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

04 July 2016

A "Safe and Sane" Fourth at Duke's Park

Area residents couldn't have been surprised to see the heavy wrought iron gates being installed at the entrance to all of the private roads of J.B. Duke's Hillsborough Township estate in the spring of 1910. Ongoing vandalism had plagued the grounds for a number of years, thwarting the tobacco millionaire's plans for unlimited public access to Duke's Park. In conjunction with the gates, the New Brunswick Daily Home News reported on May 31, 1910 that the park would only be open to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays.

23 May 1913 New Brunswick Daily Home News

Three years later, the newspaper reported that the Duke estate would host a "safe and sane" Fourth of July celebration for the residents of Somerville, Raritan, and the surrounding countryside. It was about this time that Duke completed what was one of the great tourist attractions at the estate - the Fountain Terraces. No trace remains of the magnificent fountains, waterfalls, and temples at today's Duke Farms, as the entire area was removed by Doris Duke in the 1930s.


The Fountain Terraces at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Apparently the July 4th event became a tradition - one that Duke was keen on keeping despite continuing problems with vandalism. In May 1916, he amended his 1915 edict that closed the park permanently - allowing for applications to be made to open the park one day per month for special events. This was just in time for the Anti-Tuberculosis Association to make an appeal to hold their annual July 4th event at the park. The highlight of the celebration 100 years ago was a Grand Elizabethan Pageant with more than 200 performers. Music, dancing, and other attractions not only entertained guests to the park, but money was also raised to support visiting nurses.

10 June 1916 New Brunswick Daily Home News

01 July 2016

Anna Case Wins Back Her Father

Anna Case silently opened the vestry door - just a crack - enough to peer out from what served as the backstage area at the Somerville Second Reformed Church and look at the townsfolk filing into the pews. The date was October 11, 1912 - nearly three years since her November 1909 debut with New York's Metropolitan Opera. 

3 November 1912 Pittsburgh Press

She had been singing in churches for most of her life - first in the choir of the South Branch Reformed Church where she grew up, then playing the organ and leading the choir at the Neshanic Reformed Church. Her first regular professional engagement as a singer was as a soloist at the First Presbyterian Church of Plainfield. Lately she had been supplementing her Metropolitan salary by singing the soprano part in the quartet at Brooklyn's Church of the Pilgrims.Yet still she was nervous, and understandably so. For on this Friday night her father would hear her sing professionally for the first time.

Somerville's Second Reformed Church, postcard circa 1915

When Anna Case signed her first contract with the Metropolitan in 1909, the national newspapers made much of the fact that her father, Peter Case, was the village blacksmith in South Branch, and that young Anna had spent her youth shooing flies - and occasionally shoeing horses - around his shop. She spoke openly about having just one dress and one pair of shoes per year - and the endless chores that came from a life lived in rural near-poverty. This was decidedly not the typical upbringing of a future prima donna.
3 November 1912 Pittsburgh Press

In later years when Anna Case spoke about her childhood, she half-jokingly said that they were so poor that her parents couldn't even afford to give her any affection. She described her father as a very religious man who disdained her desire for anything other than doing chores and taking care of the family - a sickly mother and two much younger siblings. Beatings were common.


Peter Case forbade his daughter from becoming a singer - equating the stage - even grand opera - with temptation and sin. She borrowed money for lessons from the South Branch grocer, found her own teacher, and then a better one, and left home when she got that job in Plainfield. Twenty-seven dollars a month, of which twenty-four went for rent at a boarding house. She spent most weekdays keeping to the bed in her room, explaining later that you don't feel so hungry when you're just lying still. 

1912 studio portrait
As the concert-goers took their seats, she smiled to herself. There was the grocer and his wife, her old music teacher, the boys and girls she had taught in the choir, and finally, right near the front, in a pew reserved just for them, her two little brothers, her begowned mother, and her father - dressed in his Sunday best and beaming with pride.
Thunderous applause greeted the Mlle. Case when she appeared after the opening act harpist had finished. She began with the arias she had been singing for years, but finished with the old songs best loved by the home folks - completing her set with "Home Sweet Home". Friends and admirers rushed to the front of the stage. 

Bouquets of flowers were showered on the hometown girl amid cheers and applause. Peter Case pushed his way powerfully to the front with his arms outstretched. Anna took one step forward and fell into his arms, "Oh. dad!" she cried, as they hugged each other for perhaps the first time. All forgotten, all forgiven.

09 June 2016

Anna Case: "What I Did On My Summer Vacation"

If there was any singer that could have used a few weeks at the Jersey Shore in the summer of 1916, it would have been Metropolitan Opera soprano Anna Case. The twenty-eight-year-old South Branch, NJ native had been working nearly continuously since the previous autumn  - embarking on her longest concert tour up to that time of the western US - with only a brief respite in Bermuda in February to recover from an operation for appendicitis. 


1910 postcard view of the cottages at Sea Bright, NJ

That she was able to return to the concert stage to participate in all of the important spring music festivals - especially considering that "appendicitis" was a common early 20th century euphemism for "abortion" - was really quite remarkable. She closed out the 1915-16 season with a one-off benefit concert in Canada for the Montreal Children's Hospital, and promptly rented a summer cottage on Rumson Road in Sea Bright.



The community between the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers was in no way a musicians' colony in 1916. In fact, Anna Case chose this location - a one hour and 15 minute sail on the Sandy Hook ferry followed by a ten minute train ride - to get away from the musical world of Manhattan


Anna Case is all smiles at her Sea Bright cottage in early September 1916.

Staying with her that summer was her close friend Helena Maaschmidt, her foreign language coach, a housekeeper, and her constant companion Boris - the prize-winning Russian wolfhound. 





Anns Case and friend Helena Maaschmidt

The secluded grounds around the home were surrounded by lush foliage and gardens which Miss Case enjoyed tending. When a reporter for the trade journal Musical America came for a visit in early September, she drove him out to the Monmouth Beach pool in her automobile and proceeded to show off her aquatic prowess.





You can just glimpse Anna Case's auto in this photo from the September 23, 1916 issue of Musical America

Apparently there was also time to practice her horsemanship - a skill that would come in handy two year later when she filmed the western scenes for her motion picture debut, The Hidden Truth.





It wasn't all play however, as her contract with Edison Records committed her to coming into the New York recording studio several times that summer. She was able to cut nine sides for Edison's Diamond Disc Records over six recording sessions between July and September.

Two visitors at the cottage that summer that may have inspired some mixed emotions were Mme. Ohrstrom-Renard and her husband Fred Renard - Anna Case's vocal teacher and manager respectively. While it must have felt wonderful to share some time with her two closest musical advisors, it must have also been a reminder that the demands of the concert hall were just around the corner, and the summer at the shore would soon be a memory.

03 June 2016

South Branch Covered Bridge

When the Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone decided to build a new church building in 1828, Joachim Quick had an idea. He could use the timbers from the dismantled old church to build a covered bridge at Branchville.
He constructed the bridge in 1830 at the same location that had been used to cross the South Branch of the Raritan River going back to before the American Revolution. Eventually the little village at Branchville changed its name to South Branch.



The bridge was built using wooden pegs to hold the timbers together - no nails were used.

When the bridge was replaced by a concrete span in 1929, it was one of only two covered bridges left in New Jersey. The other one being the Green Sergeant's Covered Bridge in Delaware Township.



The Green Sergeant's Covered bridge is 84 feet long. By comparison, the two-span South Branch Covered Bridge was at least 50 feet longer.





The covered bridge was just north of where the new bridge crosses the South Branch. In the image above, you can see how the new approach from Branchburg Township angles slightly to the south to meet the new span, whereas the road to the covered bridge went straight across.

20 May 2016

The Central New Jersey Traction Company

On July 14, 1894, exactly two months after the little Hillsborough Township village of Millstone was incorporated as an independent borough, The New York Times - as well as the other daily newspapers - announced the incorporation of "two monster trolley railway corporations" with a plan for a massive electric trolley railway connecting New York with Philadelphia, running right through Millstone.

New York Herald, July 14, 1894
The line was to begin at Paterson by connecting to the street railway system already in place, and then pass through Upper Montclair, Montclair, Bloomfield, Orange, South Orange, Maplewood, Wyoming, Springfield, Westfield, Millburn, Fanwood, and Netherwood until reaching a connection with the Plainfield electric railway.

Weston Station in Hillsborough Township, postcard circa 1905.


Tracks would then run to Dunellen and Bound Brook before crossing the Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks at Finderne and turning south past the Lehigh Valley Railroad station at Hillsboro and the Philadelphia and Reading station at Weston. Then on through Millstone, Rocky Hill, Kingston, Princeton, Lawrencville, Trenton, and on to Philadelphia.

Possible route of the proposed 1894 trolley line through Hillsborough
The two aforementioned companies were the New York and Philadelphia Traction Company, which was capitalized in the amount of $10 million, and the Central New Jersey Traction Company, which brought $500k to the partnership. The proposal wasn't only for the main line between the two great Eastern cities, but also for many branch lines emanating from the major hubs, such as Bound Brook. In fact it was these lucrative inter-city branch lines which began building quickly, while the main line stalled.

Within a year the Central NJ Traction Company was in trouble - with unpaid construction bills flooding the ledger, while the balance sheet showed only one asset - a contract with its partner, NY and Philadelphia Traction Company, to build and equip a trolley line.

1913 Electric Railway map
While many interurban trolley lines were completed in central New Jersey between 1895 and 1915, the line through Hillsborough Township was not among them. By 1912, the Johns Manville company had come to Hillsborough and forever changed the landscape of the Northeast quadrant of the town. But can you imagine what a rural trolley through the farms and fields of Hillsborough might have looked like? Maybe something like this?

22 April 2016

The Sweetest Enterprise at Belle Mead

John G. Muirhead was burnt out. The massive amount of work that it took to put on Trenton's annual Interstate Fair for the better part of a decade had finally taken its toll. After being one of New Jersey's leading pottery manufacturers, a serial entrepreneur in many other enterprises, and sitting on the boards of other corporations, the Fair was supposed to be a lighter endeavor. Now as the 19th century was drawing to a close, Mr. Muirhead needed a vacation.



When he got back, he called on two trusted employees that had worked for him at the Fair - M.G Rockhill and Scott Scammell - and presented an idea. They would build a small factory at Belle Mead and go into the fruit-preserving business. Despite none of the partners having any idea what fruit-preserving entailed, they acquired the land and began construction. It was only after the building was half up that they discovered there was no adequate source of raw materials - fruit! - within a thousand miles!

Hopewell, NJ factory, postcard circa 1904
What else could they do with the factory? After some thought Mr. Muirhead declared, "There is no candy on the market that really satisfies me." The selling point would be that all of the candy was absolutely pure - no artificial colorings or flavorings of any kind. The more subdued color of their candies, where the natural fruit juices supplied all of the hues, would be proof of the purity.

1909 trade ad from Practical Druggist magazine
Without any money to hire a sales force, the newly christened Belle Mead Sweets hit upon a plan of selling only through exclusive arrangements with individual druggists. Samples were sent out in the absolute best packaging they could afford and one establishment in each town was selected to be the authorized dealer.


Trenton factory circa 1908 from National Druggist magazine

Trenton Factory circa 1908 from National Druggist magazine

The plant completed  in 1901 in Belle Mead was tiny. On the first floor glass partitions separated Mr. Muirhead's office from the factory floor so that he could look out as the fruits were hand-dipped in chocolate and packed for shipment. The second floor held the dining room where managers and employees dined together at noon.

Trenton Factory circa 1912 from Electrical Record trade magazine





Within a couple of years Belle Mead Sweets had outgrown Belle Mead. Foreshadowing the challenges the US Army would face at their Belle Mead Depot 40 years later, the available workforce at Belle Mead was just too small for the growing manufacturer. A move to Hopewell for a few years was followed by a final move to Trenton, where John G. Muirhead handed over the company to his younger brother Harry - and probably went on another vacation!

08 April 2016

The Neshanic Hotel

The Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church began construction in 1759 and was completed by 1772, one year after Hillsborough Township received its royal charter. There was most likely an inn near the church at that time, as Amwell Road was already an important stagecoach route in the latter half of the 18th century.


Postcard view of the Neshanic Hotel circa 1912
The present Neshanic Hotel, however, dates to the middle of the 19th century. Along with the church, it is one of the iconic structures of the village of Neshanic, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The four larger rooms on the ground floor served for banquets and meetings - indeed the Hillsborough Township Committee at least occasionally met here before the first municipal building was erected in 1931. The second floor contained as many as six guest rooms - reconfigured into rental apartments later in the 20th century. The third floor was mostly an excuse to include the small windows as a design element.


View of the Neshanic Hotel, April 8, 2016 after an early morning fire.
According to Ursula Brecknell in her book "Hillsborough - An Architectural History", the last use of the hotel for its intended purpose was by the road crews who paved Amwell Road between Neshanic and Clover Hill in the 1920s. As she writes, "The foreman later married the widow who kept the hotel, and the couple then chose to close its operation."

National Register application photo, 1979
The significance of the Neshanic Hotel to Hillsborough history is not in its ordinary mid 19th century Italianate architecture, but rather in its location and importance to the historic village of Neshanic. Let's hope the hotel can be restored and preserved and continue to serve as a reminder of Hillsborough's past.

07 April 2016

The Great Flood of 1896

Conductor Kline of the Central Railroad of New Jersey's South Branch division stepped out of the cab of his idle locomotive and walked with trepidation towards the Neshanic bridge. He had left Flemington at 5:40 pm and had already run through 15 inches of water between Woodfern and Riverview, but this was a different situation entirely.

New Central Railroad of NJ bridge and Elm Street Bridge circa 1909
The South Branch of the Raritan River had been rising since 9:00 am that morning of February 6, 1896. By the afternoon, Bound Brook was under six feet of water, and Somerville wasn't much better. All of the bridges across the Delaware and Raritan Canal were not just washed out, but were actually swept away in the floods. Residents in the towns and villages were huddled on the second floors of their residences as floodwaters raged through the streets.  Debris of every kind, including drowned livestock, could be seen floating down the Raritan from Somerville to Bound Brook.

Headline from the New York Sun 7 February 1896

All of the area railroads had already halted traffic as the Millstone, Raritan - North and South Branches as well as the main stem - and the Neshanic overflowed their banks. At the Black Point bridge near the mouth of the Neshanic River the water was already fifteen feet above normal. The situation at the Neshanic bridge was not good. Rising waters were above the level of the railbed, and raging. Kline called the engineer out to take a look. The bridge abutments had been partially washed away, but the bridge seemed secure.

Like a scene from a movie, the conductor and engineer walked back to the locomotive, climbed aboard, and decided to go for it. The engineer built up a head of steam, and sent the train speeding over the river into Hillsborough. Once across, they looked back and saw one of the two sections of the steel bridge collapse into the river and be carried downstream in the torrent.

They brought the train safely into Somerville - and just in time. By 10:00 pm the Raritan at Somerville had risen twenty-five feet. 

31 March 2016

The Old Red School House

[Amazingly, everything we know today about the Old Red School House is due to the reminiscences of Governor Peter Dumont Vroom. He was the youngest student in the very first class taught at the school in 1796. His remembrances were collected in Abraham Messler's 1899 book First Things in Old Somerset.]

Master Warburton was a "kind and affectionate" teacher. Look not to the neatly trimmed birch rod resting against the side of his leather armchair in the corner of the room, but rather be reminded of the fact that he sometimes pretended not to see that the last grains of sand had slipped through to the bottom of the hourglass signalling the end of midday recess.

This circa 1785 school house in Eureka, Vermont
 is probably of much the same size and type as
 Hillsborough's Old Red School House

An Englishman by birth, past middle age but not elderly, John Warburton was the first teacher at Hillsborough Township's Old Red School House. The one-room school, twenty-four feet square, finely built with one door and few windows, was notable for it's red paint with white trim. This was Master Warburton's domain. Built on a little knoll on a sliver of land between River Road and the Raritan east of Beekman Lane in 1795, the school was also his home.

Detail from the 1850 map of Somerset County
 showing the location of Pawnepack Creek,
Beekman Lane, and the Old Red School House

In those days, the little stream which runs northward through the fields and under the road by way of a large diameter steel pipe before exiting to the Raritan, flowed year-round and had a name - The Pawnepack. The little schoolhouse with its chimney on one end was just to the west of this tributary. Inside, the smallest students sat on rows of backless benches, while those who could read and write and work out their arithmetic problems sat on similar benches on each side of a long table. Two smaller tables, each at a different height for those just learning to write, were placed at the front of the room near the master's aforementioned chair. The only another adornment, aside from the large fireplace at the back wall, was the trap door in the ceiling.

Today you could hardly squeeze any sort of building
 into this location between River Road and the Raritan

It was customary for teachers to board week by week at the homes of their students. This arrangement made it possible for the farmers to afford to pay a good teacher, who otherwise would need a salary commensurate with the expenses of keeping a home. In this Master Warburton was the exception. He preferred at all times to make his home in the school house. Each Sunday morning he would arrive at the home of one of his pupils and enjoy breakfast with the family. Before leaving, he would fill his wicker basket with provisions for the week, and a quart bottle with milk. A fresh quart of milk would be brought to the master each school day by one of his students, along with assorted foodstuffs as required.

Dilworth's Spelling-Book, 1796

Master Warburton only taught subjects that he knew well - no history or geography or higher mathematics. He relied solely on four texts - Dilworth's Spelling and Arithmetic books, The New Englad Primer, and the Bible. At recess children played along the Pawnepack and in clearings on both sides of River Road - no traffic in those days. Then it was back to class.



In the evening, Master Warburton pulled two long benches together, and by placing blankets upon them made up his bed for the night. His private place was up through the trap door into the garret. This is where he kept his few small possessions, and secreted away his earnings - a portion of which he dutifully sent to his elderly parents in England. At a time when everyone went to church, no one ever saw the Master in attendance. It was supposed that, being English, as opposed to most of his charges who were of Dutch descent, that he observed the ways of the Church of England, and that one of the fancy books on the table near his chair was the Book of Common Prayer - though no one ever knew for sure.

A view of the Old Red School House site from across the Raritan in Duke Island Park -
notice the pipe which carries what remains of Pawnepack Creek

After many years at The Old Red School House, changing demographics and newly constructed schools in the area forced John Warburton to move on. He taught for a while at another school in the vicinity, eventually using his savings to retire to a small parcel in the hills north of Somerville, where he built a small house and lived out the last years of his life.

The Old Red School House stood on the banks of the Raritan for many years afterward - sometimes pressed into service again as a school, or a Sunday-school. Without regular use, the paint began to peel and chip, the clapboards loosened up, and the changing banks of the river washed the land away until the building was only a memory.