Both my mother and grandfather grew up at 916 Lake Street in the Forest Hill section of Newark, New Jersey. My great-grandparents bought the new three-story 5-bedroom home in 1907. It was actually one and one-half lots with 5,001 square feet: #916 has the house and #918 expands the yard and has a carriage house, later garage, at the back. It is the only house on the block with this extra room.
One entered the home through a vestibule off the small front porch into an entrance hall that opened to the third floor. A winding open staircase on the right side went upstairs to the bedrooms. The front hall held an upright piano and was the perfect spot for the tall family Christmas tree. Off the front hall were the living room, dining room, and large kitchen with bulter’s pantry. The best part was the “secret” narrow closed stairway off the kitchen that led to the upstairs rooms to be used by servants going between floors. I’m not sure that the family actually had any servants, but that was the original purpose. Certainly children used it often.
The living room with the bay window was in the front of the house with the dining room behind it adjoining the butler’s pantry. Room functions were flipped at some point, but there were different stories about when and why that happened: either to preserve heat during the Depression by keeping the most-used living room as an interior room, or to eliminate the possibility of light escaping the World War II blackout curtains. Either story is plausible. Whatever the reason, the spaces remained in that configuration for many years.
Bedrooms upstairs were small but adequate. There were four bedrooms on the second floor with two unattached bathrooms, and one bedroom on the third floor in the attic space. During the Depression, the family had a boarder in residence who lived in the attic room. There was also a large unfinished basement with windows at ground level.
This was always a multi-generational home. William John Flanders bought it in 1907 and moved in with his wife Charlotte, mother-in-law Alice McCormick, sons Lester and William, and brother-in-law Charles McCormick. Lester and Charles had moved out by the time their father died in 1925, but in 1927, his son William brought his new bride Marion Cooke into the home already occupied by his mother and grandmother. Alice died shortly after, but Charlotte outlived her daughter-in-law by seven years, and was there to see her granddaughters grow up.
Forest Hill was and still is a quiet residential suburb of Newark, bounded on one side by beautifully landscaped Branch Brook Park just a few blocks away from the family home. Also nearby was St. Mark’s Episcopal Church where the family worshipped. William Charles Flanders was confirmed there in 1914 and his daughters were baptized, confirmed, and married from the church. Four of his five grandchildren were also baptized at St. Marks, by the same minister who baptized and married their parents. They wore their grandfather’s christening gown.
By 1970, the children were grown, his wife and mother were gone, and Bill Flanders was alone in a house far too big for him to maintain. He sold it with much of the contents and moved to an apartment and later, to a retirement community. The house remains in pictures and memory of the few still alive to remember when it was the Flanders’ house.