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John P. Sullivan
(Interview taped in 1976)
I came to Teaneck in 1907 with my parents. I was one year old at the time. There were six of us. I had one brother and four sisters. We lived at 127 Park Ave. off Fort Lee Road. In those days it was all farms there, part of the Westervelt farm.
We had a two-story house with an attic. My father had it built. There weren't many houses around there. There was our house, a house across the street and two McCaffrey houses on Maple Street. There was a house up on Oak Street--not more than 10 houses altogether on Park Ave. We knew every one. We had no grocery store, but there was a general store at Fort Lee and Queen Anne Road. They came around and took your order and would deliver it in the afternoon.
When there was a whole lot of snow they had runners on all the wagons. The baker and the coal man had sleighs. Charlie Kjawski would plow a little path through the town. Almost every one walked. Those who worked in New York went to the Ridgefield Park station. Ridgefield Park was the shopping town. They had a general store. Carried everything from a spool of thread to a horse Collar.
My father was a Wheelman on the West Shore Ferry. He went to school with Al Smith. Al Smith was at my Grandfather's funeral. My mother was a Canadian,
Teaneck Road was very beautiful. Vary narrow pavement--maybe wide enough for two Model T Fords--they could just get by. In our section there was a nice pine woods.
I went to Oakdene School. Just the center part of the present school was built then. They had about eight classrooms, I remember Miss Duryea and Miss Kranz. Mr. Jay was the principal. When Miss Duryea retired we had a party. It was quite an affair--lasted from 8 in the evening till 4 in the morning. It started with some pictures. Gone Deckert and I decided to give a party. He was a sergeant with the police department and he got a lot of people together.
We had coal stoves at first--one upstairs and one down and then we got a pipeless furnace. We had a kitchen range. It was my job to haul the coal and take out the ashes. In the beginning we lighted with kerosene, then they piped gas through and we had gas lamps. When I was 17 or 18 we used to go to girls' houses, roll up the rugs and dance. Nearly every house had those goose neck gas lights that used mantles. Being tall, I'd hit my head on them and break the mantle. I'd bring extras along with me. When we were ready to go home we'd put back the rugs and put things together again.
Everybody had an ice box on the back porch.
My brother has the Dennis Studio in Bogota. My sisters Margaret, Jane and Anne are gone. Margarat was murdered in New Milford14 years ago. I now have one sister and a brother living.
I was a printer with the Newark Evening News for 35 years. I am retired. I was married at St. Francis Church in Ridgefield Park. I've been in this house 30 years. At first we rented a place on Cooper Ave. Then we bought this house. I keep busy teaching school, taking Pictures, making frames, going to art school. I exhibit my pictured in banks--the Garden State, People's Trust, etc. I teach art in Hasbrouck Heights and Saddle brook Adult School and at St. Anastazia's.
I had no problem about retiring, I was teaching for the last 20 years. You get a lot of satisfaction seeing people get so much out of it. You just can't quit. You have to share. I have taught nuns, priests, lawyers, doctors, one judge--Judge Fake of Paramus Court--and yes, an undertaker. There were John and Mary Summers, Mary Thrun, Sister Eileen and Father Ferdinand. I taught for seven or eight years at the community Church. Rev. Harold Vanoort sponsored it. He was a swell fellow. His wife was very active. Yes, we turned out quite a number of painters.
There was no Teaneck High School when I was young. I didn't go to high school. I went to work after sixth grade. I was apprenticed in a print shop and became a journeyman printer. I worked for the Newark News until it was sold to the Star Ledger. That was a sad day.
I was active in politics -- 1928 and afterwards. It was fun to some degree. I happened to be a Democrat. There were few of us and it was an uphill fight. Had a lot of fun. We know everybody. Donald Waesche was the township lawyer. He became a judge. We elected Edison governor.
I was captain of the Auxiliary Police--all volunteers. Started during the war, Chief Harte of the police department saw that we got plenty of training, We were out when that airplane crashed on Queen Anne Rd, around Frances St. We assisted the town and the government in case of emergency. One time we had a terrible windstorm. That was after we had disbanded. Capt. Klemm called and we rounded up a few boys. There were more wires bouncing around than there were men, he said. They needed help so we spent the rest of the night watching those bouncing wires.
Interest in the town was great in those days. There were fewer people. Every one knew one another. Now I go to Town Hall and they call me Mister--those that know me. Years ago when Clara Christensen and Paul Volcker were there they called me John. I know chief Fitzpatrick.
I organized the Teaneck Democratic Club 28 years ago. I think they killed it. I was campaign manager for Jimmy Brown when he ran for Congress, We almost won. 15,000 more votes and we'd have been in. We spent about $500.
Ridgefield Park was our parish. When there was a wedding the whole procession walked to church. Today that would look foolish. Not every one had cars. They'd have a party at the bride's house. They held Christenings and weddings in homes. They started a church in Bogota and we thought that would be a little nearer. When they were building they'd hold mass in the Fire House--Catholic services were in the morning and another service in the afternoon. I made my first communion in the fire house.
Teaneck started to build up after 1921.We didn't have parades before that here. There were parades in Ridgefield Park. Mayor Votee was the man who thought we ought to be securing property for parks, because one day we couldn't get those properties. I was the one he named for the Park Commission.
He talked to Ammann. When I was a boy, Old Man Ammann wouldn't let you stand on his place. He married a girl he got from a mail order place out west. He didn't want to leave the property to her so he gave it to the town. I helped planning the parks. We got property from Phelps people and called it Central Park. Lots of it had been sold as lots, but the ground was four feet lower than the sewer. It took a little time condemning it and all. We called it Central Park.
I served on the 4th of July committee. We had more people at parades than they have now. It was fun in those days. You saw all your neighbors. It was an all day affair. Waesche used to get the Coast Guard band to play. We had a nice day and a nice evening. Then everybody was home.
I've got a lot of memories. In those days we had non-partisan government. I was a Democrat but I supported many Republicans. There was interest in government. I think we had it for a number of years. There was Angus Hanniball and Henny Deissler, he became mayor after he was a councilman. I was active in town. One thing led to another. It is good to be active. You learn a lot of things, what's going on in town. You take a part in it. Now I'm active--as you get older, you're interested in different things. If I wasn't interested in art, I'd still be in politics. I'm past president of the Hackensack Art Club. I'm still engaged in that line.
Where was the band? The bank we had around here was on Mount Vernon Street in Ridgefield Park. People weren't rich at that time. You worked hard for a dollar. They paid off their mortgages and their houses. There were rich people in Teaneck on those big estates. Around the fringes were small houses--south of Fort Lee Road. There was Manhattan Heights. Selvage built a lot of cement houses there, Near the railroad station it was pretty well built up.
We had a military academy. Roosevelt Military Academy not far from the West Englewood station. It's still in operation in either Pennsylvania or New York. The boys used to look like West Point.
Every one took the train. They worked in New York. It was easier to go to New York then than now. The ferries went up or down town. The trip was less tiresome. You had your friends. You walked to the station.
When I was a boy they made movies around '.here. You'd see them making movies any where. The director in his khaki pants and bull horn. There'd be colored people they put grass skirts on around Crystal Lake. Pearl White got pushed off the cliff (the palisades). I remember they made World War I movie "Guy Empee". We used to go through those trenches in Fort Lee on a Sunday. There were "The Perils of Pauline." The studios were big glass houses--looked a lot like greenhouses. They had a big green house in Ridgefield Park. It was very interesting.
You had few roads--the rest were dirt or gravel. Teaneck Road was paved in the middle--very narrow until they added 10 feet. If they lead a wide road it was paved in the center.
I remember stores on Cedar Lane--a drug store, dry goods store. That was 1922-23. There was a store on West Englewood Avenue. In Ridgefield Park there was a shoo store, a paint store and a general store. They had a horse trough on Main Street for the horses to drink out of. I remember our neighbors 30 years ago. My Laiston, his grandmother was a sister of the Kaiser. Until Hitler came along he got royalties from her holdings. There was Joe Weiss, an old timer who owned a garage. He lived up there. I remember when there was a path from the Old Plantation (Inwood Manor) to the front door of the school on Oakdone (Longfellow). It was all apple orchards up here. No houses on Oakdone.
I remember the Larkin girls used to come to school in a pony cart--a straw carts. They lived in that beautiful old house at Teaneck Road and Van Buren where the doctor lives now. I don't know where they are now,
I'll probably forget a lot of things, I have enjoyed life in Teaneck. We had a lot of fun. We had a lot of nice people they knew you as you were.
Thornton Bishop was a great Republican. He wanted to back me for the council. He know I was a Democrat.
When I was captain of the Auxiliary Police we had to keep the railroad tracks clear for when the President came and when troop trains came down from Camp Shanks up at Orangeburg. They'd come one after another traveling pretty fast. We made sure the tracks were clear. Kids would throw things on the track--park benches. We didn't got much notice. You'd get there as quick as you could. Then after the war when there were muggers we patrolled the streets,
Prior to that I remember World War I and Camp Merritt. On Fort Lee and Teaneck Roads army trucks came down from the West Shore and the Erie in Leonia on their way to Cresskill, where they marched up the hill, I was there the day they dedicated the monument. General Pershing was there, I was there when they dedicated the World War I memorial at the library.
The Municipal Building was on the other side of School 2, the Town House now. Later they moved it to a side street and the VFW had it. We had a volunteer fire department. When I was a boy there was a farm house on Hillside Avenue--old Doc. Percival's place. There was a shad where we used to keep the fire hose. We big boys would hook it on to a milk wagon. By the time we got there the house would be pretty well burned out. We threw everything out of the window so they could save something. We had plenty of water-the pipes were in. Prior to that I guess they used wells.
I remember picking strawberries for half a cent a quart. Willie Fox and the Fox girls, the McCaffrey girls--8 or 9 of us used to pick strawberries for Westervelt. We'd throw them big berries at each other. Bergen County was the strawberry capital. Peter Westervelt's farm ran from Teaneck Road at Oak Street to Ridgefield Park. They used to have apple orchards off Maple Street. Edna Gaston used to pick berries. Her brothers Milton and Alec were great baseball players.
On Saturday's we'd take a bath in Overpeck Creek. There was good swimming there. They trapped muskrats and hunted. I'm not much at hunting. I can't kill a chicken. There were lots of rabbits. I never seen any deer. There was a whole strip of woods in Glenwood Park. They tell me there once was big trees there. I think they cut them down for fire wood in the Depression.
On Friday nights we used to see team after team of horses--farmers going to the New York Market. They'd come from New Milford, Bergenfield with their vegetables and fruit from 5 p.m. on. Just carrying lanterns. There weren't many autos in Teaneck, lots of horses.
Teaneck Public Library
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