My son was about 20 years old when we visited family back east and I took him to see my old Passaic neighborhood. He was interested to see the place where I had lived until I was eleven, and where his grandfather was born and raised, but I realize now that, due to time constraints, I hadn’t ever shared many stories with him.
Most family historians focus on the stories of our ancestors, but overlook the fact that, one day, we will be the ancestors and our stories need to also be told.
I’ve written multiple posts about my great grandparents and grandparents who settled in Passaic. I also devoted some posts to my student days at Roosevelt #10 School. However, there was definitely a life outside of school, so today I’d like to share what life was like outside of school.
If you are new to this blog, Passaic, New Jersey, about 15 miles west of New York City, is very much a melting pot and a microcosm reflecting the immigrant history of the United States as a whole. Passaic was already a gritty, old, industrial city was I was growing up there, but waves of immigrants continued to arrive, settle into their new lives and become Americans. The surnames of friends and neighbors on Summer Street, where I lived, paints the picture – Sabo, Feld, Scheaffel, Kuhl, Matson, Tell, DeBell, Oostenink, Rudolph, Buckley, Troast, Bruno, Oostdyk, Winkler, Crystal, Polizzi, Castrilli, Grodzicki, Guilbeault and Conroy.
My family was at least the fourth to live at 49 Summer Street, as the Ashmeads were there in 1900, the Woodruffs in 1910 and the Nitto family from Italy lived there in 1920. My grandmother said my dad was born in the house in 1926 and they are living there in the 1930 census. This is the best photo I can find of the front of the house, taken in spring probably in 1955.
Summer Street was really a beautiful, tree-lined street as I was growing up. We had a big maple and an oak tree in front of our house. Although this is winter time, you can see the trees lining the street in the background. This is me with Dad, in winter 1953.
I imagine the trees got too big and roots were causing damage, so at some point they were taken out. New ones have been planted, but they haven’t yet filled in to match the trees in my memory.
To understand the neighborhood kids’ play areas, you need to know a bit about the neighborhood. Here is an aerial view of Summer Street, with Central Avenue at the left corner and Lexington Avenue on the right corner. GoogleEarth has pinpointed my house and the two U-shaped buildings are the apartment complex across the street from my house.
My front yard looked directly across into the u-shape of the building on the left. This is a very blurry photo of my brother in our yard, but you can see the grassy area of the apartment across the street.
Here is a current GoogleEarth street view of the area in between the two apartment buildings:
Do you see the metal railings near the ground attached to the left building? That is where the steps are to go into the basement. Here is another view, taken about 1954:
I was probably there because my mom’s best friend, Rita, lived in that building with her family.
The last area was on the right side of the right building. We called it Shady Lane because there were big old trees along the property line between the apartments and a beautiful, huge old house – with a swimming pool in the ground! There were metal bars in the ground along there with clotheslines running between them. The first bar, though, had no lines on it and we used to play on it.
Today, the beautiful old house is long gone. It was set way back from the street and the property was quite big. You can see the size of it in this picture, as condos and a parking lot have taken its place.
This is the best view I could bring up on GoogleEarth. Shady Lane isn’t too shady anymore, aside from the tree on the sidewalk blocking the view. If you look at the aerial view in the beginning of this post, you can see the length of these condo buildings and the size of the parking lot. That used to be the yard for the old house. I never knew who lived there, as there were no children.
The last view I’d like to share with you is of what used to be the Dutch Reformed Church and the rectory, located to the left of the apartment complex in the above aerial view. Today, the church is Hispanic.
The rectory next door (to the right) can be seen better here:
Back around 1960, there was no parking lot area around this church except by accessing the driveway on the other side of the building. On this side, there was all grass with just a sidewalk along the side of the church. The rectory, which also served as the pastor’s family’s home, had a beautiful big grassy backyard with some gorgeous old trees in it. In the early 1960’s, the rectory lost its backyard to expanded church parking and it appears since then, it has also lost all of its side yard.
From this aerial view, you can see how big the backyard was. There are five cars parked behind the house with one empty space. The house that looks like it is sitting in the middle of the back part of the parking lot was the caretaker’s house. By the way, the rectory at that time was painted a bright sunny yellow with green trim.
Here is one more aerial view that covers much of my young life, from Summer Street to school to the way downtown.
If you click to enlarge the neighborhood view, you will see “Linda’s house” pinned on the left and 155 Harrison Street pinned on the very far right. If you follow Summer Street to the left, the busy road cutting the bottom left corner is Central Avenue. Follow Summer Street to the right corner and Lexington Avenue is the other busy street. If you followed either of these streets to the south, they eventually intersect as a V in downtown Passaic, which was about a 25 minute walk from my house.
That is pretty much the Summer Street neighborhood where I grew up. Please come back tomorrow to hear about growing up in Passaic.