River Edge Summer Pilgrimages of Old
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July’s hot spell got us to recall what it was like around these parts in the days before air conditioning was commonplace.
We’re old enough to recall how folks locally would search for cool places way back when.
For example, there once was a time when the locals went to local “beach clubs” to cool off. It was after the end of availability of the Hackensack as a place to swim and before the opening of the in the early 1960’s. Places such as the Old Mill and Arcola in Paramus and the Oritani in Hackensack just across the Coles Brook from River Edge (at the site of the Home Depot along Hackensack Avenue) offered a place to socialize and neutralize the heat.
For a time it was the movie theater that offered sanctuary from the heat and humidity – locally places in Hackensack like the Fox and Oritani theaters. Their air conditioning was so popular that there were more than a few patrons who frequented both movie houses without even a passing thought to what they were going to see up on the screen.
It was in the 1950’s that Public Service (forerunner to N.J. Transit) touted that its buses were air conditioned. Commuters were known to position themselves at a bus stop so as to get a coveted seat on such an air cooled vehicle. Others were known to decline empty seats on a stopping 165 bus for the chance wait for standing room on a later bus with AC.
One could make the pilgrimage to the in Ridgewood. That’s where you could stop in at the old (Terwilliger & Wakefield) Ice Cream stand, and then take a walk around the park with cone in hand.
Finally, a unique summer activity was that of traffic jam gazing on a Sunday night.
Residents of the south end of town would routinely work off a Sunday BBQ dinner by strolling to down to Route 4 and watch the traffic. You see, the four lane road with traffic lights could back up pretty good on a Sunday night in those days. Back then, Route 4 was part of the most direct route between the city and points north (i.e. The Catskills).
Smiling locals boasted how they could enjoy a country life without having to travel hours and then face the prospect of being caught in endless traffic (like those city slickers we liked to stare at).
This pastime was short-lived. It all became a thing of the past when the Tappan Zee Bridge opened to the north - allowing a direct Thruway route that bi-passed the congestion on Route 4.
By that time, air conditioning was starting to take hold in area homes. Before long, Route 4, the Fox Theater and Public Service buses would all be empty on a Sunday as locals came to prefer staying home indoors to watch Ed Sullivan on TV instead.
A special acknowledgment to the late Kevin Wright and the Bergen County Historical Society for ongoing help and support. BCHS is interested in copying old photographs of Bergen County. They can be reached at our email address: contactBCHS@bergencountyhistory.org or Bergen County Historical Society, PO Box 55, River Edge, NJ 07661. So are we, and we can be reached at the email link on this page.
This piece was originally prepared for River Dell Patch - it ran in July, 2011.