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Clarice R. Custer
This is Clifton Cox representing the Teaneck Historal Project. November 19, 1985. We are now interviewing Clarice Custer who was originally from the Cole family, one of the early families in this area.
(I) Clarice, give us some background of your family, the Cole family.
(N) Well, in my searching of my, looking for information on my own family, I have come up with two different entrances into this country in the early, well around, both are dated in and around the 1640s. One entrance was by a Cole, a British gentleman, a man of letters. And the other entry was perhaps even a little earlier but it was a Cole also, and this second entry was a Cole who was from Holland, and the name was also spelled Kool and there Dutch aspect. We knew that Cole, C-O-L-E, the derivation of it is definitely British but it was very interesting to find that we did have a Cole or a Kool, dependinq on the pronunciation of the Dutch as opposed to the British, who came over here and migrated directly into Bergen County. And it is interesting to note that later the Coles found and married girls of Dutch and primarily Dutch. . .
(I) What family name did they marry into, do you remember?
(N) Yes, they married into the Shuarts. As a matter of fact, there is a Mr. Shuart who today is I believe he is the manaqer of the township of Ho-Ho-Kus. And he is active. And the name is still very well known. Now Shuart was, that was Susan Shuart who that Cole married. And that was my father's grandmother.
(I) But going back a little further, you mentioned that your mother's name was what?
(N) Then that comes into my history much later you see.
(I) Oh, that's later. Your mother's
(N) Much later. About ten or fifteen minutes from now you can ask me about that family. But the Shuarts, as I said, are very well known in the county and then my grandmother, my paternal grandmother, was a Bogert. She was a Bogert. And no one needs to be told about this family because they made themselves very prominent and they distinguished themselves over and over.
(I) Now the Bogerts grandmother was on which side of the family, your father's or your mother's?
(N) My father's. This concerns just my father's family. And so that takes care of that. Now Granny, who was Susan Shuart who married, she married, his name was either Jacob Isaac or Isaac Jacob Cole and his remains are today as we speak they lie in the cemetery up in Dumont in the center of town, that cemetery there just down the street from the old North Reformed Church which was my father's church when he was a boy.
(I) Do you recall any part that the Coles played in the formation of the Teaneck township?
(N) No, because as I explained several times, my family was not, they were not politically nor financially distinquished. We were very comfortable you understand financially but we never bouqht up half the town or anything like that and to use it for development purposes if you understand what I mean because this is what happened. People came in here as they still do today. They invest a good deal of money. And then the name is perpetuated you see. But my family did not, I can make no claim to anything like that because we were iust a very comfortable living middle class family. My I was raised in the bosom of my maternal family which is, that is the familv that you wanted me to mention. My maternal family is the Liefferts. And that, my grandfather came to this country when he was 18. He came here from Stuttgart and he was educated and he was trained to be a designer. He was a designer, he was a musician. That is when I say a designer, I mean a fine jewelry designer. And they settled here in Teaneck and his house was the seventh house in what then was referrred to as Manhattan Heights. Now I haven't searched the local records to find out if that was a prior, the name Teaneck is very, very old and it goes back a long way. It could be very possible that Manhattan Heights was given as a developer's name, you know, like when people came in. It had to be advertised because my grandparents came over here, they first settled in Brooklyn, you see, and so maybe they, and I have no statement to repeat from my family as to how did you happen to come to Teaneck? I can only imagine that it could very possibly have been through a land advertisement, real estate advertisement in the papers.
(I) Do you remember where the house was located in Teaneck?
(N) Oh yes. It stands today.
(I) What street and what ...
(N) My grandparents house still stands. It is 1180 summit Avenue right off East Forest Avenue. That's on the east side of Teaneck Road. And it was a delightful white framed typical Jersey farmhouse.
(I) And you said that house is still standing today?
(N) Yes but the, to begin with, my grandmother had the front of it enclosed which I deplored because even as a kid, I realized that she was taking something away from the house and indeed when I came of age, when you start to appreciate houses and look to buy one yourself, I realized that we had there an authentic early Bergen County farmhouse and its whole original authenticity is now hidden. Now the present owners went further and put a brick siding on it so that it doesn't look the way it should look but nevertheless, that's the house. That was the seventh house in Teaneck and you can identify it by the fieldstone foundation and the fieldstone foundation remains to declare its authenticity.
(I) Another thing, your family was one of the first families with other families of course to form the Presbyterian Church down on 1 Church Street.
(N) Yes, they got together and they were holding Sunday prayer meetings and doing their Sunday worship in one another's homes and in our particular neighborhood, it was the Leifferts, the Frankes which was Lita (I always dearly loved Lita) , and the Olivers (Mr. & Mrs. Thomas H. Oliver). And it might be interesting for you to note too that in addition to being, I don't think, was Thomas H. Oliver or Dell Oliver, did their siqnatures appear on the original charter of our church?
(I) I don't know.
(N) I think so. Because if the Frankes did then surely the Olivers were there. And undoubtedly I am forgettinq some names but I can't say that I'm, I do this all the time, every day of the week, you know, and I am a little bit nervous but... and I might also mention just as an aside that at the time that I was born, Mr. Oliver aside from being the first postmaster here, in West Englewood, that was before we had a Teaneck railway station and Cedar Lane shopping and all that. That was long, long before that. Why he was the first postmaster in town and he was also the notary public and he was also the local health officer to whom all births and deaths had to be reported and that sort of thing. You know.
(I) That's the clerk of record there.
(N) And he signed, his siqnature is on my birth certificate.
(I) So now you were born here and you went to Sunday School in this Presbyterian Church.
(N) Yes, as a matter of fact, attending Sunday School takes me back a long, lonq way because when you, of course you were immediately placed on the cradle role when you christened.
(I) What year was that would you say approximately?
(N) Well I was born in 1915 and so I guess I was, at that time they put, the families of the church put the baby's name on the cradle role right away and so and then we had a little Sunday School class for little people like two, three years old and in those days, children had to be very well behaved. That was the first thinq that you were tauqht. You were taught your manners and you were taught to go into church and sit down and remain quiet. Yes, children were still being seen and not heard althouqh I was never suppressed. There is plenty of ways and times for children to be, express themselves, you know. But attending Sunday School in our old fieldstone Presbyterian Church in the Nursery class. Now that Nursery class was to the rear of the sanctuary and behind big sliding and folding doors in the old church. And this room, it was flooded with golden morning sunshine and was warm and cozy and I loved Auntie Phillips, our teacher, who made learninq and singing about Jesus such a lovely experience. She was the wife of who I used to call Uncle Bob Phillips whose family, the Phillips family, owned one of the most beautiful farms in Teaneck. It was just a joy. There was the Phillips farm and the, on the hill where the high school stands today, I can remember walking up the country road that, well if I had to place it, I would have to place it on the south side of Route 4 and you would be walking west and when you were walking on that old countrv road, you could see in addition to the farm being to one side, right over the hill there were beautiful orchards, just a beautiful orchard, and the sight of that was just absolutely breathtakinq, like in the afternoon when the sun was setting. Everyone knows the gorgeous sunsets you can see in Teaneck. The trees, the wonderful trees in Teaneck, keep us from seeing the sunset but if you go down where you can view it, every day you can see this gorgeous sunset.
(I) Do you remember where the school was located Clarice?
(N) Which school?
(I) The grammar schools or the...
(N) At that time? Why the, my mother and Lita and Ruth Schroder who was a Middlemiss, do you know the Middlemiss chimes in our church today, well that was an old family of our church and as a matter of fact, Ruth Schroder Middlemiss is my godmother and then also, in those times, there had to be women who were trained more or less and did what they did along with a doctor. There weren't always professional nurses to be had. Traveling was difficult. Women didn't drive in those days. And Mrs. Middlemiss was my mother's nurse at my birth.
(I) Like a midwife?
(N) No, no. No, a midwife delivers. Delivers children. Oh no. This was, as a matter of fact, Dr. Valentine Rouche from Englewood and later his brother Louie Rouche, I might say, delivered and awful lot of babies that were born in that era. And I speak of the era of around 1915. And they were still there was only one way, the roads were so bad and the snows were so deep and conditions were so rural that they could only travel by horse and buggy. And there had to be somebody, too, as a matter of fact, he would, the doctor, the first doctor, it was a must. He stopped and picked up his nurse. Now I don't know who Mrs. Middlemiss worked with but I do know that for years, my grandrnother worked with both Dr. Valentine Rouche and Dr. Louie Rouche and they were both founders and appear in the old records of the huge Englewood Hospital which stands today.
(I) That's important.
(N) Yes, and of course Hackensack Hospital, I had my tonsils out in Hackensack Hospital. Now this is about 1919 and it was a, it was not anywhere near as big as it is now. It was just a small building you understand any anybody could see the early pictures of the hospitals, you know, anyplace. But I remember, this was, oh my goodness, I was an only child and this was a major occurrence in our family because I had to be given ether for this and of course my mother just was almost frantic, you know, that, but as you can see, I survived.
(I) Now as vou grew older and went to school and graduated, you met a young man ...
(N) Well, no, that didn't come until much later. That came much later. I wanted to tell you about the school, about the school. My mother attended originally that old wooden school building that had been moved over to the playground on the corner of Teaneck Road and Church Street. You don't remember it. That was again moved over to Bedford Avenue. Now that building was originally the Town Hall I think. That was originally the local Town Hall. And then they built the first building or somethinq but anyway I do know that that building was turned into a school house where my mother went to school. And somewhere in my home here I have pictures and some day when I dig deep enough, why I am going to relinquish those pictures. I'll turn them over to the library, whatever pictures I find. But that school building then was physically raised and moved over to the lot on the corner of Church Street and Teaneck Road. That would be just south of where the Presbyterian Church stands now. And the, I had the pleasure of sitting in a class, I only attended one year in that building because by that time, Teaneck was beginning to fill up and our classes were overpopulated. Just had a few too many children and so what they called the overflow was put into that old school building which had been the old Town Hall and who turned out to be my teacher for that year, because we couldn't have departmental work because they weren't prepared for it yet so for one year I had Miss Lucy Marsh who was my mother's teacher in the same school building. And I think that is a very interesting thing.
(I) Yes it is.
(N) And then later the what is now the Washington Irving School was built and I finished, I guess I had been up until about the third or fourth grade, in Washington Irving in the brick building then we were part of the overflow and we went over to the old school house building and then we came back and from that building, then the old school house building was moved across Teaneck Road to Bedford Avenue and from that point on, it was used by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and I did not have, mine was the first eighth grade class that did not have an eighth grade graduation because now we went up to the brand new high school. And that was quite a walk. As a matter of fact, when I was going to junior high school, so that meant that I had to do the eighth and ninth grades in the new school and Route 4 was not finished and so we used to walk over mounds and mounds of earth while work was going on. They had put up, one of the first things they did was to complete the overpass because of the school kids. Now I may have, I apologize if I have any time element. I am accurate on my own personal time element but I do remember walking over mounds of earth and it was bitterly cold. We had some bitter cold winters in those days. But and I do know that Route 4, the highway, and all of the overpasses, there was a lot of work still going on and so but then we were promised a much more elaborate graduation because we were the first ninth grade. We were the first junior high graduation you see. And so I thought that was very interesting.
(I) Before we get too far Clarice, I was hoping that you might bring out a little bit about during the Revolutionary War. Part of the people in this area faced a lot of atrocities and things from the enemy soldiers coming in and, could you tell us a little something about it? You don't have to,
(N) Well these are, this is common knowledqe to any of the early families. Stories are passed down in any family. This was not a legend or a folk tale. This is what actually happened. The people were, now of course, now we are talking about my father's family because I am a Cole and my father's family naturally comes from, well Dumont and north, all areas north of Dumont. Ho-Ho-Kus, Closter, Cresskill and when I was, how long were we married when we bought our house in Cresskill? We were married about six years. About 1941-42. In about 1941 or 1942, we bought our own home in Cresskill just east of the Camp Merritt monument and when we invited mother and dad to come up and see our home, my father said to my husband, I should say that he told my husband that, he said I thought that this was where the house was that you bought. He said, this is on the original Cole grant so inadvertently, I mean we didn't know, we didn't know that this was the land you see and inadvertently I returned to my family's land.
(I) Because the grants covered such a wide area evidently.
(N) Yes, yes. I don't know how, now the only way that I can get the actual details about that grant is I have been told just recently over at the County Seat that I must contact the Board of Land Proprietors, is that what they call themselves, Board of Proprietors in Perth Amboy, New Jersey and they keep accurate records of all of those land grants. Now so then I realized, as I said, that I had returned to my own people's land. And
(I) This was part of your roots.
(N) Right. And so of course as I explained earlier, my family branched out in all different directions in the county and you can trace the family, you can find my family name as far northeast as Provincetown, through New England, out through the middle west because you see everybody did not stay in the same point but believe me, they left a goodly number of people here because we, as I say, we were a very prolific family.
(I) They multiplied and they were pioneers.
(N) Yes, and we were the heart of any land as people you know. And you'll find us on all roads, in every war, everything that ever happened with the exception of the Mayflower. No we did not come over on the Mayflower. So, but we, there were stories in our family too and that's what started me speaking about our house in Cresskill because Cresskill was one of the main routes. That is a route going east to west of the British and Hessian troops that came over. Well they were invading the whole countryside.
(I) The Hessian soldiers were hired by the British government? The King of England?
(N) Well of course I suppose yes. And they were just referred to as redcoats because they were all, that's what they all had. They were redcoats. Their uniforms were bright red. And when the people heard them coming, there was nothing but stark fear that came into their hearts because they knew there was no place for them to go and they were just small families scattered miles and miles apart. And the horrifying tale was told of how they would break into the home, you know, and the first thing thev would do would be to tie up the father, the man of the household, or anv other man that might be there and then they would ravage the mother and when I say that they would ravage her, they did just exactly that. They ravaged her and they tortured her and when they saw she was about to die and that she would be of no more use, they gorged her bosoms, they gorged her breasts out of her body. And if there was a baby, they would spear the baby in the cradle and impale it on the mantle.
(I) Did any of your family experience any of these atrocities that you recall?
(N) I have no doubt that they did. And it was never, we can never relate this story without crying because the people suffered terribly under that horrible time.
(I) They didn't have any defense.
(N) No, they had no defense and of course my family was indeed very much there during the Revolutionary period and sometime in the not too distant future, I hope to, if you want it, I hope to have more explicit, I hope to have some dates and a little bit more definitive outline.
(I) Now, going forward somewhat, you met a Charles Custer who is a descent of General Custer. Now could you give us some background as to this man that you ultimately married and had children of your own. Could you tell us something about that?
(N) Well, my husband is (husband talking) first cousin, twice removed. My grandfather, Major J.D. Custer, was the first cousin of George A., General Georqe A. Custer. My grandfather was very, very fond of his cousin and when Grant sent him out to the west, after being in Washington with all the charges, my grandfather hated Grant till the day he died.
(I) Do you remember what year that was Charlie?
(I) So Charlie was General Custer's first cousin, twice removed?
(N) Yes, and we met through mutual friends and as a matter of fact, we met at an alumni, high school alumni gatherinq at the old Phelps Manor Country Club which is not there anymore. And it was a Christmas Dance. So I wasn't the least, I don't think I was impressed at all. I had no reason to be because I just simply thought that everybody was here just forever, you know what I mean? And in those times, we were brought up to love everyone and we were still a small town and everybody was your friend and the name Custer and I think the most I might have said was, oh you mean like in the history books? And that's probably all we said about it, you know.
(I) In other words, you weren't in awe by him being the distant cousin of General Custer because it didn't have that much significance to you?
(N) Well, it just was like I said, it was part of a history book and for that matter, I was part of a history book too although not quite as distinguished. I mean he was a very distinguished gentleman. It is very hard for people to believe that General Custer, he neither drank nor smoked. He used no abusive language. And so people had to say something about him. So they painted him as being quite a dandy but he did quite a good job before he left this earthly plain and many people contributed to his demise which was indeed a loss. I think he might have made a very distinguished and very good president. But who are we to know?
(I) They sort of paint him as a national hero.
(N) Well I think he was. You know, he was very colorful and after all, you take all of the, even the, good, bad or indifferent, all of the heroes out west, why you go out to the Dakotas and you just better have nothing but good to say about George A. because he's placed in high regard and indeed he was a friend to the very Indians that attacked and he, but he couldn't go against his orders and his, I am not an historian and I don't think I am going to go any further with this conversation because ...
(I) Well you and Charlie Custer got married and you had how many children?
(N) Oh, we have four daughters. My oldest daughter is Carolyn Jane, Susan Bogert, Ruth Ann Elizabeth and Gail Dorothy.
(I) And they all went to school here in Teaneck?
(N) All went through Teaneck schools and two of my daughters graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson and Susan went on to achieve her Masters degree in English Literature at Manhattan College in New York.
(I) And what do you think of the Teaneck school system?
(N) Well I think that the Teaneck school system is a fine system but I understand that there is something that they had been talking about for a long time, I hope comes about. A lot of changes and a lot of improvements and a lot of additions have to be made. All school systems have to corne up to the times that we live in now. And I have always had a great deal of respect for educators because they do a tremendous job and
(I) You've been in a position to see a lot of changes take place in the system?
(N) I have had many friends who went into the teaching profession and even into higher learning and teaching and I think they deserve nothing but our respect and our regard and of course as you know and everybody knows, they are always in the line of criticism.
(I) Can you remember when the Teaneck school system - the town of Teaneck was one of the first cities in the country to carry out that integration in such a fine way?
(N) Oh but you see, we had always had very good solid citizens with us amongst the black people. We had outstanding families and they too were fighting the same wars and doing all the same things and they were tilling the same land and they were suffering the same elements here because the weather used to be much more severe through here than it is now and I don't know why but the ones, I always had, there were always black children in our classes in school. Maybe some of the schools in Teaneck didn't get that because they didn't offer the transportation at the time you see. But we in Washington Irving we did and they came from good families and so that I don't know anything about showing partiality or anything like that. And a name that stands out when you say an outstanding family always reminds me of the family of Washingtons in Englewood. The Washington family. They were a perfectly wonderful family, contributed to (husband speaks) they were slaves of George Washington's brother and they were family as he explained it to me. He said, we were not mistreated. (wife) Of course that's a big subject and that's the other, I don't want to go into it. One branch of my family was involved in the underground railroad up in Harrington Park I think it was.
(I) Which family was that?
(N) The Coles.
(I) The Coles were part of the underground railroad.
(N) Oh yes. Helping the black people as they came up to the north. They had to be helped all the way along the line. (husband) You have on River Road down below Cedar Lane the Kipp House. That belonged to Mrs. Kipp and Mrs. (inaudible) Mrs. had one colored(and I say colored so you can differentiate) family slave with her that had been born in the Kipp family and she used to walk three paces behind. She was one of the family. But she never gave up the habit of walking behind the mistress. She used to go shopping with her. And I remember well, as a matter of fact, I've got a painting upstairs of the Kipp House that I did a lot of years ago. What nobody has ever said about the Sloan Slave Cabin, and it was there between the Town Hall and where the school was, it sat right on the road, you might remember this, down on Teaneck Road. I don't know the history of the Sloan but I never heard anybody speak of it but when I came to town, when The Blue Bird Inn was still the Blue Bird Inn (this is about 1927) that was still there. But nobody ever seemed to know anything about it. (wife) Oh, I am sure that they do because I had heard about the Sloan Slave House but I don't have anything to say about it. I mean I don't have anything to relate. (husband) But yes, this was part of the underground railroad. (wife) Teaneck Road was a very, very beautiful place. I remember when practically all the roads were all dirt roads and there were - the Stevenson Farm was very old, and speaking of old farms, how about Teejens Farm down on, as a matter of fact, they used to have carnivals down there and incidentally, Fanny Borden and her sister Florence of the Borden family, they lived right on Teaneck Road and their father had a great big farm, he had a lot of land. I don't know where the farm itself was, really I don't, but he had a lot of land here and as a matter of fact, there was, it was you know where the church parking lot is and then the apartment houses are, it was somewhere in there and we used to have Fourth of July fireworks on that property. That's when I was a little girl. And the house, there was a house that stood there that I always loved, the Caty family. They were a very old family from Teaneck and incidentally John and David Caty were active in the Teaneck Library when it was still being, when it still functioned in the little building that was supposed to have been slave quarters or something like that. And I used to go to that library and of course you knew everybody. And Eva Olson who was our first choir director in the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck, her maiden name was Gleckler. Her family, you will find them on the
(I) She married Ralph Olson right?
(N) Yes. But her maiden name, I am talking about her maiden name now was Gleckler and her father is a former mayor. He is dead these long years. But he was mayor at one time. It was sometime during the 1920s.
(I) He was mayor of Teaneck?
(N) Mayor of Teaneck. And my father was the first deacon to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Teaneck and ...
(I) And you were the first ...
(N) I was the first woman moderator of our Board of Deacons. We, with Reverend Bob Chase, we revived, actually that's what we did, we revived our Board of Deacons and they function to this day. I might say they are very strong in their activities.
(I) I do know that we went on that unicameral system and they reduced the deacons down to six and then they brought it back and increased the members back to twelve and this is when you were made the first lady moderator of the Deacon Board.
(N) And so I enjoyed that. I enjoy my work in the church per se. Thank you.
(I) You have an interesting family Clarice. It is a lot of history from your family. I am sure there is a lot of more detail that could be brought out and, as you say, you may have some further documents that could be supplied to the library at some time.
(N) If I come across anything at all, I would get in touch with you or Gwen and I would give it over to the library because that's the only way these things can be perpetuated.
(I) I am sure they would be very appreciated and we thank you very much. (END OF TAPE)
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