A Magic Triangle: Ten Ho-Ho-Kus Houses

My Ho-Ho-Kus triangle (Google Earth image)

Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, USA

One’s childhood neighbourhood is usually a memorable place.

Along with many others who grew up in this small town in northern New Jersey — and who graciously shared their memories in comments on my post, ‘Downtown Ho-Ho-Kus: 1960’s and Today’ — I know how lucky I am to have been raised in a beautiful community and to have such positive memories.

Thanks to Google Earth, we can now view 3-D images of where we once lived; though many places have changed, some have not. In Ho-Ho-Kus, much still looks the same. The shop I knew as Mufson’s may now sell children’s clothing, but the downtown character has been preserved. When you get into the residential neighbourhoods, it appears time has almost stood still.

Some houses, like Janet’s, have had additions built onto the original structures, but otherwise most look exactly the same as when my late brother Rob and I grew up here. The triangle of Gilbert Road, Glendon Road, and Blauvelt Avenue was the core of our first world. And speaking of triangles, it was only when we drove around the block and I took photos for this post that I realised how many of the houses in this part of Ho-Ho-Kus, known as ‘Cheelcroft’ after the 1920’s architect, seem to have a large triangular shape at the front.

Without further ado, I thought I’d share ten of the houses (by name of the children who lived there at the time), whose residents, rooms, and yards made up so much of that special time and place.

Ten Ho-Ho-Kus Houses

1. Carol (my family nickname) and Robby, my younger brother’s house — marked with a red star on the triangle image

Carol and Robby's house

If not the centre of the universe, it was close to it for us — a place that always felt loving and safe, thanks to my mother. Two years ago, clearing and selling this house when my mother moved to assisted living was one of the most difficult experiences — physically and emotionally — of my life.  I couldn’t have done it without Clive.

2. Next-door up the hill: Martha, Phil, and David’s house

Martha, Phil, and David's house (ours to the right)

Our next-door neighbours had a beautiful back yard, where Rob, Phil and David played a lot of baseball.  I often ran alongside their games, through the network of connecting back yards, to Karl and Linda’s house (see #7).

3. Across the street: Frankie’s house

Frankie's house

Frank was/is an only child and was relatively quiet when we were young, but he sometimes played with the neighbourhood kids. Other times, his friend Biff came over to play. Frankie’s house backs onto a strip we called the ride-away (an ancient trolley-track right-of-way) — subject for a future post — as does the next house on the list.

4. Across the street and up one: Susan, Libby, Kathy, Freddy, and Margaret’s house

Susan, Libby, Kathy, Freddy, and Margaret's house

One lunchtime when my mother — quite uncharacteristically — ran out of bread, she sent me across the street with a note asking my friends’ mother if we could ‘borrow’ a piece. Libby met me at the door with a note in hand from her mother to mine: “Dottie, I have just run out of bread! Do you possibly have a few pieces I could ‘borrow’?” My eight year-old sense of humour found this terribly amusing.

After I went to college, this family moved to the next town and the Ho-Ho-Kus mayor and his family moved in. My mother used to say Gilbert Road always got plowed first on snow days because the mayor lived across the street.

5. Next door down the hill, on the corner of Gilbert and Glendon: Barbara, Nancy, and Patricia’s house

Barbara, Nancy, and Patricia's house

The most important thing about this house is its driveway; I could run to the back of my house, cut through down the driveway, and be at my friend Renee’s house (see #6 next) in about fifteen seconds.

Sometimes I babysat for Nancy and Patricia; all three girls were younger than I. Their mother was the neighbour who kept a spare key to our house. I can’t remember even one time my mother wasn’t home when Rob and I walked in after elementary school, but I do recall several times in high school when I forgot my keys and went next-door to get the spare.

6. Renee’s house

Renee's house

The large left side of this house was an addition after Renee’s family moved away, but when we were in elementary school, the house still seemed big to me. Renee had three toy poodles: Pete (grey), Bonnie (white), and their daughter, Mitzi (black). Renee and I played a lot of card games and jacks in her TV room. Her mother usually wore her hair in a French twist and I thought she was beautiful.

7. Behind us, on Glendon Road: Karl, Linda, Jeffrey, and Susie’s house

Karl, Linda, Jeffrey, and Susie's house

This house was/is across the street from Renee’s, and its back yard connects with our next-door neighbour’s house (#2). Sometimes I babysat for the two younger children; other times, Rob and I played with Karl and Linda.

8. Behind our next-door neighbour, on Blauvelt Avenue: Jody and Kari’s house

Jody and Kari's house

Jody was a year younger than Rob and sometimes joined the backyard baseball games. Their mother was strict but liked me well enough to hire me to babysit little Kari once in a while.

9. Down Gilbert Road: Coke (Corinne), Craig, Scott, Bruce, Brett, and Ricky’s house

Coke (Corinne), Craig, Scott, Bruce, Brett, and Ricky's house

This family of mostly boys — except for the oldest, who was a few years older than I was — was where Rob played with Ricky, who was closest to him in age. On the morning after Rob was killed in an automobile accident, their father came to our house; I have an enduring memory of him standing on the pathway to our front door, weeping.

10. Around the corner from #9, on Hollywood Avenue: Mabs (Mary Anne), Mercer, Austin, and Taffy’s house

Mabs (Mary Anne), Mercer, Austin, and Taffy's house

While Rob played with the boys at house #9, I loved all the girls at house #10. Mabs and I were/are in the same class, and our mothers were also good friends. We ran to and from each other’s houses via the ride-away: across the street, cut through house #2 driveway, run down the ride-away, straight into Mabs’ back yard.

So Many Others

Beyond the inner triangle, so many other houses hold memories: Susan and Brenda’s up the street on the corner of Gilbert and Blauvelt; Barbara’s on Blauvelt; then a bit farther up, Janet’s and Bobbie’s after that (hi again, Bobbie, if you’re reading this!). In the other direction, Kathy’s on the way to school; Jeanie’s across from the school; and Eleanor’s after that, as shown in ‘My Old Ho-Ho-Kus Street’.

It was just a suburban neighbourhood, like a million others, but in it were kids of all ages who played together — normal childhood squabbles and tears notwithstanding — no matter what. Renee, Frank, Mabs, and Scott were my age; everyone else was older or younger but we all had fun and got along (except for the mean girls down the street whose house is not included here).

That time seems so innocent to me now, my memories almost mundane in today’s world:  running, playing with dolls on front steps or hide-and-seek in backyards, riding our bikes, sledding down Gilbert Road, making forts and snowmen, sharing toys and books and snacks.  Children grew up and real life intervened, as it does, but in hindsight those years, in that place, did hold a measure of magic.   

One of the realities of living overseas is that sometimes you miss important events. In 2006, my Ho-Ho-Kus graduating class got together and several of the old gang visited my mother. My son happened to be with her for the weekend on a university break, and took a photo of everyone together.

Kathy, Debbie, Mom, Renee, Gary, Biff, Frank -- 2006

How about you — was there a magic triangle — or circle, square, or star — around your childhood home?

Next Up: My First Guest Post

The next post will be by Clive, on a rather sensitive subject (in my view) about which he has some definite opinions.

Cheers and happy memories.

19 Responses

  1. Wow Carolyn the houses are amazing, with so much land around them. Not like in the UK where you are sat on top of each other.. .. Such a wonderful place to live as a child.

    I have no triangle, circle or anything .. We didn’t have a childhood home, being with the Forces.. didn’t get one until about 10 I think.. lived in until about 16 I think.. then moved to a town.

    Since being with Arni , I have lived in 5 houses .. in 3 different parts of UK.. Wales (3 houses) Northants (1) and this one .. still itching to move.. been here 5 years nearly.

  2. I love this. Everyone’s names sounds like they are straight out of a 1950s Dick and Jane book. I can’t believe you had SO many kids right there in your neighborhood. Makes me realize that my neighborhood was different than that!

    What a wonderful look into your Ho-Ho-Kus past, a real piece of Americana.

    Ooh, excited that Clive is finally going to post about the secret topic! Can’t wait to read . . . .

  3. Hi Carol,

    I always thought the section of Ho-Ho-Kus where your home was located was so attractive–then and now. Lovely homes, neat lawns, and attractive yards. On our street some of the folks have lived here since the 1950s-1960s when many of the homes were built. Dave grew up with a number of the children, although he is the only second generation living on the street and, of course, in the same house, albeit with some differences!

    I think Brian and Rebecca feel the same way about State College as you and I did about Ho-Ho-Kus–a great place to be from and to grow up in. The residential areas around Penn State have expanded a good deal, and fewer children are living in the borough area. Dave names so many kids who lived right in this immediate area as you and I can do when we think about our growing up years and all the neighborhood kids we knew and played with in Ho-Ho-Kus. Now kids are spread out so much more over one borough and 5 townships that make up the local school district. I’m always glad to see the kids next door out playing–it reminds me of my own happy times.


  4. Oh Carolyn

    Havent times changed!!
    I wish my boys could be brought up in this environment.
    On one side of us we have a retired couple, on the other a homosexual couple with their 2 dogs. Across the street we have a mentally instable man who really needs to be comitted to an institution. Further than that we really dont know our neighbours. There arent any kids in the whole street for my kids to play with. Not only that, thanks to society I wouldnt dare let my kids roam the streets with friends. What a shame it has gotten to this stage. I think your childhood sounds wonderful.

  5. Thanks for the wonderful comments, everyone.

    Anne, appreciate your kind words — and wow about ‘the Forces’ and living in so many places! Even with Arni, five houses — and three in Wales – very cool! It’s funny you’re itching to move after five years 🙂

    KimB, it is amazing about the sheer number of children — when writing the post, I almost couldn’t believe it myself. We are the Boomers, for sure! (And there were more! in the houses in between, but they were really old, like in high school … ) My h.s. graduating class was a mere 715 or so.

    Eleanor — isn’t it amazing how we can indeed name so many of the children who made up our childhood and school classes!? It’s great Dave does the same 🙂

    MrsChipnDale, hello! and thanks for a view from today 🙂 I wouldn’t let my son roam the streets now, either, and when you describe your neighbourhood it’s interesting how ‘varied’ it is (I’m sorry about the one across the street, though – sounds terrible). Times have definitely changed so much — we had no computers, video/DVD, or hand-held electronics — I guess we had no choice but to go outside and find the other kids! Each generation has its own special memories and I have no doubt your children will have hundreds of precious ones thanks to you and your husband.

    Thanks again everyone – it was fun to write this and I appreciate the lovely thoughts and comments.

  6. What a beautiful post. Reading it, I feel like I have watched a really good movie about times past, magic times, like you write. I can see the children playing, having fun, in my mind as I looked at the pictures and read the stories with each. I love some of the children’s names, too — like Coke for Corinne and Taffy. I think what you say here is so true: “…we had no computers, video/DVD, or hand-held electronics — I guess we had no choice but to go outside and find the other kids!” Yes, times change and each generation will have special memories, but I think the time you and your compatriots got to grow up in was a really special one. Kind of idyllic, really. Thanks for sharing all of this, Carolyn!

  7. Love those cheelcroft homes, I heard there is a move to have them designated for historical preservation. The home I grew up in was designed, built and lived in by Harold Cheelcroft himself. After his daughter died, his widow moved across the street from our house and lived there until her 100 birthday. Oh the memories you are conjuring up for me. Since I am still in touch with Bobbie, Onzie and Betsy…. we love to reminisce of the good old days. I still stay in touch with Anne who was in the kindergarten photo front and center. She went on to St Lukes for 1st grade and moved to DC in middle school but we still stay in touch. She is a world traveler too, has lived in 11 countries with the state dept. Remember Noel, lived across the street from Mabs and had xmas as her birthday. Scott in your post was the boy who broke up with me because I didn’t want to be kissed. I was 12 and my grandfather reminded me that there are many fish in the sea. Once again thanks for the memories. I really do wish I had stopped by to see your Mom during the reunion. We drove by.

  8. Karin, thanks so much for your lovely comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post/photos — and the names 🙂 Some of those nicknames really were representative of our Baby Boomer era. Really appreciate your kind thoughts — thanks again!

    Janet, thanks to you, too – such great memories! I remember Anne a little — and Mabs and Scott are also in our kindy photo 🙂 I do remember Noel, too – actually took a photo of her house as well but just couldn’t fit them all in the post. It’s great you keep in touch with everyone – please give them all my best. And how cool Mr. Cheelcroft lived in your house!

    Take care and thanks again for the great comments.

  9. Carolyn. I love reading your blog and your stories about the old Ho-Ho-Kus hood. Thanks for posting the great photo of our house next door. My brother Phil and Nan live there now. A friend of mine from HKS class of 1961 sent me some postcards pics of town which I’d like to forward to you – how can I do that?

    Anyway, it’s like going back in time to read your stories and I also loveto read about Sydney and Paris. Will be in Ho-Ho-Kus in October for reunion..maybe some day we’ll run ito each other.

    Take care,

    Your old neighbor

  10. MarthaB, how great to see you here — thanks for visiting and your nice comment! I’m glad you like the blog and photos 🙂 — great to know Phil and Nan are still on Gilbert Road.

    You can use the ‘contact’ page at the top of this blog, or direct to mysydneyparislife@gmail.com

    Thanks and cheers – hope to see you again in Ho-Ho-Kus!

  11. i remember your mom well. my mother really liked her. she was a lovely lady. our family was so upset when robby was killed. such a horrific loss.

    (i lived next door to the greggs on 3 hollis drive and was in robby’s grade)

  12. Teri, welcome and thank you so very much for your comment. I appreciate your remembrance of my mother and Robby. It means a lot — hope you are well and your mom is too.

    Hollis Drive is still gorgeous as you may know – what a great neighbourhood you had there.

    Cheers and all the best – thanks again!

  13. Carolyn, I thought you might like to see this great article on our little hometown. http://njmonthly.com/articles/towns_and_schools/the-1-town-ho-ho-kus.html

    Formerly 82 Carlton Ave, HHK

  14. Amanda, thank you!

    What a great article — Ho-Ho-Kus the #1 town in New Jersey Monthly’s 2011 Top Towns survey (I didn’t know there was such a thing!) is just great.

    I really appreciate your sharing this – cheers and thanks again.

  15. I was refered to this site by Joe Evans son of former Mayer Evans (late 50’s to mid 60’s) and found it very interesting. I started to practise veterinary medicine on Brookside Ave shortly after moving here in 1961. Although now retired I continue my reidence in town and have no plans to move elsewhere. My daughter Judy graduated from the Ho-Ho-Kus school in 1979 and then went on to graduate from Midland Park the then high school the town used. After the bitter election that was held by the town and Ridgewood to unify the two school systems was rejected by both the village and Ho-Ho-Kus the high school chosen was Midland Park. It was a big mistake and both towns realized it almost immediatly. Ho-Ho-Kus lost some residents because of it. Anyway this blog brought back many memories.

    • Hello Les, I knew your daughter well through your relationship with my Mother Carol Conger. I as well as my brother Brad have tried to find Judy for many years and would love to know where she resides and if you have a contact for her? Hope your doing well.

      • Hello Lester and Susan — thanks for your comments and interesting HHK history!

        Cheers and best wishes making the contacts with each other.

  16. Lester, hello and thanks so much for your comment and sharing your Ho-Ho-Kus experience! How interesting you had the veterinary practice there.

    It’s still a wonderful town and I think its great you have no plans to move elsewhere. I love going back to visit and often drive my mom around the familiar streets and landmarks (school, downtown, etc.).

    My class was well before your daughter’s so we missed out on the later controversy surrounding the high school decision. It’s good HHK is still considered such a desirable place to live.

    Cheers and thanks again for your comment.

  17. What an enchanting storybook style neighborhood to have lived in as a child. We are very lucky in the United States of American to have neighborhoods like this. You can find them all over and especially in the major cities along the East Coast. The Tudor and English cottage architecture is sublime and never goes out of style! Cheelcroft dates back to the very early 1930s at least and these homes have certainly stood the test of time unlike the newer homes of today that are built with cheap and flimsy materials that will never last as long. Growing up in a neighborhood filled with children is also a wonderful thing and will allow one to cherish the memories of it forever. Thanks for posting this.

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