02 December 2016

The Neshanic Reformed Church

According to historian Ursula Brecknell in her book Hillsborough: An Architectural History, it was the 1748 death of Reverend Theodorus Frelinghuysen that "brought to an end a long-simmering theological dispute and a desire to unite in brotherly love". Members of the Dutch Reformed faith in Hillsborough Township who had been variously "alienated and excommunicated" and split among different congregations in Harlingen and Readington now desired to reconcile and form a new congregation closer to home.



Postcard circa 1905

On the 25th of August, 1752, church elders met at Readington to hear the petition for a new congregation with a church to be built somewhere along Amwell Road. Permission was granted to form the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church, and by October 11 a site was chosen. It wasn't until 1760, however, that a deed to the property - consisting of one acre of land with a dwelling on a knoll on the north side of the road - was obtained.


Postcard circa 1900.
Looking north with a view of the rear of the church and the Sourland Mountain

Surviving account books show us that work on the church actually began a year earlier, in 1759. Trenches were dug for the foundation, and enormous amounts of stone were cut and hauled from the Sourland Mountain. It is likely that services were held in the church before the interior was complete in 1772. 

Aside from the massive stone walls, the church looked quite different in those earliest days. It was said to have had a hipped roof with only a weather vane on top - no cupola. The windows were markedly different - not in the Gothic style, and certainly no stained glass. And it is anyone's guess as to what the front facade looked like.

Anna Case returns to the church where she led the choir as an 18-year -old in 1905 and 1906
 - one of her first paying jobs - for a church fundraiser, on July 3, 1930. The caption states that she is playing the organ she played years earlier, and that may be so - but a new organ was donated by Andrew Carnegie in 1915

A cupola and bell were already in place by 1832 when church members debated how to lengthen the church. Should they add 12 feet to both the north and south ends - or 15 feet to the front (south). The fact that today it is impossible to tell which they chose, or if another scheme was decided upon, speaks to the fine craftsmanship of the mid 19th century. The lengthening at the front of the church - and we can be pretty sure today we are looking at a 19th century front facade because of the three entrances - is absolutely seamless in the stonework on each side. 

Stained glass windows were likely a late 19th century addition, as was a remodeling of the interior to a Victorian style. In 1999, with the cupola in desperate need of repair, the church partnered with Bell Atlantic Mobile who provided a replica made of fiberglass in exchange for allowing a cell antenna to be installed within it.


1977 National Register photo.
Today, the Neshanic Reformed Church is the centerpiece of Hillsborough's Neshanic Historic District, entered on the National and State Historic Registers in 1979.

11 November 2016

Hillsborough Veterans Honored

If you've ever driven past the old Hillsborough Township municipal building on East Mountain Rd. (the original Amwell Rd.) you have no doubt noticed the boulder on the front lawn. Today the boulder displays a rather nondescript sign with the words "Hillsborough Township Department of Public Works", but not very long ago the big rock displayed an entirely different message.





Not long after the end of World War II, the names of more than 300 Hillsborough members of the armed forces and merchant marine stood out in bold relief from a plaque affixed to the boulder in their honor. The plaque can be seen today at the Garden of Honor at the new (25-year-old!) municipal complex on South Branch Road.





In December 1943, the Somerville Trust Company published an 8 page large format folio, possibly a newspaper supplement, with photos of Somerville area servicemen and women. I surrounded a recent photo of the plaque with the eighteen Hillsborough veterans that were included. I encourage readers to click on the image when you are at your computer to get a better look at the photo and all of the names. 









04 November 2016

The South Branch Reformed Church

Around 1830 the inhabitants of Branchville, now known as South Branch, decided they needed a church of their own. Nothing much came of the idea until 1842, when a committee was formed to discuss the plausibility of raising enough money to build a church in the quiet Hillsborough hamlet on the south branch of the Raritan River. It was found that there were enough funds to erect a church building, but probably not enough to support a minister.


Members of the South Branch Dutch Reformed Church
 at the 50th anniversary celebration, 29 May 1900.

On December 17, 1849, townsfolk, many descendants of the original Dutch settlers of the village, met at the schoolhouse across the river in Branchburg - just north of the present one-room school -  to take up the matter once again. They soon had fifty-eight families committed to uniting and forming a congregation connected with the Dutch Reformed denomination.


Postcard circa 1908 showing the original smaller cupola
Things moved more quickly now, with the Classis of New Brunswick approving the church organization in April, and the membership meeting again at the schoolhouse on May 14, 1850 to officially be designated as "The Dutch Reformed Church of Branchville". They immediately began planning the construction of the church. The site was donated by the Amerman brothers, and a contract was made with William A. Voorhies of Griggstown for $3,174.


Illustration from the cover of a 1967 community cookbook.

The building was modeled after the recently completely church in Whitehouse. It is in the classical Grecian style, with fluted columns at the entrance that are set within the porch area - a feature of churches of this type in New Jersey. In her book, Hillsborough: An Architectural History, architectural historian Ursula Brecknell gives us this interesting serendipitous tidbit.

Although rules existed for determining classic relationships of pediment to columns and again to the angle of pitch of pediment, they were largely ignored by 19th-century architects for numerous reasons; accordingly the matter of obtaining aesthetic relationships depended primarily on the skills of the carpenter for the "felt line". One of the graces of the South Branch Church is its success at this point in having a pleasing ratio.


This photo accompanied the 1976 Historic Register nomination form.
Reportedly future president Chester A. Arthur attended a service here in 1854 when he was a young New York lawyer - just twenty-five years old at the time and already famous for winning a case that ended segregation on that city's streetcars. But the most famous member was future operatic soprano Anna Case who attended services and sang in the choir from the 1890s to around 1906. Much later she gifted her family's home - directly south of the church - to be used as the second parsonage.

Anna Case singing in the choir as depicted in a 1913 illustration.

21 October 2016

Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone

This past summer, the Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone celebrated the 250th anniversary of their congregation. On July 28th, 1766 seventy heads of the families of Dutch settlers in the Millstone Valley petitioned the ministers and elders of the Dutch Reformed churches at Raritan, New Brunswick, Six Mile Run,and Harlingen, to be allowed to form a separate church at Millstone.

Postcard circa 1905

The petition was deliberated and approved on August 11, 1766. The church first organized under the name "New Millstone" because the church at Harlingen went by the name "Millstone". By the end of 1767, the first church building was erected on the site where the present church stands today. It had three aisles, sixty-six pews, and a stairway in the southwest corner which led to the belfry.



South Elevation, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939


In June of 1777, the British set fire to both the Dutch Reformed Church, and the small Presbyterian Church. Although the interior was completely destroyed, the structure of the building was saved, and, through careful repair over the years remained in service to the church community for sixty years.


From the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939

In 1827, eighty members petitioned church elders to either repair and enlarge the old church, or build a new one. Joachim Quick was contracted to build a new church. He received the sum of $5,000 ($120,000 today) and all the materials he could salvage from the old church. Mr. Quick put the boards and timbers from the old church to good use, using them the next year to construct the covered bridge at South Branch, which was in use for 100 years.



East Elevation, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939

The building was to take its design cues from the third church at Six Mile Run, which had been completed just two years prior. Both churches were a spacious, for the time, 70 by 55 feet. The cornerstone for the present church was laid on June 8, 1828, and the church was dedicated at Christmas of the same year. 


From the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, 1974

The nomination form which placed the village of Millstone on the National Register of Historic Places described the church building:

This is a two story building with a random course rubble foundation. The exterior of the building is clapboard. Brick is used for insulation. The walls are full timbered and pegged. The windows on the sides are 16/12 while those on the south end (main entrance) are 15/15 with semi-circular tops. There are no windows on the ground level on the south end. The three doors are arranged in a symmetrical pattern with the windows of the second floor and quarter windows of the attic. A circular window is at the attic level directly over the center door as is a circular lite in the steeple. The bell turret is octagon in shape. The roof is slate on wood shingle and gabled. The building has brick chimneys.

Longitudinal Section, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939


As you can see from the photos, the church building, which will reach its bicentennial in a dozen years, looks the same today as it did more than a century ago, and likely much as it did in 1828, 



West view, 2015

09 September 2016

Blackwell's Mills

The 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro' boldly locates the six prominent 19th century (and earlier) villages located within the township's borders. Clover Hill, Neshanic, Branchville (now South Branch), and Millstone (now Millstone Boro) are well known to area residents and are each designated as state and national historic districts. Flaggtown (Flagtown), which I wrote about here is a little more obscure, as the original important village of that name was in the vicinity of the YMCA, and what we think of today as Flagtown is actually Flaggtown Station.


Blackwell's Mill as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map. 

Which leaves us with Blackwell's Mills. Located near the southeast corner of Hillsborough Township, not much remains of this important 18th century village. Although not specifically listed by name on the national and state registers, the entire village area is included in the Millstone Valley Agricultural Historic District.


The Blackwell's Mills School House from a postcard circa 1906.

Peter Schenck built the first mill on the site in 1746, about the same time the first causeway was constructed across the Millstone River into Franklin Township. Schenck was a wealthy landowner who, at his death in 1780, left 2,400 acres of property in New York state, as well as the Millstone River mill and at least one other mill in Hillsborough at Rock Mill in the Sourlands. The mills passed to his son-in-law Archibald Mercer, who had experience operating other mills in New Brunswick and Bound Brook. 



Detail from the Farm Map of 1860
 showing the location of the village, store, residences and school (my annotation).

The original mill burned down in 1806, and by the time it was rebuilt a few years later ownership had passed to an uncle of William Blackwell. and by mid-century William himself. thereby gaining the name by which we know the village today. 


Broach's store as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.
The first school in the area was originally located north of the village and was in operation as early as 1746 when the first mill was built. The location was moved south of the village in 1813 to the Layton Farm at the northwest corner of Millstone River Road and its original junction with Hillsborough Road (before Amsterdam Road was built).



The Blackwell's Mills causeway circa 1906
The largest increase to investment and commerce in the area came with the opening of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in 1834. With more convenient access to markets, farms began to flourish on the west - Hillsborough - side of the river.


The residence of William Blackwell as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.

William Blackwell owned the mill until 1864, and was succeeded by his son John until 1871. A post office was established in the village in 1872.


The residence of F.C. Blackwell as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.


Snell's 1881 History of Somerset County gives the following description of Blackwell's Mills:

Blackwell's is situated on the west bank of the Millstone, about two miles south of the village of Millstone. Here is a flourishing flour- and grist-mill, owned by John L. Oakey, Esq. Half a dozen houses are in the immediate vicinity, a store kept by Cornelius H. Broach, and a school near by. A bridge crosses the Millstone at this point to Franklin Township. A mill has existed here since 1746, originally built by Peter Schenck. A post-office was established in 1872.


From the 1912 Report to the Commissioner on Roads.

The Millstone Valley Agricultural Historic District was entered onto the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1977. Geographically, the linear district follows Millstone River Road south from the border of Millstone Boro to just past the original intersection of Hillsborough Road.

From the 1912 Report to the Commissioner on Roads.

It is appropriately an "agricultural" historic district as all of the ten existing contributing properties - residences and outbuildings - are associated with 19th century farmsteads.


Blackwell's Mills causeway, circa 1906.


26 August 2016

South Branch Schoolhouse

By 1872 the South Branch School - located in Branchburg Township, but also serving students across the river in Hillsborough - was in poor condition. Years of inadequate state and local funding, and moderate tuition fees, led to no money being left for repairs. In 1868, for instance, the school received $22.80 from the state, $161.21 from the township, and $146 in tuition. To put that in perspective, the teacher salary for that year was $500 - leaving a deficit of $169.99 before any other expenses!

The South Branch Schoolhouse in 2013

In 1871, the Free School Act allowed for greater distribution of state aid based on population. Of the 96 school-aged children in the district that year, 76 were enrolled at some point during the eleven month term, with the average attendance for the 50-seat classroom being 32. In 1872, despite an increase in the school-aged population to 108, average attendance dropped to just 28.



The South Branch Schoolhouse, Branchburg Township, postcard circa 1907

Construction began on the current schoolhouse in the spring of 1873. The lot was purchased for $1000, and $3700 was raised in taxes to cover building costs. Many of the progressive elements of school design circulating in 1873 were fully endorsed by the State Superintendent of Education Ellis Apgar, and were incorporated into the new school. High ceilings, adequate light, heat and ventilation, and a floor plan where students faced a windowless wall were all recommended by Apgar and used in the design of the South Branch School.


Ellis Apgar, NJ State Superintendent of Education in the 1870s

He also recommended a room size of about 24 or 25 feet square, which could seat at least 50 students (the maximum he felt could be supervised by one teacher), a raised platform at one end if the classroom were to be used for assemblies, and of course a bell, Here's what Apgar had to say about furnishings in the 1874 Annual Report of the Department of Education:

Every school should be well furnished. Everything added to make the school room comfortable, convenient, and attractive, facilitates the work of education. A teacher cannot be expected to do good work without the proper tools. The desks furnished the children should be of the most approved style; they should have folding seats, so as to allow of freedom of motion in marching, calisthenics, and general exercises. Settees placed in front of the teacher's desk are convenient for recitation purposes. The teacher's desk should be neat and substantial, having at least six drawers in it. There should be three or four chairs, a thermometer, an eight day clock, a small globe, a call bell, and other conveniences for teaching.

Students at the South Branch Schoolhouse in 1924
Enrollment in the South Branch district peaked at 95 in 1875 and then began declining along with average attendance. The school remained active until Branchburg built a consolidated elementary school in 1950 - the same year Hillsborough opened their consolidated school on the corner of Amwell Road and Route 206.

South Branch Schoolhouse interior circa 2005
In 1963, the Branchburg Board of Education sold the schoolhouse to Branchburg Township, and work was begun on a restoration project to coincide with the township's tercentenary.


1964 plaque on the front of the building
The 1964 restoration was timely, as a classroom shortage required the school to be reopened for one year in 1965 for sixth-graders.

South Branch Schoolhouse interior circa 2005
The school was placed on the state and national registers of historic places in 2005, and has subsequently underwent additional restoration. And, of course, you wouldn't expect me to finish this post without reminding you that the South Branch Schoolhouse's most famous student was Hillsborough's own Anna Case. The opera singer attended the school in the late 1890s.



South Branch School's most famous pupil, opera singer Anna Case, as a teenager circa 1905.




18 August 2016

Gertrude Ederle Conquers the Raritan

Four years before becoming the first woman to swim the English Channel, two years before winning a gold and two bronze medals at the Paris Olympics, and two days before establishing six world's records at the Brighton Beach Invitational, sixteen-year-old swimming sensation Gertrude Ederle conquered the Raritan River at New Brunswick.

Photo from the 1928 booklet "Save the Raritan"
On Saturday September 2, 1922, automobiles lined River Road, spectators packed the Albany Street Bridge, and pleasure craft of all types crowded the Raritan for a spectacular day-long swim and diving meet. Having won the 220 yard national championship by setting a world's record just the week before in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the young Miss Ederle - Trudy to the press - faced stiff competition in the 440 yard race from European champion Hilda James of England, and her New York Women's Swimming Association teammate Helen Wainwright.


Gertrude Ederle
Using her unique kick which produced little or no splash, the approximately 10,000 spectators witnessed Miss Ederle obliterate the open-water 440 yard record by 21 seconds, claiming the championship in 6 minutes and 1/5 second - 18 seconds ahead of Helen Wainwright, and 32 ahead of Hilda James. Along the way, it was noted that she also passed the 330 yard mark in record time, and in the custom of the day was awarded a world's record for that achievement as well.


1 September 1922 New Brunswick Daily Home News

Gertrude Ederle went on to win a gold medal as part of the US 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay team at the 1924 Olypmics, but was disappointed in her bronze medal finishes in the 100 meter and 400 meter freestyle events. In 1925 she turned pro, which allowed her to accept endorsement money - particularly necessary for her two attempts at the English Channel in 1925 and 1926. Her second, successful, attempt of August 6, 1926 was not only a first for a woman, but also broke the men's record by nearly 2 hours with a time of 14 hours, 34 minutes.

She died in Wyckoff, NJ in 2003 at the age of 98.

12 August 2016

Somerville "In the Future"

A popular postcard genre of the first decades of the 20th century was the "In the Future" card. Many different publishers put out cards of this type, typically consisting of a standard street scene of small town - or big city - America with futuristic illustrations overlaid. You can search "in the future" postcards or get a head start by viewing at the link here.




I was pleased to find that Hillsborough's neighbor town of Somerville wasn't overlooked by the turn-of-the-century futurists. The 1909 image depicted above shows the south side of Main Street looking west, with the addition of an airship, and a subway entrance. Truthfully, I find this postcard interesting for the close view of the trolley, never mind the future!



In the postcard above, circa 1957, the view is from further east nearer to the courthouse. Aside from the automobiles, not much had really changed! No dirigibles or subways in sight! The paved over trolley tracks even appear to be visible.




It took a couple more years for Somerville to go all sci-fi. Compare the streetlamps in the 1957 postcard to the monstrosities from the 60s in the postcard above! Wow. Still no airships however.

29 July 2016

Wilson Military Academy Fire, 1912

On the night of May 6, 1912, after lights out and just before evening inspection, a young cadet attending the Wilson Military Academy at Finderne, NJ secretly extinguished a contraband cigarette and hid the remains near his dormitory bunk. Just hours later the smoldering stub ignited the blaze that burned the school to the ground.
New York Evening Telegram, 7 May 1912

Captain Joel Wilson, the owner and principal at the academy, was born in Maine around 1840, and was pursuing a career in education at the outset of the Civil War. He had just accepted a position as principal of an academy in Portland, Maine when the call went out for volunteers. He served in the cavalry for four years with never a request for furlough. At the end of the war, he continued his career in education - first at an academy in Newton, NJ, and then as proprietor of the Hudson River Military Academy in Nyack, NY.



Hudson River Military Academy, circa 1899

Some time around 1907, Captain Wilson moved the academy to the top of a hill in Finderne, eventually changing the name to Wilson Military Academy.

Ad from McClure's Magazine, October 1907

Along with the name change came a tuition increase from $360 to $400 for the term. This included tuition, board, laundry, mending, and use of horses for riding and recreation. Amenities included a wireless telegraphy station, electric light, steam heat, and plentiful athletic fields.


Postcard circa 1909
One of the 50 cadets - aged 8 to 18 - saw the smoke, sounded the alarm, and went to wake Captain Wilson. Newspapers noted that the military discipline employed by the boys likely saved lives in what could have been a terrible tragedy. Not a single life was lost, and many of the cadets were able to save their personal effects by throwing their trunks from the windows as the rapidly spreading fire consumed the entire frame structure.



Ad from Literary Digest, 23 July 1910

Older boys valiantly manned the fire hose while the younger cadets formed a bucket brigade in an effort to save their beloved school. Some of the older boys attempted to reenter the building to retrieve the school colors, but were held back by Captain Wilson as the blaze was too great.

Ad from McClure's Magazine September 1913

Captain Wilson did not rebuild at Finderne, but instead bought 50 acres at Madison,NJ. reestablishing the academy there.


15 July 2016

The Queen of Rivers


Lost in a pleasing wild surprise,
I mark the fountains round me rise
And in an artless current flow
Thro' dark and lofty woods below,
That from the world the soul confine
And raise the thoughts to things divine.


O sacred stream! a stranger, I
Would stay to see thee passing by,
And mark thee wandering thus alone,
With varied turns so like my own!
Wild, as a stranger led astray,
I see thee wind in woods away,
And hasting thro' the trees to glide,
As if thy gentle face to hide,
While oft in vain thou wouldst return
To visit here thy native urn;
But, like an exile doomed no more
To see the scenes he loved before,
You wander on, and wind in vain,
Dispersed amid the boundless main.


Here often, on thy borders green,
Perhaps thy native sons were seen,
Ere slaves were made, or gold was known,
Or children from another zone
Inglorious did with axes rude
Into thy noble groves intrude,
And forced thy naked son to flee
To woods where he might still be free.


And thou! that art my present theme,
O gentle spirit of the stream!
Then too, perhaps, to thee was given
A name among the race of heaven;
And oft adored by Nature's child
Whene'er he wandered in the wild.


And oft perhaps, beside the flood
In darkness of the grove he stood,
Invoking here thy friendly aid
To guide him thro' the doubtful shade;
Till overhead the moon in view
Thro' heaven's blue fields the chariot drew,
And showed him all thy wat'ry face,
Reflected with a purer grace,
Thy many turnings thro' the trees
Thy bitter journey to the seas;
While oft thy murmurs loud and long
Awaked his melancholy song;
Which this in simple strain began,
"Thou Queen of Rivers, Raritan."



- John Davis,  1806