My name is John N. Brown (always known as Jack).
- Mailing address:
Grand Island, N.Y.
- When and where were you born?
Born Dec. 3, 1920 in Brooklyn, N.Y.
- When did you come to Mountain Lakes?
Lived in Mountain Lakes from approximately 1922 through 1942.
- Tell us something about your family. Did your parents also live here?
Yes, my father and mother as well as an older sister Marion moved to Mountain Lakes in 1922 and a younger sister, Norma was born there.
- Where have you lived in the Borough? In which houses?
Our first house was on Morris Ave. at the foot of Briarcliff Rd. That house no longer exists and has been replaced by two new houses. Four stone posts which defined a driveway in front of the original house still stand. A photo of the house shows our 1921 Buick and myself at a tender age.Our second home was located at 21 Larchdell Way. Photo of that house when purchased in 1927 and one of the same house after some changes. That house has changed appearance since we left in 1942 and moved to the Buffalo, N.Y. area after my father’s death.
- What do you remember particularly about the houses and properties where you lived?
The Morris Ave house had the Lackawanna Railroad behind it. It was a four tracker in those days and carried freight (mostly coal) as well as passengers. As a child, I enjoyed running to the railroad fence that defined our south property line in order to wave at the engine crew. The waves were always returned. I do believe that the noise of the rather heavy rail traffic in those days caused my father to move to the Larchdell Way location.The house at 21 Larchdell Way was a typical Hapgood home which my father had redone inside and out (see 1927 photo and a later one). To me the crowning glory of that location was that it was on the canal, which had been made wider behind our house. The canal permitted us to have both a row boat and a canoe with which we could travel to either the Big Lake or the Little Lake in the summer time and since the canal was quite shallow, we were able to ice skate there in the winter. There was no winter skating on either lake until the ice was checked by the police and the “Flag” was hoisted in the Memorial Park and other locations. Ice skating and hockey were very popular activities for all to enjoy.
- What are some of your special memories growing up in Mountain Lakes?
One Sunday afternoon in 1925 or 1926, following a severe thunder and lightning storm, we began to hear and feel the vibrations of large explosions. Neighbors gathered in the street (not much car traffic then) to discuss the matter. One man suggested that it was the end of the world. My father and others drove up to Lookout Road to look about from high ground. There we were able to see to explosions when looking north and a bit west. Someone said “It must be Picatinny Arsenal”. That was correct and the explosions continued for some time. Quite a bit of damage occurred in Dover and also Rockaway and Mountain Lakes had many broken window panes. We had two broken window panes at our Morris Ave. house.The burning of the original Mountain Lakes Club House on the Big Lake on New Year’s Eve (1928) was a big event. The fire started in the Club kitchen and much effort was expended on keeping the fire from reaching the Stone School next to the Club. The Club House was a total loss. Not too long after that the Rockaway River Country Club burned to the ground.
In those days the Mountain Lakes Fire Department trucks, a Ford and a Waterous, were housed in the south end of the Hamilton Automobile Garage (located behind the stores on Baldwin Rd.) in a single wide fashion, one behind the other. The Fire Dept. was all-volunteer at that time.
- 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?
I started school in the first grade in the Stone School (now called Lake Drive School) at age 5 while living on Morris Ave. I walked to and from school, which was quite a distance. Miss Muchmore was the teacher. By third grade (Miss Lofthouse) we were in the Larchdell Way house which was a short walk and continued through ninth grade (Mr. Schofield). Scho taught math and was probably the finest teacher I ever experienced even through the University of Buffalo where I studied engineering. I graduated High School in 1939 and that was the first class that spent the full four years in the “New High School” on Briarcliff Rd. Since I spent most of my Mountain Lakes years in school they were very formative years and could not have been spent in a better place. I have always considered myself very fortunate to have lived in Mountain Lakes. My peers (very few left) all agreed with that assessment.
- Where did you and your family shop?
Primarily we shopped in Boonton for food items. The A & P for groceries and meat and Block’s for fresh vegetables. No frozen foods then. Barton’s Hardware and the good old Woolworths. For some men’s clothing Morristown (Mintz) and for more serious shopping, Macy’s and Wannamaker’s in New York. Yes there was a Wannamakers in New York in those days. Located on East 11th St. as I recall.
- What were the roads and the lakes like?
When we arrived in Mountain Lakes the roads were very poor. Sometime around 1930 a huge road building project got underway. New roads were put in together with concrete curbs. Gas lines were installed as oil heat and gas hot water tanks were replacing coal. It all really made the town very modern.The two main lakes were always beautiful. The Club had a beach on the Big Lake and there was a private beach on the Little Lake located at the north end of the Glen Road Dam. That beach was constructed by Mr. E.R. Leonard who lived on the lake on the Briarcliff Rd. side. There was a nice sand beach, high and low diving boards, a long slide with a pump for applying water and a large raft. Members wore a small brass tag on their bathing suits for identification. The Browns were members of that beach. Today there is absolutely no remaining evidence that such a facility ever existed.
- Are there any special people you remember who contributed to the life of the town? Why do they stand out in your mind?
There is one man who stands out in my memory in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, and that is Mr. Harry Dennis who was Chief of the Mountain Lakes Police Dept. during that period. Known as “Harry” by everyone in town, Harry had the stature that made him respected and the kindness and good nature that made him loved by all that knew him. Harry was firm but gentle and a fine role model for the youth of Mountain Lakes. I am sure that all of my peers would agree with that assessment. His son Harry Dennis Jr. now lives in Vero Beach, Fl. Harry Jr. was a classmate of mine in Mountain Lakes and I speak to him often on the phone. Harry Jr. is a carbon copy of his father.Mr. Earl Anibal, our Supervising School Principal was another man of stature and loved by all that knew him.
In those years, Mountain Lakes had many men who worked for Bell Labs in New York and who made their mark in the scientific progress of our nation.
- What did you do for fun formal recreation, sports and entertainment in general?
What did we do for fun? There were no TV games to play. Radio was not much until around five o’clock in the afternoon when the serials such as Buck Rogers, Jack Armstrong (the all American Boy) and Little Orphan Annie came on and were listened to by many. The listening tended to bring the young folks home in time to be there when the 6:20 commuter train arrived. This train was an express (first stop Boonton) and was used by almost all of the men who commuted to New York each day. My father always walked in the door at 6:30 and dinner was served almost immediately. The kids needed to be in their place at that time. We created our own fun after school and in the summer time. That fun was always outdoor fun in good weather. The boys played baseball in someone’s yard. We played “Kick The Can” which was very active outdoor activity and the old “hide and seek” was also popular. The point is that not any of these fun activities were sedentary. They were all active exercise which was good for us.In the summertime and on a Saturday we would hike on the Tourne or at the Fox Lakes where we enjoyed swimming in the “Third Lake” without benefit of a bathing suit. Almost all of our fun activities were good exercise. Would that such was true today, our young folks would be better for the experience.
There was also a Mountain Lakes baseball team made up of local young men that were perhaps about ten years my senior. Mr. Al Driggs was the manager, Harry Kinne (sp?) was the catcher and Mr Beery was always the umpire when the games were played at Naefie’s Field in Mountain Lakes. Naefie’s Field was located on the lower part of Midvale Rd. below the railroad tracks between Crescent Dr. and Maple Way. That ball diamond was on the Naefie property, which was made into building lots after World War II and became known as Diaper Village. The Ball diamond has obviously vanished. Other names of the ball team escape me. It has been a long time!
- Are there any special events that stand out in your mind?
Can’t recall any other special events of importance.
- 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?
Yes, my father had his office in New York as did most of the Mountain Lakes men. A few worked on the Jersey side of the river in various locations. Those who went to New York took the train to Hoboken and then the ferry or the tube (now called the Path I think) into the city. Most men took the 7:28 express train or the 8:06 express in the morning and returned on the 5:30 out of Hoboken. In those days one could set their watch on those train movements. They were most punctual. Those were the days. As I recall, there were no changes in the commuting activity during my years there.
- How did various laws affect the way people lived?
There was some cheating caused by the 18th amendment, which was ratified in 1918. Some who vacationed in Canada attempted to carry a few bottles of beer back home. The stories that accompanied such activity were legion, most quite funny. When the 18th was repealed in 1932, my father immediately bought a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey and a bottle of M & R sweet vermouth and put them in our dining room buffet. They were still there unopened when he passed away in 1938. I guess he wanted to show his support for the repeal of a law that caused the gangster era to thrive. There was no drinking in our house.
- Did you have a sense of Mountain Lakes as a unique place in its lifestyle, its homes, as a community?
I most certainly had a very sharp sense that Mountain Lakes was a very unique place in which to grow up and live. In retrospect, I note that all of the original Hapgood homes were quite similar in terms of their value along with similar lot sizes. I think that these basic physical facts along with the natural beauty of the community, tended to attract people with a reasonably substantial income level, which accompanied a certain social level in a general way. It never tended to attract the very high and the very low social and income-level people. We were all pretty much in the same boat which was unique.
- 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 can only speak in terms of WW-I and WW-II, after which I was elsewhere.Many of my friends’ fathers were in WW-I and many brought home guns, helmets, gas masks, periscopes, and other small items. One man managed to bring home a German water-cooled machine gun. These things were all playthings as we boys played at war. One man, Mr. Lewellyn Watts Jr. (lived on Morris Ave near Midvale, his son Lewellyn the 3rd was a classmate) brought home an wooden airplane propeller which was mounted on the porch of his father, Lewellyn Sr., who lived in the house directly adjacent to original Briarcliff Rd High School. Lots of that sort of thing came home from France in 1918.
WW-II came at a time when I and my friends were of military age. I enlisted in the Navy but was almost immediately discharged because of an ear problem. Many of my classmates were in the various services, some never to return. Warren P. Edris, known as Pete was a B17 pilot in the 8th Air Force. He was reported killed in action over France. He was later found to be a prisoner of war in a German prison camp and freed by Gen Patton and returned home. He wrote a book about those experiences and a copy of that book is in the mail to me. We have been good friends since starting school in first grade. He Lives in North Carolina and I spoke to him this past week. Bob Corley was a Navy pilot. He came out ok but has since passed on. He married Betty Addis who lived on Hanover Rd. and is still with us. Gilbert Jones who lived on North Glen was also a pilot and did not come home. Gilbert Higgins who lived on Laurel Hill Rd. was killed in Europe. Richard Fleming, who had married Jean Hughes, was also killed in Europe. These were all classmates. There were others that I did not know well and can’t recall. That war took its toll in Mountain Lakes.
- What made living in Mountain Lakes special to you, as you think back over your life here?
Mountain Lakes was special to me simply because it was a very special place. This sounds simplistic but I have not known a person who grew up there who would not agree with that statement. The people I knew, several of whom I am still in touch with, were all top drawer. The homes were all first class, the schools an inspiration, the lakes things of beauty, and in those days parents seemed to know how to bring up children to be good citizens. They all seemed to give much time to their kids. Would that it could be that way again. It seems that parenting has gotten off the track and more is the pity.