Each week, this column highlights Fort Lee’s history. This week we highlight a person most responsible for collecting this history for the archive of the Fort Lee Historical Society for more than 40 years – Robert Boylan.
Bob was president of the Fort Lee Historical Society for decades until illness forced him to retire a few years ago. During this period, Bob maintained an archive of thousands of photos originally housed in the and then moved into the Fort Lee Museum, which has housed the Fort Lee Historical Society archive since 1999.
Among the collection of archival photos assembled by Bob are hundreds of photos of Palisades Amusement Park. In addition to his duties as a Fort Lee Police Officer, Bob worked at the park, and in September 1971, when the park closed, Bob was able to acquire these wonderful stills from park owner Irving Rosenthal. You can see some of these rare photos and artifacts on display at the through Jan. 29 in our Palisades Amusement Park exhibit.
Bob also made contact with people who had great collections of other aspects of Fort Lee’s history. When I joined the Fort Lee Historical Society in 1989, I was thrilled to see that Tom Hanlon was an active member. I had first met Tom when I was 10 years old and attended a screening of silent films produced in Fort Lee – Tom ran these film festivals at the in the 1970s and many from my generation were first introduced to Fort Lee’s role as the first American film town thanks to his and his ground breaking 1964 documentary, Before Hollywood There Was Fort Lee.
Bob Boylan brought Tom into the Fort Lee Historical Society, and there we got to know Tom even better. The result was the birth of the Fort Lee Film Commission in 2001. Bob was able to get Tom Hanlon to donate many rare film stills and archival material that make up the bedrock of the Fort Lee Historical Society and Fort Lee Film Commission archive as well.
From the George Washington Bridge to the American Revolution, Bob has traveled from one end of Fort Lee to the other through the decades to collect our history. Bob even made a journey up and down Main Street in the late 1960s, taking black and white snapshots of the storefronts and the people who populated this section of town. Without this photographic documentation we would not be able to fully know what Fort Lee’s business district was like more than two generations ago.
The Fort Lee Historical Society honored Bob Boylan on Dec. 13 at our end of the year meeting, where we dedicated a room in the museum to him for his many years of service, not only to the Fort Lee Historical Society, but to the entire Borough of Fort Lee.
Thanks for the memories Bob!