The Great Railroad Sign Caper of 1940 – 3

The third of three “Then & Now” photos I acquired a while back (here’s the first one and here’s the second).

To quote the earlier posts, the origin of these is as interesting as their content: In 1940, someone stole the black-and-yellow “Railroad Crossing” signs at the two Butler crossings on the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike. An employee of the NYS&W (New York Susquehanna & Western) railroad was sent to document the scene. Were the vandals caught? Doubtful. The signs were, however, replaced.

In this one, we’ve made a U-turn and are driving south. Between the two railroad crossings stands the venerable old business known then, as now, as Excelsior Lumber.

Click the photo to see it full size. There are interesting details to see.

The full size photo is a real glimpse into the past. Look closely, and you’ll see that there was a railroad siding that ran behind the yard. The car is a late 1930s something (suggestions welcome).

At right is a Sunoco gas station. There are two gasoline pumps sporting glowing globes on top. The car appears to be 1920s. you can see the fellow who pumped the gas chatting with someone in the dump truck. The building was expanded into a full-service garage at some point, but the gas pumps are long gone.

Visible above the tree line is the original, really tall smokestack of the Pequannock Valley Paper Company (about half was removed when the mill closed). And straight ahead, just over the RR tracks, is a RR siding building that we saw in the first photo.

Here’s how this scene looks today.

What became of the classic black-and-orange signs? They probably graced the wall of the thieves’ garage or rec room. Were they ever caught? Was the theft responsible for an accident? I did not find any mention in the old newspapers; perhaps a railroad buff might know more.

And that’s our tour! If you enjoyed the drive, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments.


The Great Railroad Sign Caper of 1940 – 2

The second of three “Then & Now” photos I acquired a while back (here’s the first one).

The origin of these is as interesting as their content: In 1940, someone stole the black-and-yellow “Railroad Crossing” signs at the two Butler crossings on the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike. An employee of the NYS&W (New York Susquehanna & Western) railroad was sent to document the scene. Were the vandals caught? Doubtful. The signs were, however, replaced.

This 1940 view shows the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike approaching the second RR crossing as you head north, just past Maple Lake Road. The house in the distance was the Smith general store back when the area was known as Smith Mills.

Click on the photo to see it full size.

The old iron bridge ahead was replaced in 2010. Just beyond it is the building once known as the old Smith general store, still standing, as can be seen in the 2019 Google street view.

Here’s a street view of the same scene today. Feel free to drive along. Many more trees now, so the Smith store is just about visible.

And now, we’ll make a U-turn and take a better look at that lumber yard – and the gas station across the street.


The Great Railroad Sign Caper of 1940 – 1

Who doesn’t like “Then & Now” photos? I have some to share which have never been seen before. The origin of these is as interesting as their content: In 1940, someone stole the black-and-yellow “Railroad Crossing” signs at the two Butler crossings on the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike. An employee of the NYS&W (New York Susquehanna & Western) railroad was sent to document the scene. Were the vandals caught? Doubtful. The signs were, however, replaced.

This 1940 view shows the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike approaching the first RR crossing as you head north; just around the bend lies Excelsior Lumber – the same company that is still there today. (The history of the company is interesting!) The building at right, at 160 Hamburg Turnpike, has been replaced by a much larger one.

Click the photo to view it full sized.

If you look closely, above the roadside railing, are houses on Apshawa Cross Road. (There are a lot more trees now than there were then.)

Here’s a street view of the same scene today. Feel free to drive along. Note the railroad siding at far right. It was used for the lumber yard as well as for the Pequannock Valley Paper Company, which was – and still is – behind us.

Let’s head down the road to the next view from 1940. We’ll see more of the Excelsior Lumber company in the third photo.


Butler Business Center – 1950

Here are two views of the stores and merchants populating Main Street in Butler NJ, on a fine Spring day in March 1950. At that time it was a quiet factory town – the devastating fire that would destroy the borough’s largest employer, the Pequanoc Rubber Company, was still seven years into the future.

There’s a lot to examine in these two photos. In the first, taken from Park Place, shows the hulking three-story American Stores Company (Acme) next to Kadish Drugs. The much-beloved Nees Bakery (and other stores) are remembered to this day.

By clicking on the photo, you’ll open a new tab with the full-sized image.

If you chose to stroll up the street, you’d pass Romano’s Market, the Acme, and Kadish Drug Store. You might be tempted by the mouth-watering odors wafting from the open door of Nees Bakery. Further up, you’d pass Louis Levine’s fine furniture store, the Butler News Company, and a variety of others. At F.B. Whittle’s Hardware, you could pick up just about anything you’d need for around the home or garden. Across the street, you might see a train pulling into the Butler depot. Beyond Tintle and DePuyt Taxi Service, a ways up, you’d see the Pequanoc Soft Rubber Mill with its 225-foot smokestack. Just past Harry and Joe’s Cut Rate Meat Market, you could, if you wished, get a room at F.R. Casterlin’s Park Hotel and Stables – at one time it was known from one end of the East to the other – or just have a meal at their well-stocked bar & grill. Truly, uptown had just about anything you might need.

But wait – you haven’t seen what’s down Main Street the other way yet.

By clicking on the photo, you’ll open a new tab with the full-sized image.

At extreme left there appears to be a variety store (“$1.00 and up”). This side of the liquor store and Butler House (rooms to let) you could get your shoes repaired. After the Safeway is Claude Post’s radio and television sales and repair shop. (Those things were heavy, so he would send a repairman to take it back to the shop.) You’d stroll past Tice Hardware, Pink’s drug store, the Brass Rail (where you might wet your whistle with a beer), and more.

Down around the bend you’d spot Butler Coal & Lumber, across the street by the tracks, before arriving at Martin Cook’s Riverside Hotel. If you chose to go further, you’d find yourself at the Butler Argus building, where the next edition was being readied for printing. After that, you’d find yourself crossing the bridge into Union Square… but that’s another post.

If you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane, why not let me know? And credit is due to the Butler Museum, which is housed in the historic, brick-red New York, Susquehanna and Western railroad station. Many of the stores listed came from their do-it-yourself tour of Butler, using their Museum Historic Address Highlights page. The museum is well worth a visit.

Finally, as you might note, parking along Main Street was something of an issue then. The newly-formed Butler Business Men’s Association would meet (the same week as these photos, coincidentally) to discuss possible solutions.

Today, there’s parking on both sides from Park Place on up – but that wasn’t possible until the second set of tracks was removed at some point.


The Tri-Angle Lodge, Newfoundland

The Tri-Angle Lodge stood “2 miles West of Newfoundland NJ,” according to the postcard. The building, which still stands, is on the north side of Route 23 at Canistear Road.

The Lodge was owned and operated by the Arrouge family who owned it from about 1928 until the early 1960s. Gertrude Pittenger (or Pettinger) Arrouge and her son, Dwight, ran it day to day. Some locals still remember walking to the Lodge in their youth to purchase candy, gum, or cigarettes.

The Tri-Angle Lodge in the 1930s. Note the Texaco gas pump at right.

You could also fill your tank up your car with genuine Texaco gasoline. Some remember serenading Dwight with the Texaco jingle when a car would pull up.

The 1950 Census shows Gertrude Arrouge living there with her daughter Joan, Joan’s son, and two lodgers named Card. (Gert’s husband, Emil, died in 1931.)

The Lodge also offered “home cooking” for the hungry, including sandwiches and chicken dinners. You could even hire them to host a dinner party. If you just wanted a snack, you could use the walk-up window.

Evidently known both as “Triangle” and “Tri-Angle”, the Lodge offered “refreshments of all kinds.”

Interestingly, Gertrude’s father, Warren Pettinger, was a “dowser” – a person who could locate water with only a Y-shaped tree branch. A newspaper article, published shortly before he died in 1947, noted that he claimed to have dowsed for – and located – water sources 328 times.

The Lodge building is still there, known as the Razor Tune Ski Shop. It still looks much the same, but has no connection to its countryside past.


Jasper Cropsey’s Wondrous Pompton Valley

“Pompton Plains, New Jersey” is a famous painting by Jasper Francis Cropsey from about 1867.

Opinions differ on just where Mr. Cropsey placed himself while painting this wonderful view of the Pompton Valley. (Maybe if you could find that boulder…) You can see the Pompton River in the foreground; some speculate that the Morris Canal feeder dam lay just beyond the bend.

But if you look closely, right there in the center, is the First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains. (I’ve written about this church before.)

Do you see it? It’s way off in the distance. If you need a hint, here you go. (You can also click on the image above to see it vastly enlarged.)

We modern folk need to keep in mind that, in the 19th Century, the Pompton Valley was pretty empty. There were few buildings, and vast portions weren’t covered by trees as is the case today.

Other buildings in Cropsey’s painting may be identified. For example, this one – to the right of the church – appears to show the Martin Berry House and a barn in front of it. Look for the gap between the mountains in the full-sized image.

Since we know where the church is, it may be possible to identify some of the buildings on either side from other sources.

“Pompton Plains, New Jersey” may be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pequannock County?

There was a time when the people of Bloomingdale, which at that time included the north end of Riverdale (“East Bloomingdale”) and most of Butler (“West Bloomingdale”), desired to form a new county. They envisioned taking parts of five counties to form “Pequannock County” — with Bloomingdale as the county seat, of course.

This effort failed, but ultimately Bloomingdale would become an independent borough when Pompton Township was broken up in 1918.

A companion article in the same 1879 newspaper explained why Bloomingdale anticipated a bright future accompanied by both industrial and residential growth.

Butler’s CCC Camp

The creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps was President Roosevelt’s grand plan to put some of America’s hundreds of thousands of unemployed young men to work during the Depression. This was one part of his “New Deal” that was a success. These men — often merely boys — were put to work on a variety of environmental programs such as planting trees and battling mosquitos. Between 1933 and 1942, more than three billion trees were planted, and many miles of trails were built in more than 800 parks nationwide.

In Morris County there were two camps: One at Oak Ridge (roughly in the Cozy Lake Road area) and one in Butler. Almost nothing, other than its general location, is known about the Oak Ridge camp.

The Butler camp was designated Camp S-54, situated on the Pequannock River where Generant today manufactures industrial parts.

Looking north from the camp. I believe that’s Kanouse Mountain in the background.

From surviving photos in the collection of the Butler Museum, it was a pretty large camp. Several barracks buildings held several hundred men. It had all the comforts of home, so to speak, and like other CCC camps, was generous with the chow, as young boys needed to keep their strength up for what was arduous work — planting trees in the surrounding region and clearing trails for hikers.

Hey Cookie, what’s for dinner?

According to History magazine,

Under the guidance of the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service and the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, CCC employees fought forest fires, planted trees, cleared and maintained access roads, re-seeded grazing lands and implemented soil-erosion controls.

Additionally, they built wildlife refuges, fish-rearing facilities, water storage basins and animal shelters. To encourage citizens to get out and enjoy America’s natural resources, FDR authorized the CCC to build bridges and campground facilities.

An existing railroad line on the opposite side of the river was utilized to drop off supplies. The boys made regular R-and-R trips to nearby Butler as well as Paterson.

These photos and others are from the Butler (NJ) Museum. There is also a collection of the newsletters published there filled with news and gossip, attesting to the high spirits of the CCC members. Today, nothing remains of the camp.


Farm for Sale – inquire of Henry Doremus

In 1843, Henry Doremus of Wayne offered “a valuable farm for sale.” It contained 274 acres of first rate land.

In real estate, location is everything: “The farm is situate in the neighborhood of Mead’s Basin, Passaic Co., N. Jersey, 6 miles from Paterson, 10 from Newark, and 20 from New York. It is intersected by the Pompton and Newark turnpike, and by the Morris Canal feeder.”

Ad in the NY Sun for the Henry Doremus farm.

Mead’s Basin was in Mountain View, and the “basin” was a large pond where canal boats traveling on the Morris Canal could tie up for the night to shop or to dine. The basin was the parking lot by (the now closed) Mother’s, formerly Gabriel’s.

The offer was for lock, stock and barrel: “On the premises are a good stone dwelling house, 2 barns, cow-house, etc., all in good repair.” We can only wonder whether that house still stands, given that so much history has given way to strip malls, road widenings, and housing developments.

What became of Henry Doremus? The family was quite well known in the region, and a search reveals dozen of potential matches by that name. A Henry Doremus served as the postmaster at Mead’s Basin in the early days of the Morris Canal, but who knows?


Henn’s Tavern, Wayne NJ

Click the photo for a larger version.

The 19th-Century building known as Henn’s Tavern stood on the corner of Jackson Ave and Hamburg Turnpike from the mid-1850s until it was torn down in 1968. The place had been in the Henn family for almost a hundred years.

Henn’s stood at the intersection of Jackson Ave and Hamburg Turnpike. Note the water tower in the background, still there today. The billboard touts Sportland, a large recreational area on Route 3 in the Meadowlands. Click the photo for a larger version.

The locals called it the Coop, the Henn house, or the Half-Way house — it was halfway between Paterson and the Norton House in Pompton Lakes — and they came for Al Henn’s 25-cent whiskey and 10-cent beer chaser … and to pass the time of day. Mabel Henn did the cooking, making both lunch and dinner, which might include game bagged by local hunters.

The name “Half-way House” was well deserved:

More than a hundred years ago, when people journeyed from Paterson to the Hamburg Turnpike and to upcounty areas, it took them at least an hour by horse and carriage to make the uphill journey into Wayne.

Perhaps the reason why the older generation feel winters used to be more severe is because they didn’t have the convenience of heated cars. One shivers at the thought of them riding behind clopping horses, huddled up in their blankets, noses red as cherries.

In those days, there were way stations where travelers could pause, rest their horses, have a hot drink, and warm up before a fire. Henn’s Tavern was one of those early stage coach, stops, and if buildings could speak it would have many stories to tell.

The Morning Call, 12 Dec 1968

The Henns also had a 32-acre farm where they raised pigs. Around what is now Old Homestead Road was a baseball field which the locals called Al Henn’s field. Some area residents recall that dugouts were added at some point, and that P.A.L. baseball was played there. Al Henn field was the only ball field in town besides the Valley High School varsity field with dug outs. 

(I don’t know whether Mr. Henn was responsible for constructing the field. If any readers have some insight, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.)

In those days there was a bus stop across Jackson Avenue by Old Homestead Road. As one resident recalls, Mr. Henn walked down to the corner every morning to open up the barn across the street so all the kids on Old Homestead Road had a place to wait for the bus away from the weather.

This 1968 newspaper article noting its passing says that the house was a stagecoach stop in the 1800s, and that it had been in the Henn family “for almost 100 years.”

Click the photo for a larger version.

Here’s the same location today.

Gone but not forgotten

Unsurprisingly, many deplored the destruction of yet another bit of Wayne’s history. Henn’s ballfield, the site of hundreds of baseball games, was sold in 1974 and became the site of luxury homes. Across the Turnpike, the restaurant called The Gaslight turned into Victoria Station and others before the property was sold for assisted-living condos.