Vintage Snapshots: Old Cars and Houses in Hanover Township, New Jersey

6 Woodfield Drive, Whippany NJ, c. 1955.  Lots of Hudson/Nash vehicles.


I was fortunate to recently discover some great vintage color photos that were taken in the municipality I grew up in–Hanover Township, New Jersey.  These pictures mean a lot to me, because even though I didn’t come along until the 1970s, the color images capture familiar places that still had shades of the 1950s/60s/”Wonder Years look” that I remember so well.  And it now occurs to me that so much has changed in my home town since I was young–changes I never would have imagined.

The Good Old Days: Mom & me reading together.


Approximate borders of Hanover Township (green line).


Hanover Township encompasses two distinct communities:  Cedar Knolls and Whippany.  I was located in Cedar Knolls, although our mailing address was Morris Plains.  So if someone asked me where I lived, the answer was either Morris Plains, Cedar Knolls, or Hanover Township.  This gave me a kind of “location dysphoria” since I couldn’t solidly identify with one definite place (like “I’m from Newark”;  or Morristown; or Hooterville or whatever.)

2nd shot: Not sure what kind of car this older one is.


Nevertheless, Hanover Township experienced tremendous growth from the late 1940s to the ’70s.  The suburban development boom was on, as residents and industry from the old “inner cities” (New York, Newark, East Orange, etc.) were fleeing to open spaces and greener pastures, courtesy of that marvelous invention, the automobile!

Baldwin & Broome Streets, view northwest, Newark.   Samuel Berg Collection/Newark Public Library


This is where they were fleeing from:  the old, dense, decaying neighborhoods of Newark and other cities.  Designed for the horse-and-buggy and heavy on faded Victorian charm (which nobody cared about anymore), streets such as these paled in comparison to the tree-lined, winding lanes of suburbia.  A cute house with a yard;  quiet, leafy–virtually no crime;  “A Home of Your Own”.  These things represented the future–success–modernity!

Baldwin & Broome Streets today. Bland government-subsidized housing projects have replaced the fanciful, European-inspired architecture of old. How different this neighborhood would look today if restoration rather than demolition were pursued.


A friend of mine, Kurt Hirschberg–we have a lot of common interests.  He also grew up in Hanover Township, but in Whippany.  Kurt loves historic architecture and he has several classic cars including a ’55 Mercury wagon and a ’58 Edsel Citation (among others).  He provided me with some great color photos of cars and houses in Hanover:

House on Dogwood Road where Kurt grew up, Whippany, built 1948;  photo taken in 1973.  The knotty pine has since been painted over, obscuring the architect’s original conception.  Photo courtesy Kurt Hirschberg


Kurt’s father’s 1957 Mercury Montclair, taken at Kurt’s grandparents’ house at 72 Highland Avenue, Whippany, 1960.


The 1957 Mercury is one of my favorites because of its long, low, sleek, “Dream-Car Design–Straight Out of Tomorrow” (as the ads described it).


Another view, showing the Gondek family house at 74 Highland.


1963: Kurt’s father (shown) is now driving a 1961 Mercury Monterey. Note Gondek house with its diamond shutters and two-toned mauve-and-white paint scheme.


1961 Mercury–another great classic, now almost extinct today.


Kurt’s mother posing in front of the Monterey.


Mrs. Hirschberg owned a ’62 Mercury Comet. John Lotz (Morristown Lincoln-Mercury dealer) painted the roof white because she wanted a two-tone.


Gondek House, 74 Highland Avenue, recent photo.  All beige now.  The cute diamond shutters, pastel two-toned paint scheme–all gone.


80 Highland Avenue, possibly the last house in the township retaining the original diamond shutters. Note ’50s style “awning” over front door.


Crossing guard, Highland & Reynolds Avenue, 1950s. These students are on their way to Memorial Junior School on Highland, where I also attended, grades 6-8.


Same location today.


Low-cost suburban tract houses. Designed to be plain and cheap, with a few added details like shutters and gables to give them some much-needed charm.


This brings up another point–when I was growing up, I always assumed that the houses and streetscapes of Hanover Township would never really change.  There was no urban blight as in Newark, and rarely if ever was a development house torn down.  Owners put a lot of care and love into their plain little houses, and everything seemed stable and unchanging.

House I grew up in, 53 Cross Road, built 1955.


Today it’s hard to find one of these tract houses that looks the way it did when built.  Nearly all of them have aluminum or vinyl siding, replacement windows and doors, original shutters stripped away and replaced with tacky fake “screwed-in” shutters (yecch!)  The pleasing uniformity of the block (given variety by mirror-image floor plans;  cheerful house color choices of individual owners;  and flower beds and landscaping) has been lost.

20 Edwin Road, around the corner from my house. It’s hard to find the original house amidst all the additions.  That blah shade of beige has taken over everywhere!


Directly across from #20 is 19 Edwin Road, the last tract house in the development that has maintained its original look:  [Faded] pastel paint scheme on original wood siding;  original doors and windows;  original shutters with S-curve hardware (the shutters actually swing out);  original chimney;  and no additions.  I would support the idea of having the Township purchase this last survivor and restoring and furnishing it authentically 1955 as a kind of museum.  Kurt and I could serve as consultants!

Marsh Mansion, Plainfield NJ. Architecture worth preserving!


It feels a little odd for me to write this, because I always considered these postwar suburban tract houses to be cheap, plain, dull, “all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same” as the song goes.  Victorian–that’s where the beauty, craftsmanship and artistry was.  I still believe that, but at the same time I do occasionally feel a nostalgic pull for these basic and familiar 1950s suburban development houses with their simple attempts at charm like real shutters and other mid-century “revivalist” motifs–often based on imagined “Colonial” or “Cape Cod” inspirations.

Not Colonial Williamsburg but Levittown, New York under construction.  MAD magazine called it “Leveltown”  LOL!  None of the original Levittown houses look even remotely like this anymore.


And they weren’t all “ticky-tacky”–our house had real solid-wood, long-length lumber flooring and no plastic doors or particle board anywhere.  Which shows you just how far down the line we have gone in cheapening so many of the things we make!

1959 Dodge parked in a suburban housing development, location unknown.  Dainty ’50s trim adorns the houses.



And here’s another thing I noticed when I first saw the lead photos in this post:  the presence of the chrome-y and voluptuous cars of the 1950s parked in streets and driveways radically changes the whole visual character of the neighborhood.  So in a very real sense, we can never truly go back to the way things were.

Me cheating:



This was my plan:  I park a ’50s car next to an old house, take a picture and voilà, suddenly it’s 1960 again!  Can you tell these last three are recent and not authentic vintage photos?


More Vintage Photos Here