23 September 2018

The First Basilone Parade, September 19, 1943

Seventy-five years ago this week Hillsborough Township played host to one of the most significant and nationally-publicized events in Somerset County, New Jersey history. The occasion was the homecoming of Raritan's war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.

Collier's Magazine 24 June 1944
Sgt. Basilone's story and heroics are well-known to readers so I will only recount them briefly. He was born in 1916 while the long-time Raritan family was living in Buffalo, New York. Within a couple of years, they were back in the Boro with John attending St. Bernard's parochial school. He dropped out after 8th grade and enlisted in the army in 1934 at the age of 17. Posted to the Philippines, he picked up his nickname "Manilla John" through his boxing prowess. He returned to the States after three years of service, then joined the Marines in 1940.

18 September 1943 Home News
He was in Guadalcanal in October 1942 when 3,000 Japanese soldiers attacked his position at Henderson field defended by a few dozen men under his command. With a couple of machine guns, his pistol, and a machete, he spent two days holding off the ferocious attack. When the Japanese retreated at the end of the second day, Sgt. Basilone was one of only three men left standing in his unit. He had personally killed 38 Japanese soldiers. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism.

20 September 1943 Courier News
Somerset County Judge George W. Allgair spearheaded the drive to honor Sgt. Basilone upon his return to Raritan in September 1943. It was soon announced that John Basilone Day would begin with a parade from Somerville to Raritan, then across the Nevius Street Bridge and conclude with a rally in the meadow at the northern end of the Doris Duke estate.

20 September 1943 Courier News
Sunday, September 19, 1943, began for Sgt. Basilone and his family with High Mass at St. Ann's Church in Raritan followed by lunch at Raritan Valley Farms Inn. Then it was on to Somerville for the parade.

20 September 1943 Home News
Sgt. Basilone rode in an open car in the parade which included military, veteran, and fraternal organizations, marching bands, Boy and Girl Scouts, 100 Free French Sailors, military personnel from Hillsborough's South Somerville quartermaster sub-depot, and even a Navy blimp flying overhead. It was estimated that 15,000 people lined the streets of Somerville and Raritan to catch a glimpse of Sgt. Basilone.

20 September 1943 Home News
New York newspaper columnist Harry Hershfeld was master of ceremonies for the rally at Duke's Park which besides the usual politicians and dignitaries - such as former U.S. Senator and Raritan native Joseph Frelinghuysen and New York Mayor Jimmie Walker - also included nightclub entertainers Danny Thomas, Maurice Rocco, and Robert Maurice, and Hollywood starlets Virginia O'Brien and Louise Allbritten.

20 September 1943 Home News
The star power was brought out to sell war bonds - and it was announced from the podium that $1.4 million had been sold in the lead up to John Basilone Day. Johns-Manville Corporation alone gave $500,000, and the three large Somerset County banks each gave six-figure amounts. The Bridgewater Township Board of Education even chipped in by buying $15,000 worth of bonds.

20 September 1943 Home News
Keeping with the theme, $5,000 in war bonds bought with contributions from the grateful Raritan community was presented as a gift to Sgt. Basilone.

20 September 1943 Home News
The rally at Duke's Park, attended by an estimated crowd of 20,000 - and filmed by the cameras of Fox Movietone News - began and ended with a song from 17-year-old singing sensation and Raritan native Catherine Mastice. She opened with The Star Spangled Banner and closed the rally with God Bless America. In between, she performed a new song, "Manilla John", written especially for John Basilone Day by another Raritan native Joseph Memosi.

17-year-old Raritan songstress Catherine Mastice
photo borrowed from http://www.raritan-online.com/parade-1943.htm

Life Magazine had their photographer present to capture the events of the rally for a feature that appeared in the October 11, 1943 issue of the popular periodical.

Images from the 11 October 1943 Life Magazine feature story
Sgt. Basilone only spoke briefly at the event. He confided later that the events of the day were overwhelming and that he regretted not saying more. It's hard to imagine a Marine who held off the enemy for almost three days with no sleep or food being overwhelmed by well-wishers at a day in his honor, but on the other hand so many wanted to get close to him that day, touch him, touch the medal, that security was needed at various points to keep everyone safe.

26 September 1943 syndicated comic strip
Sgt. Basilone's time back in the old neighborhood was brief. On the same day the syndicated comic strip above appeared in newspapers across the country, the decorated war hero was in Plainfield at another rally selling bonds.

27 September 1943 Courier News
Before too long the military sent him on a national war bond tour with celebrities John Garfield and Virginia Grey. He put in many requests to return to the fighting in the Pacific but was always told that he was too valuable here at home.

27 September 1943 Courier News

At the end of 1943, the military relented, and Sgt. Basilone reported to Camp Pendleton to begin training. He officially reenlisted in the Marine Corps on July 3, 1944, and on July 10 he married Sgt. Lena Mae Riggi whom he had met while stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Sgt, Basilone was killed on February 19, 1945, during the first day of fighting on Iwo Jima.

12 September 2018

The Hillsborough Family Fallout Shelter, 1961

When entrepreneur Richard Burr was looking for a secure Hillsborough, NJ location for his document storage business Vital Records, Inc. in 1980, he chanced upon a location on New Center Road that proved to be perfect.

12 November 1962 Life magazine
What Burr found in a "for sale" ad in the Courier News was the below-ground facility built by AT&T in 1970 as an "underground communication transmission installation" - one of many throughout the U.S. - from which the telephone giant hoped to keep long-distance lines operational after a nuclear attack. Burr described the structure as "designed to withstand everything except a direct hit."

26 August 1991 Courier News
AT&T was a bit late to the game. The idea of using a fallout shelter - a reinforced concrete structure, often underground, where people could survive the radiation that would accompany an atomic bomb - was first promulgated in the 1950s, and then conceived of for residential applications in the early 1960s. In fact, if Vital Records, Inc. ever runs out of space on New Center Rd., they may be able to find some on Claremont Drive!

5 November 1961 Home News
By the late 1950s, with the cold war heating up and fear of an atomic attack growing, the federal government distributed pamphlets - like the one below endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences - showing citizens how they could build their own shelters.

1959 Fallout Shelter pamphlet
If you didn't want to build it yourself, there was no shortage of contractors that would do it for you, as evidenced by the 1961 advertisement below from The Courier News.

11 August 1961 Courier News
Claremont Developers, Inc. of Manville took it one step further with the next phase of their Hillsborough development off of Millstone River Road. One of the options offered on Claremont Drive was a complete "Civil Defense Approved" fallout shelter under the garage. The 22 by 14-foot space would be able to accommodate 20 people if necessary but was set up for a family of four with a bunk bed, chemical toilet, and a two-week supply of food included in the purchase price.

3 November 1961 Home News

Claremont built at least one shelter in the model home on Claremont Drive and held an open house in November 1961, complete with an appearance by Mrs. New Jersey!

01 September 2018

Roycefield Falls, Then and Now

To create the desired park-like setting at his Hillsborough, New Jersey estate, tobacco tycoon James B. Duke had his architects design and construct a series of interconnected artificial lakes on the massive property. The lakes were fed by water pumped from the Raritan, and the various levels of the lakes allowed for the transitions to be accompanied by various waterfalls.

Roycefield Falls at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
Duke also did work on a minor tributary of the Raritan which later took the name Duke's Brook. Here he instructed his architects to place dams at several locations along the stream to create small lakes behind them. This is no doubt what was intended by the dam that created the "Roycefield Falls" at the bridge near the intersection of Roycefield Road and Duke's Parkway.

Shady Nook Arch Bridge, postcard circa 1907

Just upstream from this location Duke built a beautiful double-arched stone bridge meant to span the widened stream created by the dam. The bridge still exists today but is overgrown and completely inaccessible to the public.

Roycefield Falls at Duke Farms, 2017

25 August 2018

Duke's Brook from Roycefield Road Bridge, Then and Now

One of the most remarked upon features of Duke Farms - the early 20th century Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco millionaire James B. Duke - is the low stone wall that surrounds most of the historic core of the enormous property.

Duke's Brook at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Often overlooked are the extensive stone retaining walls built by Duke's army of laborers along the course of Duke's Brook and the Raritan River.

The Raritan River looking East from the Nevius Street Bridge, circa 1906
Today the walls continue to hold back the banks of the brook just as they did more than a century ago.

Duke's Brook at Duke Farms, 2017

18 August 2018

The Hay Barn, Then and Now

At 7 p.m. on the evening of January 21, 1915, one hundred and twenty-five area firemen had just sat down to their annual dinner at Forrester's Hall on the corner of Main and Bridge Streets in Somerville. No sooner had the toasting begun than word came of a big fire at the J.B. Duke estate across the river in Hillsborough. As soon as they got out to the street they could see the smoke and glow of the fire. The fire burned so brightly that night that it could easily be seen from Plainfield. In fact, those living east of the Queen City assumed the fire was there - that's how vivid it was.

The Hay Barn at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
When the Somerville Chemical Engine and Hook and Ladder Companies, joined by the Raritan Relief Hose Company arrived at the fire they recognized the building as Duke's grand hay barn. Unfortunately, the most they could do was prevent the fire from spreading to the nearest house, the home of Duke's superintendent David Smith just across Duke's Parkway. The barn burned down to the stone and brick walls, as you see it today.

The Hay Barn at Duke Farms, 2017
Duke was appreciative of the work of the firefighters - all of whom managed to return to the banquet within a couple of hours of the alarm - and awarded each of the companies $75 in gratitude.

In later years, Doris Duke moved some of the once-magnificent Duke's Park statuary into the barn to form a sculpture garden. In 2015, restoration was done to prevent water from getting into the exposed tops of the stone walls.

11 August 2018

The South Gate, Then and Now

Today, pedestrians and bicyclists enter the park area of Duke Farms - the Hillsborough, NJ estate of tobacco tycoon James B. Duke - by way of the South Gate across Duke's Parkway from the Farm Barn Orientation Center.

The South Gate at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905

Before 1915 automobiles were permitted also, and access was liberally granted at all of the private roads through the property. In 1910 Duke decided to limit access to Tuesdays and Fridays, and he installed iron gates across all of the entrances.

31 May 1910 Home News
After a large group of autoists from Pennsylvania drove over the lawns and tore up the grounds in 1915, Access was further limited to just one day per month.

The South Gate at Duke Farms, 2017
When Duke Farms reopened general access to the grounds in 2012 they went to a six-day a week schedule, Thursday through Tuesday.

04 August 2018

South Branch Railroad Bridge, Then and Now

When writing about the abandoned railroad line that runs from the northeast to the southwest through Duke Farms, it might be useful to note that James B. Duke - the tobacco magnate who bought the first property in Hillsborough Township of what would eventually become a 2,500-acre estate in 1893 - had almost nothing to do with it.

South Branch Railroad Bridge at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
A common misconception is that Duke either built or caused to be built a private railroad through Duke's Park. On the contrary, the South Branch Railroad - an independent railroad company - opened their line from Somerville to Flemington on July 1, 1864. The young James Duke was just seven years old.

1954 USGS Map.
The blue arrow indicates the location of the railroad bridge.
The red arrow indicates the location of Duke's siding.

As Duke accumulated land and the roads that passed through them, he set about improving the rights-of-way and especially the many bridges over brooks and streams. To that end, he impressively rebuilt the railroad bridge over Duke's Brook which is the feature of this post.

South Branch Railroad Bridge at Duke Farms, 2015
The Central Railroad of New Jersey had already purchased the South Branch Railroad in 1888 and integrated it into their operations. Duke built a small siding off of the line where he was able to receive deliveries and keep a private railroad car. On at least one occasion in 1906 George F. Baer, president of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, had his own private railroad car run onto the siding hidden in the woods of the estate and slept there overnight.

Passenger service on the South Branch was discontinued in 1953, and freight service declined steadily over the next couple of decades. By 1981 the rails were removed from the portion of the line through Duke Farms, but the right-of-way was still owned by Central Jersey Industries - the company that was created after the railroad's bankruptcy. Somerset County tried unsuccessfully to purchase the right-of-way for a bike trail in the 1970s.  

Heiress Doris Duke was accused of illegally removing gravel from the roadbed in 1983, as well as placing large boulders to block vehicle access. In the end, she was able to purchase the property when it was auctioned in 1985.

28 July 2018

Frog Lake Waterfall, Then and Now

You can find the Duke Farms "Frog Lake Waterfall" just inside the Raritan Gate at the northwest corner of the historic core of James B. Duke's Hillsborough estate.

Waterfall at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905
This is an area that up until this past year has not been accessible to the public since Doris Duke closed River Road through her property in 1931.

Frog Lake Waterfall at Duke Farms, 2017
From this point, the water flows under the road and into Snake Lake before returning to the Raritan River.

21 July 2018

Vista Lake Falls, Then and Now

On April 12, 1906, the New Brunswick Daily Times reported, "The James B. Duke estate at Somerville is undergoing a complete change and all previous transformations will be eclipsed by this season's extensive alterations."

Vista Lake Falls at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1913
They were referring to the construction begun that winter of what are today named Vista and Great Falls Lakes, and the dredging and enlargement of Swan Lake, which today is called Otter Lake.  This was an enormous undertaking requiring the temporary installation of a railroad to move the earth dug out by two giant steam shovels. The purpose of the lakes was to set off Duke's planned - but never completed - manor house which was to be at the site where we find the Old Foundation today.

1913 Elizabeth Nursery Company catalog

The Daily Times also reported that trainloads of evergreens were arriving from Europe to complete the landscape plan. The vintage postcard view above shows how it all looked when complete. The smaller trees give the effect of looking into the distance at a massive mountain waterfall. Unfortunately, trees grow and crowd each other out, and by 1913 Duke was forced to remove some of the trees, selling them through the Elizabeth Nursery Company.

Vista Lake Falls at Duke Farms, 2017
 As the trees grew over the decades the effect was greatly diminished. Also, trees that were allowed to grow unplanned and unchecked along the banks of the lakes have obscured the view from many of the vantage points - as can be observed in the 2017 photo above. Removing some of these trees, especially if they impact the concrete and stone bridges, would be a good start to putting the vista back in Vista Lake.

14 July 2018

Orchid Range Interior, Then and Now

The orchid Range at Duke Farms was built between 1899 and 1901. It was the second major structure completed at Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco magnate James B. Duke following the coach barn and stables.

Conservatory Interior at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1907
Traditionally known as The Conservatory, the main building was originally used to grow mostly ferns.

Ad from The Architectural Record, December 1905

The greenhouses behind the conservatory were used to cultivate roses.
April 1904, The Suburbanite

The building underwent a complete overhaul for the grand opening of Duke Farms in 2012.

Orchid Range Interior at Duke Farms, 2017

07 July 2018

Old Foundation Fountain, Then and Now

One might think of fountains and terraces and gardens and assorted landscaping as the finishing touches to one's home but for James B. Duke's Hillsborough, New Jersey estate all of these things were built first - and many can still be seen today.

Foundation Fountain at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Duke first contemplated a large manor house for the property around 1902 but began planning in earnest after he returned from a European honeymoon with his first wife in 1904. By 1905 he had given his architects the go-ahead to begin the landscape design, even while the house was going through its several permutations on the drafting table.

One of the designs for Duke's "country home"

The finished designs which have survived show what would have been the "terrace" facade facing the great lawn. The entrance was to have been on the other side overlooking the lakes. This is the side where you can find the 1915 postcard view of the central fountain, and my snapshot of the scene from 2017.

Old Foundation Fountain at Duke Farms, 2017

After divorcing in 1906 and remarrying in 1907, excitement about the mansion gradually dwindled, and the plan was given up.

02 July 2018

World War I Ends in Raritan, 1921

Most wars have two endings - the end of hostilities, and the signing of a treaty. Such is the case with the Great War of 1914-1918 which formally ended on July 2, 1921, in Raritan, New Jersey.

3 July 1921 New Brunswick Sunday Times
President Warren G. Harding and New Jersey Senator Joseph Frelinghuysen were golf buddies from the time when they served in the Senate together - often spending hours together on the links in Maryland. After Harding became President in 1921, it was only natural for him to spend some vacation time with Frelinghuysen at his Raritan Estate. After all, it was adjacent to the Raritan Valley Country Club.

The Frelinghuysen Mansion circa 1891 -
P.C. Richard & Son is on the site today

With the July 4th holiday falling on a Monday in 1921, the President came north to enjoy a long weekend of golf in the country. On July 2nd he received word that a messenger was on his way carrying the Knox-Porter Resolution - the document that officially ended America's role in World War I.

10 July 1921 Home News

Harding signed the resolution with little fanfare in the Frelinghuysen mansion, surrounded by family, friends, aides, and a few politicians. Afterward, reporters were eager to ask the President about the big prize-fight the previous evening with Jack Dempsey retaining his world championship. Harding seemed oblivious to the bout the whole country was talking about, asking, "Was it a good fight?"

19 July 1921 Home News
Harding golfed every day that weekend, including on July 4th. Before heading to the first tee on that day, he christened a nine-foot rowboat built by Frelinghuysen's son Joseph, Jr. It was noted that this was the first "ship" launched by the President.

8 July 1921 Morning News
After eighteen holes, the President and the Senator returned to Frelinghuysen's home, where they spent the afternoon greeting hundreds, maybe thousands, of area residents on the lawn of the estate.

8 July 1921 Home News
Frelinghuysen served in the Senate until March 1923. He contemplated running again in 1938, but decided against it and instead retired to Arizona where he died in 1948.

27 August 1957 Courier News
The mansion was used for a time by the State Police before being acquired by real estate developer Philip J. Levin in 1952. He planned a shopping center on the site, and eventually got around to razing the house in 1957.

The original concept for Raritan shopping center

Less than three weeks into the demolition, the house - which was built in 1874 and also visited by presidents Taft, Coolidge, and Hoover, was struck by an arsonist.

12 September 1957 Courier News
Today there is a marker near a spot that would have been the entrance to the estate. Electronics retailer P.C. Richard & Son sits at the approximate site of the mansion.

March 2014