Memories of My Aunt Alice: Resident at Idylease

Alice Edith Crane at Idylease

Idylease was frequented by many members of the Strait and Day family members since the Inn was opened in 1903 by Dr. Edgar A. Day. There are many accounts written in letters, postcards where they commented “went to Idylease to visit Edgar……or George……. or May”. One of the family members had been a nursing home patient at Idylease where she spent the last years of her life. She was my great Aunt Alice E. Crain. She had lead a very interesting productive life and I have many fond memories of her.

Alice Edith Crain was born July 22, 1884, the daughter of Amos B. Crain and Lydia Post Crain of Milton, Jefferson Township, Morris County. She had a sister, Malinda B. Crain, born Nov. 3,1891 who was my grandmother. Alice and Malinda were devoted sisters for the rest of their lives.

Beth Willis at IdyleaseDuring the early 1900’s, Alice and Malinda were employed by their aging Aunt Martha Strait who resided in the family home located on the old Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike near the Sussex and Passaic County lines. Malinda was paid 50 cents a week to help Aunt Martha manage her household. Alice was also employed as a housekeeper and was paid $1.00 a week. Alice had earned more money than Malinda, as she had a goal to become a teacher. Her wages were to help pay for schooling at the East Stroudsburg Normal School in Pennsylvania where she graduated as a teacher on June 23, 1909. From the Crain Family Photograph Collection is this undated photograph of Alice E. Crain. Her dress is typical of the period of 1910, and I do believe that this photograph was taken at the time of her graduation. During her course of studies and after her graduation, she taught at various schools in the area. She remained at the home of her parents. Yet, often continued helping her Aunt Martha.

Malinda had married Aaron C. Willis, son of Joseph B. and Harriet DeGraw Willis of Silver Grove, Hardyston Township, Sussex County. They were married at the Strait homestead on Dec. 25, 1909. They made their first home upon the Strait homestead in what was called the summer house. Two children were born here, Ernest A. in 1910 and Robert G. in 1917. Alice became a frequent visitor doting upon her new nephews. Many pictures that were taken of the family between 1910 through 1918, were either taken by Alice or she appeared in them. From the Crain/Willis Family Photo Collection is an undated photograph taken at the Strait homestead. Motorcycles with sidecars were commonly used by the residents of Stockholm. Aaron unable to purchase an automobile, choose the motorcycle as his mode of transportation. The sidecar was added to transport his family. Shown seated left to right: Alice E. Crain, Ernest, Malinda and Aaron. They were on their way to church services at the Stockholm Methodist Church where they were members.

When Aaron and Malinda moved to Ogdensburg in 1918, Alice was a frequent visitor to their home, especially when a new nephew was born on Sept. 28, 1919, Ralph A. Willis who was my father. Uncle Ernie was the second member of our family to have acquired a college degree. While in college he met Francesca Bezner to whom he married. They made their home in Cedartown, Georgia. Though they had no children, they became active in many cultural and civic organizations.

Uncle Ernie was also an avid photographer. At one time, he had borrowed my grandmother’s photo album and reproduced the photos in a 5 x 7-inch format and sent the album to Aunt Alice. She had added to the album early photographs of the students of the schools where she was a teacher, but did not indicate the name of the school. She also added several newspaper clippings as keepsakes.

Alice had taught in various schools, including those in Bloomingdale and Butler. Much to the family’s amazement, Alice had married one of her pupils, John Sisco who was born Nov. 26, 1902, the son of Giles Sisco and Elizabeth Mowerson of Holland Mountain. As a young adult, I do recall listening to my grandmother’s recount of it, but paid little heed to it. However, in Aunt Alice’s photo album two items were of great interest. From a newspaper clipping dated June 30, 1923, is an announcement of their wedding.

The name of Crane is the original spelling for this family. However, their grandfather James Crain of West Milford was illiterate, and when the census records were made, the census taker had spelled the name as Crain. This was the name used by all of James Crain and Mary Strait Crain descendants.

Sisco Crain Wedding in 1928
From the Crain/Willis Photo Collection is an undated photograph of the wedding party. Standing left to right are: Tharp, age 36 who was mentally disabled, Alice’s brother; Amos B. Crain, age 70 and Lydia Post Crain, age 70, Alice’s parents; Bessie Sisco, John’s sister; and William Weston. Front row, left to right, Gladys Sisco, John’s niece; John Sisco, groom, Alice Crain Sisco, bride and Robert Willis, son of Aaron and Malinda Willis.



Idylease anniversaryAt that time, John Sisco had worked for the City of Newark, and they resided in Stockholm. Alice continued teaching school until she retired in 1924. Later, he worked for American Hard Rubber Company in Butler. They made their home in Bloomingdale. Here they celebrated their 25th Wedding anniversary on June 30, 1948.

While pushing his car out of a snow bank, John died from a heart attack on Dec. 20, 1948 and was buried in the Milton Cemetery in Jefferson Township, Morris County.

Alice was a grieving widow for many years, but became actively involved with the Methodist church in Bloomingdale and the Stockholm Methodist Church. When our family made the annual visits to my grandparent’s home in Ogdensburg, we often went to visit Aunt Alice. She was a robust woman who had a quick smile, a sparkle in her eyes, and a resounding laugh. Delighted to see her grand nieces and nephews, she always had milk and cookies ready for us. Then, we had to quietly retreat to a safe corner. I always choose one of the several rocking chairs in her home. It was made of sturdy pine, with a lattice back, and slated seat of a rich amber pine. The seat was low enough that I could point my toe on the floor to give a shove for rocking back and forth. This chair now sets on my front porch where I can relax, rock a bit and view the activities of the neighborhood.

Much later, Aunt Alice developed a form of leukemia and became very sickly. My grandmother was not in good health as well. It was determined that Aunt Alice would sell her home. She chose to go to a nursing home which at one time was a joyous occasion for grandmother and Aunt Alice to visit when the Day family had owned the property. It was the Idylease Convalescent Nursing Home.

On one of the family visits to my grandparents, grandmother had wanted our family to visit with Aunt Alice at Idylease. The occasion is still vivid in my mind. At that time, I was a very young teenager engaged in the pangs of growing up and was not interested in visiting this sickly elderly woman who grandmother spoke about with a broken heart. I only wanted to remember as a dear lively doting aunt.

The ride to Newfoundland seemed long, and was crowded as seven people were in my father’s car. I sat in the back seat crammed against a window. But, as we drove along old Route 23, which at the time was a single lane winding road, the scenery was lit by bright sunshine with a sky of azure blue. There were occasions we could see a river, then a large span of water (Oak Ridge Reservoir). The rolling hills were richly covered with all kinds of trees, the leaves gently blowing in the wind. But, my mind wondered to my friends back home with whom I probably would be at the park on a swing. Soon, we came to turn off unto another Road, (Union Valley Road). Just another tree line road; and I was becoming bored.

Then, I saw a large white mansion with many windows and a huge front porch which was rather appealing sitting on the rise of a sea of grass. As we drove up a wide long driveway the building became more impressive. Grandmother announced: “We are here”. It was Idylease Inn.

Idylease Lobby
The Main Lobby at Idylease as it appeared at the time of Beth Willis visit to see her aunt Alice Crain Sisco

After we parked the car, we rose the wide steps, and stepped upon the longest front porch I had ever seen. After opening the glassed doorway which seemed to creak, we entered a small glassed lined entry way. Then, entered a larger room with several curved arches, the ceilings were quite tall. All around the room were rich brown wood trimmings; there were several comfortable chairs with some old people quietly reading books. Small tables topped with doilies and knickknacks adorned the room. Despite the large sunlit windows, it seemed dark and gloomy. The windows were open and a gentle breeze flowed through the room.

As I walked behind the adults, I clicked the heels of my Mary Jane shoes on the wooden floor. A slight echo could be heard. Dad sharply turned around, and I immediately got a stern glare and a “no shake” of his head. My mother instantly reminded us that we “were to be seen and not heard, our manners to be politely at our best”. We then ascended a large staircase with wide railings which were smooth to touch of my hand by the years of constant use. There was a faint odor of pine oil wafting in the air. The woodwork had probably just been cleaned.

As we approached Aunt Alice’s room, mother gave us the “silent signal”, lips pursed and a pointed finger over her lips. Much to my surprise, Aunt Alice was sitting up in bed, propped by a mound of pillows. There  was a broad smile on her face, and a sparkle in her eyes. This was the Aunt Alice I had always remembered. She was delighted to see us, and asked several questions about “what have you been doing this summer….”. Then, a slight tug on my dress was given by mother. It was the signal to quietly retreat so that the adults could converse. After a while, the face of Aunt Alice changed. Grandma said Alice was tiring and we should let her rest. It was time for us to leave. Then, I saw the dark circles under her eyes. Yet, just before we left, she gave one last broad smile and a wave goodbye. This was the last time I saw Aunt Alice.

For several more years she remained at Idylease our family did not visit her as she became seriously ill. She died on Feb. 1, 1964. As it was winter, and we had several bad snowstorms that year, it was decided that we would not be able to attend her funeral. She was buried next to her beloved husband at the Milton cemetery.

When I had moved to live with my grandfather, he had requested that every Memorial Day we go to the cemeteries to plant flowers at the foot of the family headstones. Grandpa always choose red geraniums which were one of my grandmother’s favorite plants as they lasted the longest and were of a bright cheerful color. As I helped him plant, he would recall some special memory he had of the loved ones we were honoring. For Aunt Alice, he always commented that she always had a “happy smile”. Indeed, it seemed fitting for her as I too remember her being a woman who had a long, productive life with a smiling face, sparkle in her eyes, and being a caring and loving aunt.

This Blogpost celebrates my beloved grandmother, Malinda B. Crain Willis and her loving sister, Alice Crain Sisco 7 Wausau Street, Ogdensburg, NJ. Photograph taken in 1942.


Beth Willis, August 11, 2017

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Introducing Historian Beth Willis

Beth Willis Historian

Beth Willis has written the most meticulously composed manuscript that I have ever read about the history of West Milford. Her work is both comprehensive and carefully researched.

I am delighted to introduce Beth Willis to the Idylease History Blog. Beth is an exceptionably knowledgeable historian. Below, she will introduce the highly detailed manuscript that she has composed about local history. It is a particularly comprehensive overview of families and genealogy that dates back over 200 years. What I find most remarkable about the document, is that much of it is derived from original writing by those personalities who wrote letters and family histories from the era. It is probably the most meticulously composed piece of history that I have ever read about the past of West Milford and beyond. Beth will be guest posting informative stories from time to time, and this week, she will be sharing a detailed history of George Anthony Day. George was the nephew of Dr. Edgar Arthur Day who had built Idylease Inn. From 1904 -1920, George served as General Manager of the Inn. I promise that Beth’s writings will clarify many myths and legends of community. I am fortunate to have worked on restoring many images that are part of the Day and Strait Family Photograph Collections with her. We will be sharing the fruits of that labor with you all soon. So, without further delay, I’ll let Beth introduce herself…


Many readers of Richard Zampella’s Idylease History Blog have seen new articles appearing on his site mentioning a Beth Willis who shared information on Dr. Edgar A. Day, the founder of Idylease. Richard has asked me to introduce myself.

Though I use my preferred name, Beth, I was born Jane Elizabeth Willis, the daughter of Ralph A. Willis and Verna Jayne Muhlbauer, who herself was always known by the name Jane. We had lived in the LaSalle section of Niagara Falls, New York. My father’s family lived Ogdensburg, New Jersey. For many years our family made annual visits to my Dad’s parents, Aaron and Malinda Crain Willis. As child, I was captivated by the beauty of the mountains in northwest New Jersey. For many years, my grandmother regaled us with stories of the Crain, Strait, Walther families. But as a young adult, I had paid little attention to them, for which I deeply regret now.

After my grandmother’s death in December of 1970, my parents and I returned to visit my grandfather the following spring. Dad and Grandpa were cleaning out the basement of the boxes my grandmother had saved that contained the family memorabilia she had inherited from the Strait and Walther homesteads at Stockholm in 1956. As Dad and Grandpa sorted through boxes of old letters from the Walther estate, Dad would save the stamps as he was an avid stamp collector. Then, they burned them.

Being bored, I picked up a letter and began to read it. It was written by Edward S. Keeler who was a soldier at the Signal Camp, Georgetown, D.C. to his friend, George Walther. He described his duties in which flags were used to communicate intelligence to another camp about 10 miles away. He wrote that he like being part of the Signal Service of 1700 men and was doing well, despite that his brother’s regiment at the James River where typhoid fever claimed the lives of one half of the regiment. The letter was dated Sept. 30, 1864.

I had realized that I was holding a piece of history, and bolted out of the comfortable chair, ran to the back garden where Dad and grandfather were just about to start to burn another box of letters. I asked Grandpa to stop burning them. He asked, “you don’t want these old things, do you?” I said “yes”. During the remainder of the visit, Grandpa showed me the family bibles, photographs, papers and manuscripts her relatives had written about the family. Loaded with a box full of memorabilia, I spent the winter compiling a genealogy of both my grandparents’ lines.

The following spring, we return to visit with Grandpa. I proudly showed him the genealogy I began. He remarked that I was just like my grandmother and invited me to move down to live with him. Much to my parents’ reluctance, for I was 26 and he was 85, grandfather had persuaded them that it would be good for him to have someone help him out.

In the fall of 1972, I moved to Ogdensburg to live with my grandfather. We were like “two peas in a pod” as he would say. We visited relatives, went to cemeteries to copy headstones of the family, and many days went through the photographs and memorabilia which my grandmother had preciously preserved. It was the best time of my life.

Though Grandpa passed away in July 1975, he had bequeathed the family home to me where I lived until a re-evaluation of the house went from $25,000 to $119,000 in 1988. The tax base about equaled my pay. With much reluctance, it was decided that I had to leave the beloved family home.

Carefully, I packed thirty-seven storage boxes with the family artifacts and memorabilia. While living in Ogdensburg, I had researched historical items, as well as the family genealogy. One of our relatives, Josephine Walther had hired a photographer to photograph the remaining 102 houses and businesses at Snufftown, now called Stockholm during the land acquisitions by the City of Newark for the Pequannock Watershed. I had begun to research each of the properties. Several of which were owned by various members of my grandparents’ families. I also conducted many interviews with descendants of the area.

In 1990, I purchased a small house in Lockport, New York. This was so I could be near my aging parents who had various medical issues. My energies were to assist my parents who had given me support, encouragement and moral guidance throughout my life. The histories and memorabilia were stored away for the next 25 years.

I had developed many long-lasting friendships while living in Ogdensburg. Over the years, several friends, Claire, Barbara, Pauline and Fran have kept in touch with me. In January 2015, my dear friend Claire had sent an article that had appeared in the Sunday New Jersey Herald. It was an article about one of my woodpile relatives Frederick Crill. He was hanged in Newton for taking his rifle and shooting his daughter in the back of her head during a quarrel about a measure of corn meal he had owned for which his grandson had been playing with. This article sparked an interest to review the family genealogy to scrutinize the accuracy of the reported article.

I pulled out the box containing the genealogy and made the comparison. When putting the genealogy away, I pulled out the photo album containing the Walther Photo Collection. Gleaning through it brought back the passion I once had. When speaking with another dear friend, Pauline, she noticed how enthusiastically I sounded when I told her about my recent findings. She said, “Write it”.

The research and compilation of the proposed manuscript was made during the 1970’s-80’s without today’s electronic technology. As I finished a handwritten draft, I realized I needed to acquire a computer to type the manuscript. Thus, in June 2015, I purchased my first computer and learned the basics of using Word 2013. During the finishing editing, I had contacted James R. Wright of the Hardyston Heritage Society. He has been extremely helpful in providing information and photographs. He had visited many of the sites written in the manuscript and sent many wonderful photographs of the stone foundations of the former dwellings, the only remains left. These inspired a conclusion to the manuscript which blossomed into 639 pages and has over 900 photographs.

Thus, after some 40 years my dream to document the history of Snufftown, now Stockholm, New Jersey came to fruition. “The Inhabitants of the Neighborhood……… A Pictorial History of Snufftown, now Stockholm, Hardyston Township, Sussex County, New Jersey and its Vicinity”.

Through the assistance of Hardyston Heritage Society, the manuscript is on the shelves of several local libraries and historical societies. It is also available for purchase on a USB Flash Drive by contacting me. I consider the manuscript as a work in progress as I have since been contacted by several people who have had family members that had lived in the area and are sharing their family information and photographs.

Descending from a long line of story tellers, who have at times been known to be long winded as every detail of their lives was so interesting, I also acquired their passion to preserve their history and those of the Stockholm area.

It is my pleasure to meet Richard’s readers, and hope you continue to enjoy the articles we have been working on. I can be contacted by email at:

Beth Willis, June 16, 2017

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