Every House Has a Story to Tell

Have you ever delved into the history of your childhood home? I knew its history in terms of my own family, but didn’t know for sure when it was built or who else might have lived there before my grandparents.

This is a short history of 49 Summer Street, Passaic, New Jersey.

49 Summer Street in 2015
GoogleEarth Street View

Of course, I have checked GoogleEarth more than once to find views of the house today. It’s too bad the tree is blocking most of the house view. I have a few pictures of the olden days that I will share in a bit.

First, I had no real idea when this house was built. I do know that my grandparents, George and Julia Sabo, lived there by 9 February 1926, the day my father was born. Nana told me that my father wasn’t born in a hospital, he was born right at home in this house and that he weighed nine pounds (!!!) when he was born. (An aside – that must have been lots of fun, giving birth to a baby that size at home. Must be why he was an only child. :))

Census records can be searched in many ways, including by address in 1900 and later years so let’s travel back in time.

49 Summer Street with porch screens on

House on Summer Street
Another view

In 1940, the Sabo family lived at 49 Summer Street. However, my grandfather George had died of tuberculosis in 1936. Julia was the head of a household consisting of herself, my father, also named George, aged 14 and Nicholas Tidik, aged 18. They are the third family from the bottom of the page. Nick is the son of Julia’s deceased sister, Mary Scerbak Tidik. Mary died in 1926 and her husband, Stephen Tidik, died in 1938. Nick and his brother, Steve, lived with relatives until they were of legal age.

Sabo Family in 1940

The census taker must not have asked Nana for her occupation as nothing was written in that space. However, she and my grandfather were co-owners of Central Market Company, a meat market in Passaic, from around 1930 until it was dissolved in 1951. The census taker also noted that Nick lived in the same house in 1935, but that is not true. He lived elsewhere in Passaic with his father.

Jumping back to 1930, we find:

Sabo Family in 1930

As expected, we find George, Julia and son George, living at 49 Summer Street. George Sr.’s occupation is correctly entered as the owner of a butcher shop.

In 1920, the census taker erroneously recorded George’s name as Stephen, but he and Julia were renting part of a two family home at 10 Cedar Street in Garfield, Bergen, New Jersey.

10 Cedar Street, Today

(Another aside, I am certain that the census taker erred because my grandmother told me that they rented on Cedar Street in Garfield before they moved to Summer St.)

That led me to search Passaic’s 4th Ward in the 1920 census to see who was living at 49 Summer Street. The Nitto family, from Italy, lived there (see Line 32).

Nitto Family in 1920

Frank Nitto, aged 29,  was shown as owning the house. He was a coppersmith in a machine shop. A quick check of the 1910 census showed he was renting at 262 Hope Avenue, Passaic in 1910. With him on Summer Street were wife Jennie, also 29, sons Carl, aged 9 and Michael, aged 3 11/12 and daughter Louise, 2 months old. Also living there were his in-laws, Michael and Lucy Manla. They were 51 and 52 years old. Michael Manla was a laborer in a sheet and metal shop. By 1930, the Manlas were not with them and the Nitto family had bought a house at 124 Elmwood Avenue. Most of this family passed away years ago, but Louise, who never married, died on 10 April 2015 (this year!), aged 95. Frank and Jennie had two more sons, Richard Daniel born i n1923 and Robert born i n1928.

Next stop was the 1910 census where I found the Woodruff family:

William Woodruff & Family, 1910

William, 43, worked as a plumber. Wife Emma, aged 39,  was at home. Their five children were still living at home. Daughter Emma, 21, was a silk saleslady. Son William A.L., 19, was a furnishings salesman. Son Edward G. was an office boy in the plumbing business, likely working at the same place as his father. There is no indication that William owned his own plumbing business, though. Youngest son Arthur, 14, and daughter Helen, 7, were at home and probably still at school. A check of the 1920 census showed William working as a foreman in a polish manufacturing company. The family had moved to 30 Van Houten Avenue, also in Passaic and the children were out on their own.

The earliest census with street addresses in Passaic is the 1900 census. That was actually the most interesting find, in a way.

Ashmeads in 1900

A family of just three people were living at 49 Summer Street in 1900. James Lenox Ashmead was born in New York City in 1865. His wife was Florence Livingston, aged 29, in 1900. She was also born in New York. Daughter Catherine was born in 1897 and, although the census says she was born in New York, a birth record has been found for her in Passaic.

The interesting tidbit here is that James, or Lenox as he was often called was a photographer. I am wondering if his photography business was located right in the house. If you look at the second view of my house, above, you can see the screen door to the front of the house. On the porch was the entrance and, just inside that front door, was a side door – almost like an apartment door – into the downstairs part of the house. Also, on the left side of the screened in porch, there is another “main” front door that goes directly into the downstairs living area. These doors would have been perfect for a home based business and a family of three would have more than enough room to live upstairs.

The 1895 NJ state census does not include the Ashmead family. However, that census was to be completed between 15 May  and 1 July, with enumerators turning in their books by 20 August, according to a Trenton newspaper announcement.  The Ashmeads must have moved from New York to Passaic between the summer of 1895 and Catherine’s birth on 31 January 1897. By 1910, James was back living in the Bronx, NY and unemployed.

This would be the end of the story of 49 Summer Street, at least until I get to Salt Lake and read some microfilms, except for the invaluable help that Mark S. Auerbach, the Passaic City Historian, has given me. First, Mark has a Passaic city directory that lists James Ashmead, photographer, in 1895. Either the Ashmeads were missed in the 1895 enumeration or else they moved into the house shortly after the census was taken.

1895 is therefore the earliest date I have right now for the existence of a house at 49 Summer Street.

Mark also has an 1877 atlas of Passaic County, which includes plat maps of Passaic. The map of Summer Street shows Oscar Dressler’s estate across the street from what became 49 Summer Street. The Dresslers were German immigrants who lived in New York. I don’t know if they lived full time in Passaic at some point or if they left New York for weekends or vacations in Passaic. Either way, Oscar Dressler’s mansion was on the property across the street. There was also enough room for a stable and exercise area for his horses.

What about the land across the street? A nine acre parcel, which included the land on which my house was built, was owned by Mrs. N.J. Sewell. The land was bounded by what is today Summer Street, Lexington Avenue, Harrison Street and Central Avenue.

1877 Land Parcel

The white box delineates Mrs. Sewell’s land holdings. The two buildings that look like upside down U’s are an apartment complex. That was the site of Mr. Dressler’s mansion and horse property.

I will post an update on exactly when the house was built and the answer to the question “Were James Lenox and Florence Ashmead the original owners of the house?” after I have a chance to dig into some Passaic property records.

What story does your house have to tell?

All census images from Ancestry. Photos from Google Maps or my personal collection.

One thought on “Every House Has a Story to Tell”

  1. Textbook demonstration on how to compile a nice little snapshot of a home’s history. I ALWAYS check the addresses on the 1900-1940 census schedules and ALWAYS get annoyed in the cases where that column wasn’t filled out by the enumerator….

    Do always take those addresses listed in the census with a grain of salt, however. Addresses change from time to time. My house was address #402 until sometime in the 1940s, when it changed to #502. Have to cross-reference with directories and other sources to make sure.

    Great article!

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