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
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
She of course, had to resign after her marriage. Married women
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
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
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
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
while eating lunch. That was also why he kept refusing a promotion to
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
went canoeing almost every nice sunday. (The five day work week had
not yet arrived) They took a trolley which ran along Broadway in
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
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
The railroad which at that time was all-important, went to Camden and
bypassed Florence completely. The roads (if any) were bad and poorly
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
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
From Florence, most of the family moved to Yonkers where there was
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
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
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
consisted of hanging on the ropes which were strung from the beach
out into the water, and jumping and screaming when the waves rolled
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
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
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
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
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
Copyright 1996 Doris Ferwerda, all rights reserved