by Audrey H. Robertson
At the end of Evergreen Road in Summit, NJ, was an impressive sign stating:
The Summit Home For Children
The Chesebrough Foundation
I don't believe it was ever called "The Summit Orphan Asylum" after it was built. Most of the children living there had at least one parent, as I did when I lived at The Summit Home from January 1943 to January 1947.
The driveway made a loop in front of the building, with a flagpole in the center of the loop. As you can see from the picture, the building was quite impressive. It was an "L" shape, which is not apparent from the picture. You can see on the left side of the picture the second floor sun porch that was accessible from two of the second floor bedrooms. The first floor sun porch was accessible from the living room and one of the library rooms. It had a door to a grassy lawn where we loved to play croquet.
Just to the right of the picture was a garage. During the time that I was there, a single-car attached garage was built, which is visible in the lower right corner of the picture. Above the garage is the white railing of the kitchen porch, where I remember Mr. Brennan from Brennan Dairy delivering the milk. He was a friendly man who always had a cigar.
There was a large play area between the building and Evergreen Road with a sandbox, swings, and typical playground equipment of an elementary school. A rustic looking gazebo with a table was a good place for quiet games out of the sun.
As I lived at The Summit Home during World War II, some things were rationed because of the war. We put honey on our cereal because it was hard to get sugar. Many people had "victory gardens" and we had one near the old garage. I remember string beans. There were no TVs. Telephones were all connected to the wall by their cords. When new cars became available, The Home got a black Ford station wagon with "woody sides" to replace the old wagon. This was before seat belts and we often sat on laps.
Frances S. Henschel was the director. There was a supervisor for the second floor, and another for the third floor, and also a cook. There were several different supervisors and cooks during my stay, but Mrs. Henschel was the only one who was there the whole time that I was.
When I moved to The Home, there might have been about fifteen kids ranging from high school down to possibly preschool. Soon the high school kids were phased out and those that were left were in grade school or junior high. I was in second grade. Alice and Inez were my first roommates. Alice was in sixth grade and Inez was in fifth grade. Alice's younger brothers, Daniel and Bobby, and Inez's older brother, Ed, also lived at The Home. Alice's brother Bobby was in my grade at Washington School. The room that Alice and Inez and I shared was on the second floor at the back of the building and opened onto the sun porch which was a wonderful playroom in the summer.
In the dining room, each table was headed by a supervisor or Mrs. Henschel. Cloth napkins were used with napkin rings to tell them apart so we could use the same one all week. We took turns sitting at Mrs. Henschel's table for a week at a time. She stressed table manners. Once in a while, Mr. Hood, who was a board member, stopped by to eat with us. We knew Mr. Hood was visiting when we saw his big black Buick.
Sometimes at Mrs. Henschel's table we got to try something different or special. I remember trying avocado for the first time. Yuck! I thought it tasted awful! I like avocados now and sometimes think of Mrs. Henschel when I eat one.
There were two infirmary rooms for kids who might have something contagious. Back then, doctors made house calls. Two names I remember were Dr. Ackerman and Dr. Davis. Good health habits were stressed. During the school year, we lined up right after breakfast for a tablespoon of cod liver oil to ward off colds. The taste was not good, and if it got dripped on you, you could smell it all day!
Sometimes a family we didn't know would invite one or two of us for dinner or games. Sometimes they had children our age, but not always. Mrs. Chase invited four of us for art appreciation classes after school. I joined Alice, Inez, and Daniel. Mrs. Chase lived in an elevator apartment building in the middle of Summit. She always had a special dessert waiting for us, and then talked to us about famous paintings. I remember learning about Raphael's "Madonna of the Chair."
On Sundays we had soft boiled eggs for breakfast instead of cereal. Our main meal was mid-day when we came back from Sunday School at The Methodist Church. Sunday afternoon was visiting time for parents. If we went out, we were supposed to be back in time for Vespers at 5 PM. Parents were welcome to stay for Vespers. Mrs. Henschel played the piano for Vespers. On Sunday evening there was a light supper, such as cereal and fruit. If Alice and I made cookies, we all had those for dessert. We always made molasses cookies. Mostly, I just watched Alice.
When school was out for the summer, we went to Daily Vacation Bible School at The Neighborhood House next to Washington School which years later became The Summit Antiques Center. Some of the older kids went to Camp Morris, which was a YMCA sleep away camp. After supper in the summer, some of us often went up to the street to play dodgeball with other kids from Evergreen Road.
Christmas was a special time at The Home. The week before Christmas there was always a Christmas party for us at The Beechwood Hotel. Santa Claus handed out presents to us. My dad told me that Pat Kelly from The Summit Police Department played the part of Santa. At The Home, our Christmas tree was always in the front corner of the dining room. Some of the older kids decorated the tree. The ornaments were beautiful, but seemed much more fragile than today's ornaments. If one was dropped, it usually broke. There was much excitement about getting and wrapping presents for one another. On Christmas Eve, we each hung one of our own socks from the mantelpiece. On Christmas morning, there were small presents and an orange by or in each sock. After breakfast and chores, we gathered in the dining room around the tree and Mrs. Henschel gave out our presents. We all sat on the floor, including Mrs. Henschel. It was exciting, but orderly. We watched as each present was opened and the giver was thanked. The rest of the day was like Sunday except there was no Vespers.
Chores were assigned jobs and were rotated. Some chores were: sweeping and dust mopping the halls, emptying all the trash baskets, doing dishes, sweeping the dining room after dinner, or filling the coal hopper. That was a "boy job", but I thought it looked like fun. In the summer, we didn't like having to sweep the dining room or do dishes after dinner because it made us late for the ball game in the street.
There were rules and discipline, but we were never hit. We each had a chart and could get demerits for things like: not making our bed before breakfast, not doing chores in a timely fashion, sassing a supervisor, or being late for meals.
Too many demerits could keep us from a privilege like going to The Strand movie theater on Saturday afternoon. We walked to the movies and to most places. We could cut across the end of Evergreen Road onto Madison Avenue because there were no houses there then.
One week there was a movie I really wanted to see, but I had too many demerits, so I wasn't allowed to go. The movie was called, "The Uninvited", a ghost story starring Ray Milland. Just recently, I noticed it listed on Netflix and finally got to see it! It is considered a classic.
When Bobby and I were in fourth grade, Bobby got polio, which was a very serious disease in the forties. Bobby went to the hospital and the rest of us were quarantined for several weeks. Work was sent home from school and Alice helped teach us. I remember learning to spell the days of the week during that time. Thankfully, Bobby got well.
Looking back, The Summit Home For Children was a very good place. We were not isolated. We could have friends from school visit and we could visit them. We were treated as individuals and taken good care of.
Writing this has made me realize how very lucky I was. If you remember The Summit Home in the mid 1940's, I would love to reminisce with you.