Charles Alpaugh; 79 Years in Roxbury and Still Going Strong

Charles Alpaugh speaks about Roxbury history at recent mayor and council meeting
Charles Alpaugh at home Credits: Carl Wronko
The Alpaughs' totem pole Credits: Carl Wronko

If you have been a reader of this column, you probably have noted that all of the folks I have interviewed so far have moved into the Roxbury area rather than residing their entire life here. My curiosity risen, I began to look for a notable member of our community whose roots go back a bit.  

When I was talking with Miriam Morris for her article, she gave me the name of Charles Alpaugh who she understood to have resided in the Succasunna section of  Roxbury since an infant. She gave me his phone number to boot. 

When I called Charles to follow through, I told him I heard he resided his entire life in Succasunna and had been greatly involved in the community. To my dismay, Charles replied that was not correct as he was born in Dover. 

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Well, I said to myself, "Carl, you will just have to keep looking."   

However, considering the very nice things I heard about Charles, I started talking to him about setting  up an interview for an article. Charles, sensing my hesitation, jumped in with, "Yes, born in Dover. But my parents brought me home to Succasunna from the hospital five days later."

He has been here ever since for the last 79 years.   

I had two immediate thoughts: First, I found my man. Second, he has a great sense of humor. I was correct on both accounts. 

In  speaking with Charles, I found out his roots in Succasunna go quite far back. He is the sixth generation of Alpaughs to reside in Roxbury. 

Charles has done genealogy research on his family and found that the first Alpaughs emigrated from Rotterdam, Holland to Philadelphia, arriving Sept.12, 1732. The first child was born in Long Valley in 1736.

Thereafter, the family moved to Succasunna. Charles explained that, back then, Roxbury was far larger than today, taking in what is now the Chesters, Washington Township, Mt. Olive, Mt. Arlington, Netcong and Randolph. And it was far less inhabited.  

The area that today sits between Righter Road and Nyma Way on Eyland Avenue was basically farm and dairy land with just a few houses on it. It comprised at the time the Alpaugh School District 5.  

The residents of the district paid a tax to support the school for their children. The district would have an impact on the Alpaugh family tree, as it seems a young lady from Pennsylvania was hired to teach in the school.  

In the course of things, she met and married Charles' great-grandfather, Charles Ferdinand, who became Roxbury Township clerk in 1911 and stayed at the post for more than 30 years.  An uncle served as postmaster for Succasunna for 30 years back when the post office was situated on Main Street where there is now an antique shop. 

Charles related a few stories about growing up in Succasunna during World War II. His mother was an air raid warden assigned to a post on Berkshire Valley Road near the Jefferson Township line. He recalled that she would take him and his sister with her when on duty.  

He laughed and said, "If she ever spotted a plane heading toward Hercules Powder Company, by the time she dialed her phone to report the event, the bombs would have long been dropped." 

He also related that he was attending school at the Lincoln-Roosevelt School (all grades were there at the time). During the war, the school had an evacuation plan that - in event of an air raid - all of the children and the staff were to run out of the school and across Hillside Avenue to scatter up the hill and into the woods until the all clear was sounded. 

Drills were conducted several times as Charles recalled.  

With the ending of the war on VJ Day, an impromptu parade was held with church bells ringing and fire sirens sounding.  Charles got to ride a firetruck all over town to celebrate.    

His was a close-knit family. He could walk to both his grandparents' homes, and helping each other was just a given. 

Charles met his wife Ellen when she was a freshman in high school, and he was just out of high school.   They have two grown children, Robert and Dawn, both of whom reside in Succasunna. They are seventh generation residents, each living in their great-grandparents' houses.  

And it continues; Charles and Ellen have three grandchildren, Brianna, DJ and Matthew, all college students.  An interesting side note: When I was given directions to Charles' home on Eyland Avenue, I was told as a landmark that there was a totem pole out front.  Sure enough. 

Well I had to ask him about that. It seems Charles had a tree taken down a few years back to facilitate the instillation of solar panels and he had the trunk left there. He found a sculptor who worked in wood and the artist carved replicas of the Alpaughs' three grandchildren, one above the other, with a yellow bird, (a goldfinch, the New Jersey state bird) on the top.  

It is quite special. By the way, the house he resides in was built by Charles, using plans from a lumberyard, over a period of one and a half years. Not many of us can say that. 

Charles graduated from Roxbury High School in 1954, one of a class of about 117 students of which about 25 were from the township and the rest from surrounding towns that sent children to high school in Roxbury, as Mt. Arlington does now. 

In 1960, Charles was drafted into the Army and assigned to the Signal Corps. He spent 14 months overseas in Bangkok, Thailand where his duties involved support for the initial build up-in Vietnam. 

Upon returning to civilian life, Charles he went to work at Hercules Powder Company using skills acquired in the army in the Ballistic Test Lab. He moved on to Allied Chemical where we worked for 28 years in research and development. 

The 6th generation Roxbury resident joined his father and uncle as members of the Roxbury Fire Company #1  and he continues to serve. Fire Company #1 was the original fire company in Roxbury and covered the entire township. 

Through the years, Charles held many fire department positions including assistant engineer, engineer, lieutenant, captain, 3rd assistant chief, 2nd assistant chief and chief of the entire fire department. That's basically every office and position one could hold in the fire department other than secretary and vice president.  

He remains treasurer of the Roxbury Fire Association.   

Ellen was active in the first aid squad for 30 years as well. Keeping up the family tradition, Charles' daughter, son-in-law and both his grandsons are members of Roxbury Fire Company #1.    

Charles has been recognized for his service. The fire department presented him and Sam Wilson with plaques recognizing their 50 years of dedication to the town. The New Jersey First Aid Counsel also arranged to have the lieutenant governor present Charles with an award in recognition of his half-century of service. 

Charles is full of anecdotes. He told me about a fire at a warehouse on Route 10 in March, 1975.  After the fire was put out, he was helping roll up the hoses and the area was icy. In doing so, he slipped and fell just as a fire truck was backing and it went over his leg causing injuries that still cause him to limp today.   

He is also very proud of the fact that Fire Company #1 still has its original truck, a 1917 Ford-American LaFrance chemical engine. Roxbury Fire Company #1 will be celebrating its 100th  anniversary in August of 2017 and all are invited to join the celebration next year, Charles said. 

When his son was growing up, Charles became active in Boy Scout Troop 159 at the Redeemer Lutheran church. Over the years, he headed the collection of paper for the troop and, with the church youth group assisting, some 2 million pounds of paper were collected until the township took over the recycling. 

Charles is also very proud of his attendance at Roxbury High School. He remains president/treasurer of the alumni association, offices he's held for the past 20 years while being a member for 30 years.  

He noted the association gives two scholarships each year of $1,250 to students whose parent or grandparent are graduates of Roxbury High School. The association purchases a yearbook each year and donates it to the Roxbury Library. Charles let me know that if any graduates of Roxbury High School who read this would like to join the association they would be most welcome and can join online at the High School web site. 

Charles is also an active member of the Roxbury Historic Trust and has been for the last eight to 10 years. He serves on the board of directors, as assistant treasurer, and on the building and grounds committee. It is his goal to complete the landscaping around the King Store, a project that is about 75 percent completed. 

Charles' service to the town has not gone unrecognized. In addition to the recognition from the fire department as noted above, he received the James Sprow Award, named after a former mayor of Roxbury, for outstanding community service.   

Further, and especially noteworthy, he was awarded the "Home Town Hero" award given by the Lincoln-Roosevelt School "in recognition of valuable contributions" to the community. "You have been identified as a person that has given unselfishly of your time, energy and talent in order to make our community a better place in which to live," says the award. "Your selfless acts of kindness, generosity, and caring have been noticed. You are a hero in a young person's life." 

I would be remiss if I didn't point out the Charles is a veritable fount of knowledge about the history of Roxbury. He has spoken to various groups including, just recently, the Roxbury Mayor and Council. I, for one, will be sure to be at the next talk he gives. Heck, I wish he'd write about what he knows. It was very informative to listen to him. 

As I do of all the folks I interview for this column, I asked Charles if he had any particular life guidelines to pass along. His response - a sensible one - was simply "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything."

Roxbury is full of special people. Longtime Roxbury lawyer, and former municipal judge, Carl Wronko highlights their lives and deeds.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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