16 May 2015

Otter Lake Falls, Then and Now

The falls from Vista Lake down to Otter Lake at Duke Farms was somewhat more impressive a century ago, don't you think?  For those keeping score, Vista Lake is 45 feet above the Raritan River, Otter Lake is 31.  Duke Reservoir, where J.B. Duke's lake system begins, is at 81 feet.

Otter Lake Falls Postcard circa 1908

Otter Lake Falls, March 2015

13 May 2015

Train Collision at Belle Mead, 1950

Messrs. Cinque, Townsend and Dempsey, engineer, fireman and brakeman of  Central Jersey Railroad train number 697 were busy trying to make out the signals in the dense fog between Bound Brook and Belle Mead on the evening of October 2, 1950. Conley, the conductor, and Crane, the flagman, were riding in the caboose behind 95 fully loaded freight cars headed to Philadelphia. As they rolled past Manville on track 1 at 10:35 and Weston at 10:38, conditions were clearly worsening.

About a mile east of the Belle Mead tower, Cinque urged the engine forward past signal 142a, and began to look keenly for the next signal at the interlocking near the station. Townsend, too, searched in vain, and then Dempsey applied the brakes.

As soon as he felt the brakes, Crane threw a flare from the back of the caboose, and then jumped off, flag in hand, to protect the rear of the train.  The train was stopped while the gentlemen in the engine tried to see the signal that would allow them to move.

After 8 minutes the engineer recalled Crane, indicating he was ready to proceed. The flagman threw another caution flare, then hopped back aboard as the train increased speed.

After moving a few car lengths at a speed of about 12 mph, engineer Cinque was able to see the medium-clear signal indicating that, according to Reading's incident report, "the track was lined for movement of train from track no. 1 to track no. 3."

It was at that moment that conductor Conley and flagman Crane Reading train number 29 approaching fast from the rear.

Conley and Crane dove from the caboose just before impact, as had engineer W.R. Davis and fireman J.R. Byrne from the Reading engine moments after seeing the red flare and applying emergency braking.

It wasn't enough to stop the speeding Reading train, "deadheading" back to Philadelphia with just one passenger and one baggage car at 50 mph.

As you can see from the photos taken the next morning (from my personal collection), the impact was terrific. The CNJ caboose was completely destroyed, as were the two refrigerated cars just in front.  

The engine of the Reading train sustained $15,000 in damages, which would be almost $150,000 today.

The injured railroad employees were taken to Somerset Hospital in Somerville - amazingly the injuries were only minor.

Everything was put to rights within days of the accident. In fact, by virtue of the collision taking place in an area served by four sets of tracks, commuter service to New York and Philadelphia was able to resume the next morning utilizing track number 4 only.

According to the Hopewell Herald, the contents of the two refrigerated cars in the rear were scattered across the tracks. If you've read this far, take a guess what was in those cars.  It's a common item found in the produce aisle. Leave a message here or on the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook page.

09 May 2015

Well House and Hay Barn, Then and Now

It's a pretty long walk just from the Visitor's Center at Duke Farms to the Hay Barn - over half a mile, I think.  A century ago you could stop and have a drink at the rustic Well House, just off the path on the right.

Well House and Hay Barn postcard circa 1909
Today you can still see the capped well and the ruins of the Hay Barn just beyond.

Remains of the Well House and Hay Barn at Duke Farms, March 2015
This area of Duke's Park had another important feature - a beautiful bronze reproduction of Giambologna's 16th century Flying Mercury.

Well House and Flying Mercury circa 1909

Site of the Flying Mercury statue at Duke Farms, March 2015

06 May 2015

The Sourland Mountain Murder of Peter Nixon

According to Google Maps, it would take about four hours to walk from New Hope, Pa. to the heart of the Sourland Mountain in Hunterdon County - probably longer if you attempted the trek after dark. Neither the distance nor the rough terrain were enough to deter Benjamin Peterson, who set out from his New Hope home on the evening of May 29, 1878, armed with a musket loaded with broken nails, and a determination to kill Peter Nixon - and his own wife.

New York Evening Telegram, September 5, 1878

About seven months earlier, Peterson's nineteen-year-old daughter Lucinda went to live with Nixon as his housekeeper.  Some time later that winter, Peterson's wife decided to make a visit to the mountain to visit her daughter - she didn't return.

As winter turned to spring, Peterson was bothered by stories of his wife's past infidelities, and was justifiably suspicious of this new arrangement. Thoughts of revenge began to fill his mind. With his nerve bolstered and senses deadened by booze, the cuckolded husband wrote his intentions in a letter, slid it into a pocket, and began his journey.

He arrived at the cabin around 2 am. To Nixon's cries of "who's there?" Peterson answered "a friend, come down and open the door and you will see".

When Nixon opened the door, Peterson pressed the gun's muzzle at Nixon's temple and pulled the trigger. According to The New York Times, the ammunition "went through the left side of Nixon's forehead and came out at the top of the head, carrying pieces of the skull and brain with it."

Wakened by the gunshot, Lucinda escaped by way of a bedroom window, while the terrified Mrs. Peterson hid under the bid. When her husband discovered her hiding place, she jumped out and attempted to run past him. Peterson, having reloaded, fired, grazing her cheek. Thinking that he had delivered a mortal wound, he pulled out a knife, declaring, "wife, let us die together", before slashing at his windpipe in an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Before Peterson's first court appearance in October, newspapers from Philadelphia to New York jumped on the sensational story, being sure to point out that both Nixon and Peterson were "negroes" or "colored", and that the Sourland Mountain region was awash in lawlessness. Here is how The New York Times began an October 14, 1878 story about the upcoming trial:

The Sowerland Mountain, a range of hills eight miles from here [Flemington], has long been a terror to the surrounding country on account of the dangerous character of the inhabitants.

Despite having found Peterson's letters detailing his murderous intentions, and the long walk from New Hope to Nixon's door, the jury concluded that there was still the possibility that this had been a crime of passion, and not a premeditated murder - narrowly sparing Peterson from the death penalty. Instead he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years hard labor in the state prison.

02 May 2015

The Farnese Bull, Then and Now

This "Then and Now" surprised me.  Despite walking past the Farnese Bull dozens of times, I never noticed that at least two of the figures are completely missing!  The leftmost person has obviously disappeared, and if you look closely you may notice that a dog at the bottom right of the sculpture is also absent (along with the bull's right foreleg).
The Farnese Bull, postcard circa 1910

This impressive piece is a bronze copy of an early third century marble sculpture. Created from one solid piece of marble, the Roman sculpture was excavated in 1546 and, according to Wikipedia, is "the largest single sculpture ever recovered from antiquity to date."

The Farnese Bull at Duke Farms, 2015

It seems to be impossible to capture the scene today from the same viewpoint because of the trees growing almost right up against the base of the bronze sculpture, but I came as close as I could without obscuring the boys.

29 April 2015

Waller Should Have Whispered

Detective George Totten led the young Millstone village constable William Waller through the halls of the Somerset County lockup in Somerville, New Jersey, to the cell holding his three prisoners. "Yes you may interview them", said Totten, "perhaps you may even be able to extract a confession from the scoundrels!" What Totten was really hoping for was a confession from Waller.

The evening of September 17, 1898 was much like any other for Pennsylvania Railroad night watchman Henry Jones.  The sixty-eight-year-old father of five swept out the passenger cars stored at the East Millstone Station, readying them for the morning commute, and patrolled the grounds around the depot. As he made his rounds by the engine house, he was surprised and assaulted by four men - two of them masked - who gagged him and bound him hand and foot before carrying the elderly man off and stashing him in an empty box car.

Pennsylvania Railroad tracks through East Millstone, looking west toward the station.

The robbers headed to the ticket office where they inexpertly dynamited the safe - destroying the safe and office, but failing to retrieve $300 from the safe's hidden upper compartment.  They did however get away with $100 from the safe, along with a silver watch and two five dollar bills from Jones, who was discovered by commuters at six a.m. the next morning.

Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train at East Millstone Station.

Townspeople immediately pointed their collective finger at Tom Wright, the local "town terror" who was suspected in a recent burglary of the coal office.  He was soon found to be in possession of a silver watch engraved "Henry Jones".  Wright's friend, Jerry Washington, declared that he had "found" the night watchman's ticket office key just lying on the ground.  Both were soon picked up by Totten, as was their usual accomplice Tom Shine.  Getting Waller was a little trickier.

Waller had come to Millstone about a year earlier, opening a bottling works.  His appearance in the village coincided with the beginning of a number of burglaries and safe crackings. As unlikely as it sounds, he was also able to get himself elected constable of the village. Before coming to Millstone, he had been the Lehigh Valley Railroad yardmaster at Port Reading, near Bound Brook. During his time there, the railroad experienced a rash of freight car break-ins and robberies - which ceased after his departure.

Totten knew all of this, and also knew Waller was friends with the three men in his jail - a fact Waller readily admitted, whispering to the detective as they approached the cell, "These men have been around my place, and I think I can worm a confession out of them."

As it turns out, he should have maintained the whisper.  Totten was able to easily overhear the conversation of the four, and was convinced that Waller was the ringleader of the group. He immediately arrested the young man, placing him with the other three. 

Henry Jones died just a few days later, possible from the injuries he received during the robbery.

25 April 2015

Orchid Range, Then and Now

The Orchid Range at Duke Farms was constructed between 1899 and 1901.  The entire building was basically taken apart and put back together prior to the Duke Farms "re-opening" in 2012.

Duke's Park Conservatory Postcard 1905

Duke Farms Orchid Range, March 2015

Check out this video from the Duke Farms web site to learn more.


18 April 2015

The Thorn Puller, Then and Now

Referred to around Duke Farms as the Blue Boy statue, Lo Spinario (The Thorn Puller) is a copy of a first century Roman bronze.  Much celebrated throughout the Renaissance and later, many copies were made, both in bronze and marble.  Naturally, James B. Duke needed to have a copy for his Hillsborough estate, where the sculpture became part of what the New York Herald described in a 1902 headline as "The Most Imposing Private Collection of Bronzes in America."

The Thorn Puller at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915

The Thorn Puller at Duke Farms, March 2015

15 April 2015

Lord McKenzie of Flagtown

Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter?  How about the one about the farmer's daughter and the bogus Scottish nobleman? For one New Jersey family, the adventures of one Edward Hugh "Lord" McKenzie ended up being no laughing matter!

McKenzie arrived as a tramp at the door of farmer William Johnson in New Brunswick in the fall of 1887.  Exhausted from weeks and months on the road, he was nursed to health by Johnson's daughter Emma. Regaining his strength, he told a tale of having run away from Glasgow on a lark with a friend, leaving his wealthy father behind to have an adventure in America.  When their money ran out, the friend returned. But Hugh was too embarrassed to face his father, so he decided to stay and travel the country, finally winding up in New Brunswick where he learned of his father's death, and the immense inheritance he was about to receive.

You almost wouldn't blame the farmer's daughter for falling in love with the delicate young "gentleman" - if you believed any of that story was true. In the event, the couple were soon married - over the protests of neighbors, friends, concerned citizens, and the press who could find no evidence that McKenzie was in line to receive any inheritance, or had any other means of providing for his wife.

By the time McKenzie had used up what goodwill he possessed to buy a Flagtown farm on credit and start a family, his brother showed up on the scene and spilled the true story.  It seems that their father was indeed a man of means, but was in no way dead!  McKenzie had been attending college in Glasgow when his father learned he was getting into some mischief.  Among his many capers at school was the one where he posed as an American exchange student who had run out of money and cajoled classmates into buying him suits of clothes.  The elder McKenzie sent his son away to relatives in the West Indies as punishment - and it was from there that he ran away to America.

For a time, Emma Johnson made a go of it.  Working the farm, and taking care of their baby - but it wasn't long before the farm. which was never paid for, had to be returned to the seller, and Emma was back living with her father, working in neighbors' kitchens. Meanwhile McKenzie was still bumming around New Brunswick, defrauding boarding houses and dining establishments at least through the end of 1889 when he arrested for threatening to bash his wife's brains in with their baby's rattle!

After this gruesomeness - and the charges were dismissed - the newspapers, to their credit, no longer seemed interested in "Lord" McKenzie, and so the trail grows cold.  We can only be left to come up with our own punchline for the one about Lord McKenzie of Flagtown!

11 April 2015

Eagle Gate Fountain, Then and Now

Visitors to Duke's Park a century ago would have encountered this beautiful rustic fountain when they entered through the Eagle Gate off of Duke's Parkway. Today you will pass what remains of this "niche" as you stroll Habitat Lane.  The waterfall appears shorter in the 2015 photo because the pool has been mostly filled in with gravel.

Eagle Gate Fountain postcard circa 1913

Eagle Gate Fountain at Duke Farms as it appears in March 2015