29 December 2016

Clover Hill Reformed Church

The organizing of the 18th and 19th century churches in Hillsborough Township, NJ followed a familiar pattern. Villagers who found it inconvenient to travel to nearby towns resolved to have a church of their own. They applied to church elders in New Brunswick or elsewhere to be recognized by the wider church. After the church was formally organized, leaders would commence raising funds to construct a building - in the meantime meeting at any convenient space.

Aerial view from Bing Maps
The residents of Clover Hill had different ideas. They began working on an edifice before receiving permission from the Dutch Reformed Church, which was granted on September 4, 1834 while the church was nearing completion. One month later on October 5, 1834 the Clover Hill Dutch Reformed Church was officially dedicated. Yes, the church was built on spec!


National Register application photo, 1977


Perhaps it was this independent streak which led the membership to secede from the Dutch Reformed denomination in 1840 and join with the Presbyterian Church - an affiliation which would last for twenty-two years. Abrahm Messler reports in his Forty Years at Raritan (1873) that ten years after rejoining the Dutch Reformed Church, the church was "enlarged and refitted" and boasted 75 families.


CLOVER HILL HISTORIC DISTRICT, HUNTERDON COUNTY
The rear of the church and the cemetery, 2007 By Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons



The church is the centerpiece of the Clover Hill Historic District, entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. The district encompasses properties in Hillsborough, Raritan, and East Amwell Townships. Here is the description of the church from the National Register nomination form:

Dutch Reformed Church, 1834. This is a two-story structure of wood frame construction, The foundation is of random-coursed rubble construction. There are three lancet windows on each side of the building and two round topped windows on the front (one on either side of the main entry-way). All of these windows are two stories tall. There are also two short round-topped windows directly above the main entry-way. The siding is of narrow width clapboard with the exception of the center section of he front of the building. This section is sided with a "fish scale" type of clapboard. The cupola presently found on top of the belfry replaced the steeple that was blown down in the 1880s. The roof is a simple gable type with asphalt shingles. The four corners of the main section of the building have short spires typical of the Gothic Revival style of architecture.








22 December 2016

Choose and Cut Your Memories - 2016 Update

Here's a 2016 update to a post I first wrote in 2008 about our annual trip to Shadow Hill Farm.

One of the nice things about having the Christmas tree in the family room - in the corner between the fireplace and the T.V. - instead of the living room where we used to put it, is that we are able to enjoy it more. And not just during the commercials!

As I have been sitting here looking at the tree, it occurs to me that in the last several years, we've never had a bad one. I can't remember one scrawny, needle dropping, flimsy-limbed fir in at least the last ten years. [almost 20 years now!]

The reason must be that we always choose and cut our tree at Shadow Hill Farm on Grandview Road in Skillman. I can only think of maybe two years since the mid 90s when we purchased a tree elsewhere - and in at least one of those years I believe it was because the farm didn't open!

The setting - at the top a hill at the edge of the Sourlands - is gorgeous and serene, the proprietors are friendly and helpful, and the trees are top-notch!

But, of course, as I sit here and look at the tree - all trimmed out, and tricked out, with ornaments and lights - I don't really see the Christmas tree at all.



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16 December 2016

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church

Religious life in 18th century Somerset County was dominated by Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian denominations. By the early 19th century, the Methodist faith was beginning to make inroads into the area - first with itinerant preachers, then through established churches.


Detail from the Somerset County 1850 Map showing the area of Rock Mill(s)
and the location of the original Mt. Zion Chapel

At first, the sparsely populated Sourland Mountain region in Hillsborough Township's southwest corner would seem an unlikely place to build a church in the first half of the 19th century. Originally populated by freed slaves and people that wished to remove themselves from society, and later by those looking to take advantage of water power for sawmills, gristmills, and especially earthenware production, there was enough enthusiasm by 1843 that a small plot of land was acquired and the first wood frame church was built.


Circa 1908 postcard view of the second Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.

Despite oftentimes having to share a minister with the Methodist churches in Neshanic Station and Centreville, the congregation grew - perhaps numbering as many as 200 by the time the original church was destroyed by fire in 1880. A new 30 by 60 foot building of random coursed stone was immediately built as a replacement, but the end of pottery manufacture on the mountain saw membership shrink and the church fall on hard times - such hard times that the church shut its doors between 1907 and 1916.

A more recent view of the Mt. Zion Church after the 1975 fire and reconstruction.
The interior of the church was restored after a 1975 fire, and you can view photos and learn more about the history of the church at their web site here.

02 December 2016

The Neshanic Reformed Church

According to historian Ursula Brecknell in her book Hillsborough: An Architectural History, it was the 1748 death of Reverend Theodorus Frelinghuysen that "brought to an end a long-simmering theological dispute and a desire to unite in brotherly love". Members of the Dutch Reformed faith in Hillsborough Township who had been variously "alienated and excommunicated" and split among different congregations in Harlingen and Readington now desired to reconcile and form a new congregation closer to home.



Postcard circa 1905

On the 25th of August, 1752, church elders met at Readington to hear the petition for a new congregation with a church to be built somewhere along Amwell Road. Permission was granted to form the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church, and by October 11 a site was chosen. It wasn't until 1760, however, that a deed to the property - consisting of one acre of land with a dwelling on a knoll on the north side of the road - was obtained.


Postcard circa 1900.
Looking north with a view of the rear of the church and the Sourland Mountain

Surviving account books show us that work on the church actually began a year earlier, in 1759. Trenches were dug for the foundation, and enormous amounts of stone were cut and hauled from the Sourland Mountain. It is likely that services were held in the church before the interior was complete in 1772. 

Aside from the massive stone walls, the church looked quite different in those earliest days. It was said to have had a hipped roof with only a weather vane on top - no cupola. The windows were markedly different - not in the Gothic style, and certainly no stained glass. And it is anyone's guess as to what the front facade looked like.

Anna Case returns to the church where she led the choir as an 18-year -old in 1905 and 1906
 - one of her first paying jobs - for a church fundraiser, on July 3, 1930. The caption states that she is playing the organ she played years earlier, and that may be so - but a new organ was donated by Andrew Carnegie in 1915

A cupola and bell were already in place by 1832 when church members debated how to lengthen the church. Should they add 12 feet to both the north and south ends - or 15 feet to the front (south). The fact that today it is impossible to tell which they chose, or if another scheme was decided upon, speaks to the fine craftsmanship of the mid 19th century. The lengthening at the front of the church - and we can be pretty sure today we are looking at a 19th century front facade because of the three entrances - is absolutely seamless in the stonework on each side. 

Stained glass windows were likely a late 19th century addition, as was a remodeling of the interior to a Victorian style. In 1999, with the cupola in desperate need of repair, the church partnered with Bell Atlantic Mobile who provided a replica made of fiberglass in exchange for allowing a cell antenna to be installed within it.


1977 National Register photo.
Today, the Neshanic Reformed Church is the centerpiece of Hillsborough's Neshanic Historic District, entered on the National and State Historic Registers in 1979.

22 November 2016

Duke Farms Autumn

Some photos I took this month while hiking at Duke Farms.

Last color.

Hawk spotted me.

Fisherman
Egret is schoolmaster
...and he's off!

Mallards on Duke's Brook

11 November 2016

Hillsborough Veterans Honored

If you've ever driven past the old Hillsborough Township municipal building on East Mountain Rd. (the original Amwell Rd.) you have no doubt noticed the boulder on the front lawn. Today the boulder displays a rather nondescript sign with the words "Hillsborough Township Department of Public Works", but not very long ago the big rock displayed an entirely different message.





Not long after the end of World War II, the names of more than 300 Hillsborough members of the armed forces and merchant marine stood out in bold relief from a plaque affixed to the boulder in their honor. The plaque can be seen today at the Garden of Honor at the new (25-year-old!) municipal complex on South Branch Road.





In December 1943, the Somerville Trust Company published an 8 page large format folio, possibly a newspaper supplement, with photos of Somerville area servicemen and women. I surrounded a recent photo of the plaque with the eighteen Hillsborough veterans that were included. I encourage readers to click on the image when you are at your computer to get a better look at the photo and all of the names. 









04 November 2016

The South Branch Reformed Church

Around 1830 the inhabitants of Branchville, now known as South Branch, decided they needed a church of their own. Nothing much came of the idea until 1842, when a committee was formed to discuss the plausibility of raising enough money to build a church in the quiet Hillsborough hamlet on the south branch of the Raritan River. It was found that there were enough funds to erect a church building, but probably not enough to support a minister.


Members of the South Branch Dutch Reformed Church
 at the 50th anniversary celebration, 29 May 1900.

On December 17, 1849, townsfolk, many descendants of the original Dutch settlers of the village, met at the schoolhouse across the river in Branchburg - just north of the present one-room school -  to take up the matter once again. They soon had fifty-eight families committed to uniting and forming a congregation connected with the Dutch Reformed denomination.


Postcard circa 1908 showing the original smaller cupola
Things moved more quickly now, with the Classis of New Brunswick approving the church organization in April, and the membership meeting again at the schoolhouse on May 14, 1850 to officially be designated as "The Dutch Reformed Church of Branchville". They immediately began planning the construction of the church. The site was donated by the Amerman brothers, and a contract was made with William A. Voorhies of Griggstown for $3,174.


Illustration from the cover of a 1967 community cookbook.

The building was modeled after the recently completely church in Whitehouse. It is in the classical Grecian style, with fluted columns at the entrance that are set within the porch area - a feature of churches of this type in New Jersey. In her book, Hillsborough: An Architectural History, architectural historian Ursula Brecknell gives us this interesting serendipitous tidbit.

Although rules existed for determining classic relationships of pediment to columns and again to the angle of pitch of pediment, they were largely ignored by 19th-century architects for numerous reasons; accordingly the matter of obtaining aesthetic relationships depended primarily on the skills of the carpenter for the "felt line". One of the graces of the South Branch Church is its success at this point in having a pleasing ratio.


This photo accompanied the 1976 Historic Register nomination form.
Reportedly future president Chester A. Arthur attended a service here in 1854 when he was a young New York lawyer - just twenty-five years old at the time and already famous for winning a case that ended segregation on that city's streetcars. But the most famous member was future operatic soprano Anna Case who attended services and sang in the choir from the 1890s to around 1906. Much later she gifted her family's home - directly south of the church - to be used as the second parsonage.

Anna Case singing in the choir as depicted in a 1913 illustration.

21 October 2016

Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone

This past summer, the Hillsborough Reformed Church at Millstone celebrated the 250th anniversary of their congregation. On July 28th, 1766 seventy heads of the families of Dutch settlers in the Millstone Valley petitioned the ministers and elders of the Dutch Reformed churches at Raritan, New Brunswick, Six Mile Run,and Harlingen, to be allowed to form a separate church at Millstone.

Postcard circa 1905

The petition was deliberated and approved on August 11, 1766. The church first organized under the name "New Millstone" because the church at Harlingen went by the name "Millstone". By the end of 1767, the first church building was erected on the site where the present church stands today. It had three aisles, sixty-six pews, and a stairway in the southwest corner which led to the belfry.



South Elevation, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939


In June of 1777, the British set fire to both the Dutch Reformed Church, and the small Presbyterian Church. Although the interior was completely destroyed, the structure of the building was saved, and, through careful repair over the years remained in service to the church community for sixty years.


From the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939

In 1827, eighty members petitioned church elders to either repair and enlarge the old church, or build a new one. Joachim Quick was contracted to build a new church. He received the sum of $5,000 ($120,000 today) and all the materials he could salvage from the old church. Mr. Quick put the boards and timbers from the old church to good use, using them the next year to construct the covered bridge at South Branch, which was in use for 100 years.



East Elevation, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939

The building was to take its design cues from the third church at Six Mile Run, which had been completed just two years prior. Both churches were a spacious, for the time, 70 by 55 feet. The cornerstone for the present church was laid on June 8, 1828, and the church was dedicated at Christmas of the same year. 


From the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, 1974

The nomination form which placed the village of Millstone on the National Register of Historic Places described the church building:

This is a two story building with a random course rubble foundation. The exterior of the building is clapboard. Brick is used for insulation. The walls are full timbered and pegged. The windows on the sides are 16/12 while those on the south end (main entrance) are 15/15 with semi-circular tops. There are no windows on the ground level on the south end. The three doors are arranged in a symmetrical pattern with the windows of the second floor and quarter windows of the attic. A circular window is at the attic level directly over the center door as is a circular lite in the steeple. The bell turret is octagon in shape. The roof is slate on wood shingle and gabled. The building has brick chimneys.

Longitudinal Section, from the Historic American Buildings Survey, 1939


As you can see from the photos, the church building, which will reach its bicentennial in a dozen years, looks the same today as it did more than a century ago, and likely much as it did in 1828, 



West view, 2015

09 September 2016

Blackwell's Mills

The 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro' boldly locates the six prominent 19th century (and earlier) villages located within the township's borders. Clover Hill, Neshanic, Branchville (now South Branch), and Millstone (now Millstone Boro) are well known to area residents and are each designated as state and national historic districts. Flaggtown (Flagtown), which I wrote about here is a little more obscure, as the original important village of that name was in the vicinity of the YMCA, and what we think of today as Flagtown is actually Flaggtown Station.


Blackwell's Mill as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map. 

Which leaves us with Blackwell's Mills. Located near the southeast corner of Hillsborough Township, not much remains of this important 18th century village. Although not specifically listed by name on the national and state registers, the entire village area is included in the Millstone Valley Agricultural Historic District.


The Blackwell's Mills School House from a postcard circa 1906.

Peter Schenck built the first mill on the site in 1746, about the same time the first causeway was constructed across the Millstone River into Franklin Township. Schenck was a wealthy landowner who, at his death in 1780, left 2,400 acres of property in New York state, as well as the Millstone River mill and at least one other mill in Hillsborough at Rock Mill in the Sourlands. The mills passed to his son-in-law Archibald Mercer, who had experience operating other mills in New Brunswick and Bound Brook. 



Detail from the Farm Map of 1860
 showing the location of the village, store, residences and school (my annotation).

The original mill burned down in 1806, and by the time it was rebuilt a few years later ownership had passed to an uncle of William Blackwell. and by mid-century William himself. thereby gaining the name by which we know the village today. 


Broach's store as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.
The first school in the area was originally located north of the village and was in operation as early as 1746 when the first mill was built. The location was moved south of the village in 1813 to the Layton Farm at the northwest corner of Millstone River Road and its original junction with Hillsborough Road (before Amsterdam Road was built).



The Blackwell's Mills causeway circa 1906
The largest increase to investment and commerce in the area came with the opening of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in 1834. With more convenient access to markets, farms began to flourish on the west - Hillsborough - side of the river.


The residence of William Blackwell as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.

William Blackwell owned the mill until 1864, and was succeeded by his son John until 1871. A post office was established in the village in 1872.


The residence of F.C. Blackwell as illustrated on the 1860 Farm Map.


Snell's 1881 History of Somerset County gives the following description of Blackwell's Mills:

Blackwell's is situated on the west bank of the Millstone, about two miles south of the village of Millstone. Here is a flourishing flour- and grist-mill, owned by John L. Oakey, Esq. Half a dozen houses are in the immediate vicinity, a store kept by Cornelius H. Broach, and a school near by. A bridge crosses the Millstone at this point to Franklin Township. A mill has existed here since 1746, originally built by Peter Schenck. A post-office was established in 1872.


From the 1912 Report to the Commissioner on Roads.

The Millstone Valley Agricultural Historic District was entered onto the State and National Registers of Historic Places in 1977. Geographically, the linear district follows Millstone River Road south from the border of Millstone Boro to just past the original intersection of Hillsborough Road.

From the 1912 Report to the Commissioner on Roads.

It is appropriately an "agricultural" historic district as all of the ten existing contributing properties - residences and outbuildings - are associated with 19th century farmsteads.


Blackwell's Mills causeway, circa 1906.