13 January 2021

American Vitrified Products (1960 - 1970)

Hillsborough's post-war endeavor to bring post-war industry to Hillsborough finally began to bear fruit in the mid-1950s. One of the first companies to take an interest in Hillsborough was the century-old Cleveland, Ohio firm American Vitrified Products. Two officials of the clay pipe manufacturer traveled to Hillsborough and appeared before the Planning Board in October 1955. With a couple of possible plant sites identified, the company wanted to gauge the reaction of the town before spending money on surveys and soil samples. Their trip was well worth it as the Planning Board proved receptive to the project - and the tax ratables.

 

7 October 1955 Home News


At that initial meeting the representatives of American Vitrified Products - often shortened to Amvit - explained that they would be primarily manufacturing sewer pipe using shale and clay that would be stripped from the ground leaving shallow pits - or perhaps leveling a small hill. 


Valley Road Amvit Plant, 1969


About a year later the company purchased 79 acres north of Valley Road between the Lehigh Valley and Jersey Central railroads for $38,000 and planned for a $2 million factory that was expected to employ as many as 120 people. 

26 May 1960 Engineering News


Three years later the company had expanded the site to 87 acres and was now planning a $4 million completely automated plant that was touted as being "the most modern ever to be built in the industry". In addition to standard clay sewer pipe, the new plant would be capable of producing Amvit's industry-leading plastic-jointed clay pipe and a new pipe product called Glas Glaz suitable for corrosive or acidic industrial waste lines.

Clockwise from top right,
clay pipe production at Amvit in the 1960s.


To make its inert sewer pipe, shale mined on-site was mixed with clay and treated water and then sent through a machine that extruded the pipe which was then automatically cut to length and placed on pallets to be moved through the drying area where a specified amount of humidity was removed depending on the specific intended use of the pipe. When the pipe was dry it was bathed in a ceramic glazing solution and sent to the kilns.

21 January 1971 Home News

In March 1970 Amvit sold the Valley Road plant to the Glen-Gery Corporation of Reading, Pa. which planned to convert the plant to manufacture its own line of products which included face bricks, glazed flue linings, and concrete blocks.

Today the site is the location of Hercules Chassis.

10 January 2021

Hillsborough Youth/Community Center Project (1973 - 1985)

On September 11, 1973, the Hillsborough Youth Council, Inc. signed a 99-year lease with Hillsborough Township to acquire 11 acres off of Old Somerville Road where they planned to construct a community-youth center. Ten years later the group defaulted on the $1 annual lease payment and the property reverted to the township. The center never opened.

 

4 May 1975 Home News


The idea for a Hillsborough teen center grew out of the late 1960s Hillsborough Drug Council - a non-profit chaired by Hillsborough resident and later Branchburg teacher Ann Gorton. By the early 1970s, the group had changed its name to the Hillsborough Youth Council. Realizing the need for space for the group's "supervised but non-structured activities for all ages" - and encouraged by the optimism of the times - they were drawn to the 11 acres set aside by the developer of Buena Vista Estates.


4 May 1975 Home News


The plan was to construct a building with all volunteer labor and mostly donated supplies. With so much residential building going on in the township, there was initially no shortage of labor and building materials around - and no shortage of enthusiasm on the part of Mrs. Gorton and her group to acquire it.  The project got off to a quick start with a donated backhoe and Edward Rhodes - Hillsborough's building inspector - volunteering to head the construction committee. Developer Sal Kramer stepped up with a check for $2,000 and 1,000 cinder blocks.



1970s Fundraising for the community center

Local architect Kevin Wilson contributed the design - an 11,000 square foot building with a gymnasium, locker rooms, kitchen, office space, bathrooms, and three meeting rooms. Footings for the foundation were in before the end of the year, and before winter 1974 was out a 60-by-100-foot, 8-inch deep, ice-skating pond had been built in the southwest corner of the property. Exhibition football games, carnivals, and movie nights at the Hillsborough Cinema were all included in the fundraising efforts as were pancake breakfasts. The Hillsborough Community Center project probably still holds the record for most flapjacks served in pursuit of a goal that was never reached! Regardless, during the spring and summer of 1974 cinder block walls went up, and construction continued apace. 


26 February 1979 Home News

The roof went up in the spring of 1975 - but a housing downturn caused donations of supplies to dry up. The unfinished building - no doors, windows, or floors - was an invitation to vandals. By 1979, despite six years of hard work by hundreds of volunteers, the project was completely out of cash. Hillsborough Township picked up the property's $2,000 insurance payment that year, but what was really needed was at least $30,000 to finish the job.



16 February 1981 Courier News 


By the early 1980s, Mrs. Gorton - who also served on Hillsborough's school board from 1973-79 and 1980-89 - was seeking funding from federal and state sources - to no avail. Two years after the Hillsborough Youth Council relinquished the site, Hillsborough Township floated plans to complete the building as a senior citizen center. The project went out to bid twice at the end of 1985 but the bids of $245,000, $175,000, and $182,000 were all deemed to be too high.

05 January 2021

New Jersey Shale Brick and Tile Corp. (1954 - 1988)

"Here in the middle of the world's richest market is an industrially-minded municipality eager to satisfy your plant requirements. New and realistic zoning ordinances are in effect. An example is the ordinance for industrial parks which is designed for the maximum freedom of operation of the developer."

By the time the above sales pitch appeared in the Somerville Area Chamber of Commerce 1966 Annual, the Hillsborough Industrial Commission had already been touting the township as a center for industrial development for two decades. 

 

22 August 1954 Home News



One of the first big industrial concerns to locate in Hillsborough was the newly-formed New Jersey Shale Brick and Tile Corporation. In 1954 they built a 40,000 square foot plant on the north side of Hamilton Road in what used to be called the Hamilton Station area of Hillsborough. This was the first completely mechanized continuos-tunnel kiln plant in New Jersey.

2 April 1961 Home News

The plant was designed to produce shale face brick as well as acid-resistant ceramic products and structural glazed tile. Although the raw material was mined on-site, this was no deep pit operation.  Significant deposits of two different types of shale were "contour-stripped" from the surface of what would eventually be expanded to a property of over 200 acres - leaving no deep craters.

2 April 1961 Home News

Principals promised there would be no loud blasting, smoke, or dust. The shale was scooped up by power shovels, crushed to small particles, and eventually into a fine powder. After being mixed with water and essential chemical agents, the mud-like substance was forced through a machine that extruded a long ribbon 8 inches wide and 4 inches thick. This would then be sliced twenty bricks at a time and be stacked by workers to go off to the kiln for drying. By 1961 the plant was producing 100,000 bricks per day. 

Finished bricks being loaded onto a trailer.
Notice the Three Little Pigs inspired logo and the company slogan, 
"Be Smart - Build With Brick".
2 April 1961 Home News

Although the shale brick produced in Hillsborough cost about 10% more, it was both harder and smoother than traditional products. One of the first local uses was for the 1957 addition to the Hillsborough Consolidated School on Route 206 (now known as Hillsborough Elementary School). It was also used in the construction of the Manville High School in 1959.

22 October 1964 Home News

Ten years after beginning operation, New Jersey Shale Brick and Tile was still the only producer of shale brick in New Jersey and began an expansion program to double yearly output from 25 million to 50 million bricks. The plant, which operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was also expected to double its full-time employees from 60 to 120. The expansion also allowed the company to manufacture a new line of ceramic glazed brick which no other company in the east was producing.

7 April 1973 Courier News

Many of the jobs at the plant required no previous experience and specialized skills could be learned on-the-job. 

17 May 1988 Courier News

In 1988 New Jersey Shale Brick was purchased by the sizeable Pennsylvania-based brick manufacturer Glen-Gery Corp. By that time the plant was employing about 55 people, none of which were expected to be laid off as Glen-Gery planned to continue operations. They did just that for a little over twenty years before closing the plant early in the last decade.

5 September 1989 Courier News

26 December 2020

Somerville Poultry Farm (1954 - 1969)

 


Today, if the Somerville Poultry Farm is remembered at all, it is for its much-loved roadside Egg-O-Mat vending machine, like the one pictured above. But for Hillsborough residents who lived and worked near New Jersey's largest poultry operation in the 1950s and 1960s, the jogging of memories might better stir up the sentiment expressed in the newspaper headline below.


12 September 1962 Courier News

In the decades before 200,000 laying hens came to Hillsborough, the 100-acre plus property on Route 206 - site of the present-day Hillsborough Promenade - was the Seven Elm Farm. It was operated for twenty-five years by Socrates and Emily Yeomans and included the historic Abraham C. Whitenack residence.

Abraham Whitenack residence from the 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro'


After the farm was used as a private airfield during World War II, the widowed Mrs. Yeomans signed a contract with a developer to turn the farm into a commercial airport. Hillsborough Township officials opposed the airport and promptly changed the zoning to residential/agriculture. This led to court battles - ultimately lost - which consumed most of the rest of Emily Yeomans' life. With what lay ahead, the township might have wished for the airport instead.

26 October 1956 Courier News

The Somerville Poultry Farm moved to the property in 1954 and soon had 60,000 chickens in residence. As eggs aren't the only thing that comes out of a chicken, the problems with odor began almost immediately. 

1963 aerial view of Somerville Poultry Farm


Falcon Road residents were the first to complain. As can be seen in the aerial view, the farm was right in their backyards.

18 July 1958 Daily Journal

The inefficient removal of the chickens' waste led to the second noxious concern - flies. Area residents were overwhelmed for years by swarms of flies so great that they couldn't let their children play outside. Spraying at the farm gave some relief, but the flies came back again and again.

Ads from the 1950s and 60s

By 1960 the farm had increased its output by growing the brood to 150,000 layers producing 100,000 eggs a day. This was no family farm. In fact, was it a farm at all? That was the question debated at the township committee meetings, where at least one committeeman, Robert Conard - a farmer himself -suggested that this was no farm at all, but rather a commercial establishment, and should be regulated as such. 

25 August 1960 Home News


Organized opposition began in 1961 and continued through the decade as the farm grew to 200,000 chickens and included satellite operations on Triangle Road and in South Branch. Each summer as warmer weather set in residents appeared before the Board of Health or the Township Committee to complain about the smell and the flies. By the mid-60s they added dead rats to their list - as the extermination program carried out at the farm did not require poisoned rats to actually die on the property.

Considering its fifteen years of somewhat notorious operations, the Somerville Poultry Farm quietly went out of business in January 1969 and almost immediately demolished all of the buildings save the historic Whitenack house.

28 November 2020

Scrumpy Cider Mill (1973 - 1996)

"Please don't call it juice!" That's the first thing apple cider entrepreneur Jerry Sundheimer would tell you if you asked him to describe the delicious output of the Scrumpy Cider Mill. Apple juice is that overly sweet pasteurized "stuff you buy in supermarkets." He began the business  - officially the Belle Mead Beverage Company, and known to locals as Scrumpy's - in his barn in 1973 and moved to the site of the old Belle Mead Creamery in Montgomery Township in 1977.

 

1977 Newspaper Ad

From there he built a regional apple cider empire. In a few short years, Sundheimer was the largest producer of apple cider in the tri-state area - churning out hundreds of thousands of gallons each season.



November 1981 Home News

It takes twelve pounds of apples to make one gallon of cider. Typical varieties used at the Scrumpy Cider Mill included Winesap, Golden Delicious, Delicious, Macintosh, Rome, and Cortland. Apples were sourced from all over New Jersey and New York and were delivered in half-ton crates.



November 1979 Courier News

Apples were moved to a conveyor where they could be inspected and stray leaves and twigs could be removed, brown spots cut away, and rotten apples tossed. Scrumpy is a word for cider originating in the west of England and typically refers to a hard cider made from apples that were not exactly choice.



November 1981 HomeNews

Before pressing, apples had a final cleaning in a water bath.


November 1981 Home News

The next stop for the apples is the grinder where they are turned into a mixture with the consistency of apple sauce.

November 1981 Home News

The ground apples are then delivered to the press through a hose.


November 1979 Courier News


Three thousand pounds of pressure is applied to produce the liquid cider.



November 1979 Courier News

After the cider is strained, jugs are filled and readied for shipment. Scrumpy Cider was ubiquitous in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores and supermarkets in the 1980s. The season for cider is typically between September and March.


November 1979 Courier News

For locals and daytrippers, Scrumpy Cider wasn't just a market day purchase - it was a whole experience. A trip to Scrumpy's in the fall offered an education in cider-making and a fun day out for the whole family. Just about anything and everything to do with apples could be purchased at the mill store - apple butter, apple pie, apple cake, not to mention the apples themselves!



Photograph courtesy of Vivian Makin

In June 1992 Jerry Sundheimer sold the business to a young couple - Kerstin and Francis Humann - each with graduate degrees in business and looking to become entrepreneurs. They dove headfirst into Scrumpy's - expanding the product line into juice beverages and other products while continuing to produce everything on site. Their hope was to build a business that would operate year-round instead of shutting down in April and May as Sundheimer did.


April 1993 Home News

The Christmas holiday season became a big part of Scrumpy's during this period. 

On December 19, 1996, a small blurb appeared in The Courier News stating that Scrumpy Cider Mill would close for the season on New Year's Eve. It is unknown whether or not they opened again the next year but by 1998 Francis Humann had begun a new career in the pharmaceutical industry where today he is the president and CEO of OncoVirx.

09 November 2020

The Amwell Road Bypass

For Hillsborough natives who return for a visit after moving away in the 1980s, it is utterly confounding - yet many who moved to the township during the mid-1990s housing boom do not even know it exists! The Amwell Road Bypass - officially known as the Amwell Road Realignment - was officially opened thirty years ago this month. 

28 November 1990 Courier News

The official reason for the construction of the 1.7-mile bypass between Pleasant View and East Mountain Roads was that it would allow motorists to avoid the dangerous intersection of Amwell and South Branch Roads - at the site of the Corner Store - although no accident statistics were ever provided.


19 February 1990 Courier News


The realignment of Amwell Road had been on the drawing board at Somerset County from at least the 1970s but began to pick up speed with the construction of four residential developments in the area later in the decade. A common stipulation in developers' agreements was that they include the bypass in their plans and contribute towards its cost. Because of that, the bypass was built in fits and starts - by the mid-1980s the right of way was basically cleared, and some roadbed laid down between Pleasant View Road and Ernest Drive.

21 February 1990 Courier News

Ironically the thing that helped get the project back on the front burner in the 1970s - the developments - is the thing that threatened to derail it in 1990. As homeowners in the new developments realized that the right-of-way in their backyards was not for a country lane but rather for a four-lane 45mph county highway, they protested. In their view, the fact that the bypass literally cut some developments in two outweighed any benefit for motorists. They quickly formed a group called Citizens Against Amwell Road Realignment and proposed as an alternative much less costly improvements to the old Amwell Road and the South Branch Road intersection.

28 November 1990 Courier News


Opponents were fighting an uphill battle as much of the work on the $2.2 million road had already been completed. Besides, residents in favor of the plan blamed the newcomers for contributing to the traffic woes which necessitated the bypass in the first place! The Amwell Road Bypass officially opened on November 27, 1990.

06 November 2020

The Old Flagtown Bridge (1912 - 1991)

In April of 1967, the State Board of Public Utilities Commission ordered the Lehigh Valley Railroad to submit plans for the reconstruction of the Flagtown Bridge. The Commission offered to pay 95% of the estimated $200,000 price tag and set a date of August 1, 1967, for submission of the plans. And then for the next 19 years, exactly nothing happened...

19 April 1986 Courier News

...except for the continued deterioration of the bridge. The Lehigh Valley Railroad built the 25-foot wide bridge to separate the dangerous South Branch Road grade crossing around 1912. But by the mid-1950s the railroad was in serious financial trouble, finally declaring bankruptcy in 1970. The railroad continued to operate through the bankruptcy, but repairing the bridge was out of the question.


22 August 1911 Courier News

Conrail - which acquired the assets of the LVRR in 1976  - likewise had no intention of repairing the bridge. In fact, they abandoned ownership of it altogether. A January 1985 state inspection report declared the bridge to be in "fair condition and needing only minor rehabilitation." Hillsborough residents were incredulous. Things came to a head in February 1986 when the Hillsborough Board of Education stopped allowing school busses to cross the bridge.


19 April 1986 Courier News


Rust, missing guide rails, and rotted planks - which made up the roadbed - were some of the more serious issues. Somerset County weighed in and agreed that the bridge needed immediate attention - but was unwilling to do anything about it - demanding that the state repair the bridge. At this point, Conrail suddenly decided that they owned the bridge once again, but couldn't get to it for another three years. And with that, Somerset County shut down the bridge. In the end, the state, county, and even Conrail, all contributed to repairs which took place in the summer of 1986.


26 July 1992 Courier News

Even before repairs were complete residents were agitating for a completely new bridge. A narrow 1912 bridge with wooden deck planking was just not adequate for modern Hillsborough. Plans for a new wider (32 feet) and higher bridge were approved in 1988 and work began in 1991. After multiple delays - which some say led to an automobile/train collision at the Beekman Lane crossing - the new bridge finally opened in the fall of 1992.

05 November 2020

Adams Air Park (1956 - 1967)

A search for the term "skydiving" on the newspaper archive website Newspapers.com yields just 68 hits for the year 1956 - the same year William C. Adams bought the initial 38 acres in Hillsborough and East Amwell Townships to develop a small airport to be known as Adams Air Park. By 1967 - the year Adams sold the property - that same search delivers a whopping 4,712 results!


Ad for the 1961-1963 TV series Ripcord

It is not known if the 36-year-old former fighter pilot and New York native had parachutists in mind when he laid out the runway and had an artificial lake dug at the foot of the Sourlands south of Wertsville Road - but the sporting daredevils eventually found him.


1963 aerial view of Adams Air Park - 
look carefully near the top of the image to see the airplanes.

In its first few years of operation, Adams Air Park seems to have catered to recreational fliers/airplane enthusiasts. World War II veteran Adams - who after the war was a professor at Horace Mann School for Boys - hosted Civil Air Patrol cadets at the airfield in October 1957 for an overnight campout including training and rescue missions.


20 October 1957 New York Daily News - 
William C. Adams is on the far left

International competition in the sport of skydiving had been taking place since the mid-1950s but the adrenaline-inducing sport didn't take off as a recreational activity in the United States until the early 60s. Excitement for the sport spawned a popular 1961-63 television series called Ripcord - and even led to a plotline in a Frankie and Annette "beach movie" - 1965's Beach Blanket Bingo.





West Point graduate Captain George Gividen  - a paratrooper who lost his left leg to a grenade while serving in Korea - began skydiving on the weekends after he retired from the Army in 1960. Before long he formed the Tri-State Skydivers and began operating the Tri-State Parachute Center out of Adams Air Park.

5 April 1963 Oakland Tribune

Between 1961 and 1965 skydiving competitions and exhibitions were regular features at Adams Air Park. Tri-State boasted 218 members in 1962 - eighteen of which were women. It wasn't always fun. Local newspapers regularly featured headlines such as "'Chutist Plummets 7,200 Feet, Lives", and "Chute Fails, Skydiver Hurt". During a Civil Defense exercise in 1962, a parachutist drifted off course and landed in a Hillsborough farmer's field. He was fined $10 for trespassing!


4 June 1962 Bergen Record


A June 1963 competition which attracted 200 contestants was said to be the largest US skydiving meet up to that time. An exhibition by the US women's parachute team that August featured a stunt where the women unfastened their parachutes while still airborne and dropped into the lake below.


27 June 1963 Ridgewood Herald News


The airport - including what then amounted to 352 acres of land - was sold by Adams in 1967. In the years that followed the property was used for various other purposes such as horse shows, and for a time the lakefront was a well-known illicit nude beach!

On October 26, 2020, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the property and added it to adjoining land in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties to create a 1,150-acre nature preserve.