History of a Fort Lee Neighborhood: Coytesville
Coytesville, USA, is one of the sections of Fort Lee with its own unique historical identity.
From time to time this weekly archive piece has touched on the neighborhoods and distinct sections of Fort Lee. Our borough, incorporated in 1904 but named by General Washington in 1776, has a rich neighborhood history.
Originally part of Ridgefield Township, Fort Lee includes sections that had, in a way, very separate identitie over the years. Take the West Fort Lee section, or as it was once called, Taylorville, or the Palisade section. Future columns will center on these two sections of our borough.
The section I will highlight today is a result of a wonderful photo placed on facebook and sent to me by my friend and longtime Fort Lee resident Pete Bailis.
Pete is a man of many interests, and he is not one to be afraid of heights, having scaled our George Washington Bridge many times. However the photo he posted recently is an aerial of the northernmost section of our borough, Coytesville.
I grew up in Coytesville, and my mom still lives in the same house my sister and I were raised in oh so many years ago. As much as we will forever be tied to Coytesville, I for one never saw an aerial of this neighborhood of my youth.
Coytesville is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Fort Lee. The streets are still very narrow and hilly as the one-time village sits atop the Palisades, much like an eagle’s nest. The borders very loosely are the Palisades Interstate Parkway overpass bridge just north of Fort Lee High School, east to the end of the Palisades, north to the Englewood Cliffs border and west to Englewood. Linwood is a demarcation line as it is included in Coytesville but not the area known as Lincoln Heights that is on the other side of Linwood Avenue.
Joseph Coyte who emigrated here from Devonshire, England founded Coytesville in the mid 1840s. You can see his grave marker in Woodland Cemetery, just over the Coytesville border in Englewood Cliffs. The Coyte family donated this land for the cemetery, and many of them are buried here along with the first Mayor of Fort Lee, John C. Abbott.
Woodland is still an active cemetery cared for by the Coytes. Though the last Coyte to live in Coytesville lived there in the 1940s, the family has had numerous reunions here since the 1990s, and they come from all over the United States and, in fact, the world.
This past week my sister Ann and I received an email from a resident of Devon, England who is a Coyte descendant. She is coming over to investigate her roots at the end of the month. We will give her a tour of the Woodland Cemetery and open our Fort Lee Historical Society archive to her in the Fort Lee Museum.
Years ago my sister did a wonderful history of the Woodland Cemetery that many Coytes refer to, including the unofficial Coyte family team leader David Coyte, who runs the family email newsletter and who has been very active in the upkeep of the cemetery.
The Fort Lee Film Commission hopes to lead a walking tour of the film history of Coytesville this fall. Some structures that remain are the Champion Studio just over the border in Englewood Cliffs, which was built in 1910 and was the first home to Universal Studio in 1912.
Universal Studio founder Carl Laemmle came to Coytesville in 1909 to shoot his first film, Hiawatha, for his Independent Motion Picture (IMP) Company. Other film-related sites include Rambo’s Saloon, which still stands on First Street near Fort Lee School No. 3.
The building dates to the mid 19th century and was a saloon up until about 1980. Gus Becker tended bar there from the time Fort Lee was the motion picture capital of America until the late 1970s. As kids in Coytesville, Gus would let us sit at the bar and drink RC Colas as we listened to him tell us magical stories about the Barrymores, movie cliffhanger queen Pearl White, DW Griffith and more. In fact, legendary New York Yankee Babe Ruth himself would stop into Gus Becker’s bar back in the day and enjoy himself with a few of Gus’s cocktails.
I have spoken of the Barrymores connection to Fort Lee often, but the fact that they lived in the Coytesville section of Fort Lee says something about this neighborhood: Offbeat, yes. More rural than the rest of Fort Lee up through the 1970s, most definitely. A wee bit eccentric, yes, in a most positive way – just see John Barrymore’s screen performance as Broadway impresario Oscar Jaffe in the 1934 screwball comedy Twentieth Century (Columbia Studio, 1934).
A very good friend of mine moved from the Palisade section of Fort Lee to Coytesville as a kid in the 1970s, and he still laughs when he says he felt like he moved into Hooterville with all the kids of Coytesville wearing work boots and CPO jackets. Yet something about this magical section of Fort Lee makes that same man today--a man who still lives in Coytesville--one of its biggest boosters.
So there you have it. You can see it from the air now thanks to Pete Bailis. Coytesville, a very small section of Fort Lee, from the air captures my imagination and heart in a very large way. I can still hear the voices and see the faces of my youth, and they whisper to me as I go on in life.
No matter where I am, in fact, I will always be a part of Coytesville.