19 April 2018

Venis Tavern - Dachshund Tavern - Billy Jack's (1929 - 1985)

Webster's defines a tavern as "an establishment where alcoholic beverages are sold to be drunk on the premises." Hence, during the period of Prohibition between 1920 and 1933, there were no taverns in Hillsborough. Instead, there were halls. Music halls, dance halls, catering halls, etc. Farley had a hall, Palahach had a hall and Theodore and Catherine Venis had a hall.

7 October 1935 Courier News
They immigrated to America early in the century - Theodore from Greece in 1906 at the age of eighteen and Catherine from Romania in 1909 at the age of sixteen. They met, married, and settled in Hillsborough, New Jersey in 1929, soon opening the Venis Dance Hall, Boarding House, and Service Station on Route 206 across from the southeast corner of the Duke Estate. 

28 April 1936 Courier News
Much like other similar establishments in Hillsborough, we can assume that the Dance Hall served food and non-alcoholic refreshment, held dances and was available for private functions. The boarding house behind the hall, whose thirteen rooms each had two beds, catered mostly to summer boarders. Catherine Venis was one of the first proprietors in Hillsborough to apply for a beer license when they became available in 1933, and it was likely at this time that the name of the establishment was changed to Venis Tavern.

12 June 1941 Courier News
The couple continued to run the tavern for the next two decades, somehow finding the time to raise a large family whose progeny became ubiquitous in Hillsborough for decades.

17 June 1963 Courier News
At some point between 1955 and 1958, the business was acquired by Albert "Slim" Everett and the name was changed to Dachsund Tavern.  The tavern was sold again around 1975, likely to its final owner William Tepper. The name was changed once again to Billy Jack's - but was also known in the 1980s as Players Assembly Tavern. Many Hillsboroughians recall being served their first underage drink here in the 70s and 80s, and it wouldn't have been a shock to see Doris Duke at the pool table.

1979 Aerial View
The tavern made the news in January 1984 when Tepper was accused of harassing a disabled patron by telling him to keep his wheelchair in a corner and not go near the bar (he was cleared of any wrongdoing the next year) but by that time Tepper had other plans. In March he received approval from the Board of Adjustment to build a 48-lane bowling alley on the east side of Route 206 near the Raider Boulevard intersection and to extend Raider Boulevard across the highway to a planned 17-unit industrial park. He planned to transfer the Billy Jack's liquor license to the bowling alley. After spending the next year trying to make that all happen, Billy Jack's was quietly closed and the building demolished some time at the end of 1985 or beginning of 1986.

12 April 2018

Hillsborough and Montgomery Telephone Company (1903 - 1987)

The story of telephone service in Hillsborough Township begins on September 30, 1903, at the New Jersey Inter-State Fair in Trenton. It was on this date that Hillsborough Township farmer Peter A. Garretson first saw a demonstration of a telephone, and decided he would like to have one for his home.

September 30, 1903, New Jersey Interstate Fair Postcard
He purchased two telephone receivers and strung wire between his house and that of a neighbor. In less than two months Garretson had incorporated the Hillsborough and Montgomery Telephone Company with William C. Hendrickson, William M. Funkhouser, Louis E. Opie, A.J. Van Nuys, David J. Smith, and Jacob C. Gulick. Poles began to go up in 1904 in the service area of Belle Mead, Harlingen, Skillman, and Rocky Hill with 13 initial subscribers, quickly growing to 150.

19 March 1935 Courier News
Garretson was elected as president of the company, and he and co-founder Louis Opie remained on the board of directors throughout the 1920s and 1930s as service expanded to other sections of Hillsborough. When Bell Telephone erected poles in town for their long distance service in 1935, the rumor, quickly denied, was that they would soon acquire the Hillsborough company. In fact, independent phone companies were the norm in most of the US throughout the 1930s and 40s.

13 April 1941 Home News

In the 1940s, Louis Opie succeeded Garretson, who died in 1937, as president. By 1941, with 300 subscribers in Belle Mead, Harlingen, Rocky Hill, Griggstown, Millstone, and South Somerville the seven employees of the company worked out of a bungalow on Route 206. Employees consisted of one construction superintendent, two linemen, and four female operators working eight-hour shifts to provide 24-hour service - something the company was proud to have provided since 1906.

1944 Letterhead

Stock in the company was held by 100 local shareholders. In 1944, shares were going for $55.

17 June 1955 Home News
In 1951 the company announced plans to provide dial service to its growing list of 750 subscribers within five years. On June 18, 1955, Hillsborough and Montgomery residents in the service area began dialing for the first time, using numbers that began with FLanders-9. Twelve operators lost their jobs to the new technology, but most were reassigned to elsewhere in the growing company - which by 1957 had 1,250 subscribers. The new tech - installed at a cost of $175,000 - also required an across-the-board rate increase for business and residential customers - the first since 1926.

1957 and 1960 Home News
As the decade of the 1960s dawned, and the Hillsborough housing boom picked up speed, it was a given that every new home would require phone service. The subscriber base grew from 1,250 to 1,800 to 2,500 to 3,500 by the end of the decade.

South facade of the "new" H&M building on Route 206 - now Century Link
20 January 1963 Home News
The growing clerical and administrative staff, as well as the IBM punch-card computer, required a new building which was built in 1963 and is still occupied today by Century Link.

2 February 1972 Courier News
No survey of the history of H&M would be complete without a discussion of service complaints. In 1971 a group of residents calling themselves the Citizens Committee for Better Telephone Service circulated a questionnaire to residents about the quality of their phone service. Complaints included picking up the phone to find oneself in the middle of someone else's conversation, not getting a dial-tone, and the biggest - toll rates. Nearly every call outside the 359 exchange was long distance. Calls to Somerville and other nearby towns were all toll calls. Company representatives explained that because of complicated settlement agreements that every independent phone company in the US had with Bell, H&M was receiving significant revenue back from Bell - and besides, a very small percentage of H&M customers were making most of those calls, thereby subsidizing everyone else's regular monthly bill.

In January 1978 United Telecommunications announced plans to acquire the Hillsborough and Montgomery Telephone Company in a stock swap, but that the merger would not affect the rate structure. The acquisition became official the next year with all 102 H&M stockholders trading in their shares. On July 1, 1987, United Telephone merged all five of its Central Jersey telephone companies into one company called United Telephone Co. of New Jersey, and H&M ceased independent operations.

05 April 2018

Belle Mead Rest Country Club (1938 - 1942)

Between 1938 and 1942 Hillsborough Township was home to the only nightclub in the state of New Jersey that catered specifically to African-Americans. Because of pre-World War II racism, it is likely that the Belle Mead Rest Country Club was one of the few night-spots where people of color could feel welcome at all.

26 August 1938 Home News
Opened early in 1938 on Route 31 - now Route 206 - in the southern section of the township by African-American proprietor Willie Green, the club faced challenges right from the beginning. An application for a liquor license - an absolute must-have for any sort of nightclub then and now - was denied by the Hillsborough Township Committee in May 1938 on the grounds that there were already too many establishments holding liquor licenses in that section of the township. Willie Green believed it was something else, and appealed to the state Alcohol Beverage Commission. It's worth repeating Commissioner D. Frederick Burnett's remarks upon overturning the township committee:

"It is all very well to talk of the theoretical protection given to Negroes under the civil rights act which provides that no tavern-keeper shall refuse to sell drinks to patrons merely because of color. However, it is a commonplace fact that Negroes, despite the law, are frequently refused service either outright or by more subtle methods. Members of the Belle Mead Country Club have already experienced difficulty. Two of them were informed at the nearest liquor place that a glass of beer would cost them 35 cents and a glass of whiskey 50 cents [more than double]. Practical differences like these which confront the colored race must be fearlessly faced and given practical and fair solutions."
"Separate but equal" solutions such as this would of course in time be considered racist themselves, but for 1938 this was a good win.

8 December 1940 New Brunswick Sunday Times
Around 1940 Willie Green transferred management of the club to New Brunswick entrepreneur Harry Fisch and his son Abe, with an option for them to buy the place outright. This would necessitate a transfer of the liquor license - and in this Green was again stymied by the township committee. It again took the intervention of the state Alcohol Beverage Commission to direct the township committee to allow the transfer, which took place in July 1941.

12 February 1942 Home News
The Belle Mead Rest closed in February 1942. Newspapers give no account of the circumstances, but we might guess that it had something to do with the impending construction of the Belle Mead Army Service Forces Depot that April.

03 April 2018

Evelyn Wentworth Murray - The "Countess" of Somerset County - Part 2

[I wrote about the first twenty years - January 1885 through December 1904 - of the public life of Evelyn Wentworth Murray, the "Countess de Grasse" in part one which you can find here.]

Before we continue with the life of Evelyn Wentworth Murray, the "Countess de Grasse", it may be worthwhile to provide a description of the subject. Mrs. Murray had her moniker thrust upon her by the citizens of Buffalo, New York when she burst upon the scene as an eighteen-year-old adventuress in 1885 - but the following description of the Countess de Grasse and her daughter Pauline are from a story titled "The Gamber's Courtezans" which appeared in the Gentlemen's Pocket Magazine in 1829. This is the only historical mention of a Countess de Grasse that I have been able to find. Could either of these women be who the Buffaloans were reminded of when they first encountered young Lena?

It may not be uninteresting to here give a description of the

Countess de Grasse and her daughter Pauline. The Countess
was about fifty years of age. She was a beautiful brunette,
had fine lively sparkling eyes, a noble carriage, and majestic
deportment. She appeared perfectly familiar with the usages
of high life, and was a distinguished person in some fashion-
able circles where gambling was carried on. It was impos-
sible for one who did not know her, to discover, under her
dissimulation and artifice, the perversity of her soul.
Pauline was a lovely girl, shaped like her mother; she was
beautifully fair, and about seventeen or eighteen years of age.
Her light blue eyes expressed desire and voluptuousness, and
there was an archness in her manner, that unveiled the lasci-
viousness of her soul to those who had leisure to observe her
attentively. She was a most seducing creature, and was
friendly and polite; — her fine bosom was enchanting — she af-
fected an air of modesty and mildness, and abounded in fine
sentiments; but an attentive observer could easily discover
her dissimulation. 

21 January 1901 New York World

At the beginning of 1905, we find Mrs. Murray not only recovering from a bruising sleighing accident in Raritan but also from a devastating fire that gutted her home and left her in the tenant house. This was the second fire on her River Road estate since she bought the old Frelinghuysen homestead in Hillsborough Township to use as a summer retreat in 1892. A fire in June 1900 destroyed the first palatial home she built called "Wentworth."

4 July 1901 New York World

With a number of small houses still on the property, Mrs. Murray decided not to rebuild, but to refurbish the tenant house for her own use, and move some of her eight servants to other quarters. 

Well known in New York City for her efforts on behalf of working horses, headline writers had a field-day when her auto was bumped on the corner of Broadway and 48th Street in November 1906 by a car driven by the chauffeur for theatrical agent William Morris. After Mrs. Murray predictably had the chauffeur arrested New Brunswick's Home News wrote, "MRS. MURRAY AGAIN IN THE LIMELIGHT - Caused Chauffeur's Arrest for Cruelty to Her Automobile." 

7 March 1908 Plainfield Daily Press

After a relatively uneventful 1907, the Countess was back to battling with her hired help the next year. In the many documented cases of conflict between Mrs. Murray and her servants, the mistress of the manor always came out on top. Even when she lost - as in the 1908 case of farmhand John Millett - she won. Millett believed he was owed $160 for doing some extra gardening. Mrs. Murray offered to settle for $85. He initially won a judgment for $160, but on appeal, this was reduced to $80 - less than what he was offered to settle.

13 January 1909 New York Evening World
Mrs. Murray didn't always bring the crazy, sometimes the crazy found her! Like the freezing night in January 1909 when an escaped lunatic from the State Insane Asylum at Trenton ran naked across her fields before being lassoed by a posse of torch-bearing Raritaners.

18 February 1910 Asbury Park Press

A year later domicular tragedy struck for the third time, fire consuming the tenant house in which Mrs. Murray had made her residence since 1905. Neighbors offered to take her in, but as reported by the Asbury Park Press she vowed to stay on the property, "as long as there was a building left on it." Newspaper headlines erroneously trumpeted the notion that the Countess was living in the chicken coop. The actual story revealed later is just as interesting. Just a few months before the fire she built a fine one-roomed bungalow on the property so that her niece, also named Evelyn, might have somewhere to play when she came to visit. On the night of the fire, Mrs. Murray was writing in this "doll's house", while a dog that she rescued from the streets of New York was in the main house playing with her newborn pups. The dog knocked over a chair which upset the stove causing the fire - and Mrs. Murray ended up living in the doll's house!

27 August 1898 New York World

Less than two weeks after the fire Mrs. Murray announced ambitious plans to turn her 146-acre Hillsborough estate into a "sanatorium for decrepit animals", mainly horses, so that they might be nursed back to health, or live out their lives in comfort. What a change from just a few years before when she had all of the cattle, horses, and even dogs on her farm euthanized to put them out of their suffering! Now she refused to leave her one-roomed bungalow to go back to her city apartment because she did not want to leave her pets!
29 November 1911 Home News

Mrs. Murray eventually left the farm and once again began commuting seasonally between Somerset County and New York City. Each hunting season she was sure to be at her River Road estate to protect the wildlife on her farm from poachers. Can you picture her in a short hunting skirt, sweater, and a pair of high-topped rubber boots chasing off poachers with a .38 caliber revolver? That's exactly what she did on November 28, 1911 - assisted by her Italian watchman carrying an automatic shotgun and two revolvers tucked in his belt. During hunting season, the watchman. clad entirely in white, would sit in a conspicuous place on the farm to warn hunters away - but on this afternoon three men deliberately fired at him, and at Mrs. Murray too after she came running up. Like a scene from a movie, the poachers escaped by hopping a freight train near the Roycefield crossing.

20 November 1918 Home News

Somehow, in a story full of contradictions, it is fitting that the next time Mrs. Murray's name appears in a newspaper it is in a classified ad offering her estate as a private game reserve! 

January 1920 New York Times

In her first confirmed acting role since the 1880s, the fifty-six-year-old Countess played the part of Jenny Lind in a pageant of the early life of New York City held at Battery Park in January 1920. 

At some point in the teens, Mrs. Murray built a new two-story house on the property, and by the end of the decade gave up her New York apartment and moved full-time to Hillsborough. It was from the porch of this new home that she sat during the summer with a rifle in her lap to frighten off passing motorists who stopped to pick her blackberries at the side of the road. 

30 January 1924 Home News

On the afternoon of January 29, 1924, tragedy struck the Murray estate for the fourth time. An overheated oil stove used in heating the second story of the house caused a fire which completely destroyed the building and all of the contents, including two valuable Persian rugs, imported English parlor furniture, an 800 volume library, and all of Mrs. Murray's jewelry and personal belongings. The Courier News, in two separate stories, described the house as both a "palatial residence" and a "bungalow" - it was probably somewhere in between. The Home News provided this description of the events:

"[After telephoning] Mrs. Murray waited about a half hour for the Raritan fire apparatus to arrive but seeing that it was not coming she jumped into her Ford sedan and proceeded toward Raritan at a lively rate of speed. On the way to town the tire blew out causing the machine to sway from side to side. Mrs. Murray, thinking that she was nervous due to the fire raging in her home did not stop until she had driven to the garage owned by Mr. Turpus in Raritan. The alarm was turned in at Somerville and the West End Hose Company responded, arriving before the first story of the building collapsed."

Having already given up her place in New York, Mrs. Murray decided to sell the farm and find another place nearby. She bought a house on Easton Avenue near Franklin Blvd. in Franklin Township. She appears to have settled quietly into her new life, staying out of the headlines until a fender bender in March 1930 led her into court once again. But this was nothing compared to what was to come.

28 September 1930 Home News

On Saturday, September 27, 1930, Mrs. Murray had a recently purchased automobile delivered to her home and was taking it out for the first time. Pulling out of her drive, she was hit by a Rutgers student, Edward Eppell, traveling east on Easton Avenue. The terrific collision left Mrs. Murray with numerable injuries - in fact, she was hospitalized at St. Peter's for nearly a year. The auto salesman, still on the scene after delivering the car, held Eppell's car up off of Mrs. Murray's head until help could arrive.

In court seven years later, the Countess must have looked like a shell of her former self. Hobbling to the witness stand, with no control of her right arm and shoulder, unable to fully close her right eye, she wore a dark hat pulled low over her face and dark glasses. She was suing for $70,000 - $50,000 of which was for pain and suffering. Although witnesses confirmed that Eppell was traveling at a high rate of speed, and had swerved to Mrs. Murray's side of the road, the jury found for the defendant.

A listing in the 1940 census for Franklin Township is the last historical mention of Evelyn Wentworth Murray, the Countess de Grasse. With no children or other close relatives, it appears her passing, despite her 50 years in Somerset County, went largely unnoticed. 

29 March 2018

Villa Firenze (1932 - 1945)

On September 3, 1944, a massive fire started by a spark thrown from a passing locomotive and fanned by high winds swept across 500 of the 1200 acres leased by Cosimo Mancini from the Belle Mead Development Company. Destroyed in the blaze was an expensive pear orchard - including the entire season's crop - and most of a private hunting club, as all of the ground cover was burned off leading to the retreat of all of the birds. This was the first of two fires that plagued Mancini in a six-month period - the second one driving him from Hillsborough.

1 October 1941 Courier News

The Belle Mead Development Company was affiliated with New York Acreage Estates, a real estate company controlled by W. M. McElroy with holdings in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships and elsewhere in central New Jersey. The specific property leased by Mancini was called Sunnymead (or Sunnymeade) Farms and comprised the area in eastern Hillsborough north of Amwell Road, east of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, and northward almost to Falcon Road, as shown on the map above.

Detail from 1945 Hagstrom Map
Cosimo Mancini was an immigrant from Florence, Italy who came to America in 1912, eventually settling in Hillsborough. As early as 1932 he was operating a restaurant on Amwell Road called, appropriately, Villa Firenze. Mancini and his wife and family also lived in the tavern, which was in a large 12-room house with seating for 150 in the dining room.

1942 and 1943 ads from the Courier News

At the end of Prohibition in 1933-34, Villa Firenze followed all of the other eateries in Hillsborough Township by applying for a liquor license. From then until the mid-1940s Villa Firenze was a destination for diners looking to get out to the countryside. Ads from the period advise motorists to Turn Left at the Wood's Tavern Intersection and proceed to Sunnymead Farm.

1941-1943 ads from the Courier News

As the name, and the Mancinis' background would suggest, Villa Firenze specialized in Italian Cuisine, and featured live music with dancing seasonally on the weekends, and on special occasions such as New Year's Eve.

On February 4, 1945, a fire which started in the boiler room of the tavern spread quickly through the house. The Montgomery Fire Department responded, but found no available water to fight the fire. The $25,000 building was a total loss, although half of the $10,000 of liquor was able to be rescued.

20 June 1952 Home News

Mancini ended up suing the railroad over the 1944 fire, and received a settlement of between $2,000 and 3,000 in 1948 - but it wasn't until June 21, 1952, that he returned to the restaurant business with the New Villa Firenze on Route 28 in Bridgewater, west of the Somerville Circle. He died in 1962, after which his wife sold the restaurant in 1963. The new owners changed the name to The Villa and ran the successful restaurant for another 32 years before closing in 1995.

27 March 2018

Evelyn Wentworth Murray - The "Countess" of Somerset County - Part 1

Picture this: A young serving-girl pinned to the floor in the master bedroom of a palatial riverfront manor while her mistress - the wealthiest woman in the county - spanks her brutally with a slipper, as the girl's older brother, the assistant gardener on the estate, bounds up the wide staircase to rescue his sister - who just happens to be their employer's recently adopted fourteen-year-old daughter. It reads like a scene out of a 1880s stage melodrama - appropriate since the protagonist here is the 1880s actress Evelyn Wentworth Murray - but this scene played out in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey on the banks of the Raritan River in the summer of 1896.

20 August 1896 New York Journal
Little is known today of Mrs. Murray's acting ability or stage credits except that she was in Maud Granger's troupe in the mid-1880s, but one thing we know for sure is that the lady knew how to make an entrance. On January 1, 1885, newspapers in Pittston, PA, Maysville, KY, St. Louis, MO, and all across the country reported the story of twenty-one-year-old Lena - the Countess DeGrasse - the beautiful actress and enchantress who went by the stage name Evelyn Wentworth.

5 January 1885 Maysville, KY, Daily Evening Bulletin

At the age of fifteen, Lena, whose actual surname remains a mystery to this day, was, according to later newspaper accounts, "led astray" by a boy who she was keeping company with, and fled from the Canadian village of her birth to Toronto. She stayed in Toronto three years before coming to Buffalo, New York. It was there that she picked up the appellation Countess De Grasse. It was said that as she drove a carriage through the streets of Buffalo, her dark hair, big blue eyes, red lips, and "beautifully developed figure" made her look like a Russian countess. 

1 January 1885 St. Louis Post Dispatch
Her charms had an effect on a young married man from a prominent Buffalo family. So much so that the man's father presented the Countess with $10,000 - an amount equal to over $230,000 today - to go back to Canada. This she gladly did, briefly, before taking her new-found fortune to New York to attempt to cultivate a career on the stage.

6 January 1885 St. Louis Post Dispatch

Lena returned the next year to Buffalo, and at some point met C. Clarke Vandeventer, a twenty-five-year-old merchant, and heir to a fortune left to him by his uncle Cyrus Clarke. Newspaper accounts state that Clarke pursued the Countess for more than a year before she agreed to his marriage proposal. The pair were secretly wed on September 7, 1884, since Vandeventer's friends did not think she was suitable for marriage. Things fell apart when he was on a business trip to New York at the end of the year. Mrs. Vandeventer appeared at police headquarters in Buffalo, a copy of her marriage certificate in hand, and proffered a charge of desertion against her husband. The episode played out over the next weeks, with Lena eventually receiving a settlement from Vandeventer, and returning to New York City to once again tread the boards.

30 October 1886 Huntington Indiana Daily Democrat -
a performance including Evelyn Wentworth and David Murray

Back to being Evelyn Wentworth, she joined the troupe of the renowned actress Maud Granger. Also in the company was David Murray, brother of NYPD Superintendent William Murray. The pair married while on tour in Mississippi, then again with a proper marriage license in Jersey City. In short order, the story took a familiar turn. In January 1888, Murray found himself in Manhattan's Yorkville jail charged with desertion and failure to support his wife. She went to see him during his 24-hour incarceration, and then met the press:
"I took him his dinner last night out of pity, and I said to him that I would let him out if he would give me a chance to get a divorce. He replied that no other man should ever call me his wife while he lived. He promised once to give me a divorce and I gave him money. He spent the money for oysters with his witnesses."
She got the divorce and within a year or so bought a farm on the south bank of the Raritan River in Hillsborough just west of the James B. Duke estate. The property was the former country residence of Secretary of State Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen - the place where President Chester A. Arthur courted Frelinghuysen's daughter during his frequent trips to Hillsborough. The Frelinghuysen mansion had been recently lost in a fire, so Mrs. Murray commissioned a new residence.

20 August 1896 New York Journal

Mrs. Murray began spending summers on her farm which she dubbed "Wentworth" around 1892 - the year before James B. Duke came to town - splitting time between here and her New York apartment at 223 West 57th Street. Somerset County residents were not receptive to having the beautiful thirty-year-old divorcee in their midst. They were jealous of the luxury she displayed in her horses and carriages and gossiped about her eccentricities - including the time she buried her beloved poodle in a silver coffin, then had him dug up to take one last look at her baby.

21 January 1901 New York Evening World
But Mrs. Murray's biggest battles were with her servants. It took a staff of eight to run her 146-acre country estate, tending to the livestock, the gardens, the house, and especially the Countess herself. Just weeks before the incident described at the beginning of this tale - which ended with the young woman's brother being arrested for assault and both of them being dismissed from their duties - she fired the head gardener and his wife for impertinence, and then had her coachman swear out a warrant for the gardener after he threatened to break the coachman's back when he was told to fetch a policeman to have the couple removed from the premises.

22 March 1897 New York Sun
The tables were turned a year later when Mrs. Murray's twenty-two-year-old maid escaped at 3am to a nearby farmhouse, arriving beaten, bruised, and sporting a slash from a fruit knife across her face, with a tale of living in terror for two months. This led to Mrs. Murray's brief arrest a few days later, an assault charge, and the beginning of a $5,000 civil suit. The Countess spent the next three weeks in New York but returned on the day her maid was released from the hospital to have her arrested for forging and attempting to cash a check in her name. The criminal charges on both sides were thrown out, but Mrs. Murray took the stand in the civil trial at the end of the year, denounced her maid for having a "bad reputation" - and imported several witnesses to state the same - and stated emphatically, "I never laid a hand on a servant in my life."

3 April 1898 New York Times

Mrs. Murray also made headlines at her New York residence. Now living at 48 West 73rd Street, she had a notable run-in with an Italian-American produce vendor over a pear, some mushrooms, and several oranges. The ensuing fracas included a butler with a club, the flash of a stiletto, a broken down door, and one abject Sicilian in the 68th street lock-up. Two years later, back in Hillsborough, she somehow instigated a fight between two of her servants which ended with a bitten finger, a fugitive, and more appearances before justices.

7 June 1900 Philadelphia Inquirer

The fortunes of the Countess took a ruinous turn in 1900 as newspapers around the nation reported the devastating fire at Wentworth which destroyed the beautiful home on River Road she had built less than a decade earlier. She vowed to stay on the property, quickly building a new house.

4 July 1901 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

As a longstanding vice-president and benefactor of the Somerset County SPCA, Mrs. Murray had long been concerned about the suffering of animals. Early in 1901, she turned her attention to the plight of working horses in New York City. She made headlines in January for having a cruel driver arrested, but saved her most novel remedy for later that summer. In her crusade to give tired horses a break in the heat of the city, she came up with the clever approach she described here:
"I just ride around in my automobile, and when I see a horse that is fagged out I stop the driver, chat with him nicely for a few minutes and then give him twenty-five cents to go get a glass of ice-cream soda. Of course, they always go to some saloon and buy beer instead of getting soda, but the horses get a little rest while they are drinking and that is what I am after."
She also brought her activism to Somerset County, providing the funds to build a drinking fountain for horses in Raritan and arranged for the SPCA to erect a second fountain on the road from Somerville to Pluckemin. 

11 November 1903 Home News

Mrs. Murray's next endeavor to ease the suffering of animals is shocking to us in 2018, but was only thought of as peculiar in 1903 - she systematically put to death every animal on her farm - the cattle, the horses, even the dogs. On account of her strict vegetarianism, she refused to sell any of her livestock for fear that it would wind up with the butcher. Newspapers reported how Somerville veterinarian E. R. Voorhees administered the lethal injections "with tears in his eyes." Still, Mrs. Murray ordered the procedures without compunction. Indeed, the Somerset County SPCA cheerfully enumerated the number of animals put out of their misery in their annual reports.

9 January 1904 New York Sun
There exist but few accounts of Mrs. Murray's interactions with her near neighbor James B. Duke. In December 1903, her servant John Garrigan, after being held in the county jail for six weeks, confessed to setting fire to a large hay barn on the Duke farm and also to destroying another large barn on the property two years previously. In a rare turn, the Countess vociferously defended her employee but had only nice things to say about Mr. Duke. 

"I am but slightly acquainted with Mr. Duke, and any time Mr. Duke called on me it was on business pure and simple, such as any good neighbor might do. If every one [sic] had such neighbors as I have, they could easily follow the Scripture and say thankfully: 'They loved their neighbors as themselves.'"
 Even 115 years later we may be able to read between the lines of that unsolicited protestation!

21 December 1904 Courier News
Tragedy struck again a year later when a lamp carried by Mrs. Murray's Japanese servant exploded just as the Countess was slipping into the bath. Frantic efforts to extinguish the flames proved useless, and Mrs. Murray was forced to escape with bare feet over the snowy fields to the tenant house. She spent two full days in self-imprisonment awaiting new clothes to be sent from New York. After she was able to properly attire herself, she had her coachman hitch up the sleigh for a shopping trip in Somerville to buy Christmas presents for all of her servants who had been so kind to her since the fire. 

23 December 1904 New York Sun

On the return trip, the horses were spooked by the trolley in Raritan, overturning the sleigh, bruising the Countess, and scattering Christmas presents everywhere. More concerned for the presents than herself, she searched through the snow for a big doll meant for the daughter of one of her employees. According to The New York Sun, when fifteen-year-old Raritan youth Philip Cahill found the doll in a snowbank and presented it to her, "she hugged the doll with one arm and Philip Cahill with the other in such a manner that caused the boy's face to turn almost the color of his scarlet muffler." When the trolley conductor approached her for the early 20th-century version of exchanging insurance information, she replied in the third person, "It is all right. Mrs. Murray will sue no one at Christmastide."

Read part 2 here.

22 March 2018

Hillsborough National Bank (1972 - 1987)

In April of 1971, as Hillsborough was preparing for the celebration of its bicentennial the next month, local and county Democrats got together to do something novel - start a bank. The list of organizers reads like a who's who of Somerset County politicians - Hillsborough Mayor John Guerrera, former county Democratic chairman John J. Carlin, Jr,, county prosecutor Michael Imbriani, Hillsborough Township Committee member Michael Cinelli, township judge Stanley Purzycki, Bernardsville Democratic leader Andrew Erchak, and Richard W. Herman, president of Hermann Services trucking and warehouse firm - of which Michael Cinelli was vice president.

Also on the list of organizers was William Bruce Amerman, George R. Farley, Albert J. Macchi, and Sylvester L. Sullivan. Approval was granted later that year for the Hillsborough National Bank, with an expected opening in 1972 at Route 206 and New Amwell Road. The proposed location was subsequently changed to the site of the A&P Shopping Center under construction at the intersection of Route 206 and Amwell Road.

30 January 1973 Courier News
The bank, with an initial capitalization of $1.75 million, opened in a "mobile banking center" on the site of the shopping center in September 1972, and quickly grew to total assets of near $4 million.

19720927 Courier News
Sylvester Sullivan served as the first president and chairman of the board. He was replaced by the appointment of Michael A. Cinelli as president on June 1, 1973. Cinelli, besides being a township committeeman and former president of the Hillsborough Township Board of Education, held a master's degree in finance from NYU and worked in the banking industry before becoming vice president-finance for Hermann Services, Inc.

11 July 1973 Courier News

Many of the first shareholders in the bank were Hillsborough residents. Hillsborough National Bank highlighted this in a series of ads which ran in 1973 and 1974, Recent Hillsborough High School graduate Alan Kravette was in the first ad, which subsequently featured the Fierst Family, George and Janet Wulster, Santa and Felix Carlisi, and the bank staff.

1973-74 "stockholder" ads
The new main offices broke ground on September 29, 1973, and opened one year later. The 10,000-square-foot building was a contemporary design by the firm of Eckert & Gatarz of South Brunswick.

19 September 1974 Courier News
Hillsborough National Bank also opened a location that same year at the corner of Route 206 and Triangle Road - the building now occupied by Levinson-Axelrod. It was at this branch on April 30, 1981, that a man entered and handed the teller a note which read, "I have a gun, put the money in the bag if you don't want to get hurt." He escaped in a waiting getaway car driven by a "dark-haired woman." Police noted that this was the fourth bank robbery in Central Jersey since the beginning of the year.

1 May 1981 Courier News

In 1984, Franklin Bancorp. announced a plan to acquire Hillsborough National Bank for $5.6 million. As Michael Cinelli explained:

"Our customers will get additional convenience. For example, people holding automatic teller cards will be able to use Franklin State's Treasurer machine at more that 6,000 terminals statewide and national."
Hillsborough National Bank's wholesale lending limit would also increase from $450,000 to more than $6 million. The agreement was finalized in January 1985, with Hillsborough shareholders receiving 2.1 shares of Franklin stock for each of their Hillsborough shares. By the end of the year, the entire company was merged with United Jersey Bank, and in May of 1987, Hillsborough National Bank was completely subsumed by United Jersey Bank with the merger of its boards and executives into one entity.