‘Arrareek’ and Ensilage

My interest in Arrareek started with an eBay auction for a print taken from an 1881 issue of Harper’s Weekly. It depicted some farm scenes, but also a church I recognized right away, in a view that in some respects hasn’t really changed much since then.

Nice line drawing of Pompton Plains Reformed Church.
“A glimpse of Pompton”

That’s the Pompton Reformed Church. It sits, as it has since 1814, on the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike in Pompton Lakes at Ringwood Avenue. (It was spun off from the First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, but that’s another post. ) That was the clue that got the ball rolling.

In the late 1800s, a Newark grain merchant named Clark W. Mills owned a farm he called “Arrareek” in the town of Pompton. In 1876, starting to experiment with hybridization of Jersey corn, he grew 13 acres of Southern corn, but began to worry when he realized that it would all likely be ruined by frost long before it would ripen. Unwilling to see it all go to waste, as Harper’s Weekly put it, “he remembered the old method of keeping roots in mounds of earth, practiced from time immemorial.”

Ensilage

Mills’ method employed silos to store his fodder — but not the tall, round structures we think of as storage areas. These were subterranean silos.

Mills instructed all hands to dig two deep pits in the dry gravelly soil inside his barn. In each silo a layer of short, cut lengths of the Southern corn was laid on boards, which were then roofed with planks and compressed with bags of grain. The compression allowed a lot of fodder to be crammed into each silo. It also allowed air and moisture to escape, which largely prevented the fodder from fermenting. As a silo was filled, it was also covered by earth. The fodder was removed as needed throughout the winter.

This worked better than Mills could have hoped. Most of the corn remained edible, and his cattle thrived. Mills had, on his own, unwittingly discovered the ancient practice of “ensilage.” By 1880 he had perfected his innovation, and word of his success began to spread. He received more inquisitive letters than he could answer; reporters and the curious would visit, resulting in a lengthy piece in the April 23, 1881 Harper’s (accompanied by a full page of illustrations) and an equally effusive article in an early 1881 Journal of the American Agricultural Association, which titled Mills “the prophet and pioneer of ensilage.” Several out-of-state papers also wrote similarly admiring articles.

Harper’s reported that Mills’ 120 head of cattle and 12 horses “ate of it greedily” all winter long. Not only had he demonstrated a means by which to thriftily feed his herd at a substantial savings over hay, but his fat and contented cows produced “a large quantity of milk, the demand for which is so great that it is beyond his capabilities of supply.”

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of Mills’ innovation; it was a real game changer in the farming world. Mills’ ensilage method became a subject of keen interest to farmers nationwide who began to adopt it, including Abram S. Hewitt on his 1,000-acre farm in nearby Ringwood. While the method would preserve any fodder, Southern corn was far less expensive than hay.

This is the full page of illustrations from Harper’s Weekly. It shows the expansive Mills farmhouse and barn, in which were two silage pits 13 feet by 40 feet, and twenty feet deep. To see it larger, click it.

Illustrations of Arrareek farm from Harper's Weekly, 1881
From the April 23, 1881 Harper’s Weekly

But Clark Mills’ newfound fame didn’t just benefit cattle farmers. Harper’s included flowery paens to the natural beauty of the Ramapo Valley, proclaiming “There can be no more beautiful country than that found in Passaic county, New Jersey, in the neighborhood of Pompton.” As word spread, more people came to make Pompton their home.

Finding Arrareek

But enough about ensilage! So just where was Arrareek? An 1882 piece in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described it thus:

“On Arrareek Lake, a beautiful sheet of water, on which is part of Mr. Mills’ farm, resides the celebrated Mary Virginia Terhune, better known as Marion Harland, the author of a number of popular novels, and who during the present year celebrated her silver wedding at this pleasant summer home.”

“Arrareek Lake”? A search of the internet found this stereo postcard of that lake. (Click it to see it larger.) It could only be Pompton Lake. I’m not sure just where on the lake one can get this view; maybe someone reading this knows.

A stereovision postcard titled "Lake Arrareek, Pompton, N.J."
A stereovision postcard titled “Lake Arrareek, Pompton, N.J.”

As those familiar with Pompton area history would know, Mary Terhune was the mother of celebrated author Albert Payson Terhune. This description refers to (what would later be called) Sunnybank, located by the southeast corner of Pompton Lake. But there were more clues in this Lancaster PA publication:

“Just beyond Arrareek Farm you see the continuation of the plateau as it breaks through the blue hills and extends far beyond. …on Arrareek Farm there are two fairly big rivers, the Wynokie [Wanaque] and Ramapo. …right by Arrareek Farm stands an ancient stone house, which tradition states was once General Washington’s headquarters in 1777, for the old Pompton road was the back route on the line of communication between Trenton and West Point.”

So Arrareek was between the Wanaque and Ramapo Rivers, which narrows it down, and the “ancient stone house” on “the old Pompton Road” surely sounded like the Yellow Tavern. Also known as the Yellow Cottage, it stood on the site now known as Federal Square.

Those clues led to an 1877 map of Pompton. It was easy enough to find the Mills farm; it was larger than expected, some 290 contiguous acres of prime Pompton Lakes land. To see the map larger, click on it.

Map of C.W. Mills property
C.W. Mills farm, Arrareek, from “The Village of Pompton” (Hyde, 1877)

Clark Mills’ land holdings extended east from the Wanaque River, past today’s Federal Square, across Hamburg Turnpike to the end of Passaic Avenue, before turning south to about where Tudor Drive is today. From there he also owned a wide strip all the way to Pompton Lake (“Ramapo River” on this map). A person sitting comfortably on the front porch of the Mills farmhouse probably enjoyed the view accorded in the “glimpse of Pompton” illustration at the top of this post.

A neighborly feud

One of Mills’ neighbors was James Ludlum, the principal proprietor of the Pompton Steel Works, located on the Ramapo River just downstream of the falls. They shared a boundary west of the river (not shown on the map above), which seems to have led to some disagreements. A news item from 1883 tells the tale:

The residents of Pompton, N.J., were favored with a novel sight on Wednesday evening. It was the Sheriff of Passaic County driving sixteen cows along the road through the pouring rain. For some time there has been unfriendly feeling between Assemblyman Clark W. Mills and James Ludlum, the principal proprietor of the Pompton Steel Works,

Mr., Ludlum charged that Mr. Mills’s cattle trespassed on his domain. Finally sixteen of Mr. Mills’s cows were caught and locked up in Mr. Ludlum’s barn. Mr. Mills got a writ of replevin, armed with which Sheriff Winfield Scott Cox proceeded to Mr. Ludlum’s place on Wednesday and took possession of the distrained cattle.

There were sixteen cows, and it was dark and raining hard as the highest official of the county of Passaic with his consignment of beef proceeded “on the hoof” to Mr. Mills’s farm. Sheriff Cox, however, was raised in the country, and knowing something about cows, he got them safely to their owner’s barn.

New-York Tribune, 29 Jun 1883

And, finally, what is the origin of the name “Arrareek”? This is all I could find:

“…there were no Indians formally known as the ‘Arareeks’ [sic], but the name appears in an ancient deed, in which, as he recollected, the Pompton Falls or the land immediately about the same, was so designated. Any Indians, and there must have been very few, if any, living about Arareek, would be naturally designated by the name of the place.”

Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, 1913

Perhaps Mills knew about that “ancient deed” — he might even have owned it — and liked the name enough to resurrect it from the dustbin of history.

More than a farmer

In addition to being an ensilage pioneer, Mills had a few other accomplishments to his name. In his occupation as a well-known grain broker, he and/or his partners were granted several patents in the 1860s and 1870sfor improving the cooling of grain after being dried, as well as “a certain new and useful Improvement in Floating Grain-Elevators” for transferring grain from canal boats to a storehouse or vessel.

Mills also served, at various times, as the Chairman of the Township Committee of Pompton as well as Chairman of the Board of School Trustees. He also represented the first district of Passaic County in the NJ Assembly from 1883 to 1884.

Arrareek today

Clark Wickham Mills died at Newark, aged 55, on January 5, 1887; his lands were sold a year later for $18,000. Nothing of Arrareek survives today; the house, the barn, the pits are long gone. As the village of Pompton Lakes grew, farms and fields disappeared, streets were constructed, and homes sprang up where corn and hay once grew.

But some of his land along the Wanaque River has been preserved as open space and parkland, stretching from Hamburg Turnpike (the “old swimming hole”) to Herschfield Park. It’s a lovely area that has been long been popular with young and old for decades. As Harper’s described it, “There can be no more beautiful country than that found in Passaic county, New Jersey, in the neighborhood of Pompton.”

A Brief Description of 1905 Newfoundland

Nice escription of 1905 Newfounland

Some of you know that I like to browse the old newspapers, because you never know what you’ll find there. This clipping, from 1905, is from a longer article and includes a nice description of Newfoundland and some interesting details.

Nice escription of 1905 Newfounland

For starters, “Newfoundland is the centre of the sugar bush country“. Who knew that some folks made maple syrup there?

And this tidbit: “There are two white frame churches with green blinds continually challenging each other from adjacent hills and so near alike that a newcomer might easily get mixed as to his doctrine by going to the rival church by mistake.”

I take this as a description of the M.E. church (now the dog-grooming place) and the long-gone Baptist church on Clinton. They were, in fact, almost identical in appearance.

But it’s the sardonic description of Brown’s Hotel that I like the best:

“There is but one tavern with a bar in the place, and there is a bar that a bishop might dedicate without calling forth whereases and therefores from a single protesting body of his laity. It is a saloon in which there are window-boxes filled with oxalis and geraniums and begonias and other plants generally associated with grandmothers. It is one of the improving duties and pastimes of the bartender to water those plants and pick off the dead leave.

” ‘Botany before booze’ might be the motto of the place, but the only sign displayed is ‘Welcome,’ worked in light blue worsted on bristol-board and hung above the bottles. There are no drunkards there.”

The “saloon” the writer describes seems to refer to Brown’s Hotel. Those who have studied the history of Brown’s will recall that at some point in the 1890s, J.P.’s son Theodore decreed that Brown’s would go “dry”, and he no longer sold alcohol there. And the writer was clearly very disappointed!

Newfoundland Speedway

This way to the races!
Admit One. Your dollar got you free parking, too.

From 1948 to 1952, large crowds would gather on weekends at the Union Valley Dude Ranch — later renamed Newfoundland Speedway — in Newfoundland (a part of West Milford) to watch motorcycles race around a dirt track. A course had been built on a farm owned by Richard Boulden and his wife, Violet Cole, in the Bearfort Mountain range. The Paterson Motorcycle Club sponsored the races, which drew racers from states along the East coast. Families would gather on weekends throughout the spring, summer and fall for “a good day of sport and clean racing,” as a 1951 newspaper article put it.

Poster for motorcycle races
1948 poster for motorcycle races at the Union Valley Ranch.

As many as 60 riders would compete in time trials and races along a newly-constructed 1/3 mile oval dirt track specially built for the sport. The track was 25 feet wide and featured a flat, dustless surface. A “dog leg” (sharp bend) heightened the excitement. Trophies and prize money were awarded. The novice trophy was especially prized.

Newspaper articles like this helped bring the crowds.

Unsurprisingly, accidents and spills happened. Miscellaneous cuts and bruises were not uncommon; sometimes, broken bones resulted from a spill. West Milford’s Volunteer Firemen’s Ambulance Corps was on hand to help. A man with a broken collar bone would be taken to a local doctor, who would patch up the rider before sending him to a hospital in nearby Franklin. At times, their main ambulance would be busy, spurring them to station a second, auxiliary ambulance as well.

Occasionally, proceeds from a race would be given to the volunteer corps for “faithfully contributing their time and equipment for the protection of the drivers.”

Riders came from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut to compete. Some riders achieved local fame. Don Pink, of Yonkers, was apparently a popular fellow, as was Cornwall, NY’s Warren Sherwood. Easton, PA was represented by Jack Brewer and Ken Wismer. Al Wilcox was known as the “Trenton Flash” and Al Scirpo, the “Hartford Flash”. Race results were published in local papers, and undoubtedly a few wagers would be placed.

Photo from West Milford AIM (2012). Click for full-sized image.

In 1949 the track was christened the Newfoundland Speedway. There’s a great video of a race there on YouTube. Races were held every Saturday, and often on Sunday. The only exceptions were for larger motorcycle races such as the Gypsy Tour at the half-mile track on Route 6 (today’s Route 46) in Dover NJ — and, of course, rain.

The races came to be very popular. As many as twelve events were held, and the American Motorcycle Association would provide judges and timers.

The races ran almost every weekend through 1952, when the farm was sold. Today, it’s known as the West Milford Equestrian Center, and it is again up for sale.

There are some nice shots of races, and close-ups of the bikes, at this site.

“The House the Blind-Man Built”

In the late 1920s, when Francis Burdett was 63 years old, living in Wayne NJ, he decided to build a house. He didn’t arrange to have burly carpenters do it; he built it himself. He got the lumber, sawed it, fit it, and nailed it, until he had built a handsome Dutch Colonial home “3 stories high, seven rooms, bath and large attic.”

That would be quite a task for any 63-year-old. What made it unique was that Francis Burdett was quite blind. He had lost his sight at age 50 in a moving vehicle accident. And he wasn’t a carpenter, but had spent his life as a watchmaker.

The house built by Francis Burdett. It still stands today.

So why build a house? According to one newspaper account, he had had a concrete foundation laid on a lot he owned. A smallish bungalow was supposed to have been delivered to the site from several miles away, but the deal fell through. So what’s a blind fellow to do, except build a house?

Burdett didn’t have any formal experience as a carpenter, but — as many men did in that era — he had picked up the skills by doing odd jobs over the years.

No power tools here — everything was done with traditional hand tools.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Burdett and his house — two and a half years in the making — often found themselves the object of curiosity. Many newspaper articles were written about him, and he was even featured (briefly) in a 1930 episode of Ripley’s Believe It or Not. (It starts at 1:16, and don’t blink or you’ll miss it.)

His neighbors kept an eye on his progress as well:

About this time all the nervous people that lived hereabout were in a constant unsettled state of mind. Nothing seemed to allay the fears of the people. Even the BLIND BUILDER’S continuous exhibition of skill and his daily performances before their eyes, did not tend in the least to abate their fear, and each day brought a fresh new anxiety. People talking together on the street would look up unconsciously to see if the BLIND BUILDER was still up there or on the ground ready for the hospital or morgue.

It must however, be said that everybody enjoyed the Blind man’s progress and looked on as if a war was in progress, and each day a battle won.

— From “The House the Blind-Man Built: The House Built in the Dark”

Was he really blind? From all accounts, yes. Did he do the work himself? Again, written articles and a book agree that he did. He planned the house in his head, and was meticulously aware of his surroundings. From a newspaper article:

It is uncanny to watch this blind man, sixty-odd years of age, climb ladders, perch on narrow scaffolds and use the tools of the carpenter, from adz to plane. He knows where each tool is to be found. Every piece of material, from a ball of twine to the 24-foot timbers used in the construction is catalogued in his mind.

There’s more to the tale of Francis Burdette’s house, but if you want to know the whole story, by all means read the book “The House the Blind-Man Built: The House Built in the Dark.” Written by William Vahrenkamp, a cousin, the book lovingly explains, in superb detail, how Burdett did it. The book is lavishly illustrated with many drawings and photos.

Frank Burdett in 1930

The Pompton Feeder canal

Little remains of it today, but the “Pompton feeder” was an integral part of the Morris Canal system’s eternal need for water. The feeder was used to supply additional water to the Morris Canal by channeling water from the Pompton River. The feeder was, in fact, a navigable mini-canal that ran nearly five miles south from Schuyler’s Basin, at the river, to Mead’s Basin (known as Mountain View today). There was also a lock that afforded access to canal boats to the Ramapo River to head north.

The entire route looked like this. Click on it to view it full size.

Map of the Pompton feeder canal
Map of the Pompton feeder canal (credit: Joe Macasek)

A wide, low dam was built on the Pompton River in Pompton Plains, NJ in 1837, six years after the Morris Canal was completed. This supplied a feeder lock which could, at the lock tender’s discretion, release water into the feeder canal.

Photo of the Pompton feeder dam.
Photo taken circa 1906 shows the wide, low feeder dam on the Pompton River.

This diagram shows the setup: the river supplies water to the feeder canal via a lock. A lock tender lived in a house on site to release water as needed.

Sketch of feeder dam and lock
From “History of Pequannock Township” (1990) by George Parr, p. 159

This early 20th Century photo shows the lock tender’s house and the lock.

Photo of the lock tender's house
The lock tender was always on call.

The Pompton feeder canal primarily served as an artery of the Morris Canal. The feeder lock — which was just upstream of the feeder dam — not only helped to maintain the feeder canal’s water level. It also admitted canal boats which traveled up from Mead’s Basin (Mountain View), through the lock, and into the Ramapo River, carrying coal and other supplies north to the Pompton Furnace area in Pompton Lakes. The boats would carry iron (and on occasion other) products back down to Mead’s Basin.

According to historian Ed Lenik, “The Pompton Feeder was a significant waterway: it provided water from Greenwood Lake to the Morris Canal’s eastern division. Pig iron, bar iron, wood, and other products were shipped south and coal, building products, food, and other merchandise were shipped north.”

The feeder canal also provided splendid recreation year ’round — fishing and swimming and canoeing in warm weather, and ice skating in the winter.

Photo of people canoeing on the feeder canal.
Canoeing was a popular pastime on the feeder canal. The bridge in the distance allowed foot and horse traffic to cross the feeder.

The feeder canal more or less paralleled the Pompton River. This photo, taken near the Newark-Pompton Turnpike in Pequannock near the Wayne border, shows the river (left) and the feeder canal side by side. The canal still exists as a muddy ditch. The bridge carries the Newark Watershed pipeline over the river and on to the cities which it serves.

Pipe Line bridge in Pequannock NJ.

The Morris Canal was successful for about a century before succumbing to the faster and more efficient railroad system. It was decommissioned about 1924, and large sections of it were drained and used for other purposes. Only a small part of the feeder canal itself remains in lower Pequannock; the lock lies in ruins, and the lock tender’s house was razed long ago. What remains is the feeder dam and spillway, which are part of the Morris Canal Greenway initiative, which is “envisioned as a 111-mile continuous pedestrian and bicycle trail connecting six counties in northern New Jersey.” Many segments of the greenway have already been completed, and a trail map is available as a guide to them.

The Swiss Tavern, Wayne NJ

Long-time area residents remember the exquisite dining experience known as the Swiss Tavern. The place had been some sort of eatery for years before it opened its doors, in the early 1930s, as a full-fledged restaurant under the management of Ernest Alpsteg, the owner-chef from Switzerland.

His son Hans and his wife, Agatha, by all accounts turned it into an first-rate dinner destination during the 1960s and 1970s; Swiss Tavern was rated ‘four stars’ by the New York Times.

The Alpsteg family kept it going until 1979, when the place was sold and transformed in L’Auberge de France. But we’re getting ahead of the story…

Swiss Tavern Restaurant, circa 1950s
Swiss Tavern Restaurant, circa 1950s

According to a NY Times food review in early 1979,

…the Swiss Tavern in Wayne began life as a speakeasy during Prohibition. The family of the present owner‐chef, Hans Alpsteg, turned the century‐old frame house into a full‐fledged restaurant in 1934, but managed to retain the Victorian coziness of the small parlors and the Victorian splendor of the large bar and grill.

(I don’t know anything about “the bar and grill” that it was before now, but I’m sure the building had an interesting history prior to its Swiss Tavern incarnation.)

The building itself was described as “A large 1850 house of many small rooms, glassed-in porch, a roomy oak-paneled bar, period wallpaper and furniture, paintings and drawings, ferns and aspidistras. Candles and fresh flowers, good napery, friendly service.”

The NY Times reviewer was enthusiastic about the fare, describing it as “excellent” and “delectable”.

A stylized aerial view of the restaurant. The owners gave it an address in Pompton Lakes, but it was actually located in Wayne. Note the fountain pond out front where live trout were kept.

The recommended dishes included “baked oysters or baked clams ‘Swiss Tavern,’ homemade headcheese, butterfly shrimp Genevoise, laeberle (Swiss‐style liver), oxtail in a red wine sauce, sauerbraten with spaetzle, rack of lamb persillade for two, soufflé potatoes for two, apple fritters, caramel custard, and Swiss apple cake.”

There was even a fountain pond out front, stocked with live trout, where patrons could check out the fish, have the chef catch it in a net, and have it cooked to order.

Besides being a lunch and dinner haven, the Swiss Tavern was something of a social center as well. Rotary meetings and political get-togethers were held there; local mayors held meet-and-greet functions; the Pompton Lakes chamber of commerce held its annual dinner-dance there. Large dinner parties were not uncommon. Many a wedding party held its reception there, as well as later anniversaries.

The place stayed in the family until 1979 when the Alpsteg family sold it, whereupon it became a French restaurant, L’Auberge de France.

Alas, the successor was met with far less enthusiasm in an August 1979 review by the NY Times:

For four months, the establishment continued to be known as The Swiss Tavern. But two months ago, it became L’Auberge DeFrance, translated literally, “The French Inn.” Unfortunately, something was lost in the translation, or the transformation, if you will.

The food was just fair to middling, according to the reviewer, but with “big league” prices, and noted that “it is a rarity to find a dish that totally satisfies at this new restaurant.” The review concluded by lamenting “It is a pity when a restaurant as good as The Swiss Tavern leaves us, but more’s the pity when its successor leaves so much to be desired.” The reviewer pronounced it merely “fair” — no stars.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t succeed. I don’t know when the restaurant closed for good (I understand it became other eateries including the French Quarter and the Red Fox Inn), but the long-abandoned building is slowly crumbling. A website called “Abandoned but Not Forgotten” visited the place at some point; see the photos here.

The Swiss Tavern building (Google Street View, Aug 2018). The fountain pond, foreground, once held trout served by the chef.

An enterprising fellow named Luke also managed to get inside and take some photos. He’s posted them on his Flickr account.

Update: The building was razed on April 9, 2019; it seems a WaWa will be built on the site. I arrived a day or two late, and this is what greeted me.

Nothing left of the proud old house except rubble. (The site across the street was formerly Atkins Chevrolet.)

Mrs. Ormsbee saves her family

As anyone who has lived in or near the Pequannock valley knows, we get floods from time to time. The convergence of three rivers makes it inevitable whenever there is prolonged and copious rain. I’ll write a post on several infamous floods at some point, but this post is about a flood that took place in April 1927, and a young mother, camping out in a riverside bungalow in Pompton Plains, who rescued her family from one.

I can’t match the breathless writing of this newspaper article, so I’ll just post it. Click on each image for a full-sized and readable version. I’ve added my comments afterward.

Part One of this incredible tale. Click to open full-sized image.

Pretty incredible, right? Imagine you’re in the middle of nowhere (Pequannock Twp was a lightly-populated village at this point), sleeping soundly in what was probably a one-room bungalow right on the river. You are awakened by odd sounds, you swing your legs off the bed and… into knee-deep water.

Since the article only calls her “Mrs. Ormsbee”, I took to the Ancestry website and discovered that her name was AliceShe was born Alice Miller in Beacon NY in 1900. She was 24 at the time this happened. With her was her mother (age unknown, but likely in her 40s) and her two young children, a son aged two and four-month-old daughter.


Part Two of this incredible tale. Click to open full-sized image.

So: It’s the middle of the night, it’s raining , your cabin is flooding, and it’s pitch black outside because the power is out. She leads her mother and two very young kids through the darkness to the bridge, hoping to get to the main road, only to find herself falling into the river because half the bridge is gone. She grabs a canoe and gets her family into it, and they all endure a night of terror until they’re rescued in the morning.

(The article notes she was “embarrassed by their clothing” likely because they were in their night clothes, and didn’t stop to get dressed.)

But what an incredibly brave young woman, at a time when women were widely regarded as kind of helpless, and weren’t expected to do or know much. Her two-year-old son, Roland, because a doctor and died in 1995. I don’t know when or where Alice passed, but I’ve reached out to someone who has her in his family tree. Perhaps I’ll learn more.

C.D.V. Romondt, MD

Dr. Charles D. Van Romondt (1847-1926) — typically referred to as “C.D.V. Romondt” — was described as a man “whose reputation is wide-spread”, and as “a leader in all plans which tended toward the elevation of the community with which he has been connected for so many years.”

Dr. Romondt’s residence was on Schelling Terrace, just off the Turnpike, and was razed in 2018.

Born in 1847 in New Brunswick NJ, he attended public school there. He was admitted into the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in New York City, and graduated in 1872. He practiced medicine there for a few years before deciding to move to Pompton Plains in 1878. According to Emily Slingerland, quoted in a 1964 newspaper article, Dr. Romondt was the first doctor to live in the township. Before that, those seeking medical treatment needed to travel to Bloomfield.

Besides his medical practice, Romondt served as the township’s health inspector, as well as the medical inspector for the schools there. He also found time to be employed as a medical examiner for several insurance companies.

In 1890 he married Anna Doremus ( 1856–1955 ), who assisted her husband during his long medical practice in Pompton Plains.

The doctor was a member of several civic organizations, including the Junior Order of United American Mechanics. This group met at Paul Revere Hall, which isn’t surprising given the Jr. O. U. A. M. built it. You can view the cornerstone — today, the building is known as the American Legion Hall.

He died in 1926 and is buried at the Reformed Church in Pompton Plains.

“Remember the Maine!”

The intersection of the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike and Wanaque Avenue, in Pompton Lakes, has featured several noteworthy structures. Here’s one of them.

During the Revolutionary War, a house known as the Yellow Tavern stood close by the intersection where the present-day Federal Square memorial now stands, on a triangle of land. The tavern welcomed visitors on their journeys throughout north NJ, including General George Washington and his officers and men. It was razed about 1890 “to permit the changing [widening] of the roads,” as an old manuscript put it. (The house that replaced it, much later known as the Ramapo Valley House, survived… but that’s another post.)

The Yellow Tavern, from an 18th Century drawing.

A memorial consisting of a cannon (Civil War, perhaps?), a stack of cannonballs, and a “liberty pole” topped by an American flag, stood upon the triangle of land at the historic intersection until 1914, when a town memorial was dedicated on the site, on Labor Day, to honor several Pompton Lakes residents who lost their lives when the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Cuba’s Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. This tragedy cost 260 American lives and later led to the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The site was used as a war memorial for many years before the Maine memorial was erected. Click for full-sized image.

Consisting of a raised round platform and a fieldstone-and-concrete tower, the monument on the triangle — also known, for some reason, as Federal Square — “contains a copper ventilator from the Maine battleship. The ventilator was transported to Pompton Lakes by Harry Hershfield, a Pompton Lakes Mayor who went on to become a state Senator.” As you can see in the photo below, the existing memorial was incorporated into the design, and a chain was draped around the raised platform.

This photo was taken about 1918. Click for full-sized image.
The plaque on the memorial, in honor of the local members of the Council of the Jr. Order of the United American Mechanics. Click for full-sized image.

Since then, many cosmetic changes have been made to the memorial site, which now features nice greenery and a historic marker denoting the site of “Washington’s Headquarters”. The origin the cannon was forgotten long ago, and the pile of cannonballs disappeared at some point. Two memorial stones honor the dead of World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. A flagpole flies the American flag and, below, a POW/MIA flag in memory of those who served in the Vietnam War.

The Pompton Lakes Liberty Bell was presented to the borough in 1957 by the Pompton Lakes Elks Club. Click for full-sized image.

And so the Maine monument at Federal Square has remained, nearly untouched, although time is taking a toll.


The copper ventilator, unprotected from the elements, has been slowly disappearing over the past century. Click for full-sized image.

Why is this article titled “Remember the Maine!” ? The actual cause of the explosion will likely never be known, but the theory that a Spanish mine in the harbor was the reason she sank (never mind that she was riding at anchor) caught fire with the press:

[P]opular opinion in the U.S., fanned by inflammatory articles printed in the “yellow press” by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, blamed Spain. The phrase, “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”, became a rallying cry for action, which came with the Spanish–American War later that year. While the sinking of Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse between the U.S. and Spain.

Wikipedia

Later investigations would plausibly suggest that the explosion was more likely caused by a magazine explosion within the vessel, possibly caused by a coal fire.