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Reminiscing With Mrs. Schuh
By Dorothy Belle Pollack
"It Just Doesn't snow any more in Teaneck the way it used to."
"What makes you say that?"
"Oh, my goodness, we used to walk in snow right up to our thighs!"
There we were, talking together, in the dining room of the gracious and hospitable Edna DeGraw Schuh, who was born and bred in Teaneck.
"Was school closed on very snowy days?' we asked.
"Of course not" came the quick rejoinder; the pejorative tone indicated the idea to be utterly preposterous. "We walked to school every single day, rain or shine."
Mrs. Schuh learned her three R's in the same school house where her parents and grandparents had studied. This was a tiny, one room edifice, on the south side of Fort Lee Road, near Teaneck Road, which served all children from Teaneck, Ridgefield Park, Bogota and Leonia. It still stands today.
"My father's mother used to come over the Fort Lee Road from Leonia," recalled Mrs. Schuh, "To cross the Overpeck Creek, they had to be rowed over; then they walked west to Teaneck Road."
Edna Schuh was graduated in 1908 from the one-room schoolhouse. There were all of five young people in her graduating class. A year later, they built School Number One, Longfellow, where sister, Rachel, (now Mrs. Frederic Reed of Hackensack) studied.
The first principal of the Longfellow School was Miss Howland. This same lady had run the one-room school house, teaching all its grades, one through six. "And what a fine woman she was" added Mrs. Schuh. "I nursed her in her last illness." (Edna Schuh proudly remembers that she was also a nurse for the armed forces during World War I).
One of Madame's fondest memories is the present Papa gave her when she was fourteen years old. "It was a pony and a cart. I loved it. I drove it all through the Phelps Estate. beginning at Ridgefield Park, and going north. There was a toll bridge, where the Public Service generating station now stands, and you had to pay your toll at all times, unless you were on your way to church. Then the toll was remitted."
"Did people try to get out of paying, by saying they were on their way to church?"
"Oh, no," She chortled. "They know!" In those days at the century, when the Teaneck population was slight, everyone know everyone else.
But there were other forms of transportation for the hardy peregrinators: the sleigh, the horse, the carriage with its team of horses, and then, that wondrous innovation, the trolley!
Edna Schuh remembers even now how in winter "we always covered our laps with those heavy buffalo blankets and, to keep our fee from freezing, we place jugs filled with hot water on the floor right nest to them."
Everyone had his own horse to ride them "I rode bareback and also side saddle," confessed our expert horsewoman. And then, it was always an adventure, when you took the carriage and team of horses, to make the all-day trip to Trenton. "We would stop at roadside inns along the way; we had great times."
Edna and Rachel Degraw used to love the trolley rides. "Oh, what fun we had!" The trolley ran from Fort Lee Ferry to Hackensack. it was grandfather William DeGraw who had donated the land (fifty feet wide) for the line, where it ran through his property. "He named it DeGraw Avenue, and had trees planted on both sides; moth of those still stand today." Later, grandma DeGraw, who died in 1939, at the age of 94, was to donate more of their land for the building of a church. The Teaneck Methodist Church occupies that property today.
"Where was the library, when you were a child? we asked.
"What library"? she laughed. "We had history books and encyclopedia at home and we used them. That's all.
"Where was the Post Office?"
"There wasn't any in Teaneck." We had to take the horse and carriage, and pick up the mail in Leonia a couple of times a week. Then they began Rural Free Delivery, which made it more convenient."
"Believe it or not, there was no TV then. "What did you do for entertainment?" we asked. We were assured that there was plenty to do. The plethora of activities included: sewing meetings, masquerade balls, sleigh rides, occasional trips to the big city of New York via the Weehawken Ferry, going horseback riding all through the Phelps "Villa Grange." The biggest stable was owned by Fiss Doerr, and Carroll, over there on Carroll Place. And, that is how Carroll Place got its name.
At home, in the parlor, the DeGraw girls, just like today's teenagers, used to love to listen to records. But, they listened to the Edison phonograph with the cylinder records. (This was before Victor's time). They also enjoyed the piano. pianola, and their old-fashioned pump organ.
Brother, William, used to give dancing lessons in their 35 foot long parlor, which was always thronged with young people.
And then, of course, there was the excitement of visitors. Since, in the early twentieth century, traveling was a major operation, people would come for a few days, and stay for weeks. "And Papa had forty first cousins." Thus, the DeGraw home never lacked for occupants.
Edna and Rachel DeGraw were born in a majestic, fifteen room shingle house, situated on a verdant knoll, at the corner of Teaneck Road and DeGraw Avenue. The house was torn down in the early forties, but the two stone hitching posts still stand today, "because no one could get them out." On the sprawling front lawn was a copper beech tree, planted by Mrs. Schuh's parents, that is still there, sturdy and beautiful as ever. Maple and apple trees grew everywhere on their property.
Right outside their front door was a well "that had the purest water ever." Surrounding the house were the barn, the huge windmill, the orchard, the vineyard with its myriad grapevines and blackberry bushes, and the Tappan, was one long dirt path, lined with apple, pear and cherry trees, that bound- pasture, where Bossie, the cow constantly tried to jump the fence.
Mrs. Schuh remembers how they made their own butter and cheeses in the back room of the house. "Our pot-cheese was simply delicious" she avers. They would also make preserves to store in the spacious cellar. "After all, you never knew what company would drop in." And she still remembers the savory smell of the attic, where all the hams were hung after smoking.
The DeGraws were a family of "firsts." Grandpa DeGraw had the very first telephone in Teaneck. That was before 1900. Brother, William DeGraw owned the first Buick in all of Bergen County. But the hit of the house was Grandma DeGraw's Peerless. "It looked like Noah's Ark" laughed Mrs. Schuh. But it certainly was popular. Everyone came from far and wide, to have the experience of driving Grandma's Peerless. Sister, Rachel, drove it too, and once, when she backed the car out of the barn she took part of the barn door with her.
Mrs. Schuh's first car was her Maxwell. "I bought it in 1916, when I was graduated from Nursing School. I paid five hundred dollars for it, and it lasted over ten years." That was one urge to splurge that paid off!
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