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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 , 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 .

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 . 

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.

Peter Adler August 18, 2012 at 12:37 PM
In the early 1940s, when I was in my teens, living in Washington Heights in upper Manhattan my Uncle and Aunt used to take me over the GW Bridge and the Trolley north to Coytesville. We'd walk to the Beer Garden on Hudson Terrace and spend the afternoon in the cool shade.
Marge Teilhaber August 18, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Great stuff in here, Tom. Thanks for the hard work. I lived in the "yellow" building next to Half Moon from '74 to '83. Wish The Beer Garden was there during my time there!
kathryn tessaro August 18, 2012 at 05:03 PM
I grew up in Coytesville in 70s and 80s.. and went to school 3.. my kids now go there..very interesting article..enjoyed it!
WG Bauernschmidt August 18, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Enjoyed the article immensely Tom as I did with all your other ones; McFaddens Pond, Riviera Club, Fort Lee University and Jersey Boys. Having grown up on 2nd St (Englewood Cliffs) from 1950 -59 wondered if you had any info on other old Coytesville places from that era such as Macs news stand candy-soda fountain run by James and Frank Macfarland, which was I believe in the old Coyte store location, the El Rancho saloon across the street from it, the old A&P location next to the post office and Tony's vegetable market SW corner of Washington and Lemoine Aves. Thanks for the memories !!
Tom Meyers August 18, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Thanks all for the kind comments! Future Patch From the Archives pieces will include photos from the Fort Lee Historical Society archive of such places as Jim's and the El Rancho...wish we had photos of that Beer Garden! Also anyone interested in joining the Fort Lee Historical Society (and you don't have to live in Fort Lee!) just come to any one of our monthly meetings on the second Tuesday of each month at 7 PM at the Fort Lee Museum (1588 Palisade Avenue) - we usually have guest speakers and a lot of fun to be had!
Tom Meyers August 18, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Jim's had the old trolley station at the entrance and even in the 60s-early 70s when we went there after Holy Trinity school let out we always wondered about that entrance with the trolley station since the trolley was long gone before we were born. The El Rancho was a very interesting place - we always looked in at the Washington Ave. side door with the decal of the hand on the glass portion of the door if you recall.
Joanne Grimm Bernard August 23, 2012 at 02:57 AM
Great article, Tom. Just want to clear things up about Jim's, though. The original owners were my husband's grandparents, Mary & John McFarland. They sold the store to James & Frank Lyons. My mother-in-law, Betty McFarland Bernard worked there as a young girl along with her parents. It was thriving business when the trolleys ran. It was the final stop and they sold candy, newspapers, and had the soda fountain.
William Mays August 23, 2012 at 02:59 AM
Marge just wondering, but whats the name of that building to the right of Half Moon House is you are standing in front of it. I've always wanted to know, because it seems different than all the condo buildings around.
Tom Meyers August 23, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Thanks Joanne - your mom worked in Holy Trinity Rectory as well? If so I knew her and she was a great lady. You are right of course - I was just writing about the place when I was a kid in the late 60s early 70s when we Coytesville ids knew it as Jim's but you are absolutely correct re its previous owners. Thanks for the info!
Tom Meyers August 23, 2012 at 03:17 AM
Meant your mother-in-law Joanne!
Sonic Guppy October 27, 2012 at 01:16 AM
I lived there from 74 to 1980. Went to School #3. Fort Lee during this time period Totally Rocked! It was a great place to be.
Sonic Guppy October 27, 2012 at 01:24 AM
Me and my brother knew, Buzzy, Donny, Lenny, Billy, Little Mikey Zwernerman. Terry Algranati, Paulie Stengel, Louie Migliaccia?, George Barret, Dan Tomaselli, Bill Hahn, The Fishmans, Shinya Tsiugi, Greg Makrolakis. Jeff Permuy. Any of the above or in contact with any of the above, fell free to contact me!
Sonic Guppy October 27, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Bobby Henry.
rich v. November 24, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Joanne, the little candy store on Washington street? ??? I lived on Third street, we moved to the woods of West Milford during the first great migration in 68. However when ever any of us little, little kids(born in 61) would have a penny or find a nickel in the dirt ....."b" line straight to the bubble gum jar!
Mark Monsil January 14, 2014 at 04:29 PM
Sonic Guppy: Are you Bobby Henry?
Marge Teilhaber January 14, 2014 at 05:05 PM
"William Mays August 23, 2012, Marge just wondering, but whats the name of that building to the right of Half Moon House is you are standing in front of it. I've always wanted to know, because it seems different than all the condo buildings around." Just seeing this now, 1-14-14. I don't know the name of that building. I had heard that Patrick Ewing had lived there at one time. Don't know how accurate that is, though.
Mark Monsil January 14, 2014 at 05:16 PM
are you talking about northbridge?
Marge Teilhaber January 14, 2014 at 05:55 PM
Northbridge is a high-rise up the hill from the former Tom Swifts. The building to the right of Half Moon (north on Hudson Terrace) is a smallish maybe 2-level structure.
Mark Monsil January 14, 2014 at 07:07 PM
marge- yeah...you are right. the building on the right (facing west) is Hudson Terrace. maybe it's this one: https://www.google.com/maps/preview#!q=2339+Hudson+Terrace+Corporation&data=!1m8!1m3!1d3!2d-73.959666!3d40.860509!2m2!1f309.62!2f83.63!4f75!2m13!1e1!2m8!1sTUAbY95Qq9BVTh9gxRmAKA!2e0!5s2339+Hudson+Terrace+Corporation!6f492.54407!8s%2F%2Fgeo0.ggpht.com%2Fcbk%3Fcb_client%3Dmaps_sv.tactile%26output%3Dthumbnail%26thumb%3D2%26panoid%3DTUAbY95Qq9BVTh9gxRmAKA%26w%3D374%26h%3D75%26yaw%3D334%26pitch%3D0%26ll%3D40.860509%2C-73.959665!9m1!6s%C2%A9+2014+Google!10s2339+Hudson+Terrace%2C+Fort+Lee%2C+NJ+07024!5m2!1sTUAbY95Qq9BVTh9gxRmAKA!2e0!4m15!2m14!1m13!1s0x0%3A0x89d6efe6f86b07ab!3m8!1m3!1d2145!2d-73.9586805!3d40.8607034!3m2!1i1021!2i546!4f13.1!4m2!3d40.8605983!4d-73.9597222&fid=5
Marge Teilhaber January 14, 2014 at 07:40 PM
That's a complex of 6-story brick buildings at the end of Hudson Terrace, south of Half Moon. The building on Hudson Terrace right after Half Moon House going south, I lived there from 1974-1983. I think it has a name but can't remember it. It's a perfectly decent amenity-free building. There was never a rumor of Patrick Ewing living there you can be sure!

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