THE VAN NIEKERKS

by Doris van Niekerk Ferwerda


Dad and his twin sister Mary, were the only children in his family who were born in the United States. We are still trying to find out exactly when the Van Niekerks came to this country, where they landed, and how they found their way to Paterson. We have a date, the name of a ship, etc., but after several tries in the Archives in D.C., Joan and Rudy still haven't been able to come up with anything definite.

We do know that the family very quickly and happily settled into life in the Riverside section of Paterson. At that time it was a solid, blue- collar community of Dutch and Belgian immigrants. The brothers, Garry, Harry, and Gys established a painting business, which apparently became very successful. Their clients were from the Eastside section, where the wealthy Mill owners lived. I heard that at one time, their dining room was paneled with real leather which was left over from a job they did for the mayor. What class!

The brothers were all very much involved in the activities which revolved around the social and philanthropic clubs of our Lady of Lourdes Church. They also belonged to the Lyceum Club which maintained a fishing camp at Greenwood Lake. I remember going there with Mim and Dad for "outings". By the time the late 30's had arrived, the membership had dwindled, and Dad could have bought a share for $200. However, that was during the depression, and with a family to support, there was no way he could come up with $200. I wonder what that property, which has long since been divided up and sold, is worth today!

Amateur athletics were very popular, and Garry especially, participated in all kinds of sports. At one time according to the papers, he was considered to be one of the best bowlers in the city. He also played center on the "Mercury" football team,when it held the lightweight championship of Passaic County.

When the Lyceum Club held their annual Minstrel show, Garry was always a featured member of the cast. This show ran for several days, and drew crowds from all over the area. It was a major fund raiser for the welfare programs sponsored by the church. There were no forms of public assistance in those days,----each community took care of their own.

They all became involved in local politics in one form or another. Garry was County Committeeman for the third ward and was assistant Sergeant- At-Arms in the Senate in Trenton. (No wonder he never found the time to marry)

Dad and his brother Dick (Theodore) were the only ones who were not in the family business. Dick worked for most of his life in the Tax Assessors Office in Paterson. Dad of course, worked for Borden's.

I often wonder how they became so quickly assimilated into the community. The older three children were teenagers when they came to the United States, beyond the age of Public Schooling for "ordinary" people. Yet they learned English and it was always spoken in the home. The only time I ever heard Dutch was when the "aunts" wanted to tease me. The goal in those days was to become "Americanized" as quickly as possible.

It must have been very expensive to bring the entire family from Holland. America was seen as the land of opportunity,worth any sacrifice, and it has become that for all of us.



VIOLA CONNORS VAN NIEKERK

Mim was in the second graduating class of Montclair State Normal School. We enjoyed her stories of how she and her friends went from Paterson where they lived, to Little Falls by trolley, and then either walked, or got a ride from a kindly truck driver, to the school. (Mim hitching a ride from a truck driver ?) !!!

She also told us that her entire education was free. Mim, her sister Mazie (who died in the flu epidemic during the first World War) and her brothers Ray and Dick, were all graduates from Montclair. This was almost unheard of in those days when very few young people were able to go beyond the sixth grade. It is a tribute to our grandmother Bridget Hanifin Connors that they were able to do this. Mim and Mazie taught, and after their service in the Navy, both Dick and Ray became school Principals. Later they both went with the Telephone Company.

Mim taught until she was married in 1920. She told the story of how she lost her first teaching job before she started, because the School Board found that she was an "Irish Catholic". That sort of predjudice was still very common in those days. Even when I first started working, all application forms required you to state your religion!

She of course, had to resign after her marriage. Married women were not allowed to be teachers! But when WW II came along, there was a severe teacher shortage, and Mim was contacted by Montclair to see if she would be interested in going back to the classroom. (She said they took a list of graduates, compared them to the obituaries, and if you were still alive, they offered you a job.) She taught in the Passaic School system for many years, and got to-the point where she could choose her schools and became almost a permanent substitute in the ones she liked best.
She had to take at least two buses each way to work because she never learned how to drive. The story goes that when she was learning to drive, on one of her first back-up lessons, she backed down the driveway, and took out the entire picket fence! The end!

For a few summers when she was in school, Mim and some of her friends worked as waitresses at a summer hotel. Room and Board were included as part of their pay. It didn't take long before the "regulars" showed the "summer girls" how to double order from the kitchen, and where to stash the good food that was served to the guests, so.they could eat-that, instead of the leftovers which were served to the help. There are tricks to all trades!

During the summers of WWI she and other teachers took jobs at the Picatinny Arsenal. I don't know what they did there, but she said there were escape chutes (like big slides) from the floor where they worked, if at anytime there was a problem with the explosives. Can you imagine how much good they would do?

Mim was loved by everyone who knew her! She was a good sport and I never remember her complaining about anything. She was a very independent person. One day I went over to 22nd Street and found her mixing up some cement which she then used to patch the front steps. (She was in her 80's at the time). She loved children and had infinite patience with them. She was fun to be with, and kept a lively and bright outlook on life.

Anyone whose life she touched was happier for having known her.


CORNELIUS VAN NIEKERK


Dad graduated from Our Lady of Lourdes Grammar School. He was the only boy in his class. Then he went to Drake's Business School. He was able to do that I guess, because he was the youngest, and all the other children were working. He worked as a clerk-bookeeper bcfore he went into the Army. (I think it was for the Erie Railroad). While in the Army, he was an ambulance driver in the Motor Pool. Not too many men could drive trucks at that time.

Then he worked for the Borden Milk Company as a driver, and later as a foreman. In those days they started at about two in the morning. At that time he had a local route and I remember him coming home for breakfast. He would tie his horse under a tree in front of the house, and give him a feed bag of oats. once in awhile he would take me down to the barn where all the horses and wagons were kept,--it wasn't too far from our house. In the winter when the roads were snow-covered, Bordens would use big sleighs instead of wagons to deliver the milk, and the horses would have special shoes for the icy roads. Once, Dad got his picture in the paper because at that time his route was in Oakland and he used a canoe to deliver milk when the area became flooded.

When Bordens changed from horses to trucks, Dad took routes further and further out. I never could figure out why, until I realized he could combine workwith his love of fishing. He particularly enjoyed trout fishing, and from "opening day" on, he could usually get in a little fishing while eating lunch. That was also why he kept refusing a promotion to "inside" work!

He was a very talented self-taught painter, used to play the violin, and was a caring and loving father to us all.

Canoeing was a very popular pastime when Mim and Dad were "courting". Dad had a canoe that he kept in Singac, and they, along with their friends, went canoeing almost every nice sunday. (The five day work week had not yet arrived) They took a trolley which ran along Broadway in Paterson, up to the Passaic River. I remember hearing stories about how the trolley would get so crowded that the men would have to hang on, standing on the steps which ran the full length of the car.



THE HANIFINS AND THE TOWN OF FLORENCE


Last summer while Art and I were visiting Jim, we took a ride to see if we could locate the town of Florence, which was the home of the Hanifins. From what I've been able to find out, Florence was typical of the small towns which were scattered through the thinly populated sections of this region. This land was originally owned by the Oneida Indians who were members of the Iroquois Confederacy. The State of New York "bought" the territory in 1788.

According to Oneida County records, the largest group of white settlers came to the area between 1830 and 1850. Our great-grandfather William, and his brother John, were among that group. These immigrants wanted above all to own their own piece of land. They left Ireland to escape from the system of tenant farming which gave them no hope of ever bettering themselves. Both John and William came from County Kerry, as did our great- grandmother Ellen Malone. County Kerry was one of the poorest and most backward Counties in Ireland, and it was the sheer need to survive that brought them here. Very often, the men would come over first, and get laboring jobs on the Public Works projects which were starting all over the country. (Canals, Railroads, Road building, etc.) The working conditions were bad beyond belief, but their goal - their own land - was worth any price they had to pay. When the men had accumulated enough money, they would send for their families, and they worked together to clear the land.

By the late 1850's, Florence had become an area of prosperous Dairy Farms. Then it began to decline, mainly due to the lack of good transportation. The railroad which at that time was all-important, went to Camden and bypassed Florence completely. The roads (if any) were bad and poorly maintained, and low prices for farm products caused the young people to go to the cities, where factory Jobs provided more money, with shorter hours, than did farm work.

In our family, the only one who stayed on the farm was the oldest son William, my grandmothers brother. Mim would visit there during the summer when she was a girl and would tell us stories of the life and good times she had there. It was very different from Paterson where she lived.

There are few if any farms left in Florence today. The stores and industries which supplied the town are gone, and we found only one tavern and a couple of houses to indicate that anything was ever there. Most of.the land is owned by New York State, and has been reforested with evergreen trees.

The Hanifin farm has reverted to woodland, and is being used by the family as a camp. It is a beautiful area. While we were driving thru, we passed several huge log cabins (more like small motels) and noticed discreet signs at the driveways, which bore the names of some major corporations. We found later, that these are used by the company "brass" as hunting and fishing lodges,-aka"Conference Centers".

From Florence, most of the family moved to Yonkers where there was plenty of work in the thriving manufacturing industries. William's family who remained, now live mostly in and around Oneida, Utica and Syracuse.



MANASQUAN - LAKE HOPATCONG


Trips and vacations were always a major part of our lives. I don't know how Mim and Dad managed it, but we went away every year in July. Mim was fond of saying that I went on my first vacation to Manasquan at the tender age of five weeks. That must have been some undertaking! When I was little, we went with Mother and Father and my Uncles Dick and Ray, who were still living at home. Later, after they were married, we all had our own places. It must have been quite a job to get ready, because everything had to be shipped down beforehand in a huge old trunk. Nothing was provided except dishes and pots and pans, so you were on your own! Then, when we went down, the suitcases were placed on the running boards of the car. There were special gate-like attachments to keep them in place. (Of course, when they were on, they also kept the passengers in place, because the doors couldn't be opened)! The trip took at least four to six hours - there were no super-highways, so travel thru the city streets in Newark and the Oranges could get pretty heavy.

Manasquan looks much the same today, as it did more than sixty years ago. I can still remember staying in some of the bungalows that are there today. There has been one major change over the years tho..... It was always exciting to see what had happened over the winter to the Manasquan River Inlet. There were some years when the storms completely closed the inlet, and it was possible to walk across to Point Pleasant. In later years, I don't know when, the Army Engineer Corps dredged it out and built the waterway that is there today. It is still supposed to be difficult to navigate in and out, and the Coast Guard has its' hands full in rough weather.

Commercial fishermen had big nets anchored just off shore, and it was fun to walk down very early in the morning to watch them bring the fish in. They wouid row out in big dories, then unload their catch and sell it on the spot. Poor Mim, - every summer she had to cook a big dinner for all the 26th Street neighbors who would make the long trip down for what had become a traditional meal of Bonita Mackerel and Blueberry Pie. The day before, we had to go out to the woods and pick enough berries for three pies. I was always being warned to look out for snakes, but never remember seeing any!

Manasquan had a beach with a very sharp drop and in spots, a very strong undertow. It really didn't matter very much because the major water sport consisted of hanging on the ropes which were strung from the beach out into the water, and jumping and screaming when the waves rolled in.

It was a quiet community which had a very nice custom on the 4th of July. Each family would gather driftwood for days before,and put it in their special pile, then on the night of the 4th, they would gather on the beach, cook hot dogs, toast marshmallows and set off their fireworks. (It was legal in those days)!

There was no boardwalk.... the closest thing to an amusement area was the Penny Arcade. It was truly a "penny" arcade, and twice a week we were each given ten cents to spend on the "movies" (hand cranked) games and chances. We went to the shore until I was 12. Then, Mim and Dad had good friends who went to Lake Hopatcong. They raved about it so much ttlat they persuaded Mim and Dad to try it.

We all loved it there. Our first place was a tent-like structure, but then we graduated to real bungalows at Great Cove. --There were no ammenities like indoor plumbing or running water! We had to take buckets to the spring for drinking water, and were told that it was "healthy" to have frogs in the spring. Cooking was done on an oil stove, and there was a pump in the kitchen with water from the lake for washing and doing dishes.

A short distance away, was an abandoned railroad track which served as an easy way to walk to Nolans Point where there were a couple of stores where we could get groceries and papers. We also each got a nickle twice a week to buy ice cream. Boy! were those "Treasure Chests" good! There were delivery men who came around with bread and milk and fresh vegetables, and of course, ice for the ice box.

At the Point, there was also what was left of an old amusement park. We would entertain ourselves by seeing how high we could climb on the ruins of the roller coaster before it became too far to jump between the spaces on the track. (It's a good thing Mim never knew)! There was also an old building that housed the Merry-go-round, but we stayed away from there, it was too dark and spooky inside!

One year, Shirley and I found a sunken old row boat. We managed to bail it out and got it floating, patched the holes with rags, and had a great time rowing around the cove with one of us rowing and the other bailing. It made the owner of our bungalow so nervous watching us that she gave us the use of one of her boats. That was really nice of her because there was no way we could afford the $5.00 a week rental. With the new boat, we were able to pack a lunch and venture out of the cove to explore the rest of the lake.

The only summer we missed during that period was when the little kids (Dick and Joan) got sick with Chicken Pox or something like that. So Dad took Shirley and me on a trip to Niagara Falls. He had a budget of $50.00 for the trip (which is what the bungalow cost for the month). Tourist cabins were only a dollar or two a night, and we ate a lot of cheese sandwiches. We made it home with a dollar left, so Dad stopped in Waldwick and spent his last dollar on a box of candy for Mim.

The last time we all went to Lake Hopatcong was in the summer of 1946. By that time, we had outgrown, the lake and were ready for new adventures.

One thing I.did forget to mention..... Art and I spent our honeymoon in Manasquan in 1945. Art's father let us use his car and gave us some of his precious gas coupons. We planned to stay for a week, so Mim and Dad asked us to rent the bungalow for them for the second week. When they came down, we decided to stay a few more days, and then a few more, so it has become a family joke that my parents went with us on our honeymoon.

Barb and Mike followed the same scenario, but the locale was changed to Wildwood Crest and the cast included not only parents and brother, but also an Aunt, an Uncle, and four cousins. The newlyweds had rented a beautiful trailer and toured New Hampshire and Vermont. When they called to tell us that they were on their way home, we told them that we were all going to the shore for the weekend. We told them where we were going to stay, and they got there before we did!


Copyright 1996 Doris Ferwerda, all rights reserved