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

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!