This is a biographical sketch of Mrs. Morris E. Collerd born Adelia Melissa Van Ness who wrote the Fairfield Chronicle Newspaper Column ‘This WAS Fairfield’.
Adelia Melissa Van Ness was born in a Rockaway Neck – Hanover Farmhouse on the corners of Old Bloomfield Avenue and Edwards Road February 5, 1903 ( now Montville/Pine Brook border ).
Her parents were Charles Sylvester Van Ness and Sadie Matilda Van Duyne. Charles was part of the seventh generation of Fairfield’s first Van Ness ( Simon, B. 1666 ). Simon could easily be designated as ‘The Father of Fairfield’ , then called ‘Horseneck’ when he settled here in 1701.
When three years old, Adelia’s Family of four including older sister Leah Esther (B. 1898) moved to Dutch Lane ( now Fairfield Avenue ) in West Caldwell. Adelia and Leah would often visit their Grandmother Ella Melissa Van Ness ( B.1852 ) who also lived on Dutch Lane with Grandfather Simon Munson V.N. ( B. 1849 ). After school, Grandmother Ella often told the girls about their many Van Ness ancestors. There must have been a lot for the young girls to absorb and distinguish because there were so many Van Ness’s who married other distantly related Van Ness’s during the previous two generations.
Grandfather Simon Munson V.N. was the Supervisor of Cigar Production at the large Lockward Tobacco Factory on Bloomfield Avenue. When he was spotted walking home from work, it was time for the young girls to scoot home. This may have been the point where Adelia caught the ‘ancestry bug’ that followed her throughout the rest of her life.
Father Charles was a Farm Laborer and did ‘odd jobs’ to supplement the Family income. He also had a six mile Newark Evening News newspaper route that he ran daily ( except Sunday ) by horse carriage or sleigh. Adelia accompanied him on the route and collected the two cent per copy subscriptions. Tending to the Family horse was a major part of her daily chores.
“Every two weeks I went to the door to collect 24 cents and in that way became well acquainted with all of the family living in each particular house and many of their habits and ways”
Charles developed a serious heart condition and could no longer perform strenuous work, but everyone helped to keep the Family going. Children then, seldom went beyond sixth grade because of the necessity to support their family households. Adelia was a good student and cherished her eighth grade diploma as something very special.
Adelia’s 1917 Eighth Grade ‘poster size’ Diploma measured 14” x 17”
Sister Leah and Adelia had to seek steady employment while Mother Sadie did housework and chores for nearby neighbors. Adelia’s first big job was at Westinghouse where she worked on light bulb assembly. This required a walk to Caldwell to pick up the trolley for a long commute. When World War I ended, so did employment there. Bell Telephone was her next Employer with an even longer commute from West Caldwell.
During the heavy winter snows, the Fairfield Dairy ‘heavy wagon sleds’ bound for Caldwell created wide packed down ruts for walking to Town. Without these, walking up to Town would be impossible.
Adelia Melissa Van Ness ( 1921 )
Dating back to earlier days in Montville/Pine Brook, the Van Ness, Van Duyne, Collerd, and Edwards Families were all close and worshipped together at the Pine Brook and Clinton ( section of Caldwell Township ) Methodist Churches. The Collerds moved to the area before 1810 from Bergen Township in Bergen County N.J. ( now Jersey City N.J. ). They soon became one of the largest families in Montville/Pine Brook with large homesteads on Hook Mountain Road and Changebridge Road. Both not far over the Horseneck Bridge from Caldwell Township.
Abram Van Duyne Collerd ( B. 1870 ) married Della Martin Cole ( B. 1873 ). The Cole Homestead was on Horseneck Road in Caldwell Township, and a choice fifty acre farm was being sold by the Pearce Family less than a mile away. Two of their sons were already born in Montville, Morris Edwin ( B. 1893 ) and Ray Elwood ( B. 1895 ). In 1896 Abram and Della moved to the new farm and had three more children there. Lulu M. ( B. 1897 ), Alma Beatrice ( B. 1905 ), and James Wilson ( B. 1912 ).
The Pearce Homestead on Horseneck Road ( #22 ). The Collerd Family moved here in 1896.
Oldest Son Morris started calling on the Van Ness Family at their Dutch Lane home. Adelia was sure Morris was interested in Leah who was much closer in age. But when Leah became engaged to Jean Louis Morrison, Morris continued calling. Adelia then realized that Morris was interested in her. They married November 21, 1923 in the West Caldwell Union Church Parsonage with Leah’s new Husband and two stepsons attending. Mother Sadie was there also, but Father Charles had passed away earlier that year.
“The Collerd and Van Duyne families were the good old type of living people for most part, kind – helpful – loving – and Church going people “
Plans to build a house next to the Collerd Farmhouse on Horseneck Road started immediately. Oddly enough, the large Farm had very narrow frontage on Horseneck Road, requiring the newlyweds to buy a 1/3 acre piece from neighbors Henry and Nancy Schmitt for $300. 1924 continued to be a very busy year as Morris became a Caldwell Township Constable, Fairfield Reformed Church Sexton, and School Attendance ( Truant ) Officer while still working with his Father and Brothers on the Farm.
Adelia and Morris’ Wedding day November 21, 1923. ( L to R ) Jean Louis Morrison, Morris E. Collerd, Adelia Van Ness Collerd, and Leah Van Ness Morrison.
Fifty acres is pretty large for four men to handle, but in most respects, the Collerd Farm was typical for the day in rural Caldwell Township ( Fairfield ). Adelia described it this way :
“The farm was very productive and proved to be very satisfactory. Almost every kind of fruit trees were planted and most every kind of vegetables were raised. Cows and pigs were animals on the farm which furnished milk, butter, cheese and meat. Chickens produced eggs and also meat. All surplus was taken to Paterson and delivered with horse and wagon. And on ( Abram’s ) return, all supplies needed, food for the Family and grain for the animals ( which could not be furnished from the farm ) were bought. The pasture lot was productive also. Both high and low bush huckleberries were plentiful and some were sold in crates.”
The new house was ‘closed in’ but far from finished when they moved in late 1924. The only heat was a kitchen range which made it a one room abode during that first winter.
“No electric – fixtures not installed or kitchen cabinet or floors varnished or woodwork......We managed with a borrowed oil stove – kerosene lamps and a hand pump. There was no furnace or bathroom the first year.”
Morris’ responsibilities as Constable, Church Official, and School Attendance Officer provided almost total knowledge of everybody and everything going on in ‘small town’ Caldwell Township. His life partner Adelia, as his unpaid/unofficial Deputy Assistant, soaked up all the details that would – someday much later - become part of Fairfield’s ‘Story’.
In October 1927 they were “blessed” with their first child Carolyn Anita Collerd. Nearly three years later they were “blessed again” in July 1930 when Lawrence Edwin Collerd was born.
Constable Collerd patrolled the Township with his motorcycle about four hours every evening armed with one of his several revolvers. Highway Route 6 ( Fairfield Road ) was now a major east-west statewide thoroughfare requiring constant patrol and traffic control on weekends. Now as Chief Constable, Morris had several Constables on call when needed ( Charles Voelker Sr., John Filipow, Rudolph Geiger, and Robert Henning ).
Adelia and Morris’ new home ( 1924 ) and ‘Police Station’ #14 Horseneck Road
The Collerd home became the Township’s first ‘Police Station’ with residents frequently stopping by to voice complaints or report crimes. At times, Adelia kept a revolver on her lap if there was any possibility of disturbance. There’s no doubt that Morris or Adelia could name the areas ‘usual suspects’. They also had one of the few telephones in the area. It was a six customer ‘party line’ where each party had a distinctive ring sequence. This also attracted phoneless town folk who needed to reach the ‘outside world’ in an emergency or a matter of great importance.
Municipal Court was scheduled in the former Clinton Schoolhouse, but some cases that were criminal or needed immediate resolution were brought directly to the Judge’s home.
Fairfield’s first ‘Police Car’ (1932 Chevrolet). Owned by Chief Constable Morris E. Collerd
As the Township grew, so did the workload of the Constables. Although Chief Constable was a part-time job, it now had many full-time responsibilities. At the end of 1935, after 11 years, Morris resigned and “never regretted his decision”. Less than two years later, the Township organized a two man Police Department with first Chief Robert Henning assisted by Officer William Vanderhoof Sr. who later became Chief as well. They were headquartered in a newly constructed Municipal Building on Fairfield Road ( 1937 ) across from the greatly expanded Elementary School that Carolyn and Lawrence were attending at the time.
Abram V. Collerd was now a Widower in his late sixties and his Sons were beginning to work jobs off the Farm. Ray was a self employed master carpenter specializing in interior woodwork, and James was a watchman and utility mechanic. The Kemp Brothers Construction Company was seeking a new source of coarse sand for fill and making concrete on highway projects along Route 6. They offered to buy forty acres and their offer was accepted in 1938. The large Collerd orchard soon became a ‘sand pit’ and eventually ‘Boulder Beach’ when the excavation pit later filled with spring water.
The Collerd homes and large barn remained on ten acres along Horseneck Road. Some years later, U.S. Route 46 took a wide right-of-way swath through the Kemp Brothers’ property, and another two acres from the Collerd property.
Morris and Adelia were very active in the Fairfield Reformed Church. Adelia (often shortened to ‘Delia’ by her Friends ) kept busy with the Missionary Society and many other charitable Church activities. Delia also handled many administrative aspects of the cemeteries, including maintenance fundraising for Hillside Cemetery. This became another source of ancestry knowledge and also provided a comprehensive list of descendant contacts of those interred there.
Morris was similarly involved in all aspects of the Churches welfare, and worked diligently on the Church buildings, grounds and cemetery. It was on his way to perform these duties when he was struck by a hit-and-run motorist along Route 6. Morris’ injuries left him unable to perform heavy tasks such as digging graves, but he remained Sexton for another fifteen years. The Children could care for themselves by then, so Delia sought employment to help with the Family expenses. Soon after, she started as a Housekeeper/Locker Room Attendant at the Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell.
Sister Leah moved back home with Mother Sadie shortly after her Husband Jean died in 1939. Leah and Delia began mapping out the Family Trees together ( Edwards, Van Duyne, Jacobus, Mandeville, Vreeland, Ackerman, etc. ). Grandfather Simon Munson Van Ness spent his last years with Delia and Morris and shared his 90 years knowledge of Family lineage, descent and heritage.
“ Much of the ( Family ) information...........came from him “
Daughter Carolyn graduated from Grover Cleveland High School and went on to Secretarial School in Paterson. Then soon took a secretarial position with Bell Telephone. Lawrence graduated High School a few years later, served in the US Army and then went on to became a Surveyor in Caldwell.
Local farm ownership was turning over quite rapidly now as northeastern New Jersey Farmers were selling out and moving west. The Holland Tunnel, George Washington Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel had all opened up between 1927 and 1937 raising property values in Hudson and Bergen Counties dramatically. One such relocating Farm Family were the Pollio’s from Moonachie, N.J. In 1941 they bought the former Wisniewski Farm near the Horseneck Road/ Fairfield Road intersection within a few hundred feet of the Collerd homes. One of the two Pollio boys, Peter, would eventually marry Carolyn who made Delia and Morris Grandparents in 1948 ( Martha ). Peter and Carolyn had five more children, 1950 ( Patricia ). 1951 ( Paul ). 1955 ( Thomas ). 1957 ( Carol ). And 1962 ( Janet ).
Lawrence married Bernice Heath in 1950, and they had two daughters. 1953 ( Susan ) and 1956 ( Donna ).
Unfortunately, Morris took a bad fall and was now virtually bed ridden. Delia retired from Mountain Ridge C.C. to look after him full time, and also watch over her Grandchildren allowing Carolyn to work part time.
“We were very happy those years in spite of accident difficulties which could not be helped and happy because we were able to raise two lovely children. And we also have eight lovely grandchildren. May God bless them all richly”
Delia also had time to occasionally visit Historical Societies and N.J. State Archives to research genealogical and historical records. All of her Friends, Relatives, and Acquaintances were well aware of her passion for genealogical research , local history, and folklore.
About this time Jim and Anne Harte began publishing the Fairfield Edition of “The Chronicle”. Anne learned of Delia’s extensive knowledge of the areas past and convinced her to write a column entitled “This WAS Fairfield”. Delia also had an extensive collection of old-time photographs to accompany dozens of potential subjects. If Delia didn’t have a photograph, she would locate one through her network of peers. There was never a lack of determination or resourcefulness with Delia.
The Chronicle’s ‘This WAS Fairfield’ Column was written by Mrs. Morris E. Collerd ( 1971 - 1975 )
As already noted, Delia’s life experiences as Newspaper girl, Constable’s Wife, School Attendance Officer, Cemetery Administrator, and Church Volunteer allowed her to build a reliable network among Neighbors and Relatives that reached back over a century.
The new Chronicle Column was a success and became a new source of research when calls and letters arrived from near and far inquiring about Fairfield ancestors and other historical topics of interest. Delia never missed an opportunity to learn more and a few of these inquiries were developed into future Columns.
At age 82, with 52 of these years with Delia, Morris’ health was failing. Sadly he passed away October 19, 1975 the very day the Fairfield Reformed Church celebrated its venerable designation as a New Jersey and National Historical Landmark.
Delia was now dealing with diabetes and lost one leg, than another due to poor blood circulation. Her fate was to spend her remaining days wheelchair bound at the Hilltop Nursing Home that overlooked her 1903 birthplace. Despite these devastating setbacks, her mental acuity and sharpness never faded. She wrote and rewrote her notes repeatedly, rechecking and reinforcing her incredible memory. This, her love of God and Family kept her very much alive.
Mr. and Mrs. Morris E. Collerd - 1974
Nothing on this earth made Delia happier than her great grandchildren crawling up into her wheelchair to give her hugs and kisses. It didn’t matter if their surnames were Eisenhour, Plumb, or Pollio. Like her, they were all descendents of the ‘Father of Fairfield’ - Simon Van Ness.
“The Ancestors if they could live today and see what they had produced with Gods help, would be so amazed they would hardly believe it to be possible in just 275 years of living in America. Morris and myself ( a Van Ness before marriage ) have had wonderful God loving parentage for most part which in its self has made for us a happy life in spite of our many handicaps so far. We have spent 51 years of our life together and we know God will take care of us in the future as always.”
Delia made sure that all internment details were planned well in advance of both Morris’ and her own burials at the Fairfield Reformed Church Cemetery. She had the Button / Collerd Plot ( Emma Button was a Van Duyne relative ) headstone completed with everything except the last two digits of the year of their death. This was three years before Morris passed away and twelve years prior to her own death July 23, 1984. If it was going to be for eternity, Delia made sure it was going to be right.
Snapshot of gravestone taken by “Adelia M. Van Ness” Collerd herself Sept. 15, 1972
Exactly thirty years after her death, a great grandson Thomas P. Pollio* became engaged to Erin Van Duyne and they married a year later. (Thomas had two lines of ancestors who were Van Duynes ) You can almost imagine a loving voice from above :
“ How truly wonderful, God Bless you both, and.............I’ll be looking into that “
Rest in Peace Adelia. You are a true Fairfield legacy that will never to be forgotten.
Biographical Sketch by : Grandson Paul R. Pollio firstname.lastname@example.org (973) 627-6424