17 July 2019

Golf Land (1996 - 2002)

In the summer of 1995 Larken associates received Planning Board approval to build a driving range and miniature golf course on Hillsborough Road just east of Route 206 and the Conrail overpass. At that time the Hillsborough Township Committee was still promoting the idea of an expressway named Corporate Way through that section of the municipality, and Planning Board members liked the idea of a facility of this type in the area, with Board President Thomas Bates noting that a driving range might be an "incentive for corporations to move to Hillsborough."

5 May 1996 Courier News
Initial plans called for a 40-tee year-round driving range, a state-of-the-art miniature golf course - no windmills here - batting cages, a pro shop, and a snack bar. Shortly after ground was broken in the spring of 1996, PGA club pro Robert Mauer was brought on to direct the golf operations - which included setting up driving and miniature golf tournaments, conducting golf seminars and providing lessons.

1 August 1996 Courier News
Before the grand opening in July, it was announced that the recreation center would also include a pro shop and a snack bar. Freeholder Director Peter Biondi got a sneak peek at the facility a few days before opening when he beat out Thomas Bates and Mayor Ken Scherer in a driving competition by being the only player to land his ball on the green.

13 April 1997 Courier News

By the time Golf Land opened the snack bar had evolved into a separate concession called Cafe on the Greens owned and operated by Wayne and Dawn Blauth who also owned the Pennington Bagel Experience. The cafe, which received favorable reviews, was open every day early for breakfast and closed late at 10 or 11pm depending on crowds.

3 July 1997 Home News
In 1997 Golf Land expanded by adding a second tier of 20 stalls to its driving range. It was noted that all of the 40 stalls in the lower tier were lighted and heated for year-round use.

31 August 1997 Courier News

Robert Mauer used all of the latest late-90s technology in his lessons, including videotaping his students' swings. He also predicted that virtual reality was the future of teaching golf and was looking forward to bringing it to Hillsborough.

29 September 1997 Courier News

After the initial excitement of the first few years, Golf Land settled down to steady business at the range, mini-golf, and batting cages. It was a popular destination for parties and club activities.

13 June 2002 Courier News

In 2002, Golf Land was demolished and the land was purchased for the Route 206 Bypass project.

25 June 2019

Tine's Greenhouses - NJ Botanical Gardens (1891 - 2004)

John Tine was just 21 years old when he purchased an eight-acre property tucked into the northeast corner of the triangle formed by the intersection of the South Branch Railroad and what was then called Woodville Road, but today is known as Duke's Parkway. The year was 1891 and Tine's idea was to do something different with farming employing greenhouses.

10 September 1936 Courier News

The initial business consisted of propagating and selling vegetable plants to area farmers. Indeed, Tine considered himself to be a farmer and continued with this business model for many years, making deliveries by horse-drawn wagon.

A portion of a 1932 map showing the location of the Tine property.

In 1893 Tine got a new neighbor when tobacco tycoon James B. Duke began buying properties to the north, east, and eventually all around the eight-acre nursery to assemble his Duke's Park. Whether Duke was spurned in efforts to buy out the nursery, or simply did not deem the effort necessary, it appears he simply ignored the Tines. In fact, he located one of the main entrances to the park, the Eagle Gate, directly across from the greenhouses.

27 July 1941 Courier News
As the management of the business passed to Tine's son John V.A. Tine they began to move away from vegetables and started to offer geraniums, petunias, ornamental plants, and flowers. In the 1930s and 40s, they operated a successful flower shop on Main Street in Somerville.

1 June 1935 Home News

Before the days of plastic sheeting, running a business that depended on a couple of dozen glass-covered greenhouses could be hazardous. In one particularly devastating May 1935 hailstorm, the Tines lost 400 panes of glass. Doris Duke lost about 200 panes in the same storm. Three years later, Doris Duke set off the damage when dynamiting to remove her father's spectacular fountain terraces caused shock waves that again shattered a number of Tine's greenhouses.

1 August 1975 Courier News
In the 1970s with the business now being run by grandson Clifford Tine and wife Madge, they changed their name to New Jersey Botanical Gardens. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nursery became widely known across the state and hosted many special events - including appearances by legendary WOR radio host Ralph Snodsmith. By 1987 the nursery consisted of 14 greenhouses with 5,000 varieties of plants.

Third generation proprietors Clifford and Madge Tine,
 18 October 1987 Home News
Clifford Tine passed away in 2004 and the property was sold to Duke Farms in 2007.

19 June 2019

Faith Lutheran Church

Rev. Robert H. Loucks was something of an expert - not just in the Bible, but also in getting new churches up and running. So when the Lutheran Church in America was looking to organize a new congregation in Hillsborough in 1965, they knew who to call. Rev. Loucks had developed St. Stephen's in South Plainfield in 1955, and lately had served as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Topton, PA. Now the Camden native was ready to come back to New Jersey and lend his guiding hand to a new Hillsborough church.

10 July 1965 Courier News

He spent the first two months in Hillsborough knocking on doors - 1300 doors to be precise - trying to find Lutherans or non-churchgoers who would be interested in supporting a Lutheran church in the township. Before long he reached his goal of sixty adults and forty children, and, with financial support from the New Jersey Synod of the Lutheran Church, Rev. Loucks held his first church service on October 10, 1965, at the Hillsborough Consolidated School (HES).

10 October 1966 Courier News
Exactly one year later, Faith Lutheran Church was officially organized as a congregation of the Lutheran Church of America. Now numbering 136, the congregation that had come together from 28 different area churches set their first goal - raising the first $1,000 for a church building fund. The Lutheran Church in America soon acquired 18 acres of land on the corner of Beekman Lane and what was then Amwell Road (now South Branch Road). Five acres were partitioned off for a church site.

19 May 1969 Courier News
In January 1967, Faith Lutheran Church purchased that 5 acres from their national organization and redoubled their fundraising efforts. To that end, the church employed a professional capital funds counselor and set an $8,000 "must" goal and an $11,000 "venture" goal - both soon surpassed. Groundbreaking for the initial structures at Faith Lutheran Church took place in May 1969.

15 December 1969 Courier News
The finished building consisting of a chapel and a classroom wing was dedicated on December 14, 1969. The contemporary church was designed by Michael Meloni. A major addition to the church was begun in 1992 and there has been yet another addition in recent years.

Aerial View from Google Maps
Faith Lutheran Church celebrated 50 years in Hillsborough in 2016, and will soon celebrate 50 years at its familiar location on Beekman Lane.

10 June 2019

Belle Mead Baptist Church - Fellowship Bible Church

As befitting the decentralized nature of the governing structure of the Baptist Church in the U.S., the Belle Mead Baptist Church didn't get its start as a mission project, or with permission from any regional church authority but rather, as explained by first pastor Rev. Harry B. Morris, "as a result of the spontaneous action of local people who felt a concern for the spiritual needs of their own area."

24 June 1967 Home News

The year was 1964, and Hillsborough residents who wanted to worship in a Baptist church found themselves having to travel miles to other towns. That, combined with the rapid growth of Hillsborough, almost guaranteed that a new church in Hillsborough would be a success. 

13 May 1967 Home News

The first Sunday service for the new church was held on November 22, 1964, at Hillsborough Fire company No. 2 on Route 206. The church also made use of the Rescue Squad building on Amwell Road, the Hillsborough Consolidated School (HES) and the Flagtown School. The church was officially incorporated in February of 1965 and one of its first acts was to establish a building fund.

18 November 1968 Courier News

In June 1966 the Belle Mead Baptist Church bought the 5 1/2 acre site at the corner of New Amwell and Auten Roads. It was correctly predicted that this site would be right in the middle of an anticipated housing boom. A year later, with the architect's plans and drawings in hand, the church launched a building drive to acquire the final funds needed to construct the $72,000 building.

7 March 1970 Courier News

Groundbreaking for the brick-veneered colonial style 36 by 92-foot building took place in November 1968, and the church was dedicated in March 1970. In 1976 the church changed its name to Hillsborough Baptist Church. In 2001 the church was renamed again to Fellowship Bible Church, possibly, as many Baptist congregations did during that time, to distance itself from the more fundamentalist Baptist churches in America.

Google Maps view

The nearly 50-year-old modest church building remains a treasured local landmark in Hillsborough.

03 June 2019

The South Branch General Stores (circa 1840 - 1975)

In the first half of the 19th-century, most of the Hillsborough Township village of Branchville - now known as South Branch - was owned by the Amerman family. They owned the mill and nearly every property on both sides of River Road north of the Quick farm and south of the covered bridge. When Gilbert and John Amerman donated the land for the Reformed Church in 1850 they had already been operating a general store south of the church property for some time.

19th-century photo of Bowman's original store,
as reprinted in the South Branch Reformed Church 150th anniversary book

James Bowman along with his wife and son, James Jr., emigrated from Scotland to Hillsborough in the late 1830s. Bowman was a tailor and soon set up shop in Branchville north of the Amerman property directly across from the bridge approach. It wasn't long before the Bowmans branched out into general merchandise, and by 1860 tiny Branchville had two general stores on River Road, the only avenue.

Detail from the 1860 map of Philadelphia and Trenton vicinity,
showing the location of the two general stores.
James Jr. began as a clerk and soon took over the store from his father who continued to provide services as a tailor. Meanwhile, the Amerman's gave up their store, Branchville changed its name to South Branch, and the village acquired a post office located in Bowman's store.

Amerman's store after it was relocated to the site of Bowman's store,
from a postcard circa 1907.
The decades passed to a new century and James Jr. passed the store and post office to his son Dewitt. In the early morning of March 22, 1903, a mysterious fire destroyed the store, swept to some adjoining buildings, and threatened the entire village. With a bucket-brigade and some providential rain, the village was spared - but the store and post office valued at $20,000 - almost $600,000 today - was a complete loss. Within weeks the 200 resilient residents of South Branch came up with a plan to get their store and post office back. They used wheeled planks to move the disused by sturdily built Amerman store up River Road from south of the church onto the Bowman property.

Borsmann's store and post office circa 1931

After Dewitt Bowman left the retail business in 1918 the store had a succession of owners. Marvin Sheets, who had previously run a store at Three Bridges, had the place from 1918 to around 1930. It then passed to Herman Borsmann who turned the place into more of a grocery store before retiring around 1940. It was about this time that the fourth class Post Office was discontinued for a diminished volume of mail. At the time the Post Office was reinstated in 1947 the establishment was known as the Abercrombie General Store.

2 December 1964 Courier News
The next owner of note was Robert Thomson who operated a small lending library out of the building until the US Postal Service prohibited it. He sold the store to James Amey in 1965 but stayed on as postmaster until 1967. In 1970 South Branch residents began to be concerned that the long-planned Raritan Confluence Reservoir - which would put most of the village under water - was imminent. Seeking protection for their many significant historic buildings - including the general store - the villagers requested a historic designation for their hamlet. The village was placed on the state and national historic registers in 1972.

The decrepit Amey's store in 1979 -
4 years after it was sold to the state of NJ
Many Hillsborough residents today fondly recall Amey's Store of the late 60s and early 70s. But by 1975, Amey had sold his store to the state of New Jersey in anticipation of the reservoir. He couldn't have realized at that time that a few years later local opposition to the reservoir would be successful in killing the plan. Unfortunately, the vacant, heavily vandalized store had become an eyesore in the community - the mayor called it "a pile of junk" -  and the historic designation, unwittingly, made it difficult for the state to raze it. However, after several attempts to sell the store at auction, it was finally demolished on April 29, 1981.

1981 demolition

29 May 2019

Pine Terrace (circa 1905 - 1943)

A drive today through the Hillsborough Township hamlet of South Branch gives only the barest hint of the lively little village that existed around the turn of the last century. We can still see the imposing South Branch Reformed Church and the Miller's Mansion - also known as the Vroom House - as well as a smattering of 19th-century homes along River Road and Orchard Drive, but gone forever is the mill itself with all of its storehouses, the general store - later a US Post Office - the homes on the west side of River Road, the wheelwright/wagon shop, and both of the blacksmith shops. Also missing is the impressive mansion on the lot to the south of the church known as Pine Terrace.

Pine Terrace, postcard circa 1907
Pine Terrace was built in the middle of the 19th-century by John and Gilbert Amerman - brothers who also were instrumental in the establishment of the church in 1850. In fact, the Amerman family donated the land for the church, owned the mill and a general store, and built other houses in the village, notably "Hilltop" - the house at the corner of River Road and Orchard Drive.

Ad for Pine Terrace from the 30 May 1909 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Their mansion was actually two complete houses of ten rooms each, joined in the center by a large reception hall. The richest family in the village spared no expense in the construction or furnishing of the home with 14-foot high hand blown mirrors imported from France adorning the reception hall, fine marble mantels at the fireplaces, and ornamental hand-worked plaster on the walls throughout the house. 

The village of South Branch from across the river, postcard circa 1907
After Gilbert passed away in 1886, the village doctor William H. Merrell - who was in practice in the village for 40 years - made his office in Pine Terrace. When John Amerman died in 1904 the mansion was acquired by Charles S. Phillips and wife. The house had served sometimes as a boarding house and meeting place, but the new proprietor turned it into a full-fledged summer resort accommodating up to 35 guests.

Guests on the steps of Pine Terrace,
as reprinted in the South Branch Reformed Church 150th Anniversary book.
Ads taken out in New York newspapers promised "home cooking, fresh vegetables, eggs, milk", and most importantly, "no mosquitos". Activities included horseback riding, boating, fishing, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery. Of course, a bath was included, and a piano was available in the parlor for rainy-day entertainment. All this at a cost of only $6 (and up) per week.

22 January 1964 Courier News
Pine Terrace quickly found its niche catering to religious and youth groups looking for a place in the country for a summer retreat. Rooms were always available for South Branchers out-of-town guests and many local residents had their special occasions catered in the Pine Terrace dining room.

20 March 1964 Courier News
Charles Phillips passed away in 1943, after which Pine Terrace fell into disrepair. In 1963, the South Branch Reformed Church began negotiating to buy the property, initially looking to repurpose the mansion for a new education center. They completed the deal but found that the building would not suit their needs. The contents were sold at auction - the imported mirrors that had cost $1000 a century earlier went for just $14 - and Pine Terrace was soon demolished to make way for the building that adjoins the church today.

25 May 2019

Olympic Cyclists Summer in South Branch, 1972

In recent years, Hillsborough's weekend motorists have become used to navigating around bicyclists on the backroads of the "boro", but back in the summer of '72 cyclists had the upper hand. It was in July and August of that year that the US Olympic Cycling Team made their home base at the South Branch Hotel on River Road.

15 July 1972 Courier News
Coming out of the Olympic Trials at Lake Luzerne, NY in early July, coach Ernie Seubert took the top twelve road racers with him back to his native New Jersey, where they could train over the sleepy backroads of Hillsborough Township - and compete for the final eight spots that would comprise the Olympic team. 

The South Branch Hotel, photo circa 1970
The sprawling 19th-century mansion that became their home for four weeks that summer was once the summer residence of the flamboyant Diamond Jim Brady and was lately owned by Mr. and Mrs. David Weiss. The hotel catered mostly to Jewish youth groups for summer retreats and the like. 

27 July 1972 Courier News
A typical workout that summer consisted of a 50 or 60-mile ride before breakfast, then another three or four-hour session in the afternoon. The sleepy back roads of Somerset County were specifically chosen because, according to Coach Seubert, "There are no outside distractions here." To stay sharp, the team competed in a 50-mile race in Nutley and made a trip out to Milwaukee for the National Championship. The standouts that summer were future bicycling Hall-of-Famers John Howard and Ron Skarin. Howard had already competed in the 1968 Olympic Games, and he and Skarin would each go on to be members of the cycling teams in Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976.

28 May 1974 Courier News
Skarin returned to the area less than a year later to win the first of his two consecutive titles at the Tour Of Somerville. No word on whether or not he stayed at the South Branch Hotel!

27 May 1974 Home News

11 May 2019

Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church has a long, and more than a little disjointed, history in Hillsborough stretching all the way back to 1759. It was in that year that congregants borrowed a pastor from Bound Brook and met for the first time at the home of one of their members in Millstone. The next year they built their own church, sharing it with members of the Dutch Reformed Church until they built their own church in 1767.

18 November 1961 Courier News

In 1777, during the British encampment at Millstone, the English set fire to the Presbyterian Church, damaging it beyond repair. After the Revolution, the Reformed Church in New Brunswick and the Presbyterian Church in Princeton agreed that no new Presbyterian Church would be formed between Princeton and Pluckemin. Aside from a foray into Presbyterianism by the Clover Hill Church between 1840 and 1862, this agreement held into the middle of the 20th century.

Headline from the Courier News, 20 September 1961

In 1961 Rev. Dr. Orion Hopper got permission from the New Brunswick Presbytery to survey Hillsborough residents about a new church. Of approximately 450 households surveyed, nearly 200 expressed interest in joining a Presbyterian Church if there was one in the township. With this good result, a church was unofficially organized and the first Sunday service was held at the Hillsborough Consolidated School (now Hillsborough Elementary School) on September 24, 1961.

24 September 1962 Home News

The Consolidated School made a good initial home for the church - especially after they were able to negotiate the Sunday rental fee down from $240 to $148 a month - but what was needed was a site for a church building. Longtime Hillsborough resident Clifford Cunningham owned 8 1/2 acres at the northwest corner of Route 206 and Homestead Road. For years he had been trying to get suitable zoning to operate a number of small businesses on the property but was continually stymied by the Planning Board. He did have one business there - selling log cabins to Boy Scouts and other outdoor recreation concerns - and to further that enterprise he built a model cabin on the site that also served as his office. By the end of 1961, Cunningham agreed to sell the property to the church, thereby providing them not only with the space to construct a new building but also, with the addition in 1962 of a proper steeple, a building to hold their Sunday service and other activities. This became known as the Log Cabin Chapel.

3 April 1967 Home News

The church was officially organized with a service at the Log Cabin Chapel on May 12, 1963. Groundbreaking for the current familiar church building took place in April 1967.

The Hillsborough Presbyterian Church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, becoming one of the longest enduring congregations in Hillsborough, whichever way you count it!

27 April 2019

Mt. Zion AME Church

For a great part of its history, going back to colonial times, New Jersey was a slave state. Africans labored on the farms, worked at the ports, and were employed as domestics. So important was slave labor to the economy that New Jersey was the last of the northern states to abolish slavery in 1804 - and then in a piecemeal way that left many blacks with the status of indentured servants.

Mt. Zion AME Church October 2018

Hillsborough Township did not escape the scourge of slavery. But to find evidence of Hillsborough's black history today sometimes requires looking beyond the city limits. On Hollow Road in the Skillman section of Montgomery Township stands the Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Engraved on the front right cornerstone of the church is the marking "Nov. 19, 1899", representing the date that the church building was moved from its original location in Hillsborough and placed on a new foundation in Montgomery.

Historic maps dated, clockwise from top left, 1850, 1851, 1860, and 1873,
each showing the location of the Mt Zion AME Church
Because we know that freed slaves and their descendants lived in the Sourland Mountain region of Hillsborough going back to the 18th century it is not surprising to see the Mt. Zion AME Church shown as "African Church" on area maps as early as 1850. The church, originally located on Zion-Wertsville/Long Hill Road near the intersection of Spring Hill Road, became part of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination in 1866.

October 2018
Not much is known about the church or its congregation before it moved to Skillman in 1899. In the first decades of the 20th century, the church was known as the Skillman AME Church. The "ladies of the church" regularly organized fish pounds, oyster suppers, and strawberry festivals - but by far the most popular event was the annual Camp Meeting. Held each year over four consecutive Sundays from mid-July to mid-August at Brophy's Grove near the church, the Camp Meeting was a festival featuring religious speakers, gospel music, and of course, their famous chicken dinners served from noon to five each day.

Research project created by Hillsborough High School history students
on display in the church October 2018
The Mt. Zion AME Church continued to serve the African-American community until disbanding in 2005. Today the church building is owned by the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. As of 2019, rehabilitation and restoration of the building has already begun, and there are plans to include a museum of African American history on the site.

October 2018