Old newspaper sparks lineage search by family with long history in Mountainside

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MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ — When Florida resident Robert Robbins began clearing out his attic, he found among boxes his uncle had recently given him the first issue of the Mountainside Echo, dated Dec. 11, 1958, and printed by Worrall Community Newspapers Inc., Union County LocalSource’s publisher, as well as old family photos of his great-grandfather, Louis S. Robbins, the former mayor of Mountainside.

During a recent phone interview with LocalSource, Robbins detailed his great-grandfather’s move to Mountainside, as well as what ultimately became his mayoral run. He also went into how he ultimately decided to move to Florida and how he lost his father, George Robbins, to COVID-19 last year.

“By way of background, my family has some history in Mountainside. My great-grandfather, Louis S. Robbins, moved there to a farm,” Robbins said on Wednesday, July 21. “He eventually held posts on the school board, as tax collector, on the City Council and as mayor. This newspaper was apparently issued to my grandfather, Clarence S. Robbins, who also resided in Mountainside all his life. Clarence’s two sons followed their fishing passion and moved to Florida, which is where I reside.

Robbins recalled how, when he was 4 or 5, his father had taken him fishing for the first time at Echo Lake in Mountainside. He said he remembered how they dug for worms, as well as how he caught his first fish, a bass, and was thrilled. Later that day, he said, his father showed him the house in which he’d grown up.

“That was less cheerful,” he said. “He was raised by a single dad, and times were tough. My dad left school and joined the Navy as soon as he could. He didn’t like to talk about his childhood, except for that one day at Echo Lake.

“I knew that my dad’s older brother, Uncle Rich, seemed to be more talkative about the family history, but I didn’t have much of a chance to pick up that history from him,” Robbins continued. “My dad died of COVID-19 on Dec. 6, 2020. Shortly after, my Uncle Rich gave me two boxes of family history that he had been saving to give to my dad.”

According to Louis S. Robbins’ obituary, he was born in Windsor and later lived in Mountainside for 40 years, first on Summit Road on a farm then owned by C.B. Heckel. For a time, he operated the Ideal Farm and later retired to his home on Springfield Road.

According to Mountainside borough administrator Glenn Mortimer, Louis S. Robbins was the mayor of Mountainside from 1928 to 1929.

“I’m surmising that he was probably elected in 1927 and the terms were only two years back then,” said Mortimer on Tuesday, July 13. “We don’t have a lot of detail on Louis S. Robbins. Our buildings here that still remain were built in the 1930s, so he wouldn’t have been mayor then, but we don’t have a lot of information on him.”

Robert Robbins says he believes his ancestor, as the former mayor of Mountainside, contributed in multiple ways to the development of the town. He also attended the Mountainside Union Chapel and served as a trustee of the organization. Going through the boxes, Robert Robbins said he also found surprising information about his grandfather, Clarence.

“My dad and I were both car buffs,” he said. “He never told me that his father had a certificate for being one of the first to drive a Model T Ford over Pikes Peak, the highest road in the United States at the time. My grandfather did that. That is so cool.

“I also had no idea that my great-grandfather played such a varied role in developing Mountainside,” he continued. “He went there to farm, which he successfully did, along with the adjacent Roll family farm. The two families were so close that a Robbins son married a Roll daughter and vice versa. They even bought adjoining cemetery plots at the nearby Fairview Cemetery. Then Louis Robbins took on a role on the school board, as well as the tax assessor’s office. I even have what appears to be original tax assessor reports from late 1800s to early 1900s and are in good condition. Then Louis moved on to the Town Council before becoming mayor. Somewhere in here, he managed to partner with Millard Filmore Allison to form Robbins and Allison Moving and Storage. Millard married Louis’s sister, Flora S. Robbins. As I understand it, no small amount of credit goes to Louis’ wife, Emma Augustus Robbins, nee Jessup. She is featured in many pictures in the boxes and is a striking woman.

“All of this was new to me and I had no clue,” he added. “I truly regret that I did not ever go through these boxes with my dad. Now, I have so many questions.”

Robert Robbins’ uncle, Richard Robbins, spoke about his nephew’s interest in the family’s history and the family’s long-standing relationship with Mountainside.

“I recently gave my nephew a couple of boxes of family history — pictures, documents, etc. — so he could do some research on the internet. He has a strong interest in family history, and he wanted to trace it back,” Richard Robbins said on Friday, July 9. “The boxes of family history were in our family and I was the oldest child, so that’s how I ended up with them. We had them at home and when my father passed away, I just kept it.

“My family moved here when Mountainside was just a small borough, and there were probably only 400 to 500 people living there at the time. They bought a farm, and the first farm they bought was on Summit Road; the old Heckle Farm. That was sold, and then my family moved to Highway 29, 22 and Central Avenue. We own a family plot over in Westfield — the Fairview Cemetery. That’s the only thing we still own in New Jersey.”

Even though Richard Robbins didn’t know much about his grandfather’s role as mayor, he spoke about Louis S. Robbins’ contribution to the town and more of their family’s migration to Mountainside.

“I don’t know a lot about his role as mayor, but I just know that he had been mayor. I also know that he was a fire chief at one time,” Richard Robbins said. “Robbie told me he had traced the family history back into the 1700s, when they first came to this country and to New Jersey. There’s a town in South Jersey called Robbinsville, and my father took me down there one time and showed me the original farm down there where the family had an abandoned old farm at that time, and no one lived there. I know they came from that area and then they moved up to Irvington and lived in Irvington for a while, and then moved to Mountainside.

“I’d love to live there again if I can afford it,” Richard Robbins said. “I’ve been away so long, and it would be impossible to go back and live there again, because of the cost of housing and everything else.”

Mountainside Restoration Committee archivist John Sharkey found two documents in the archives: the obituary of Louis S. Robbins and lists of his council members. In 1928, six of his fellow council members were listed as Ayres, Donovan, Force, Mulford, Platt and Voorhees. In 1929, names of Robbins’ council members were listed as Ayres Sr., Force, Heckel, VanDoren, Voorhees and Whelpley.

The obituary of Louis S. Robbins said he died of “tenthigus” on a Wednesday morning at the age of 72 at Lincoln Hospital, after having been admitted a few days earlier. He was said to have been in good health, but the disease took over and he eventually succumbed to it. Funeral services were in his home on Springfield Road on a Saturday afternoon, led by the Rev. Newton Salter of Maplewood, pastor of the Unionville Congregational Church, who was assisted by the Rev. Herbert Schmalzriedt, the church’s former pastor.

The obituary said the floral tributes were numerous, coming from the mayor and council, Mountainside Fire Department, Police Department, Mountainside Parent-Teacher Association, Ladies’ Aid Society and Sunday School of the Union Chapel Church, as well as others. Louis S. Robbins was survived by his daughter, Mrs. J. Harrison Roll of Springfield Road, and one son, Clarence Robbins of Cranford. He was also survived by his sister, Mrs. Willard Allison of Cranford. Louis S. Robbins was buried at Fairview Cemetery.

Currently sailing the Great Lakes, Robert Robbins said that after his vacation, he plans to learn more about his family lineage.

“When I return from this trip, I’ll probably subscribe to Ancestry.com, to see if I can dig a little deeper,” Robbins said. “There are still some mysteries in the boxes. For example, a Daniel Robbins signed some documents for my grandfather. My father never mentioned him, and even Uncle Rich doesn’t know him … so more homework is required.”

Photos Courtesy of Robert Robbins