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Monday, May 27, 2024

INTERESTING FOLKS: Knowlton’s Mayor Frank Van Horn Leads by Example

Mayor Frank Van Horn at work

Some locals have said they have an indelible memory of the loud rumble caused by Knowlton’s Mayor Frank Van Horn as he would arrive on his motorcycle to welcome all volunteers toiling to set up their display tables before he began his service as Master of Ceremonies at the Warren County Farmers’ Fair. It is said to have set a festive, rural tone to the event.

Van Horn has been the mayor of Knowlton on and off for the past 50 years, in a total of five decades. This is not a record; the record for longevity goes to his late uncle Charlie Rydell who was the mayor of Frelinghuysen for 39 years.

But Van Horn certainly set some records of his own. One such achievement is that he said he has had the honor of marrying over 250 couples. One of the first weddings he did was for his friends. The woman was so nervous she kept passing out before they could be married. Finally, they decided to go into the closet where Van Horn could complete the ceremony in private. The couple are still married today.

He recalled another couple who fell in love while mountain climbing. He married them in midair. They climbed the mountain where Van Horn officiated while hanging on a rope suspended over the cliff. “It was exhilarating and frightening,” Van Horn said.

Van Horn said he was one of the volunteers who built North Warren High School, Belvedere High School including the parking lot, lights and drainage systems. He also helped build several sports fields and Tunnel Field Park.

His service as master of ceremonies and the director of the Warren County Fair has lasted for 45 years. Van Horn is described as a tireless volunteer deeply involved in the civic life of his township and county, as stated in the New Jersey Herald,
In 2015, he won the Mary Louise Christine Outstanding Senior Citizen Award of Warren County.

He coached Midget Wrestling and Little League Baseball for many years, served as an umpire for Little League Baseball and is past president of the Warren County Umpire Association where he ran clinics to train umpires for Little League Baseball.

A recent Van Horn family photo. courtesy of F. Van Horn

The Van Horn family is quite large, in the 1640’s, the family settled on Manhattan Island and then moved to Hope, Knowlton and the Blairstown area to build a lucrative dairy farm legacy.

“Everyone worked together sharing the chores on four separate farms. They harvested crops and shared the hard work storing hay, said Van Horn. “The women would prepare hardy elaborate afternoon meals. It was common to have an average of 20 hungry workers sitting together for lunch.“

At age of seven, Van Horn would rise each morning at 3:30 a.m. to help feed the pigs with his cousin Rich. Their job was to cut open any packages of outdated bread and meat that his uncle Jay collected from local stores to feed the pigs. At that time, the farm had 100 pigs and they ate a lot.

“Did you cut the plastic off of the food for the pigs? ” their Uncle Jay inquired sternly. The boys insisted they did, but were then walked out to the field where they saw a pig with a Tastycake wrapper sticking out of its hind quarters.

Van Horn has so many funny stories about his adventures on the farms. Everyone grew up with a good attitude, they worked hard and played hard.

At age 16, Van Horn would rise at 1 a.m. to pick up a load of cream in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and then drive it to Raritan Valley, New Jersey, where the cream was unloaded. He would then drive to school where his dad would meet him and switch vehicles.

“We grew up quick.” Van Horn said. “By 16, I was a man, not like today’s
youth,” Van Horn said.

Van Horn reminisces, the farms had a racetrack and race cars, motorcycles, planes and a runway. He remembers helping assemble the airplanes with a pattern.

“Only uncle JC had a pilot license, at that time it was not mandatory, said Van Horn the adventures were numerable. In 1963 the family built Harmony Speedway, a
racetrack still open today. In the 1970’s and 80’s Carl Fuzzy Van Horn was a famous race car driver. The Van Horn family still has his race cars in the Stock Car museum in Reading PA.

Frank and Mary Van Horn.

Van Horn was 22 when he married his wife Mary, they have been married 52 years. ”She is the most intelligent woman I have ever met, she has worked for Warren County Health department and has helped thousands of people in her career.” Van Horn said.

They have three children all of which are happily married. “Material wealth is nothing without a supportive family. He boasts there is no divorce in our family, we all go to church, and true happiness is a sense of wellbeing.” Van Horn said.

His father Newt was a healthy vibrant mountain of a man with giant hands able to lift two 100-pound milk cans at one time. He remembers one evening going to a professional wrestling match at Hunterdon High School with his extended family, uncles and cousins. This was a rowdy event, the crowd cheered as Haystacks Calhoun and George the Animal Steele wrestled.

These giant men taunted the crowd, if you think you can beat us, get into the ring. “My dad got in the ring, he was around 400 pounds and incredibly strong. He tossed the professional wrestlers around, pushing them out of the ring, it was hilarious!” Van Horn said. They became friends of the family, George would come to the farm and work.
He said it was a great work out and they always ate the best food.

At age 59, his father went to the hospital for a minor accident but he never left the hospital alive. His father must have had a premonition.

Van Horn remembers his father telling him, “Frank, take care of your mother, your family and the community.”

He took it to heart; he finished his father’s term as mayor of Knowlton that year and continues to fulfill his father’s wishes. He likes to acknowledge his beloved mother, describing her as “a hardworking, loving, tractor riding sweat heart.”

Van Horn encourages readers to get involved in the community. “Warren County is a beautiful place with some of the nicest people, serving the community will enrich your life with a sense of belonging, be proactive. This is your home.” Van Horn said.

Yelens Choban
MB Journe, Contributing Writer
Contributing Writer

MB has been a resident of Frelinghuysen for the past 22 years. She lives in an old farmhouse on the side of the road. She enjoys the simple life, puttering in her flower garden, practicing Qi Gong under her redbud tree, or creating art on the deck.
MB's experience as a journalist began when her son was quite young, she began writing for The Paulinskill Valley Chronicle, often bringing him to work with her. Her responsibilities were writing articles with photos, selling ads, and billing. This suited her, as a single mother not wanting to be separated from her small child.

She considers herself a lover of nature, often seen photographing its beauty. She has worked as a seasonal employee of YMCA Camp Mason for the past 17 years. She is a teacher and mentor of children, always emphasizing the YMCA’s core values - caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. She tries to listen carefully to each individual she interviews, getting their viewpoint. That is why she likes to write about the interesting people and places that make Warren County such a nice place to live.