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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Early Days of Smoke Rise

Herbert O. Fisher, Jr., age 6 in Caldwell, NJHave you wondered what Smoke Rise was like in the early days of its development? You're about to find out from Herb Fisher, Jr., formerly of 628 Mountain Road in Smoke Rise. He is pictured here at age 6 when his Smoke Rise story begins.

"TALES FROM THE EARLY RISE"



My name is Herb Fisher, Jr. I read Tom Kline's essay concerning the Smoke Rise Tower and I would like to add, plus more. My parents built a house at 628 Mountain Road in the mid 1950s. They lived there from 1955 until I found it necessary to move my Mom in 1996 to where we live in Texas. My Dad died in 1990. Fishers, forty one years in Smoke Rise.

My father was Herbert O. Fisher, Chief Test Pilot for the Curtiss Wright Corporation beginning in 1939. After the war he was assigned to the Propeller Division at Caldwell Wright Airport (now called Essex County Airport/KCDW), NJ. He left Curtiss in about 1952 to become Special Assistant to Aviation Development for the Port of New York Authority (at that time New Jersey was not included).

In early 1954, I was at the tender age of six and my world revolved around 23 Birkendene Road in Caldwell. Unknown to me, in the Spring of that year my parents purchased 1.5 acres (less than $6000/acre...hmmm big bucks back then, today a garage sale/chump change), just past the summit of Kitty Ann Mountain, on the east side. Late that summer they informed me we would be moving and wanted me to see where our brand new house would be located.

Initially, I was NOT a happy little boy. My Dad in our 1954 Cadillac headed north on this Route #23. We passed places like Dan's Steak House on the first traffic circle, some Hoffman (I think) furniture store on the second circle and the final circle ended on a long uphill climb. Places like a Sun Tan Lake passed my view and seemed very odd. We continued on Rt.23 and then finally turned back around. As we exited and I looked forward from the back seat with my grand mother Mitzi/Nana, there was some type of stone gatehouse with a gate keeper named Ole Abe....geez to me he looked like a 100 year old giant. To the right was another much larger structure with the same stones, several parking spaces and windows. I was told John Walker, a salesman, worked there.

628 Mountain Road, Smoke RiseWe entered and it seemed like every road went uphill, forests of trees, a creek every so often and very few houses. My wide eyes were staring in disbelief through the open window. We finally turned onto Mountain Road. The pavement continued up this mountain until an intersection. A carriage trail (that's what they were called) led off to the right into the deep forest (that would become Ridge Road). We were now on a dirt road and still climbing. As we began to reach the summit a house was being built to the left; it was the Smythes (to Tom Kline it was the Hunts.....Ralph Hunt was a piece of work and I do not believe that life saving story). At the Smythe's house, the dirt road ended and we continued on a carriage trail. At the summit, much like Tom's photo, was a stone Tower that reached to the sky and was surrounded by trees. Now my little mind was wondering...what kind of fairy tale place is this?

We passed the Tower and drove a little ways on and stopped. Portions of that carriage trail are still visible today just to the right of Mountain Road. We trekked through the woods, to the left. All I could see were waist high sticks in the ground with a string outlining where the house was to be built, by two Swede contractors named Olsen and Jacobson. My Dad said, this is where our new house will be. My mind was blurred, rocks, trees, kricks, castles...WHAT! He turned the car around, showed me the lake, a beach, green row-boats that belonged to the Smoke Rise Club, and Sailfish sail boats and pointed to Chapel Island, then Hoot Owl Pond, the stone Inn (which we stayed at upstairs for several weeks before moving into a stone house on East Shore Drive awaiting our house to be completed).

After this drive my attitude about moving changed......"I think this place will work out very nicely". I remember spending midnight New Years Eve 1954 changing to1955 in our unfinished house, standing on the plywood floor, without heat for about an hour. They wanted to spend that midnight, in their new house.

The Tower, early Smoke RiseBack in the mid to late 50s Smoke Rise was a wilderness. There was nothing around the lake except Talbot's mansion, there was nothing between the Lake and Split Rock Reservoir except New Pond and carriage trails. Ridge Road did not exist until the Rohrers began building followed by the Johnsons and Ericksons, and there was no Hilltop Road, just forests. We could camp/raise hell across the Lake or out by New Pond or on a high cliff over looking Split Rock Res. There was nobody around for a mile or more, just crickets, critters and fireflies.

Let me comment about Tom's reference to the Peabody's bomb shelter. Shortly after we moved in, the Orbans built that house. Kurt and his wife had two children. Robin who was my age and Bob who was a couple of years older. The shelter was not original with the house. Initially, it was a dirt floor cavity under their porch that could be accessed through a portal in their basement. Robin, Bob, myself and a fellow named Randy Arendt (his Dad built a house below mine on the end of Mountain Road Terrace) and John Phillip Smythe formed the Zacherley Fan Club. Zacherley was a scary fellow on WABC TV who showed 1940s horror movies late on Friday nights. We had candles, a hanging manikin, bottles with colored water...it was our clubhouse. As the 60s unfolded, the Orbans built that bomb shelter....back then with the Cold War, it was the status symbol of the day.

Early Smoke Rise - WinterTom made reference to an old split rail fence that circled the Tower. Our challenge when it was new, was to walk the top rail all the way around the Tower. We spent 100s of hours attempting that task. We all finally made it after numerous cuts, falls and bruises, indignities and laughter.

We would use chalk and make roadways on our parents' driveways for our bicycles. Randy had a make believe gas station, I sold cola and Yoo-Hoo, and Robin had a store with Cambell's soup and after shave lotion. Bob printed Tower Bucks and we bought and sold in...... TOWER TOWN.

I know the rock that Tom is talking about to the west. I spent many hours there. If I was a gazillionaire I would buy that house and tear it down. Restore the area to original.

We played baseball at the Tower using the purple pudding stone as a backstop.

Yes, there were numerous late night parking activities. I would, at 17 or 18, walk down to 628 and sneak a six pack of Herb's beer from the basement bar, bring it back and be an ambassador of promoting very friendly relationships.

I climbed the rusty beams/stairs dozens of time with friends and the view is spectacular. And I will confirm Tom's statement.....clearly you could see the NYC skyline from pudding stone rock back then. Also, Tom, I will confirm that it was possible 45 or so years ago to see the Monument at High Point. On a crisp clear day with Herb's binoculars and with a steady hand or tripod, it was visible from the top of the Tower. We all agree, the New York skyline to the southeast at about 30 miles, looking to the north for about the same distance was also possible, just a smaller target.

Early Smoke Rise - ConstructionJenny is our daughter and my best friend is her God Father. Back then his dad, on textile business, would travel to South Carolina and bring us back cherry bombs, and other high explosive fireworks. We would throw them in the Tower for a great hollow thud or indiscriminately throw them around/they also worked underwater.

Speaking of high explosives let me comment on a fellow named Walt Uzinowitz (sp). He lived in Kinnelon, I think by the old firehouse and the original Kiel Avenue School. He had the contract to dynamite/blast the way through the granite to ultimately create Mountain Road. It must be understood Mountain Road ended at our property line. The carriage trail continued with nothing but stone outcrops and trees. I would sit out there (Emily and Nana keeping their eye on me) and watch him drill blasting holes, in the rock, load up with explosives, push the plunger down and WHAM!!!!! One day he asked Emily if she would allow me to push the plunger. PLEASE PLEASE Mother!!!! It was a very hesitant "okay". For a seven year old kid that was truly a BLAST. He let me do it dozens of times as the road progressed down the back side of Kitty Ann Mountain. There was also a road contractor that would park his huge bulldozer in front of our house, he told me to keep an eye on it overnight. I cannot remember his name, but he would let me sit next to him as we pushed huge boulders, mowed down trees, and repositioned dirt. At the end of the workday, Emily would always reward all these fellows and their workers with cold beer or in cooler weather coffee, hot chocolate and cookies.

I won first place in a Smoke Rise fishing contest, two pound pickerel, and could choose $20.00 worth of stuff from a sporting goods store in Pompton Lakes. In the 50s, 20 bucks was great. With my Sailfish I have several trophies from races on the Lake. A fellow named John Maginheimer (sp) was impossible to beat. Ray Edwards (Edwards Engineering) and Scott Allen (Bronze Medal winner Winter Olympics, skating) were also bad news competitors.

Also Tom mentioned fast cars around the Tower. Ask his older brother, Phil, about my green 68 GTO.

Driving by 628 Mountain RoadIn the winter under just the right conditions, we would jump on our sleds at the Tower, rocket past my house, past the Swett's curve, past the Joseph's, with enough generated speed cruise on the flats, then all the way down the huge "Curlin's Hill". Take a car and follow what I just described... it was unreal.

I could keep going but I will stop here.....maybe more to follow later, if this is of interest. The Tower will always be a symbol/memory of my childhood. I read some of the blog posts about ice fishing or walking to the chapel or hiking and it is very clear......although Smoke Rise is much different today, the magic is still there. As the cliche goes,"I have been there and done that". I have lived in Texas since 73, with my wife of 37 years, we have raised a terrific Texan daughter, who married a terrific Texan fellow, and will give us a terrific Texan grand daughter in March.......BUT Smoke Rise will always always be MY HOME.

Herbert O. and Emily FisherThis color picture is of my Mom and Dad. They are now both gone. Both cremated and in a niche together at the Catholic church outside the East Gate of SR, on the reservoir. I sent that just so you could see what my parents looked like. That is one of my favorite pictures of them. Always went first class, always ready for good times. They were the founders of "tailgate parties".

The picture was taken at the VIP parking lot at the Indianapolis 500 somewhere in the later 60s. My father was good friends with Tony Hulman who owned the Speedway and we always stayed at Roscoe and Donna Turner's house in Indianapolis. Roscoe was a famous winner of air races in the 30s.......very interesting character.

My father learned to fly in Indianapolis in about 1928.

Emily (my Mom) and Mildred Rohrer played bridge together back in Caldwell/Essex Fells way before I was born. We moved to SR, Mildred and Harry came up for a drink and fell in love with the place. They built on Ridge Road as I mentioned. That's how Jimmy and I became good friends.

So there ya go, another little slice of Smoke Rise history. You have any questions about back then, just ask.

HOF Jr.

Thank you, Herb, for this amazing picture of early Smoke Rise! You are always welcome to share more here.




NOTE: The images above are courtesy of Herbert O. Fisher, Jr. They cannot be used or reproduced without permission and attribution.
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