Bloomfield Native Reminisces
From a Newspaper Interview with
Mrs. Estelle Gilson
The quote accompanying the picture of Estelle "Baldie" Baldwin in the Red and Grey, the Bloomfield High School yearbook, reads "None but herself can be her parallel."
That description of Estelle
Baldwin, now Mrs. Kenneth G. Gilson of Glen Ridge, is just as applicable
today as then, when this charming lady recalls the Bloomfield of her
childhood and young adult years. Her ancestors, the Baldwins, came from
England and settled on land grants in what is now Bloomfield in the
later part of the 1600s. They, as generations after them up to her
father, were commercial farmers in a large area of the southeast part of
When older, Mrs. Gibson had a Flexible Flyer large enough to hold four adults (she still has it!) and she and her friends used to sled down from the site of her present home on Ridgewood Avenue to Broad Street. At that time, there were no houses or cross streets in the area, just open land. Winter was also the time for ice skating on the old Morris Canal, where barges, laden mostly with coal, were towed by mules in warmer weather. A favorite summer pastime was going to Montgomery Street to watch the boats going to the canal lock located there. Her grandmother's family, the Garrabrants, had given property for the canal's construction through Bloomfield. Recalling those days, Mrs. Gilson smiles wistfully as she says, "One of the things about Bloomfield that you look back with great pleasure is the fact that everybody knew everybody else."
Growing up, Mrs. Gilson attended Bloomfield schools. She went to junior high in what is now the school administration building, and then on to the present senior high school. The only library in town at that time was the Jarvie Memorial Library, located in a Presbyterian church which is now the Bloomfield College theater.
Her graduating class, or which she was yearbook treasurer, numbered 27, and one of her classmates, Dorothy Phelps, lived in a large home at the intersection of Franklin and Broad. In those days, Broad Street was mostly private property and "full of farms." Mrs. Gilson had a much further walk to school than her classmate Dorothy. She lived a mile away, and she walked it four times everyday, as there were no lunchroom facilities for students then. She also walked to Meadow Street East Orange, for violin lessons. Everyone walked in those days, Mrs. Gilson remembers, or took the trolley that ran through Bloomfield to Orange on Glenwood Avenue. What buses there were to Newark were all privately owned by individuals, and she remembers getting downtown in 20 minutes when she later worked briefly for a law firm.
She married Kenneth G. Gilson in
August 1922, and settled in a new home on Watsessing Avenue, opposite
the Westinghouse property. Bloomfield then was still mostly a rural
town, but two years later its demise as a fanning community began when
they started taxing property as building lots and putting streets in,
including Baldwin Place, which cut through her family property. As Mrs.
Gilson notes, "The 1920' s were the turning point in
Bloomfield." To meet taxes, farmers had to sell off parcels of land
gradually, and a contract, financially disadvantageous to the farmers,
was made with a builder. The farmers all agreed to be given a small sum
for their properties, but they were not to be paid in full until a house
was built. For some, this meant an indefinite wait for their money and
financial hardship, as the builder was not required to build within a
certain time period.-With houses replacing farmland, Bloomfield became a
residential town as people were lured to work in the companies
established and growing in the town: Oakes Mills, American Book Co.,
Westinghouse, General Electric and a large hat factory that stood on the
corner of Glenwood Avenue and Thornton Street. In reflecting on the
changes that took place so quickly - the farms, and stately homes
disappearing to be replaced by tract houses, apartments and business,
Mrs. Gilson says, "We didn't appreciate what we had until it was
taken away, but that's the passage of time. You can't go back."
|As the article above mentioned, the Morris Canal was a favorite among local children for ice skating and sledding. This photo dates from circa 1907 and shows the Baldwin Street bridge over the Canal (near the JFK Pky), the location of Estelle (Baldwin) Gilson's family's land and the scene of her childhood days.|
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