We all know that Fairfield was first settled by the ‘Jersey Dutch’ a term I created when there didn’t appear to be an appropriate alternative. But recently I found an article by Stefan Bielinski a former Senior Historian in the History Office of the New York State Museum who coined a similar term: 'New Netherland Dutch' . Essentially both terms accurately describe the diversity of these Europeans who are often described simply as ‘The Dutch’ or ‘Hollanders’.
These Jersey Dutch dominated Fairfield’s early days from 1700 to 1900, but significant new waves – no, Tsunami’s - of immigrants were already arriving at Ellis Island from eastern and southern Europe. Not only from Italy, but from greater Austria-Hungry, Poland, and Russia (among others ). For example, about 3,547,000 emigrants departed Austria-Hungary for overseas destinations between 1876 and 1910. This figure is 7-8 % of their total 1910 population.
At first, rural Fairfield was far enough away from New York City to be immediately impacted by the eager hordes arriving every day. Even though these Immigrants worked for practically ‘slave’ wages, some were able to save enough to make down payments for their own homes or farmlands. One such Bohemian Family (Czech Republic today) was Lebeda.
Three Lebeda Brothers ( Alois, Anton, Joseph ) and their Sister ( Josephine ) left their homeland in the very early 1900’s. They remained close to one another in the Queens New York area for about 10 years, then began looking for farmlands in the Fairfield / West Caldwell area.
1.) Josephine Lebeda married Alois Repa Sr. while they were living on Long Island N.Y. They bought a farm on Pier Lane in the vicinity of today’s Passaic Avenue intersection. Husband Alois died shortly after, so Josephine sold the farm and became the live-in housekeeper at the Dey Mansion. She later married Otto Rau who had a farm on Two Bridges Road. Her Son Alois Jr. started a Nursery and Landscaping business but was drafted into the Army where he lost his life at the Battle of the Bulge (1944). Josephine had three other children Mary, Rose, and young Josephine.
Two of these daughters Mary and Rose married two Evans brothers Clyde and Charles from Pier Lane. The father of the Evans boys (Morris) was a banker in New York and had his Farmer Brother-in-Law next door (Nathan Goldstein) cultivate his land. It’s likely the Evans name was changed to avoid rising anti-semitic hostility during this time. ( See book suggestion below ).
Mary and Clyde lived on Two Bridges Road and had one son David. Sadly, young David was killed crossing the street after getting off the School Bus. Since David’s Father and Uncle were both involved in politics, they became strong advocates of school bus safety regulations. 88 year old Josephine Lebeda Repa Rau died in 1962 and is buried at the Fairfield Reformed Church Cemetery with many other members of her Rau and Evans Family. The Rau homestead is now the Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home.
Two stained glass windows at the Fairfield Reformed Church (L) are dedicated to the memory of Josephine’s Son Alois who died in WW2, and 6 year old Grandson David Evans who was killed accidently in 1942. The former Rau Farmhouse is now the Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home (C). Josephine’s FRC grave marker (R).
2.) Alois married wife Anna on Long Island before they bought a large farm on Clinton Road. Most of the farm was in West Caldwell but a small sliver of land was part of Fairfield. Alois and Anna had 10 children before Anna died in 1934. Oldest daughter Bertha brought up her 9 young siblings on the large farm during those tough depression years. What was extraordinary about this Family is how many of these farm children obtained advanced college degrees and went onto non-farm professional careers. Son Joseph became a Veterinarian and had his practice on Bloomfield Avenue, Son John became a Lawyer and Judge, son Charles became a Dentist, and daughter Rose became a Nurse. Daughter Josephine (Josie) married Lester Whalen and lived across the street from the farm, but continued farming with the Family.
Bertha kept the farm going until it was sold in the 1950’s, then started another farm in Montville with Brothers Frank and Louis. The old Farm is now part of the West Essex Industrial Park on Henderson Drive. The newer Montville Farm is now a residential development.
3.)Anton and wife Mary bought another Fairfield Farm at the intersection of Hollywood Avenue and Big Piece Road. Their son William received some formal agricultural education in Paterson and spent his whole life on the Farm, as did his Sister Elsie. Two other daughters Helen and Amelia married two brothers Albert and Kenneth Hagel with all continuing to live in Fairfield. Daughter Rose married (Ford), moved to West Caldwell and worked at Curtiss-Wright during WW2 along with William and Elsie.
As Fairfield grew over the years Anton’s Family had a popular road stand on Hollywood Avenue. Although they held on longer than everyone else, they finally sold this Farm about ten years ago.
4.) Joseph married Frances Vseteck in New York before buying a large Farm on Two Bridges Road at Sand Road from the DeBaun Family. A pattern we’ve seen repeated by each and every one of Joseph’s siblings. Including Alois’ sliver, all established Farms in Fairfield.
Wedding photo of Frances (Vseteck) Lebeda and Joseph Lebeda.
The sandy lane that ran from Joseph’s Farm to Anton’s Farm was later converted into public use by the Township. In those days, eminent domain compensation was a small fraction of the fair market value. Several Farms were divided in two by the new ‘Sand Road’ right-of-way including Joseph’s acreage. 20 acres remained north of Sand Road, and 10 acres remained south of Sand Road where all the farm buildings were located.
Joseph and Frances only had one Son James J. Lebeda born in 1927, so they initially relied upon ‘Russian’ farm workers who lived in the Farm buildings. They grew corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, strawberries, and melons. Joseph took his fruit (tomatoes) and vegetables to the Newark Market by horse drawn wagon.
Like most Farmers then they had many animals on the Farm in addition to dogs and cats. Only one cow, but many pigs, chickens, rabbits, pigeons, and pheasants. A local Gun Club bought the pheasants for stocking their hunting grounds ( A few even found their way back home ! ).
Frances’ Mother and Sister Rose moved to the Farm, and eventually only Family Members worked there. James was already working fulltime at Curtiss-Wright (1946). But by now, trucks and tractors replaced the horses and a new cash crop was soon to be introduced. Bob Van Dessel whose own Farm was on Big Piece Road at Hollywood Avenue, introduced Joseph to horseradish growing, and brought his and Joseph’s annual harvests to the New York Market.
“It was hard work and it was cold during horseradish season. Gold was the primary buyer for the roots. The little green sprouts, on the top of the plant, were used by the Jewish people on their festive holy days and it brought big money” ---- Mary Van Duyne Lebeda
Golds Horseradish was founded by Tillie and Hyman Gold in 1932. Truck picture from the 1950’s.
In 1954, James married Mary Van Duyne who lived across the Two Bridges in Mountain View. The Van Duyne’s were a Jersey Dutch Family that dated back to 1663 New Amsterdam. In 19th century Montville, Towaco, and Lincoln Park you couldn’t throw a horseradish root in any direction without hitting a Van Duyne Ancestor’s property.
Stella (Van Ness) and George Van Duyne (L) Grandparents of Mary (Van Duyne) Lebeda. Mary (Connelly) and Edward Van Duyne (R) Parents of Mary (Van Duyne) Lebeda.
With the exception of Joseph’s Sister Josephine ( Fairfield Reformed Church Member), all the Lebeda’s were Roman Catholics who attended Mass at either Holy Angels in Singac or Saint Aloysius in Caldwell. The Van Duynes were Methodists. This is only mentioned because faith was a factor in assimilation and acceptance over these transitional decades.
James Lebeda and Mary Van Duyne married in 1954. Pictured (L to R) Rose Wickler (James’ Aunt), James, Mary and James’ parents: Frances and Joseph Lebeda.
Mary converted to Catholicism before her marriage to James, but never abandoned her love of the Methodist Church. The Lebeda’s were also proud to be one of the original Saint Thomas More R.C. Parish Families (1963).
James and Mary lived on the Farm and had three sons ( James Jr., Thomas, and John). They were active in 4-H and eventually started an animal feed and supply business. At one point they added unusual species to their farm animals to create a unique local zoo ( Llamas, goats, peacocks, axis deer, montjac deer, ostrich, emu, various ducks/geese/chickens and much more ). Always open for Kids :- ) :- ) and was very popular for Elementary School field trips.
The Feed and Supply business evolved into the current Lebeda Boot Barn business where you can buy a pair of boots today for what Grandfather Joseph paid for an acre of farmland :- ) :- ) All joking aside, since the 1920’s the four Lebeda Families and their succeeding generations have contributed a great deal to Fairfield and the surrounding Communities.
We are also especially indebted to Mary Lebeda for helping to reestablish the Fairfield Historical Society in January 2018.
The first two great books: ‘Before the Melting Pot’ about Colonial New Netherland Society and Culture. And, ‘The Great Departure’ about Eastern European Mass Migration.
Another two great books : ‘American Passage The History of Ellis Island’ (Interlibrary 325.73 CAN) And ‘A Rosenberg by any other name’ (Interlibrary 929.408992 FER – details below).
Nineteen Year Chronology for a Historical Perspective: 1902 to 1920
1902 – Second worst flood in N.J. History ( at that time ).
1903 – Worst flood in New Jersey History (ever).
1904 – Caldwell Township’s borders become Fairfield’s borders of today.
1904 – Boonton / Jersey City Reservoir and pipeline thru Fairfield completed
1912 - New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson is elected President.
1914 – Panama Canal opens.
1915 – Fairfield Dairy begins decline as dairy herd is infected with bovine TB.
1917 – Russian October / Bolshevik Revolution.
1918 - A German U-boat sinks six American ships off the coast of New Jersey.
1918 – James Caldwell Naval Rifle Range opens in Fairfield
1918 – WW1 ends November 11, 1918
1918 - Worldwide influenza epidemic strikes, by 1920, 500,000 perish in U.S.
1919 - Eighteenth Amendment prohibits alcoholic beverages
1919 – JC Naval Rifle Range hosts National Matches, world’s largest competition
1920 - Nineteenth Amendment gives Women the right to vote.
..........Paul Pollio May 7, 2020
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