16 June 2018

Wood Duck Lake and Falls, Then and Now

Also known as Willy Jones Lake, Wood Duck Lake is easily the most obscure large body of water at Duke Farms. Despite being approximately the same size as Heron Lake and Turtle Lake, its location on the far side of Duke's "mountain" definitely puts it off the beaten path.

Willy Jones Lake and Falls, 1920s postcard

I've hiked out that way numerous times, and have never had any company except for red-winged blackbirds!

The main feature of the lake is a waterfall that occasionally spills down from the western end of Great Falls Lake. I have only observed the waterfall in action a couple of times over the past six years. It's best to go after a few days of heavy rain.

Wood Duck Lake and Falls, 2015

09 June 2018

Farm Barn, Then and Now

When James B. Duke purchased the first properties of what would become his country estate along the Raritan River in Hillsborough in 1893, he immediately decided that creating a world-class stud farm would be the proper pursuit for a millionaire bachelor tobacco magnate.

Stables at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1913

To that end, he hired a trainer, built the stables that we know of today as the Coach Barn, built another set of stables - now lost-, and began assembling a collection of champion stallions. 

1894 Duke's Farm trade journal advertisement

As the property grew through the acquisition of neighboring farms, Duke ordered the construction of a massive stable on the south side of Duke's Parkway (in those days called Woodville Road). The 22,000 square foot stone and timber building was completed in 1906. If you take a walk behind the building today, you can picture trotters and pacers being exercised on the intersecting looping paths through the meadow.

The Sower at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905

Waiting for the completion of the stables was an impressive bronze statue purchased by Duke while on a tour through Europe. "The Sower", or more fully, "The Sower From the Time of the Great Elector", was created by German sculptor Stephan Anton Friedrich Walter and depicts a peasant of the 1600s sowing his fields. Look closely at the postcard at the top of this post and you can see The Sower at the entrance to the barn. In 1914 Duke gifted the statue to Trinity College - now Duke University - where it remains today.

The Farm Barn in the 1980s - photo by Arthur Brecknell

Duke was also breeding cattle during this period - his most famous prized Guernsey bull was Lord Stranford - which in the decades after James Duke's death in 1925 led to the conversion of the stables for a full-scale dairy operation.

The Farm Barn in the 1980s - photo by Arthur Brecknell

The Farm Barn underwent a Platinum Leed Certified renovation for its adaptive reuse as the orientation center for the Duke Farms opening in 2012.

The Farm Barn at Duke Farms, 2017

22 May 2018

19th Century MeetUp at Belle Mead Part 2

 In 2014, partly as an excuse to post some photos of the old Belle Mead and Flagtown train stations, I described a July 5, 1894 letter from New York patent attorney Edmond Brown to his wife who was staying with her parents in Plainville - today the site of the Carrier Clinic's East Mountain Hospital. The letter was full of details about trying to arrange a brief Rendez-Vous as Mr. Brown's train passed Belle Mead on his way back to New York City from a Philadelphia business trip the next day. You can read the post here

Three years later while browsing eBay I miraculously happened upon another letter between the couple - this time from wife to husband - dated October 23, 1894. You may recall from the earlier post that through the use of census records we were able to discover the reason that Mrs. Brown was "feeling poorly." Now, three-and-a-half months later, she knows what we knew - that back in July Mrs. Brown was in the first month or so of pregnancy. 

1896 Central Railroad of New Jersey Timetable

An excursion by train from New York City to Belle Mead/Plainville in 1894 would necessarily begin by consulting a timetable such as the one above. Then it was off to the foot of Liberty Street and the Central Railroad of New Jersey's ferry terminal for the trip across the Hudson.

CNJ Liberty Street Ferry Terminal circa 1938
Mrs. Brown will pick it up from here: 
Oct 23/94
On the train.
My dearest - I have been having a pleasant ride; it was beautiful crossing the river. I stood outside and enjoyed it. I was thinking of you all the way over, and how it would have been if you were there too.

Central Railroad of New Jersey Ferry Terminal, Jersey City
I am just at Cranford & Westfield now and the trees look so pretty. They always seemed to me prettier down here than at Belle Mead.

Cranford Station circa 1908
And it is such a nice day. I wonder if I can't send some of the pleasure to you. I shall try. And I shall think of you every night. Perhaps it will be only two nights after all.

The view from Westfield Station circa 1908
There are two such nice boys across the aisle from me. I don't think I should be broken hearted if E. is a boy. They are eating a lot of candy. We have reached Bound Brook, so will soon be at B.M. I won't mail this until I am met. I do hope my boy will keep happy. Try to believe that your wife is near you, and she is going to try to keep near you and to be happy, and see if she can send some of it to her boy. She loves him very much, dear, and he is such a good, dear husband, and she appreciates it. She loves him.

Central Railroad of New Jersey Bound Brook Station circa 1908
I have brought out a couple of the little dresses to sew - though I may not do much on them. I am afraid I must stop now. With a heart full of love,
Your wife.

Belle Mead Station

I do hope you will be able to come out.

13 May 2018

Mary, Mother of God Church, Flagtown

Martin and Susanna Bergen came to America fleeing the Great Irish Famine around 1850. He was twenty-two, she was eighteen. Whether they met and married here or in their home country is unknown. They settled in Newark on a farm on Bloomfield Avenue and had their first child, Nora, in 1857.

The Hoagland-Wyckoff-Bergen-McHugh House photographed in 2009

In the Irish-Catholic tradition, more children followed - including daughters Sarah and Mary. They lived for decades in Newark then moved to Hillsborough Township before 1900. They bought the house and farm off South Branch Road in Flagtown that in previous generations belonged to the Hoagland and Wyckoff families. By 1910, with Martin and Susannah both deceased, Nora, widowed sister Mary, and sister Sarah inherited the house where they lived with Mary's two teenaged sons. 

12 July 1920 Courier News

Religious life in Hillsborough's first two centuries was dominated by the Dutch Reformed denomination and its many area churches. Roman Catholics, of which there were few, traveled to Somerville, Raritan, or further to worship. Things began changing between 1910 and 1920 as eastern and southern European immigrants ventured out of the Eastern cities to New Jersey's suburbs and rural villages. Around 1916, Nora Bergen began arranging for a priest from Immaculate Conception Church in Somerville to conduct a service for area residents in the family home.

Early View of Mary, Mother of God Church, Flagtown

Over the next fifteen years, with the help of Immaculate Conception's Reverend Richard T. Ryan, Miss Bergen grew the congregation far beyond the capacity of the house, and it became obvious that they would need to build a church. She donated part of her property closest to the road, and on March 17, 1931, ground was broken for the Mission Church of St. Martin's. It was to be of red brick and to have a capacity of 450. Construction began the next month on a scaled-down plan - still called St. Martin's - with a capacity of about 300 at a cost of $20,000.

On Sunday, July 12, 1931, one thousand people - including various councils of the Knights of Columbus and twenty assorted clergymen - witnessed the dedication ceremonies of the newly-renamed Catholic Church of Mary, the Mother of God. Monsignor James T. Mckean of Bernardsville delivered the sermon from the front steps of the church. Until 1948 Mary, Mother of God was not its own parish, but rather a mission church directed by the parish of Immaculate Conception.

Mary. Mother of God Church, Flagtown, 2012

In 1981 the congregation of Mary, Mother of God constructed a new church on a portion of a 90-acre tract they purchased on South Triangle Road. At that time there were more than 1,000 families in the parish. By the time the church undertook an expansion project in 2009, that number had grown to 3,200.

Nora Bergen passed away on December 29, 1940, at the age of 85, in the home where she had lived for more than 40 years. She never married and outlived all of her family save her two nephews - but what a legacy! We might be tempted to call her the Mother of Mary, Mother of God!

05 May 2018

Hillsborough Township Postwar Residential Development Part 3: 1981 - 1993

Readers who follow the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook Page are participating in a year-long house-hunting expedition through the real estate ads of yesteryear. In this third and final group of posts, represented by the brief excerpts below, we have taken a look at residential development in the township from the end of the Planned Unit Development period into the beginning of the McMansion era.

Enjoy the recap below, and be sure to follow the Gillette on Hillsborough page by clicking the link here, and "liking" the page. Thanks!

We begin the third phase of our exploration of Hillsborough's residential development by looking at some vintage real estate ads from 1981, 1982, and 1983. The homes of Contempo West - on Longfield Drive and side streets - have their own unique contemporary style, differing from the colonials featured in most of Hillsborough's developments. This was nothing new for Parisi Building and Investment Co., Inc. as they had already built similar developments at South Plainfield, as you can see in the ad. 

We are back in the Planned Unit Development this week to visit Weybridge Place circa 1982-83. This development was advertised as Authentic Federalist Townhomes and makes a nice contrast to last week's visit to Contempo West.

We are continuing our chronological exploration of Hillsborough's residential development this week by visiting Woodfield Estates. This large development - over 300 homes - debuted in 1983 south of Amwell and west of Pleasantview Roads.

Throughout the 1980s the Planned Unit Development (PUD) Zone - an area bounded roughly by Triangle Road in the north, Route 206 in the east, Homestead Road in the south, and Pleasant View, Amwell, New Amwell, and Auten Roads in the west - continued to fill in with higher density projects. This week we visit The Manors, a handsome townhouse development south of Amwell Road near the high school.

Our continuing trek through the real estate ads of yesteryear brings us this week to the intersection of Willow and Matthew Roads circa 1984 where you'll find the entrance to "the Seasons". This development was advertised as having wooded lots, and, uniquely, lot sizes varying from 3/4 acre to 2 1/2 acres.

In this third phase of our exploration of Hillsborough's post-war residential development, we have been jumping in and out of the Planned Unit Development Zone. This week we are back in the Zone and visiting Huntington Park circa 1985. This townhouse development which used the slogan "Now you don't have to go a long way to look like you've come a long way" is located south of Raider Boulevard at Greenfields Lane.

The story of New Center Village - a development of around 100 single-family homes north and south of Triangle Road west of its intersection with Auten Road - begins in 1978 when the owner of the property challenged Hillsborough Township re-zoning that limited the number of homes that could be built. A 1980 agreement restored the original zoning and included a provision that required Hillsborough, with a $294,000 developer contribution, to pave Auten Road from New Amwell to the intersection of Triangle Road, and eventually to the railroad crossing by 1985. I am not sure if Hillsborough made the deadline, but in any event, New Center Village began advertising at the end of 1985 and opened section 2 north of Triangle in 1989. The developer also set aside a few acres at the southwest corner of Auten and Triangle for a retail complex aptly named New Center Village Square, commonly known as the CVS strip mall.


Our year-long survey of Hillsborough's post-war residential development brings us this week to Majestic Knolls. Approval for this single-family-home development was granted in 1984 - provided that the developer finish the missing piece of Triangle Road between South Triangle and Auten. The necessary property was acquired from Mary Mother of God Church the next year, and the first models were up by 1987. Wrap-around porches and central air were some of the selling points in the 1989 ad below. 

Today we journey back in time to 1988 to visit the beginnings of one of Hillsborough's most well-known developments, Country Classics. The sprawling construction project in the Millstone Valley along Amsterdam Drive has been ongoing now for almost 30 years! Ironic to think that it was approved in the late 80s amid a looming federally mandated construction ban caused by incomplete sewerage upgrade projects. It is also interesting to realize that in the past 30 years people have raised their families in Country Classics and moved on, and the development isn't even finished!!

Whenever I think of the large, unique townhouse development on Bloomingdale Drive near New Amwell and Auten Roads, I always think of the Third Stooge - First there was Curly, then there was Joe, and finally, there was Curly Joe. In Hillsborough we first had the award-winning Meadows - then there was The Glen, and finally...Glen Meadows! Coincidence? While you're pondering that, take a look at these two ads for The Glen and Glen Meadows from 1989 and 1991.

What's unique about Brittany Estates, the single-family-home development which debuted in the southeast corner of Hillsborough in 1989? How about the fact that their home designs were dubbed "The Working Woman's Dream House"? According to the ads, designs were "created based on input from a panel of female professionals"!! So, are you a working woman? Do you find that the homes of Brittany Estates have the "perfect combination of function and luxury"?

This week we venture boldly into the 1990s with a development that exemplifies the new era of much larger homes - Steeplechase Manor. Master Bedroom suites, 3-Car Garages, 2-story Entrance Foyers....there is a pejorative commonly used for homes with all of these features, but I reject it on the basis that people may use the same term to describe my home - which is not very different than the circa 1965 house I grew up in. Interestingly, brokers reported that nearly all of the initial sales in this 57 home subdivision were to people moving from somewhere else in Hillsborough. Were you one?

Hillsborough residents were well familiar with the name Crestmont Hills long before the opening of the first model home northeast of the intersection of Auten and Triangle Roads in 1992 thanks to a builder's remedy lawsuit filed against the township by the aforementioned Crestmont Hills way back in October 1984. Following close on the heels of the Mount Laurel II court decision which stated that ALL municipalities had to provide more moderate and low-income housing regardless of what had been built in the past, builders began suing towns whose zoning didn't allow the density necessary to build that type of housing. An agreement that allowed the developers to build 91 low-to-moderate-income units at the intersection of Auten and Triangle, as well as provide funds to rehabilitate houses in Phillipsburg and improve Auten Road was finally reached in 1988. We looked at Crestmont Hills when we were house hunting in Hillsborough in 1992 - how about you? 

We only have a few more weeks in our chronological exploration of our town's post-war residential development. This week we visit Pleasant View Farms - approved in 1988 and debuting in 1991. The development consists of three distinct subdivisions, all south of Amwell Road and west of Route 206.

Branchville Estates - the upscale development near the Raritan River - gave a nod to history by using the historic name for the village of South Branch, then backed it up by agreeing to preserve the historic Vroom Burial Ground on property they owned on River Road - eventually deeding the cemetery to Hillsborough Township.

I hope you have enjoyed our weekly journey through the real estate ads of yesteryear as we've traced 40 years of Hillsborough Township residential development. Today we arrive at the final stop, Rohill Country Estates. This development on both sides of Beekman Lane first appeared in 1983 under the name Rohill Village, Inc., one of a confederation of companies known as The Hallmark Group. You could write three or four full newspaper pages about the interconnected principals of The Hallmark Group and their activities in Somerset and Hunterdon counties. In fact, The Courier News did just that in 1993. In any case, this development did lead to the improvement (i.e. paving) of Beekman Lane from New Amwell Road all the way to River Road, which was certainly beneficial to commuters.
When we decided to relocate from Monmouth County in 1992 we looked at many developments under construction in Hillsborough: Majestic Knolls, Crestmont Hills, Woodfield Estates, Pleasant View Farms, etc., but settled on Rohill. This weekend marks our 25th anniversary in the township. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to present this year-long series to you in commemoration of our 25 years as Hillsboroughians. Cheers!

26 April 2018

Packard's Farmers Market (1949 - 1990)

Courier News readers who made it to page 24 on March 16, 1990, surely took note of the obituary for Levi Esh. The Lancaster County, Pa. native passed away the day before, leaving 11 children, 73 grandchildren, 93 great-grandchildren, and thousands of customers who visited his Amish food stand at Packard's Farmers Market in Hillsborough over the previous four decades. Remarkably, the very next day, officials from Packard's announced that they were going out of business.

25 June 1980 Daily Record

In 1926, 25-year-old Rutgers graduate Arthur "AJ" Packard started the Atlantic Trading Corporation in New Brunswick. He and his wife Asta built up the business - which was concerned mainly with livestock feed and grain - over the next ten years before relocating to Somerville. They were successful enough to also acquire interests in other local businesses such as the Somerset Mills, and some commercial farms.  Packard became something of a public figure in Somerville during this time, even being elected to the school board in 1940.

18 September 1949 Home News

While their businesses were thriving, Mr. and Mrs. Packard's marriage was failing, and he ended up getting a Reno, Nevada divorce in 1948 citing "extreme mental cruelty" inflicted on him by his wife. Searching for a new venture, Packard began visiting open-air markets, particularly the one in Quakertown, Pennsylvania.  In April 1949 he opened his own similar market on Route 31 - now Route 206 - in South Somerville just north of the Lehigh Valley Railroad crossing.

18 September 1949 Home News

Packard's Market, as it was originally known, was a huge success right from the start. Besides the outdoor stalls, indoor space was provided in a large frame building. By the fall, ten to fifteen thousand customers were visiting the market's 400 vendors on the two days a week - Wednesdays and Fridays - they were open. According to a profile in the Home News, big sellers that first year were, "dry goods, farm produce, household furnishings and equipment, books, deep freezers and almost everything else between radio-phonographs and razor blades." Mr. Packard was justly proud of one of the largest selections of men's slacks in the state!

24 March 1950 Courier News
Vendors had the option of putting items not sold during the day into an auction held in the evenings. Packard's also regularly offered space for community groups to hold their charity and fundraising rummage sales. With hundreds of vendors, there was an overlap of some merchandise offerings. This caused Mr. Packard to be concerned about price-fixing among his vendors. He hated it. If he found collusion between two sellers, he simply brought in a third to undercut each of them!

25 June 1980 Daily Record 
One of the most popular vendors during the days of the original Packard's Market was Gertie Drake whose Odds and Ends stall was filled with thousands of household items. Ms. Drake was there from the first day in 1949 until the last in 1990.

25 June 1980 Daily Record
Leon and Helen Rubin's produce stand was also at Packard's from the beginning. On market days, they would awaken at 2 a.m. to arrive at Philadelphia's Galloway Street market by 4 a.m. in order to get the best selection of fruits and vegetables to bring to Packard's for the 9 a.m. opening.

Images from the 22 August 1972 Courier News

Undoubtedly one of the biggest, and best-remembered, draws for almost the entire run of the market was the Amish. Levi Esh began bringing his clan to Packard's on Wednesdays and Fridays in 1950 - the second year the market was open. A hired driver would pick up the goods  - cold cuts, cheese, pies, and of course their delicious pretzels. - beginning at 4:15 a.m., then collect the family members for the long three-hour ride to Hillsborough. 

Images from the 8 June 1978 Home News
The opening of Packard's Market in 1949 coincided with A.J. Packard's move to Hillsborough and marriage to second wife Alice. He once again became a fixture in the community, becoming involved in politics and civic organizations, and serving on township boards. 

8 November 1952 Courier News

In November 1952, a $100,000 fire caused by a dropped oil stove which was being moved threatened to put Packard out of business. Instead, in less than six weeks he had a plan for a $190,000 re-build - a brand new Packard's with 30,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor space for vendors, and a 10,000 square foot, air-conditioned supermarket. The final design was not nearly as elaborate as the architect's concept as shown below, instead consisting of the familiar long rectangular block building.

19 December 1952 Home News

The supermarket required a seven day a week schedule - and Sunday was added to the Wednesday and Friday schedule of what was now called Packard's Farmers Market.

10 March 1955 Courier News
A.J. Packard passed away unexpectedly from an apparent heart attack on October 15, 1964. Alice Packard, a former Princeton elementary school principal, continued to run Packard's through the end of the decade. 

10 March 1966 Courier News
The sixties were a time of transition for Packard's. Significantly, there were far fewer vendors - decreasing from 200 in 1952 to probably around 100 in 1970. Despite being open a relatively brief twenty-one years, there was already something nostalgic about Packard's. Newspapers picked up on this and began to run the first feature stories about the market.

Images from the 26 April 1970 Home News

Favorite vendors during this period included glassblower Ray Keller, George Price with his tricks and novelties, antique salesman Harold Hayes, and Harold Hogbin who sold trees and shrubs in the evenings. In 1970 Mrs. Packard sold the market and the 30-acre lot to West Essex Industrial Park for $345,000. She stayed on as manager for a short time until Packard's was sub-leased to Mash, Inc. Becky Sanislo became the manager around this time.

8 July 1972 Courier News

Packard's suffered its second major fire in the early morning hours of July 8, 1972. Officials noted the cinderblock construction and the use of fire doors between each of the five sections of the 600-foot-long building prevented the fire from spreading from the northernmost section throughout the structure and possibly reaching the large ammonia tanks of Hammler Industries at the southern end of the property. Unlike the 1952 fire - and despite the fact that the Amish store of Levy Esh had to be relocated to another part of the building -  Packard's was up and running again fairly quickly. 

Packard's 1970s ads

No one who shopped at Packard's Market in the 1970s or 80s could have missed Carmelo Musumeci. The retired diesel mechanic sold foam in every shape and size - generally for upholstery repair, although he would tell you that his customers came up with all kinds of uses.

Images from the 25 July 1974 Courier News

Customers also frequented the ceramics stall owned by Joan Chiesa, Gus Gerhardt's antiques, and the curiosities brought by Steve Woody, who owned the Oldies but Goodies shop in Somerville. A double booth at Packard's - like the one rented by Jean Chiesa - went for $384 a month in the mid-70s.

Images from the 21 December 1975 Home News

A double booth at Packard's - like the one rented by Jean Chiesa - went for $384 a month in the mid-70s.

20 July 1976 Home News

Packard's didn't fully recover from the 1972 fire until the opening of Building #6 in July 1976. Space lost in the fire was restored - and more space was added.

Images from the 25 June 1980 Daily Record and the 11 October 1984 Home News

In 1973, Leo Nadel took over the pickle stand that had been run by his cousins since 1965 - thereby becoming the Pickle King of Packard's. Not bad for a guy who spent most of his career in women's undergarments - selling them, that is.

3 April 1982 Courier News
Another seller who began in the mid-70s and continued throughout the 1980s was Montgomery resident Kathleen Rusher who tantalized kids and adults alike with her toys, candy, and hundreds of novelty gags.

3 July 1984 Courier News
In the late 70s and 1980s, Tom McDonald was the on-site manager and also had his own business, the Jewelry Exchange. In 1985, a further expansion and reconfiguration of Packard's allowed more space for the Amish stand, which remained one of the most popular attractions through the end of the decade.

16 May 1985 Courier News 

The mid-80s also saw the introduction of Pulaski Deli to the food lineup, as well as Saturday hours.

25 September 1985 Courier News

In the latter half of the decade, rising operating costs and a decline in revenue began to take a heavy toll on Packard's. On the last official day of operation, April 29, 1990, manager Tom McDonald cited insurance costs, property taxes, utilities, and waste disposal as contributors to the decision by West Essex Industrial Park to close the market. 

21 April 1990 Courier News

Packard's was no longer able to attract the customers needed to compete with the discount stores, and the 38-acre site was potentially more valuable with something else on it. McDonald scrambled to come up with a plan to at least keep part of the market open, but there was just no feasible way to do it - although he did allow some vendors to stay on for a few weeks after the official final day.

17 March 1990 Courier News

The closing was not only a blow to loyal customers, but also to the vendors, some of whom had been selling at Packard's since 1949. Gertie Drake told The Courier News, "I never thought of leaving here." Eighty-two-year-old Betty DuFour, who had been selling eggs at the market since 1965, said she wasn't able to find anyplace else to work, and would just stay home, adding, "My customers are very faithful to me, and I'm going to miss them very much."

In the end, the Packard's site languished for a few years while West Essex tried to put together a development plan, then was in use as an auction site for a decade between 1996 and 2006.

Hillsborough residents past and present recall Packard's Farmers Market fondly. Perhaps no local business conjures up such vivid memories - the sights, the smells, the tastes, the Amish! Levi Esh and all of the vendors would probably be pleased that they are so well-remembered - even after all these years.