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.

Vintage ad: Farm for sale

October 1851:

FARM FOR SALE – The farm belonging to Sam’l Berry, dec’d, on Pompton Plains, is offered for sale, in parts or whole, to suit the purchaser, situated on the main road from Newark to Pompton, also on the road leading to Paterson, and within ten minutes walk of the Church and Academy. For particulars enquire of PETER S. BERRY 157 Charles st, N.Y. or HUGH HEATH, 6 Columbia st Newark, or on the premises.

The “main road from Newark to Pompton” was, in fact, the Newark-Pompton Turnpike. “Within ten minutes walk of the Church and the [Union] Academy” tells us it wasn’t far from the First Reformed Church of Pompton Plains.  That’s all I know; perhaps some Berry descendant can add more in the Comments.

 

Ad - Berry farm for sale (1851)
Ad – Berry farm for sale (1851)

Greetings from Pequannock, N.J.

Your typical “greetings from” postcard shows a generic illustration of fields, a country road, a lake, or whatever. This one, at least, does appear to have been taken in Pequannock. It shows a lovely view of the river… with Newark’s four-foot water pipeline crossing it.

Postcard sent in 1922

An idyllic scene, ostensibly from Pompton Plains. It’s probably a generic card, as witness the blocky font with the town’s name. “Greetings from YOUR TOWN HERE”.

 

Postcard sent in 1928

Dawn’s Rest

“Dawn’s Rest” was, in the early part of the 20th Century, one of many places that a weary traveler could put up his feet and relax for a spell. Back in the day, Pequannock — in fact, the whole of north Jersey — was tranquil and restful. It offered a respite from busy city life (by comparison).

Dawn's Rest ad (1914)
Dawn’s Rest ad (1914)

Mrs. Dawn’s place offered “large, airy rooms” just a short walk from the railroad station. Naturally, all the meals were “home cooked”, including vegetables from a no doubt sizable garden out back. And it was open all year, guaranteed to be “an ideal winter home for settled people”.

 

Dawn’s Rest, Pompton Plains, looking south (early 1900s)

 

Dawn's Rest, looking north
Dawn’s Rest, Pompton Plains, looking north (early 1900s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have a pretty good idea where Dawn’s Rest was once situated: on the Turnpike, just south of Jackson Avenue.  This 1937 Sanborne map marks it as “vacant”.

 

Dawn's Rest location
Dawn’s Rest location

 

Today, there’s a strip mall at that location. It’s between the Little Food Inn and the Lutjen building.

So who was “Mrs. A. Dawn”?  I can’t seem to find her in either the Ancestry or FamilySearch genealogy databases. Maybe it was a pseudonym.

Pequannock’s Memorial Day 1968 flood

Newspaper article, flood of May 1968
Newspaper article – flood of May 1968

 

One of my early and vivid memories: Toward the end of May, 1968, we got rain in north Jersey. Lots of it. Not just in Pequannock, but that’s where I lived then; that was my world.

I’d never experienced the sight of water coming up our street, reaching our driveway, surrounding our house… and, finally, getting into our house.  Filling the basement, and inexorably climbing the basement stairs. Heavy stuff for three young boys as their parents did what they could to save our stuff.

Many say this is still the benchmark by which all subsequent floods are measured.

Click the image for the full-sized version.

Pequannock in 1887

1887 map of Pequannock Twp
1887 map of Pequannock Twp. Click for full-size version.

Here’s what Pequannock looked like in 1887. It was much larger than today’s 7-square-mile area — it still included Bloomingdale, Butler, Kinnelon, and Lincoln Park. Jefferson had split off in 1804, Rockaway Township in 1844, and Boonton and Montville took their leave in 1867.

Butler kicked off the 20th Century by declaring itself a new borough in 1901, while Kinnelon and Lincoln Park went their separate ways in 1922.

Riverdale Borough followed in 1923.