Occupying 38 acres off Totowa Road, the club hosted a day camp, a large swimming pool, hundreds of small private cabanas and a full-sized pavilion for Saturday night entertainment and dining services. At the time, Hickory Hill featured well-known entertainers and comedians who appeared at the dinner-dancing Saturday nights during the winter months. Later, in the late ‘60s the club enclosed its pavilions and hosted weddings and other functions. Comedians and musical acts once featured in the likes of the Catskills entertained club and non-club members each Saturday in and off season.
The club was owned by Saul Kimmelheim and his colleagues Saul’s daughter and family (the Hacks of Wayne) were members. Saul and his wife, Ruth, residents of Clifton, would be seen at the club on a regular basis, conscientious owners who catered to the membership with courtesy and respect.
Few local residents frequented Hickory Hill in its heyday as the membership was almost exclusively Jewish although two cabanas were reserved for members of the local governing bodies, a practice that may be illegal or simply frowned upon today. Councilman Jim and Lois White, Councilman Joe and Angela Mecca and a sometimes others joined the lively group of summer gatherers. Local insurance agent Jacob (“Jack”) Prince, Jr. and his wife, Doris, their son, Jack of Totowa frequented the club as well.
The club also had ball fields, tennis courts and later a golf range. However, most members just enjoyed the large cement swimming pool and two diving boards.
As club members relaxed around the grounds in “chaise lounges” tanning themselves and resting from their often busy professional lives, many women played mah-jong and foursomes of bridge and pinochle players could be found around the shaded areas of the grounds where “waterboys”, wearing khaki shorts and t-shirts emblazoned with the name “Hickory Hill Cabana & Country Club” would pour from plastic pitchers cool water to the members delivered in small paper cups. Canvassed structures also protected members from the open sun as much of the pool area was treeless. One of the waterboys was former Wayne Mayor and the later Superior Court Judge, David Waks.
Without cell phones or other ways of communicating outside the club, the membership was connected to the outside world by pay phones and a series of telephones located on the end of each row of cabanas. The central loudspeaker would announce: “Telephone call for Dr. Bill Frost” ….“Telephone call for Dr. Bill Frost” or a call for some other prominent member. The member would then walk to the phone and take the call. The announcements came all day long on the weekends so it was no secret as to who the other members were although the group was closely knit inside the club and outside the local Jewish community, many of whom were from Passaic, Paterson’s East Side and Wayne.
Movie night was Wednesdays in the summer and after a good day tanning and enjoying the pool, club members grabbed dinner at the snack bar and moved their lounges and webbed chairs to the large pavilion where movies were shown on a large outdoor screen. Usually that day, a trailer pulling an apparatus to spray the area for mosquitos went through the club emitting large amount of white chemically laced smoke to kill off the pests.
The club was quieter during the weekdays but it also hosted a summer day camp and nursery on the site with locals such as Jim Marotta, Frankie and Ricky Belmont, Lou Duva’s kids, Denise and Dino, and a handful of other Totowa kids enjoyed being picked up by red and white school buses at their homes in Totowa to be shuttled to and from the club. The bus attendant would call out the names, last name first, Mecca-Tony and Mecca- Joe were on the roster for three years as well. Local Totowa kids like Councilmen Jim and Lois White’s son Jimmy and Jack and Nettie Whitney’s boys Jack and Donald were other locals who enjoyed sunny summer days poolside. S. Howard Wedlake of Totowa was a security guard at the club for many years.
Maria Mecca (Vallace) was a regular attendee for two years at the club’s nursery program where sisters. Mary Ellen and Linda Lloyd (now Mary Ellen Welk and Linda Vicari, both still current Totowa residents, were nursery camp counselors. The Hack brothers, Evan and Alan, whose grandfather managed the club were also attendees. The nursery offered a half-day program which was probably designed to gives moms a break more than to entertain the children, although the counselors were just as dedicated to the children as were the camp counselors at the day camp who taught swimming in a second location on site, taught nature studies in the woods, instructed in arts and crafts, tennis, volley ball, and a host of other typical day-camp activities. Some kids were bussed off the site at the end of the camp day while others were picked up by their parents and brought up to the club to enjoy the rest of the summer day and evenings.
Later in 1985, Totowa residents, Tony and Carole Mecca were among many local residents who held their wedding receptions at the Hickory Hill. The Paterson Fire Department held its annual dinners there as well.
Like many local area “swim clubs” and country clubs, their popularity waned with land values becoming so great, development encroaching and club members either aging, moving away or simply being able to afford their own back-yard pools. Country club life was not the same.
Like many local clubs, the Hickory Hill came to a close in the 1980s. It was sold for $1 million dollars to a Clifton-based investor who later sold it to developer who razed the club making way for its current development of valuable homes and club amenities still known as Hickory Hill.
By: Joseph A. Mecca, Esq. Totowa