BACK IN TIME: Voting in the early days in Old Tappan

Lachmund’s Hotel in Old Tappan, where voters went to cast their ballots on Election Day.

In October of 1894 the Borough of Old Tappan was born, splitting off from Harrington Township. When it was time for residents of the young borough to cast their ballots on Election Day, it meant a trip by horse and wagon to Lachmund’s Hotel.

Lachmund’s was the hub of Old Tappan at the turn of the 20th century. Built around 1870 by John Lachmund Sr., the two-story structure was located on the bend of Old Tappan Road just before it meets Rivervale Road, near the bank of the Hackensack River. It was a meeting place for many local groups, including the borough’s mayor and council. The hotel owner’s son, John Lachmund Jr., whom everyone called Johnny, had an easy commute to fill his role as the borough clerk.

Old Tappan’s centennial history book relates, “Johnny Lachmund voted first because he lived there. Ballots were marked in pencil with an ‘X,’ and tales are told of close votes where hot arguments took place and a crooked or misshapen ‘X’ was fiercely challenged. And there was one time when 100 registered voters were listed but 110 ballots were counted. Some jokester suggested that 10 women had sneaked in.”

Of course, in those early years of the 20th century voting was for men only. Women weren’t able to vote in elections until 1920.

Old Tappan’s first mayor, John Haring De Wolf (1853-1927), with wife Margaret Ann Cleveland De Wolf in the year 1925.

Johnny Lachmund held the job of borough clerk for 57 years until his death in 1954. Another long-timer in the political arena was the borough’s first mayor, John Haring De Wolf. Elected immediately after the formation of the borough, he held the top spot in Old Tappan for 33 years.

After the borough formed in 1894, two of the governing body’s first purchases were a dozen chairs for $10 and six tin spittoons for 10 cents each.

In 1896, Old Tappan had 22 registered voters. Every one of them voted in the spring election. In that year the borough’s budget was $2,783.32. This included $995.80 for the county; $940.80 for the local school (there was one wooden schoolhouse, and Old Tappan students went to Hackensack High School); $564.48 for other local purposes; and $282.24 for roads.
–Kristin Beuscher