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Farmers of Fairfield: A History of Suzy Lane

Girls posing for photo at Boulder Beach in Fairfield Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Fairfield residents enjoy a sunny day at Boulder Beach Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Romano's Pumpkin Patch in the 1950s with John, Tony and Mary Romano Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Robert Henning, drowning victim at Boulder Beach in January 1960 Credits: Newark Sunday News, 1960
Joseph Gambino, second drowning victim at Boulder Beach in January 1960. Credits: Newark Sunday News, 1960
Susie Romano with her mountain pinks Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Susie Romano with daughter, Mary, and son, John. Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Perennials displayed out front of the Romano barn, rabbit cages and corn-husking shed Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
Boulder Beach Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio
New Development Near Suzie Lane Credits: Mary Romano DeMaio

FAIRFIELD, NJ — Fairfield-area residents who have noticed a new road in Fairfield called Suzie Lane in the new development on Horseneck Road may be wondering who Suzie is. According to resident Mary Romano DeMaio, the road is named after her mother, Susie Matarazzo Romano, who owned and operated the historic Romano Farm along with her husband, Tony “Ruby” Romano.

The Romano farm, which was located on 33 acres in the area between Horseneck Road and Route 46, was once a place that DeMaio and her five siblings called home. Wanting to preserve her family’s history in Fairfield and all the other farms of the area, DeMaio agreed to an interview with TAPinto West Essex.

“So many people who saw the sign for Suzie Lane have approached me saying that they are so happy that my mom is being remembered in this way,” she said.

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Susie Matarazzo Romano grew up farming. The story begins with her parents coming to the United States in the late 1800s from Naples and Avellino, Italy. They first settled in Hoboken then moved to Branchville to farm, but eventually they moved to Livingston to be closer to the Newark farmers’ market, where they sold a lot of their produce.

The Matarazzos then sold their Livingston farm to the Bottones, who farmed in Livingston from the 1920s to the 1990s, and moved to North Caldwell in 1921, where they farmed there for decades.

Susie lived with her parents even after she got married, but moved out when she was expecting her sixth child and room was running out at her mother’s house. Susie’s children were Canio “Sunny,” Carmela, Constantino “Gus,” Anthony, John and Mary Ann Romano DeMaio.

Mary Ann was the only child born in Fairfield, which at the time was part of Caldwell Township. (Fairfield did not become its own township until 1963. However, for the sake of this story, the area will be referred to as Fairfield.)

Susie and Ruby began a dairy farm in North Caldwell called Marigold Dairy. Ruby became the milkman. When asked if Ruby was a farmer, Mary said, “Well, after he married my mother, he was.” The whole family was expected to work on the farm, she said.

As a profession, Ruby worked as an operator engineer for construction, but the work was only for six months out of the year. To supplement the family income, farming was necessary, according to Mary.

When Susie spoke to Mrs. Kulick, a Fairfield resident, about having to move out from her mother’s farm, Kulick told Susie about the 33-acre property for sale on Horseneck Road, which was owned by the Bodkin family. The Romano family bought the property in 1943.

Kulick also advised Susie at the time that the property would be worth a lot someday due to rumors that the state was planning to install a highway nearby. It turned out that Mrs. Kulick was right.

Before Susie and Ruby moved to Fairfield, the couple sold the dairy farm and kept a few cows for their own use. They also raised chickens, pigs and turkeys and began farming mostly perennials, tomatoes, corn and pumpkins. In later years, the pumpkins were still visible from Horseneck Road. 

Mary said that they mostly raised the turkeys for Thanksgiving, and that her mother was very proud of the perennials they sold.

The original house had no electricity or running water—leaving the family to use the outhouse in the backyard and a tub set under a tree near the water pump for baths. It took 13 months of renovations before the house was ready for permanent family use, Mary said.

Before the Romanos bought the house, it had been rented out in the summers to visitors from the city who wanted to spend some time in the country. According to Mary, mostly teachers occupied the summer home so that they could enjoy and learn about the beauty of nature to bring back to their students.

The Bodkins, the previous owners, had a saw mill/lumber yard on the property. A tragic accident killed one of the Bodkin’s sons when his jacket got caught in the saw.

Mary tells a story about the family hearing strange noises in the house when they first moved in—ghostly noises. Her father would not believe his wife and children until one night he heard the noises himself.

The family called Father Beggans from St. Aloysius in Caldwell asking for a house blessing, and the noises stopped. The family thinks the ghost was that of Bodkin’s son.

Mary also has distinct memories of Leni Lenapi Native Americans coming to the farm in full Native-American attire to sell their handmade furniture.

“The tribe lived off of Route 23,” said Mary, whose memories include being frightened of them. “I remember holding on to my mother’s skirt.”

Many years ago, the Leni Lenapi tribe lived throughout the area of Fairfield and nearby towns such as Caldwell, West Caldwell, North Caldwell, Verona, Cedar Grove, Essex Fells, Roseland and parts of Livingston. The Leni Lenapis owned land of about 14,000 acres that was called the Horseneck Tract before selling it to the Dutch settlers in 1669 for $325 worth of goods.

The Native Americans lived especially around land near the Passaic River, where they had water and a source of food. Many early Fairfield residents, including Mary, remember finding arrowheads and other artifacts buried on their property.

Mary also said she remembers that there were no streetlights, and that some of the roads were dirt roads. Prior to 1945-46, when Route 46 came through, the part of Fairfield Road that currently runs parallel to Route 46 was the main road, called Route 6.

The building of Route 46 caused many changes in the small farming community. According to Mary, some were good and others were tragic.

In order to build the highway, she said, dirt was needed. Mary remembers the highway using dirt from their farm that caused a change the topography of their property. Instead of being rather flat, now there was a valley that still can be seen today when looking at the Commons on Route 46.

With the money the Romanos got from the state for the fill, they were able to build a barn for their animals. But the biggest change in the topography of the land in Fairfield was the formation of Boulder Beach, which has since been filled in and developed in the Cheri Lane and Birchtree Drive areas.

Many older residents remember Boulder Beach and the recreational activities that took place there. Mary remembers her relatives from Newark and other Essex County areas enjoying Boulder Beach.

“They would come for picnics and swimming in the summer and ice-skating in the winter,” she said.

When describing how Boulder Beach was formed, Mary said, “As fill for the highway was taken from the Cheri Lane area, two natural springs were found that developed a pond. Sand was brought in to create a beach, and that was how Boulder Beach was formed.”

One of the boulders from Boulder Beach decorates the outside of the township’s municipal building, and Mary said there is another boulder on Cheri Lane. Unfortunately, she said, Boulder Beach brought three terrible tragedies.

One summer day, a young boy drowned in the pond. It is said that the springs caused a natural whirlpool at times, and it seemed that the boy was taken in by the whirlpool.

The second tragedy occurred in 1960 when two local boys, Robert Henning, Jr., and Joseph Gambino, were ice-skating on the pond when they fell through the ice and drowned. Robert Henning was the 15-year-old son of then Caldwell Chief of Police Robert Henning, a resident of Hollywood Avenue. Joseph Gambino was a 16-year-old boy from Big Piece Road.  

The boys were ice-skating with Roy Zartman, 15, of Hollywood Ave., Joseph Kaiser, 12, of Big Piece Road, and his sister Linda Kaiser, 16, at the time.  Linda was the only one who did not fall into the pond.

According to the Mary, Robert Henning fell in first. Roy attempted to help, but fell into the pond as well, followed by Joseph Gambino, who tried to help them both. Then Joseph Kaiser tried to help, but he too fell into the pond.

No one was able to save Robert Henning and Joseph Gambino. Linda ran to get help, but it was too late. After these tragedies, the pond was closed for swimming and ice-skating.

Mary Ann went to St. Aloysius in Caldwell for grammar school and West Essex for high school. She remembers taking the bus to St. Aloysius from the Pollio farm on Fairfield Road with her Fairfield friends Mary Pollio, Peggy Dippel, Grace Androccio and Marilyn Grasso, to name a few.

At West Essex High School, Mary remembers the Fairfield students being called the “farmers from Fairfield” on the West Essex bus.  She graduated in 1966 and is now the successful co-owner of Richard V. Michael’s Salon on Fairfield Road. Mary and Rich have been married 35 years.

Rich started his business more than 50 years ago on Hollywood Avenue. The business moved to Fairfield Road in 1980 and is still there today. Mary and Rich now live in Montville Township.

This is the first story in a series of stories on the farmers of Fairfield. There is quite a long list of farmers who lived in Fairfield. There is only one remaining farm in the township—Fairfield Farms on Big Piece Road, owned and farmed by Sal and Joyce Francavilla.

Should anyone recognize any of the people in the old photos that are not labeled, they are encouraged to contact TAPinto West Essex at 973-943-3067 or dsantola@tapinto.net.

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