One good sport that we had was bow and arrow. We made our own bows and arrows. In fact, we went down to the smithy in Boonton and he would saw a big piece of ash for us into lengths and then we would use a door knife and whittle that down to make a bow. The arrows I guess we got dowel rods and make arrows. We used to go down the farm in Towaco to the turkey farm there and we would get turkey feathers. Sometimes we would pull out the turkeys if the farmer wasn’t watching and we used those to glue on the arrows with ambroid so that they f lew straight. And we really got quite accurate with bows and arrows. We also made slingshots. And I’ve made sling- shots for you kids. (laugh) Also you know how to use those.
We had a lot of fun over the years ramming through the woods and we knew Mountain Lakes by heart. We had a what we called a gang, I guess it was made up of Gordon Canada and Jack Hildreth. Oh I forget the others. But I know that Jack Hildreth when we were raiding other gangs or parties going on we would call him Hoola Boolah and I was called Fred because there was another Lee in town called Fred that we didn’t like. (laughter) It was then that we developed the call that our family has used for years. You probably know it — ooo-hah. I think it was Dick Wright and another member of the gang that actually developed that cheer. He was quite surprised years later when he heard me use it. When we didn’t walk to places we took the trolley. The trolley went up and down the Boulevard along where the path runs now that the borough macadamised some years ago. The trolley they called the Dinky because it was one-third the size of the large trolleys. It ran from Boonton to Denville and when they put in Lake Arrowhead it went right through the middle of Lake Arrowhead. At that time the Boulevard didn’t go through to Route 46. It was Route 6 then. The old Boulevard was Crane Road and ended up where the present Klintrup’s office is.
In the early days Mountain Lakes didn’t have any mail delivery. And everybody had to pick their mail up at the post office which was next to Yacarino’s store down near the railroad station. Some of the fellows developed a mail routes. Vern had one and so did Paul Welsmiller who was a neighbor who was not too far away. Paul’s route was up on what we called the hill and Vern’s was through the lower section down on Hanover and Melrose. When they gave up those routes and were in high school I took them both over.
Over the years I did a lot of work around town. I was — my main ]ob was mowing lawns. I did Mrs. Shoohart’s so well that she got me jobs all over town. Mrs. Shoohart lived on Kenilworth Road and then she moved over to Lake Drive. Her husband was quite a talented Bell Lab engineer and he was sent — the country’s emissary to Mahatma Gandhi when he came into power in India. Later on Mrs. Shoohart when I drew her will and handled her husband’s estate searching every blade when I was mowing lawns she would get me jobs but I never came to that.
Mountain Lakes was made up of Hanover Township and Boonton Township. It was a very small borough, Boonton Township, it was mostly all Hanover. And the schools were in Hanover. The school was in Hanover Township. Mountain Lakes became a borough in 125 or ‘6 I believe. And at that time the school had nine grades. You got a certificate from the state after eighth grade and then we had an extra grade for high school and from there we went — had to go elsewhere. Initially most of these students went to Boonton to high school. However, they had a principal that was quite popular and he was quite active in having his students go on to college which most of Mountain Lakes students wanted to do. Because of this the Boonton people were upset and they fired him as principal. For this reason, Mountain Lakes led a strike and the main leaders were Castle and Wright, both of whom were seniors in high school. They were joined by Boonton students and were immediately kicked out of school. The Board of Education following that gave the students the right to go either’ to Morristown High School or to Boonton. And most everybody went to Morristown. Wright and Castle went back to Boonton High School being seniors and they went on to West Point, graduating one and three in their class and both of them became major generals — one in the Air Corps and one was in the Cavalry.
Speaking of cavalry there were quite a few horses around Mountain Lakes in those days. The Hobbies over on Morris Avenue had horses. The Hapgood girl who was the daughter of the founder of Mountain Lakes had a horse and the Hetterer girl on Cobb Road used to ride around. Other horses had to do with construction work there in town. They didn’t have the equipment the bulldozers and so on that they have today. They had these horses like you see on television drawing beer wagons which would draw behind them a big scoop and they dug out the cellars when the houses were being built.
Vern and I both went to Morristown High School, Vern having started out in Boonton. But I always went to Morristown. We would travel by the Dinky to Denville and then took the transfer and take the larger trolley that ran between Dover and Morristown. It took a real good hour. I don’t mention Dick very often because he was younger and we really didn’t have too much in the way of doing things with him. I do remember that when he first went to grammar school he was the cutest kid with blonde curly hair and all the teachers made over him a great deal. One little episode in grammar school that I neglected to mention was that everybody would be marked up the auditorium first thing in the morning to hear the principal lecture us and sing a couple of songs and then come down to the classrooms. One day we came down to the classroom and one of the fellows was sitting in his seat and hadn’t been with us and the teacher said, Edmund Sturer how did you get in? And he said, I clum in the winder. (laughter)
One of the sports I never mentioned when I was in high school and Vern had his license. At that time we had a car believe it or not. And he used to drag me behind the car on my skiis down the Boulevard. Pretty risky business. But I hit a bare spot, thought I wouldn’t be here today.
Another thing that’s hard to realize is that the roads were not plowed to well during the winter and the trucks and cars going over them would pack the snow down so that you would have snow there practically all winter long. And when you had an ice storm the ice would stay there too. And I can remember we used to skate from home to grammar school on occasion along the road. v
Dad used to be a real good sport with us as kids. He loved to play ball and he would get out in the front yard with a bat and we’d throw the ball to him and he would bat it to all the kids in the neighborhood. He also loved to play croquet. We in later years I guess when I was in high school had a croquet court in the backyard. At that time the yard had been filled in and had quite a good level place there. I remember somebody good would take a shot and he wouldn’t want them to make it and Dad would holler, tubbits, tubbits. Dad was a lot of fun. He had names for everything and everybody. I remember Mrs. Allerdice who lived up across from us was quite a — not too happy a person, and he used to call her the frost-bitten croon.
Mother was a pretty hard worker and I think we boys tried to help her as much as we could although we must have given her a tough time. She always kept us well-dressed and had white-laundered shirts for us. Always had starch in them. I remember people remarking on how she could ever keep us looking the way that we did. I wonder myself today. She used to love to go to walks. I think one of her happiest times was when she used to go picking berries or flowers with us. She was a terrific berry picker and she knew all the blackberry patches in Mountain Lakes. And there were a lot of them in those days.
Another sport around Mountain Lakes was to rattle around in the old homes that were just partly finished. For some years Hapgood had built, oh, I would say, there were ten to twenty homes that were never completed. And there was big sport for the kids to go in those homes and play hang-go-seek and climb around them. In fact, the walls were not yet plastered but all the lathe was up for plastering. And we would kick out the lathe so we had ladders and you could climb all over the houses. And there were lots of nooks and crannies to hide. As I said before, we had nine grades in Mountain Lakes so when we went to high school we became sophomores automat- ically. And we had so many extra courses in Mountain Lakes that we had more points for graduation than most of the students did there so we could select what courses we wanted to take.
I think I enjoyed history more than any other courses and I remember Miss Campbell the teacher very well, probably the reason I majored in history later on when I went to college. I think Vern and I were always avid readers. I can remember when we were real young that we would take books to bed with us with a flashlight and leave the door open a crack. The light from the hall would shine in and we read the books in that manner until Dad would catch US. Naturally it was a good way to ruin our eyes. Being such readers we were always looking for books and Mr. Canada I’ve mentioned before had a third floor library that was tremendous. Vern and I read all the books in that library I believe. In fact, his children used to come to us and ask us what book they should read from their own library. Naturally, we read the Rover Boys and Tom Swift and the like. Even read the Sabatini book which mother liked. But I think we read more grown- up novels historical type of novels that gave us a real good background.
I graduated from Morristown High School in 1929 and Dad was all set for me to go to Princeton. Having followed Vern to high school and having all the teachers when I first entered class’ addressed me by asking if I was Vernon Lee’s brother and I hope you are as smart as he is. Got pretty tired (end of side I)–
It was a surprise to see Washington — only seen it in pictures before that and I really enjoyed being at American University for a period of time I was there. I remember I went to see President Taft’s funeral. I didn’t know it then but he had been our chief justice and had been Dean of Yale’Law School where I later went to school. When I was at American University mother would except I do remember my history professor. I think I got my best marks in that. I can’t say I studied too hard. I played basketball, was on the freshman team, and slated to be on the squad for the college team the following year but I never got there. The depression so-called started during that year in college at American Universi- ty. You will recall that the stock market crash was in September of 1929 (note: thought it was October) and while it didn’t necessarily hurt Dad ‘cuz I don’t think he had much in the way of investments, it did hurt many of his clients because nobody was building homes at that stage of the game and unfortunately it followed through for several years. The crash unless you lived through it was pretty hard to contemplate.
Mother hadn’t been well for a couple of years and when I got home from American University she was not good at all. I worked all that summer in Morristown at the ice house down in what they called the Hollow. I pulled ice and put the ice on the ice trucks and sometimes I went out on the ice trucks to deliver ice. I also helped shovel coal from the coal cars into the trucks and delivered coal around the various places around Morristown. I’d tell the fellows at the office that I used to know all the better back doors in Morristown. It seemed like an anachronism to mention to ice and coal today because most of you don’t know what it is. But in those days people didn’t have electric refrigerators they had iceboxes and ice men came with a 30-lb. or 60-lb. cake of ice and put it in the box. It was quite a knack to carry the ice and’I got quite strong in doing so over a period of a whole year. So as I say, I worked and I didn’t get back to college because of the depression. Dad didn’t have any money and mother was in the hospital. She was in the hospital in Jersey City at Christ Hospi- tal. She died there on February 18 in 1931. It was a sorry day for all of us boys because we really loved her. Probably the toughest on Dick because he was only thirteen years old at that time. Dad decided money or no money that I had to go’to college. So I started looking at campuses and so on. I decided maybe I’d like to go to Wesleyan up in Connecticut. I made application and got up at some stage of the game with Dad to talk with the Deam of Admissions. And they would not give me credit for my American University marks because it was not an accredited college. So that I had to wait to find out whether they would credit me later on dependent on my marks that I got at Wesleyan. Fortunately, I got very good grades at Wesleyan and then they gave me credit for them so that I was only three years at Wesleyan.
To go back again, after my mother’s death I worked a bit more at the Casco at Morristown at the Hollow on the ice and coal company. But then quit to take a job with the Borough of Mountain Lakes which was then improving its roads throughout the town. I got a job with a surveying crew that worked for the borough laying out the roads. And it was very helpful in that I learned quite a bit about the town and later on it was very assistant to me when I handled real estate matters in Mountain Lakes because I was so familiar with the roads and with the town itself. Well, I did go to Wesleyan then in the fall of 1931 and I had tuition paid for the first semester and $50 in my pocket Dad had no income at that stage of the game and the money that I had saved either had been expended for mother or had been sent to Vern because Vern was in his last year at Princeton. He graduated in June of 1931. After the end of the first semester I went to the college dean and told him I needed a job and he got me a room with a professor of English by the name of Theodore Banks. And I resided there for the balance of my stay at Wesleyan. I also got a job working in the library. Spent many hours working in the library, closed it up at night as a matter of fact, eleven o’clock and do my studying after that. I used to — didn’t have enough time to wait on table to earn my board so I went to a restaurant downtown where they got quite familiar with me and gave me a very good dinner. However, I learned to exist on practically one meal a day and I did that right on through law school.
The Banks were quite wealthy people and they had maids and the cook learned that I was only eating one meal a day and she used to leave me an egg sandwich on the stairway, backstairs, when I was ready to go to class which was a big help let me tell you. I worked Pretty hard at Wesleyan and got good grades. I had an A+ in history my first year there. And the history professor asked me if I would not be an assistant and help him correct papers and take attendance at class. I did that throughout the balance of my three years in Wesleyan. During the summers I worked at the Wesleyan library for two summers. The first summer, however, there were no jobs to be had and I came home to Mountain Lakes with nothing to do so Gordon Canada, my neighbor who was then going to Yale, wanted to know if I wouldn’t bum out west with him to see our families. I have family in South Bend and he had family in Ohio. We bummed out there and had a wonderful time for about six weeks. I remember we got a ride with a fellow of South Bend from some place in Ohio and he told us he was heading back to New York some weeks later and if we would give him a call at this number he’d be glad to give us a ride. We called him and he gave us ride all the way back to the corner of the Boulevard and Route 46. I guess he rather liked having us with him because he wanted somebody to spell him driving. Gordon and I took turns driving and we drove up through Canada and across the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and down that way from South Bend.