Story of Allen Eaton Jenkins

My great-grandfather (Frederick C.J. Wiss) hired a chauffeur at the end of 1909 for his wife. In those days women did not drive. And a man was needed to keep the car running.

I do not know what sort of car he bought then. I know it had enough room for passengers. My great-grandmother was giving her friends rides in it. Presumably a limousine style, as that is what she had in later years. He was a wealthy industrialist and could have afforded a Pierce-Arrow or a Packard. Or he could have bought from a local auto body manufacturer in Newark, like J.M. Quinby & Co.

Even more interesting is how I know what I know. The chauffeur didn't die until the Fall of 1952 [obituary]. He was around to teach my father how to drive. My father went fishing with him. (The grandchildren stayed with their grandmother in the Summer, as during the depression the generation below had to give up their Summer houses.) He and his wife helped my parents at parties. And his younger wife (Emily Theresa Brown Jenkins) cleaned for my parents into the 1960s. It would have ended at that, if it weren't for a small trunk.

Before being hired by my great-grandfather, Allen Jenkins was a hostler for Dr. George Foster, a wealthy doctor in Rockaway, NJ. He was moonlighting for Edward Ehlers, president of The Rockaway Rolling Mill, which was located behind Dr. Foster's backyard. Mr. Ehlers owned a Corbin car. Allen drove Ehlers's car to the Corbin factory in Connecticut, for repairs and new fittings. See letter from Ehlers. Allen wanted to become a chauffeur full time. He was collecting catalogs on chauffeur schools and chauffeur uniforms. But the doctor wasn't interested in getting a car.

Now Rockaway is on the Morris Canal and was a wealthy town. And the steel mill was alongside the canal. In 1887, when my great-grandfather moved the factory into its own building, he built it outside the town, up on the hill near the Morris Canal. At a place where the steel could almost be rolled from the canal to the factory. And before the time consuming and expensive locks to get down into Newark. The section was known as the West Ward. It became the German part of Newark.

Specialty bar steel was the mill's main product. All forged scissors and straight razors start as high carbon bar steel. Somehow the owner of the steel mill learned FCJ was looking for a chauffeur. FCJ would have already had a car. He was active in the New Jersey Automobile and Motor Club, and his younger brother had a car from 1900. Allen got hired. And FCJ's wife never learned to drive.

When the widow of the doctor died in 1938 she left the mansion to the town to be used as a library and museum. It included all the furnishings.

A few years back Joyce Kanigel, the town historian, found a trunk. It was filled with letters, pictures, receipts, a catalog for chauffeur outfits, a catalog for chauffeur school, and the letter instructing Allen what to get fixed at the Corbin factory. The dates ended at the end of 1909.

She did research. She found Allen's WWII draft registration online. It lists as his employer Charlotte Wiss, my great-grandmother. She then found Charlotte's obituary, which led to J. Wiss & Sons and this website and me.

When Allen moved into Newark in 1909 he first lived in a rooming house on Academy Street (as shown in the 1910 census). He left the trunk behind in Rockaway. He was well liked by the doctor. Mrs. Foster even left him $200 in her will. But Allen never went back to retrieve the trunk. Getting married in 1914 may have had something to do with it. Then their daughter Olga was born in 1916, and their son Cortland was born in 1918.

Allen was also well liked by my great-grandparents. His granddaughter still has the set of Lenox bone china that was given to Allen when he got married. (Lenox bone china was also given to all the grandchildren when they got married. The Wiss and Lenox families were friends.) They helped Allen buy a triple-decker house at 767 Hunterdon St, South Ward, Newark in 1918. It was then primarily a middle class Jewish neighborhood. He was the first Black on the block. He had a car (Pontiac) when most of the Whites on the block didn't. And they helped him buy a house at the shore. Avon-by-the-Sea, where my family summered at the time, did not allow "coloreds" to spend the night in town. Not even domestics. My great-grandparents didn't want him to have to drive back to Newark. So they helped him buy a house on 15th Ave in Belmar (the town just below Avon). In the later years the Christmas gift to him was a $100 bill.

At a job some 35 years ago I met Harold Blades, a fellow that grew up behind my great-grandmother's Avon-by-the-Sea house. He is 10 years older than I. He knew my great-grandmother. In the 1950s she took him to the club for lunch. He remembers Allen. He wrote his recollections. His ancestors were also Newark industrialists. Some writings of his great-grandmother were found. She wrote about how my great-grandmother was having them and other friends driven around in the car. Read the excerpt covering the Wiss family.

Here is the historian and trunk in The Star-Ledger: Black History Month: Unexpected portrait

The Rockaway library has put their pictures in their Historic Image Collections.

I am now in touch with Allen's grandchildren. I have gotten together with two of them: Carol Jenkins and T. Martin Jenkins. Carol has supplied me with pictures of Allen Jenkins.

Don Wiss, 2015.


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