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A personal history of Port Morris, New Jersey by Sal Valentino. - Editor's Note: In July 2004 we received a note from Sal Valentino offering to sketch out his memories of growing up in Port Morris. Here, with only slight editing to weave the parts together, is his never before published account, along with Sal's family photos and images from our own main Port Morris history page.

  A personal account by Sal Valentino

The generation I belong to is very fortunate in living through a lifetime of such astounding technical developments. We went from horse and buggies, steam engines, and Model T Fords to high speed computers and going to the Moon. No generation in the past has witnessed these dramatic changes and I doubt any will in the future. Yes we'll have better cars, better planes, faster and smaller computers etc., but nothing like we experienced. So I am happy to use my computer and share the humbler and simpler times during my youth living in Port Morris, New Jersey, a small and historic town of 1,000 people which gave me such profound memories.

My family lived in Port Morris from the early 1920's and I still (2004) have a sister there who lives across the street from the home (268 Center St) we grew up in. My parents, Joseph & Isabel Valentino, immigrated to the USA from Italy around 1910. There is much that I and my family remember about living there and I can probably give you the names of every family and where they lived from the early 1920's. There are so many stories and facts to tell.

Chipoletti's and My Birth
Up the street from my family's home was Chipoletti's, small store where men from town would play Pinnacle and pool in the back room. My aunt Lena (mom's sister) who lived on Canal St. with Grandma and Grandpa Casella was visiting my mother when she told Lena she was about to have a baby, which was me, and to go up the street to Chipoletti's back room and get Joe, my father, to help. She did this and told pop, who replied "when I finish the game". Since I was the last of 8 children, I guess he didn't get excited. She ran home only to find mom in very late labor so she ran to Grandma's and brought her to mom and I was delivered at home with Grandma's help, and so in January 1935 I was born!

The school in town was called the Port Morris Elementary and the Principal, during the 1940's when I attended, was Mr. Bell. Through the 1930's it went to the 8th grade and thereafter (when I attended) it went to 6th. We then were bussed by Roxbury school bus to the 7th and 8th grade building (Editor: Lincoln School) which was next to the High School in Succasunna. (Editor: During this time the High School was in the Roosevelt Building on Hillside Avenue)

Valentino 1942
The author, Sal Valentino is at left, in his "Navy" uniform, mom Isabel Valentino and sister Isabel, circa 1942, in front of their Port Morris home.
Valentino 1943
Sal Valentino in his "Army" uniform, circa 1943. This HONOR ROLL stood on Center St and read: "Residents of Port Morris Serving In The Armed Forces of Our Country". The top group is Army, Navy next and then the Marines

War Book
This War Stamp Book was given to me as a child in 1942. We would pay for 10 cent stamps and try to fill our book until we had $18.75 for a $25 War Bond. I still have the book after 64 years.

Next to our home on Center Street, alongside where the Port Morris Hotel was before being destroyed by fire in the 1930's, an Honor Roll (see photo above) was built to honor all those who served during World War II. For years I took care of this monument including cutting the lawn in front of it. One day during a very bad storm it blew down and was destroyed. The words on top were: "Residents of Port Morris Serving In The Armed Forces of Our Country". The top group is Army, the next Navy and then the Marines. The photo above shows me posing proudly in my (junior) Army uniform around 1943, standing next to the Honor Roll.  The sidewalk in the foreground of the Honor Roll was the entrance to the hotel and in the rear are the remains after the fire.

During the War many from town worked at nearby munitions plants Hercules Powder Company in Kenvil, New Jersey and Picatinny Arsenal in Rockaway, NJ. They had 3 eight hour shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and buses from these facilities would take employees to work. During one period both my parents worked in Picatinny in the war effort and often at night. My older siblings would care for us but if something went wrong we went across the street to Mr.& Mrs. Smith for help. They were ministers at the Port Morris Methodist Church, the only Church in town.

On September 12, 1940 the Hercules plant blew up with a horrendous explosion that killed 49, injured 200 and rocked Port Morris causing many of the windows in my school to break. The German Bund was active in America at the time and were suspected of sabotage (Editor: The eventual death toll was 51, no official cause of the blast was ever determined but evidence pointed to an industrial accident). One of the injured was my brother Anthony who was blown 50 feet into the air and landed on a hot bed of ashes with fire all around him. He thought he was dying and called out for help from our sister Dolly who had passed away the previous year, 1939. Suddenly he saw an opening in the fire and crawled through. He suffered burns to his face and elbow and had permanent damage to his ear. His picture (below) being led away from the fire covered the whole front page of The New York Daily News on September 13, 1940. At age 5 my first memory in life was seeing him looking out the window of Dover General Hospital with his face all covered with white bandages.

During the war over 72 men from Port Morris served in our Armed Forces, 49 in the Army, Navy 20 and Marines 3. One Navy man was killed, Donald LaRue who lived on Washington Street. Our Valentino family had 2 serve during the war, Ralph as a Marine and Vic in the Navy. Vic was in the Marshall Islands, South Pacific and was present near Enewitok when an atomic bomb was exploded there as a test. We often kidded him that when he left home his hair was straight and upon return it was kinky, we thought from the bomb fallout! Brother Joseph served in the Air Force after the war and I served in the Army 1953-1954 just as the Korean War ended. I was sent to Germany for 2 years and was stationed on the East-West border monitoring the Russians. So the Valentino family (see photo below) had servicemen in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines! The only brother who couldn't serve was Anthony because of  injuries suffered in the Hercules explosion.
Hercules Explosion 1940
Anthony Valentino, injured in the Hercules Explosion, 1940
Valentino Bros
The Valentino Brothers, from left: Sal, Joseph, Vic, Ralph, Anthony

During World War II the rail yard at Port Morris was often filled with war equipment and soldiers, destined for ports and embarkation overseas and as young children we were fascinated to watch it all.

Often I rode on the old town fire truck while we went around town collecting pots, pans, scrap metal, etc. for the war effort and we piled these in large heaps near the firehouse. Most important items were rationed like gas, tires, butter and yes even bubble gum.

We had parades during the 1940's, especially on Memorial Day as shown below. Please note the cars were all 1930's vintage, none were made in America during the war since production was solely for military equipment. These pictures were taken while standing in front of our home on Center street.
parade 1
Memorial Day Parade in Port Morris, circa 1944.
Family Car
Mrs. Isabel Valentino and the family 1937 Dodge.
A little river called the Musconetcong ran between Lake Hopatcong and Lake Musconetcong through Port Morris. One place on it was a favorite swimming hole called The Deep Hole where we built a little platform made of railroad ties which enabled us to dive into the river and swim. Usually after a day of work on the railroad we went there to rid ourselves of grime. Since our town was located on Lake Musconetcong we had a small park area on the lake where we could swim, boat, fish, ice fish in the winter and ice skate. Next to this area was a large stone ice house. During the winter after the lake froze, (in the early days) large blocks of ice would be cut and stored here to be used through the spring and summer. This was before my time though, only the walls were left when I lived there since electric refrigeration had been invented.
Lack Trainyard
Lackawanna Railroad Train Tower at the
Port Morris NJ yard, circa 1935-1955. 
Steam Engine, Port Morris, New Jersey
Steam Engine in front of the
Port Morris NJ roundhouse, circa 1940
 The canal operated before my time but I do remember everything about the rail yard, which was very big. It served as a steam engine repair facility and also long trains of cars were created there and sent all over the country. As carloads came to Port Morris they would be divided up by common destination and sent to these new places. 

Steam engines would be replenished with water and coal to run on before leaving on a trip. The fire boxes were cleaned there and each day as a result, huge plumes of black smoke would cascade all over town and we called these blackouts. Families would run to their clotheslines and remove washed clothing which was hanging to dry.

Many in town, including myself would go to the railyard at night and gather coal which spilled from the coal chutes that were filling the engines. Everyone in town had coal furnaces when I was a young boy through the 1940's.The yard also had a cattle pen, used to hold cattle which were removed from trains that had to stay in the yard a few days. They were watered and fed. As a child we would go watch them. In the photo below, this engine is backing onto the turntable in Port Morris to be turned around and headed in the opposite direction.

Steam Engine, Port Morris, NJ
The L&HR No. 80 (Lehigh & Hudson River Line) Steam Engine being backed up onto
the turntable at Port Morris, NJ, 1939.

Remains of the Port Morris Roundhouse, 1963

Phoebe Snow Train Ad

Working On The Railroad

Many if not most of the people living in town worked first on the canal in the late 1800's, and then in early 1900's on the railroad. Most were immigrants from Europe and many were Italian. My father Joseph Valentino at one time worked there operating the turntable of the Roundhouse which shunted steam engines into the repair garage and also turned them around to travel in another direction. My brother Ralph recently reminded me he would take lunch or dinner to our father and Ralph was always frightened with all the activity of moving engines and cars. In the picture above the turntable is in the center and the operator sat in the little shed with 2 windows and a chimney.

As a teenager I worked on the railroad during the summers from 1950 through 1952. Our gang would meet at the roundhouse each morning and from there usually boarded the caboose of a worktrain or a truck and went out on the line, often to the cutoff, to repair tracks etc. The train would have cars loaded with stones, ties, or rails to be used in our work. It was tough work but we were young. Our boss was Mike Menna, known as "Black Mike" who lived on Main Street in Port Morris. He gained experience during WW II while serving in Germany when he was assigned the duty of repairing railroads.

There are interesting stories about our work gang which included some young men from Netcong High School Football Team of 1951 including Johnny Giantonio who was a running back. In fact Johnny to this day holds the National High School record for touchdowns scoring 147 points in one season (9 games). That year the team went undefeated and in one game I watched him score 9 touchdowns. The tackle who played with him is my brother-in-law Howard Gibson, married to my sister Isabel who still lives in Port Morris (2004).

The DL&W railroad prided itself on a passenger train called the Phoebe Snow (see ad above) which ran from Hoboken NJ up to Buffalo NY. The name came from a woman, Phoebe, who wore a white dress on the train and the railway boasted that no black cinders would dirty her dress from steam engine smoke. Well, we had a scary experience one day involving this train while fixing track in Landing and had it raised about 3 feet on 8 jacks. Mike Menna always knew when trains were due so we wouldn't be working on the track when one passed. For the first time his watch stopped so we weren't aware that Phoebe was approaching at 70 MPH. around a bend. Fortunately we heard the train whistle off in the distance and after Mike looked at his watch and realizing it stopped, he screamed "everyone get away there is going to be a wreck". While we were running he went to each jack and knocked them down one by one himself. Normally this took two men using a 6 foot bar and he did it alone with no bar. Just as the last jack dropped, Phoebe came roaring around the bend and fortunately the track held. People riding never knew how close they came to a wreck. This incident occurred almost exactly where the picture below was taken (circa 1925) showing  men sitting on a little railroad handcar and  my father Joseph Valentino is one of them. Of further interest is the house on the right where the Valentino family lived before moving to Center Street in Port Morris. I'm only guessing but since some of the men where dressed wearing ties, they may have been visiting my father at his home and went onto the tracks to take this picture with other workers.

Port Morris Railyard, New Jersey
A Railway Hand Car crew circa 1925, the Port Morris Railyard Tower is at the far left. Pictured at front left is
Dan D'auria and second from left is his father Sam D'auria. At lower right is Leonard Perfetti. At Top Center is
Joseph Valentino, the father of Author Sal Valentino. The others (in gray) are unidentified. The building at far right is
the original Valentino home. This Photo image was sent to Sal by Jean Volpe Nichols

The Lackawanna Cut Off actually begins on this bridge over Center Street in Port Morris and it is still there. This is the easternmost bridge of the 2 at this location, Landing is in the distance. Judging from the cars and the date the bridge was constructed, picture was taken around 1912. Note the road is dirt. Our worktrain would pass over the bridge on our way to repair tracks somewhere on the 28 mile length of the Cut Off.

Another time we were working out on the Cut Off near Andover. Incidentally it was called this because the old line went through Netcong, Washington NJ, Phillipsburg and was single track, whereas the new line was a "cut off" of the distance to Buffalo and went from Port Morris through Andover, Blairstown, Columbia and was a double track. To maintain a level straight grade many hills were cut down and the dirt and rocks were used to create very high roadbeds between the hills, some were almost 1000 feet high and I remember the view was spectacular. There were some tunnels, one was the Roseville Tunnel near Andover the site of a train wreck which was before my time. While on one of these high road beds we were going to dump car loads of old ties from cars which tipped sideways causing the ties to tumble down the embankment. However, ties in one car jammed and wouldn't roll off so someone had to get in the car and try to untangle them. Well, that was me so as I was prying them loose with a long bar, they suddenly began to move and I went over the side with them. I jumped for my life and fortunately the embankment was made of cinders so my landing was soft and I immediately scrambled to get out of the way as the ties went roaring past missing me by 4 feet. Railroading was dangerous and tough work. The high embankments pictured below are where this accident occurred.

The tracks of the Lackawanna 'Cut-Off' cross over the Leigh & Hudson Railroad Tunnel, February 1941

There was another incident on the Cut Off while we were pulling some old ties and replacing them on the main line. We were told to move off the track onto a small siding next to the main line because a freight train was due to pass. As we waited on the siding I looked off in the distance and saw the train coming thinking nothing of it. The train's whistle give 4 blasts and again I thought nothing of it. Suddenly I noticed the engine veer off the main track onto the siding where were standing, heading directly toward us. I saw sparks flying from the locked brakes of 100 freight cars traveling at 60 MPH. By the time the train reached us it was coming to a stop and the engineer jumped out and came running back screaming "who threw the switch to put me onto this siding?"

He was extremely angry since a train should only be traveling 15 MPH while entering a siding, secondly, there was no reason for the train to be shunted there, and finally the train's schedule was disrupted. It seems our temporary foreman Tom Morgan, after hearing the oncoming train give 4 blasts of it's whistle, assumed it was a signal to throw the switch putting the train onto the siding because an oncoming train was coming on the same track. This was a mistake and Mr. Morgan was suspended for 30 days without pay. Fortunately no one was hurt, because the switch was strong and well maintained by our workers. The siding where this incident occurred is seen in the picture below which is just east of Greendel.

The 'Lackawanna Limited' in 1914 on the west end of the Pequest Fill at the beginning of the Greendel siding.
This fill of 3.12 miles is the longest manmade railroad fill in the world and spans the Pequest Valley.

Railway Gandy Dancers
A spur of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad went to Waterloo, N.J. near Stanhope where some old rail cars were parked and had sleeping facilities. Men used to sleep in them while working on the railroad and they usually came from the Bowery in New York City. Sometimes our work truck would pick up a group of them if needed for a big job. We called them Gandy Dancers but the name actually applied to all men who worked fixing tracks. Often rails had to be aligned so the foreman would go 50 yards down the track to eye the rail while a group of men with long bars placed them under the rail. Someone would chant something like "we got to move this rail, now, so we can go home, now, keep on movin, now" and on the "now" everyone would lift their bar and the rail moved a little and became aligned. The group kept moving down the track and did everything in unison like a dance, hence the would "Dancer". Their action of tamping stone under the ties and moving was also a "dance". Don't know where Gandy originated but some thought it came from the Gander Tool Company in Chicago which made rail tools.

The large rail yard in Port Morris had many switches which enabled cars to be shunted to various tracks to make up trains. During snowstorms these would get clogged and wouldn't operate properly. When this occurred, especially at night, a siren in town would blow signaling workers to the yard for switch cleaning. Later automatic gas burners cleaned the snow & ice from the switches. During the 1950's the Roundhouse and other buildings were partially torn down. Most were made of brick and the Railroad allowed people to take these, so many from town came with wheelbarrows and carted them home. Steam engines gave way to diesel and eventually the whole yard was closed and repairs were done in Hoboken, New Jersey.

First Television
The Carbinaro family was the first in town to own a television. We were fascinated with this and as young kids we would gather quietly at night outside their home and peek in to watch this new invention. Then our town firemen bought one and placed it in the room above the firehouse for the public to watch. Friday night was crowded as we watched the boxing matches. The screen was very small, probably 10 inches and had a magnifier attached to the front which made the picture bigger. This was a new and fascinating form of entertainment.

Port Morris Athletic Club.
During the late 1940's our little town had an outstanding softball team which progressed all the way to State Finals but were beat by Fort Dix in the last game. My brothers Ralph and Anthony Valentino played outfield, Tony Laruso pitched, Tony Santella was catcher, Steve Regula played first, Charlie Neal shortstop, Carmen Santella third, Myron Christie second, Myron Christie Sr. was coach. Johnny Neal was batboy. We were all proud of this champion team and watched many of the games.

 Many teenagers from town first worked as caddies at the Hopatcong Golf Course which was located about 1 mile past the Hopatcong State Park. The course eventually closed and homes were built on the site. We also worked at the Fairways Bowling Alley located next to the golf course (see photo above, I'm on lower left) setting up pins. Eventually this too closed. (Editor: The 'Fairways' Bowling Alley burned down in 1961, several years later a restaurant was built on the site, in 2005 that building was torn down and a convenience store constructed on the site)  Pin setting is gone since this is now done automatically by machines. In the photo are: Upper row, left to right: Steve Guerriero, Cappy Olivo, Frank Guerriero. Lower row, left to right:  Sal Valentino, Warren "Dent" Allen, Vito Mauriello (possibly Vito Amato). Photo taken around 1950.Often we would hitch hike to these places and if we couldn't get a ride, walked the whole distance of several miles. During summers some worked on the railroad as I did.
Steve Guerriero later fought in the Golden Gloves as seen in the photo above.
Sadly, while ice skating across Lake Musconetcong at night to go to the movies in Netcong on the other side of the lake, Cappy Olivo's brother Bill Olivo was drowned when he fell through the ice. His friend Milton Neal, skating with him tried to help but couldn't so he skated as fast as he could for help but by the time firemen arrived with boats it was too late. They shouldn't have been skating at night but kids are kids. The town was very saddened by this tragic accident.
My father was a mason and I often worked with him around Lake Hopatcong where we repaired and built concrete docks etc. which still exist today. He had a 1929 Ford truck similar to the one in the photo above.

The Silvio De Marino 'Confectionery Store', circa 1940, one of almost a dozen stores in Port Morris at that time. The rise of large shopping centers in nearby communities closed most by the 1980's.

Blackwell's Hotel on the Morris Canal in
Port Morris, circa 1890-1895
I remember Blackwell's, (see photo above) we used to go there for a hamburger and french fries when I was a kid. Some distance to the right of this place was a little store owned by my grandparents Vito and Grace Casella who lived in their home next door. Years later my aunt Grace Pires Emery (Nellie) made a little restaurant here and catered to the railroad workers. The railroad yard was across the canal which was filled in and became Canal Street.

De Marino 'Confectionery Store' (see photo above) was run by Silvio De Marino. I don't know the street number of De Marino's store but our home (Joseph and Isabel Valentino and family) was the 2nd home from the store and our number was 268 Center street. During the 30's there was a Post Office across the street from the store, then it closed and was transferred into the home of Dorothy and Roosevelt De Marino which was 2 homes down the street from the store. Silvio De Marino who owned the store was related to them. Everyone went to the P.O. to get their mail where we each had a mailbox with a combination lock. If we had other postal business we often would have to call through the little window into the home of the De Marinos and someone would come and help us. Although mail was not delivered each home still had a number.

Silvio also had the job of walking up to the rail yard once a day and as the steam train went by would either stop or throw off a bag of mail for the town. He would then carry this over his shoulder down to the P.O. usually around 3 pm where it was sorted into each mail box. Many townspeople would watch for Silvio walking with the bag and when he deposited it at the P.O. we would wait about an hour for the mail to be sorted then walk down and pick up our mail. During the 50's the P.O. was transferred to Landing where it is today and mail was then delivered to each home.

After Silvio De Marino died my brother Anthony (Valentino) bought this store and ran it about 5 years. They lived upstairs. In the rear of the store was a room where men from town played Pinnacle card games. It has now been converted into apartments. 

Just to add to the missing information about the "dozen commercial places in Port Morris which are all gone"....There was Harding's General Store (now apartments), Chipoletti's store and pool room, later owned by Tony Santella, eventually it became Joe Perfetti's market, the last retail store in town, Riker's Candy Store (now a home), the Liciardello Grocery Store (now a home) and Carbinerro Beauty Shop (now a home). The Port Morris Post Office ran out of the home of Roosevelt & Dorothy De Marino (Editor: Dorothy De Marino was the officially appointed Port Morris Postmaster). Local resident Pauline Rogers began an extensive drive in town to close the Post Office and have our mail delivered. She was successful and De Marino's lost the Post Office when it transferred to Landing. Other businesses were Firpo's Diner located near the rail yard, which catered mainly to workers in the Roundhouse,  Arendesky's Garage, Dow's Garage, Mike Arendesky's Farm, Granato's Garage, Valentino's Store, Port Morris Hotel (next to my fathers house), Loppy Wintermute's Barber Shop, Tony Rossi's General Store and Arendesky Coal Delivery. 

How's that for memory!!  Sal Valentino, July 2004. Expanded and Revised October 2004.

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An aerial view of Port Morris, circa 1938-1950. Clearly visible at center right is the Railroad Train Roundhouse.
Lake Musconetcong is at the bottom. Netcong is just out of view to the right, Landing is at the top left of photo.



Yes, Budd Lake had a small private airport












Girl Scouts rally during World War II,
in front of 268 Center St, Port Morris, NJ




Editing & Page Design by the Website Editor - View our  Main Port Morris History Page

Thank you all for the following comments you sent about the Living History of Port Morris I wrote. Thought I'd share them with everyone.  Regards, Sal Valentino

Dear Sal,  That's good that you can share your memories with your neighbors. It sounds that you, like me, remember all the old times more than yesterday. Maybe its because those were the best times. Not that we didn't have to struggle, but times were so much simpler then.
All the best, Barb and Rex Lewis

Sal, thanks for the interesting history of you and your family. Have copy it and will put in to a folder to keep. Having been to the Lake to visit Joseph and have seen just how beautiful the area is and now I also have some background on the area.
Thanks again Bob & Bobbie Lauver

Sal, thanks for remembering Winnie and I, It's great, good job, keep it up.  -  Ken Jacobsen

Very nice Bio. Thank you.  -  George Geller

Hi Pop,  I just read your account - that is some memory you have! I enjoyed reading it!  -  Love, Michele Valentino Davis

Hi Uncle Sal,
Thank you for the email its great. I am making copies for mother to have. Mom is doing better but still sometimes in the mornings she has pain. We are all looking forward to seeing you and uncle Joe in a few weeks. Have a nice weekend and I will be at the airport to pick you up on September 14.
Regards,  Joe Lepore

Dear Uncle Sal,
Thank you for writing such a great story about the history of Port Morris. It not only brought back my fond childhood memories (like swimming at the deep hole), but taught me many things that I didn't know about my hometown.
Love,  Niece Donna Valentino Donovan

LOVE,  Patty Amato Jones  (JACK'S DAUGHTER)

You made my day. I just got finished reading your Port Morris historical story. It was fantastic! Boy did it bring back a lot of memories. The pictures were great.
I always tell my grandchildren the stories about the railroad. Especially about the cattle pen. I can still see my Dad milking the cows there while we would all sit on the fence watching. Watching TV at the Firehouse, the Phoebe Snow train. Do you remember when the prisoners of war use to come thru at night and the windows were all blacked out? I think they had a prison camp in Blairstown or something like that. Especially remember the black smoke and the clothes on the line we were not allowed to report it since my Mom thought my father would lose his job.  It sure was a fantastic town.
I have a picture hanging in my family room of my grandfather, Uncle Dan and other workers from Port Morris sitting/standing on a hand car and I think one of the people in the picture is your father, the signal station
is in the background.  (Editor: the photo has now been posted above)
Thanks Again you did a great job.   Jean

Hi Sal;
I wasn't sure that I let you know how much I liked your expanded Port Morris history.  What I liked was the way that you told about events with all  the thinking, awe, and freshness of the kid that you were growing up.  I could imagine the blackouts and the women running to take their clothes off the lines, the awe of watching Mike Henna throw the jacks down on the tracks, the men hearing the whistle and going out into an icy winter night to unclog the switches, the Gandy Dancers. They were humbler and simpler times and we were fortunate to have grown up in Hopatcong and Port Morris.
Janet Levine

This page can only begin to cover the rich history of the Landing/Port Morris area. While this page is an
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The Lake Hopatcong Historical Museum at the State Park,
open Sunday afternoons in the Spring and Fall.

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