As a preservationist I am aware that I am only a temporary steward of this historic structure. I have the honor of being the 4th owner of Idylease in a line that dates back to 1903. I am a proponent that past can educate. Architecture as an example, is a direct and substantial representation of history and that places can teach us about our past. By preserving historic structures, we are able to share the very spaces and environments in which the generations before us lived. Preserving historic buildings―whether related to someone famous or recognizably dramatic―strangers are able to witness the aesthetic and cultural history of an area. Old buildings maintain a sense of permanency and heritage. There is no chance to renovate or to save a historic site once it’s gone. And we can never be certain what will be valued in the future. It is a labor of love that I spend my time to ensure that Idylease remains standing for future generations to learn from and enjoy. These past few weeks I spent my days replicating the orginal architectural detailing of the porch columns at Idylease on my wood lathe. My days are often occupied with my effort to restore the structure to its original condition when Idylease opened it door on New Year’s Day in 1903
West Milford was not the most hospitable place for African Americans in this Community in the 1950s. Jake McNeir would tell stories of befriending Carl Grays in the early 50s and how he was given a hard time and found himself defending Carl against racist remarks.
Carl was the Maintenance Supervision of a high rise on Park Avenue when my father met him in 1949. When my dad purchased Idylease in 1954, he asked Carl to come with him. Their friendship spanned over 20 years. When Carl died in 1975, my father oversaw his funeral and burial arrangements. As a nine year old, I had never seen my father shed a tear until that quiet December morning at the Newfoundland Methodist Cemetery.
Carl Grays was born on April 16, 1911 in Philadelphia. He died in on December 24, 1975 in Newfoundland, NJ. He was raised in Harris County, a suburb of Huston, Texas. He had a sister named Lillian Richardson who resided at 1408 Yates Street in Huston. Carl enlisted in the United States Army during WWll in Milwaukee Wisconsin on August 15, 1940. He was honorably discharged in 1945 with the rank of Sergeant. Carl spent the latter part of his life as the maintenance supervisor of Idylease Nursing Home in Newfoundland, NJ. He passed away in his cottage at Idylease on Christmas Eve in 1975.
I spent this morning at the cemetery cleaning Carl’s headstone. He will always be remembered by me for his soft spoken quiet demeanor and ever present smile. Gone but not forgotten.
Dr Arthur Zampella graduated from the Boston University School of Medicine in 1943. He had always had an interest in geriatric care and the elderly. It was his vision to establish a facility where he could practice medicine and serve the needs of an aging population. As a lifelong scholar, my dads interest in this area were reflected in his authorship of many published medical articles, chapters and books on various aspects of aging, care of the elderly, as well as ethical, socio-economic and philosophic discussion in these fields. In an article for the New England Journal of Medicine entitled, “Sampling of the Attitudes of the Aged,” he explored the dilemma of the aging process whereby the elderly are stripped of their social identities when admitted to a nursing home. He felt that a sterile environment, devoid of a homelike atmosphere reduced life expectancy. In many ways, my father was years ahead of his time. Many retirement facilities today, attempt to emulate the surroundings of a private residence.
For many years, my father searched for a location that would be suitable for extended geriatric care. His real estate broker showed him many sterile, cinderblock winged facilities that were devoid of the comforts of home. The broker did not understand that my father was not interested in warehousing the elderly. The broker was hesitant to show Idylease to my father. It was in poor condition. It had remained vacant and boarded up for 11 years. The plumbing was shattered; sitting vacant for many cold winters. Nonetheless, on warm spring afternoon in 1954, the two traveled to Newfoundland from Jersey City. Many years later, my father would tell me that he knew instantly when they pulled into the circular drive; that Idylease the place he had been searching for. Not only did it posses the qualities of a homelike atmosphere, but it had a long and storied history of advances in medical science.
My father was also a strong proponent that social interaction between the young and the old was essential form of therapy for the elderly. Not only could patients benefit from the generational exchange, but the young would also engage with their counterparts. With this in mind, my dad implemented programs with the Boy and Girl Scouts of America and several church youth groups. Many local residents can recall visits to Idylease while growing up to deliver gift baskets, make arts and crafts or simply make new friends with the patients at Idylease.