11 October 2019

Hillsborough's Poor Farm (1837 - 1947)

How will a community care for its poor? This is a question Hillsborough Township has contemplated since before the municipality was Hillsborough Township. Meeting minutes of the Westering Precinct of Somerset County - the name for the combined future townships of Hillsborough and Montgomery - regularly include notations of funds to be raised for indigent residents. 

The Hillsborough Township Poor Farm, circa 1947

On at least a couple of occasions after Hillsborough and Montgomery split in 1771, attempts were made to establish permanent housing for the poor both locally and at the county level. Apparently, these attempts did not receive any support, as the Overseers of the Poor were directed in 1824 to purchase a poor farm jointly with Montgomery. Some sources say that this was the Van Pelt Farm on the southbound side of Great Road/Belle Mead-Blawenburg Road/Rt. 601 before the intersection with Grandview Road.

A portion of the minutes of the April 1824 Hillsborough Township Committee Meeting
 directing the Overseers of the Poor to purchase a farm jointly with Montgomery Township.
The enterprise lasted until 1836 when the Poor Farm was folded and the property sold. The next year, the township purchased a 120-acre tract on Amwell Road west of Neshanic known as the Indian Farm from J.S. Young and wife for $5,000 - about $130,000 today. The original farmhouse on the property was used to house the inmates (the term for those persons without income or any means of support who were committed to the farm) until about 1858 when a new, large, two-story house was erected.

"Poor House", "Alms House", "Township Farm" -
all the names over the years for Hillsborough's Poor Farm.
Maps are - clockwise from upper left - 1850, 1860, 1873, and 1945.

The last custodian of the Poor Farm, Mrs. Florence Brown, was interviewed in her later years and was able to describe the building's original layout. A center hall with staircase to the second floor separated the custodians' quarters on the west - front and rear living rooms with bedrooms above - and inmates' quarters on the east - front common living room with three bedrooms in the rear along with a bathroom and the kitchen, and six bedrooms and a bath above on the second floor.

The 1840 annual report of the "Poor-House Establishment"
 made by the Overseers of the Poor to the Hillsborough Township Committee.
In 1840, the Poor Farm living quarters was the original Indian Farm farmhouse.
Inmates - men, women, and sometimes children - lived and worked on the farm. They grew some of what they needed to eat and sold enough produce to have funds to acquire other staples and household goods. Still, when the custodian's salary was figured in, it was unlikely that the farm would break even.

The Farm in 1978

The Courier News reprinted the original resolutions for the "conduct of the paupers" from April 1837:
"No. 1 - Any pauper that brings spiritous liquors about the place to be punished therefore. No. 2 - Any pauper that comes drunk or gets intoxicated on the premises to be punished therefor. No. 3 - Any pauper that refuses to do labor that the steward thinks him capable of performing or abuses the steward while he is in conduct of his duties, to be punished therefor. Punishment to consist in not allowing any food until the steward is satisfied that he will comply with the rules."
A separate smaller building on the property known as the "tramp house" was used for those unsavory wayfarers merely "passing through" town. Here they could be locked up overnight and sent off in the morning with a good breakfast to fuel their passage beyond the city limits.

The Farmhouse in 2008
The Browns were the final custodians of the Poor Farm between about 1926 and 1947. Under their management, the farm established a large dairy herd with all modern facilities, as well as a modern poultry operation. In the 20th century, the number of poor working on the farm varied - from a high of 16 during the Depression down to just two men when Hillsborough voters approved the discontinuance of the farm by a vote of 354 to 272 on November 6, 1946. The property was sold at auction on January 18, 1947.

27 September 2019

William Bradley's Ardmaer Farms

In February of 1903, as tobacco tycoon James B. Duke was gearing up for the construction projects that would transform his Hillsborough, NJ estate into the wonderland known as Duke's Park, older brother Benjamin thought he might like to have his own estate on the Raritan River. He purchased two farms on the other side of the river in Bridgewater Township west of the town of Raritan totaling several hundred acres. Over the next few years, he added to his holdings by purchasing an additional eight farms further west.

13 February 1903 Home News

While the Duke brothers were accumulating real estate in New Jersey, fifty-two-year-old contractor William Bradley was digging things up in New York - literally. For years the Bradley Contracting Company held the lucrative city snow removal contract. Favored by Tammany Hall, Bradley employed an army of up to 5,000 men armed with shovels during the winter months. Undoubtedly many of those same men helped Bradley fulfill the tunnel digging contracts he was awarded during the initial construction and expansion of the subway lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

26 February 1903 New York Times

Like many middle-aged millionaires of the early twentieth century (and even today) Bradley spent freely on his hobbies - the biggest being racehorses. In 1907 he also purchased a large tract - 360 acres - west of Raritan and set out to build a world-class breeding operation for trotters and pacers. When Benjamin Duke finally decided not to build on his acreage Bradley was able to acquire that also. By 1910, with the purchase of the large Long and Garretson tracts, Bradley had an estate - Ardmaer Farms - as large as J.B. Duke's Duke Farms! 

Relative Sizes of Duke and Bradley Estates.

He spent considerable sums bringing the finest studs and broodmares to the farm in those early years. Much like his neighbor across the river, Bradley was continually building - enormous barns, stables, roads, and a one-mile track. The mysterious death of two of his best horses early on did not deter Bradley - he just bought more. He even purchased an enormous Tally Ho Coach and Four to drive guests from the Raritan Station out to his farm and had one of the first privately-owned automobile fire engines in the vicinity.

A Tally Ho Coach and Four circa 1908

In 1915 European nations ravaged by war sent to the United States for horses. Hundreds of thousands of horses from America's heartland were shipped across the Atlantic to France and Italy. With its fine and commodious facilities, Ardmaer Farms became a way station for thousands of horses bound for the battlefield. They arrived by train 300, 500, even 800 at a time. Once at the farm horses were inspected for fitness and given the nourishment needed for the arduous ocean crossing.

30 March 1911 Home News

When Bradley died in 1924 it was reported that the self-made millionaire who started with a pair of horses and a wagon as a teenager in the 1870s had - through some bad business dealings and failure to collect the money owed on some large contracts  - allowed his net worth to fall to less than $500.

26 February 1930 Home News

After the sale of Ardmaer farms to settle the estate - an auction that brought in $125,000 - the Bradley property continued to operate as a farm for the rest of the decade. In 1930 new owners sold all of the livestock and equipment and within a year streets were laid out for the residential development known as Bradley Gardens.

25 September 2019

Reading Academy - Flemington High School

William S. Drake - the son of Hillsborough farmer and Democrat politician JVD Drake - was a well-known building contractor for thirty-five years from the 1930s to the 1960s. He built many buildings in Hillsborough and throughout Somerset County during his long, productive career. He was also one of the founders of the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Company and was involved with many civic activities. But for our purposes, we will remember him as the last Hillsborough student to attend Flemington High School.

The Reading Academy, Flemington, NJ.
Upon his death in 1853, Flemington resident Daniel Kennedy Reading left $10,000 in his will to build a school. The school, known as Reading Academy after its benefactor, was finally built in 1862 and began taking high school students in the 1870s. This made the Reading Academy one of the first public high schools in the area, with the first class graduating in 1880. Students came from all over central and south Hunterdon County, Branchburg Township, and even Hillsborough. Over the decades the school on Bonnell Street was expanded, but eventually was too small and outdated and needed to be replaced.

The new Flemington High School constructed in 1915.

A new high school on the same property was dedicated on December 17, 1915. According to a report in the Courier News, the two-story brick building was planned to include:

"On the first floor of the building will be stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, history, principal's room, teachers' room, English, miscellaneous, library and auditorium with gallery. The auditorium will have a seating capacity of about 800. On the second floor of the building will be the lecture room, laboratory, mathematics, general study room, language, and two rooms unfurnished."
Which brings us back to the young Mr. Drake. In July 1925 the Hillsborough Township Board of Education voted to approve the transportation of all high school students - including those attending Bound Brook and Flemington - to Somerville High School. JVD Drake - who incidentally was on the Hillsborough School Board at that time - was able to carve out an exception for William to stay at Flemington, where he was a star left tackle on the football team, through December 1, 1925, with the Hillsborough Board of Education continuing to pay tuition to Flemington until that time.

When Mr. Drake continued to send his son to Flemington beyond December 1, a court battle ensued over who would pick up the tuition with the Hillsborough Board of Education prevailing.

Flemington High School graduated its final class in June 1956, after which students attended the new Hunterdon Central High School.

10 September 2019

The "Bridge Street" Bridges of Hillsborough

A 1923 editorial in the New Brunswick Home News concerning the movement to change the name of Somerville's Bridge Street posited, "[T]oday, there are many streets leading from the main street across a bridge over the Raritan. Today, Bridge Street has no significance whatsoever. It is merely a habit." If the writer won his point then, he would surely win it doubly now as not only are there still other Somerville roads that lead to bridges but Bridge Street - or South Bridge Street as it is now known - leads to no bridge at all! Instead, it terminates at Route 206, where a left turn brings motorists to an eight-lane highway that poses as a Raritan River Bridge. Drivers at cruising speed in either direction may not know that they are on a bridge at all.

The Old Covered Bridge at Bridge Street (1822-1887).
Painting by Davis Gray, 1971.
In the post-revolutionary period, when wagons crossed the Raritan from Hillsborough to the settlement that would become Somerville, drivers took care on the narrow chain bridge. When a loaded grain wagon caused the bridge to collapse in 1822 it was replaced by a covered bridge. In those days, Bridge Street went straight through where the D&C Electric parking lot is today [2019] and then turned slightly east to cross the river at the narrowest span. The old covered bridge was much loved for many reasons, not the least of which was because it shielded boys at their favorite swimming hole from the travelers on the bridge. Swimming costumes were practically non-existent in the wardrobe of a mid-nineteenth-century youth!

The Iron Bridge at Bridge Street (1887-1930).
Postcard circa 1915.
Eventually, progress and increased commerce dictated a new modern, wider iron bridge be built. The Somerset County Freeholders budgeted $13,000 for the 300-foot span in 1886 with the bridge opening to traffic the following year.

The Concrete Highway Bridge of Route 31/206 (1930-2002)
Photo circa the 1930s.
The construction of Route 31 - now renamed Route 206 - in 1929 called for a modern concrete auto bridge over the Raritan River. This was a major project requiring the use of a temporary wooden bridge at the site where a gigantic concrete mixing machine moved back and forth on tracks. The architecturally significant bridge opened in August 1930 and was in use until 2002.

The Eight-Lane Route 206 Bridge under construction.
28 March 2002 Courier News

02 September 2019

Garden State Lounge (1966 - 1968)

When Garden State Lanes burned to the ground on January 21, 1963, the Wengryn brothers - George, Walter, and Daniel - not only lost the valuable bowling alley on Route 206 in Hillsborough but also their investment in a liquor license. At least temporarily.

24 December 1965 Courier News

The Wengryns had been trying for years to add a proper cocktail lounge to Garden State Lanes which opened in 1957. After finally getting township approval for a liquor license transfer from the defunct Sourland Mountain Tavern/Amwell Inn at the beginning of 1963, and quickly opening the bar, it all went up in smoke three weeks later.

8 January 1966 Courier News

While the brothers kept their options open as to whether or not to rebuild the bowling alley, they received approval in 1965 to build a cocktail lounge on the site to be named Garden State Lounge. The cocktail lounge opened on New Year's Eve 1965 with an official grand opening eight days later. Live music and dancing to the likes of Walt Wengryn's own orchestra (foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha, waltz, and polka) were the featured attractions during that first year.

16 December 1966 Courier News

In 1967 the lounge added go-go girls and rock groups to their lineup. The Treble Tones and Duff & The New Disciples were Friday night regulars. 

Newspaper ads for Garden State Lounge

Garden State Lounge might have remained in business for years if not for a "special event" held on Monday, February 12, 1968. Usually, there was no admission fee or cover charge at the lounge, but for this event, for which the entire audience consisted of 75 middle-aged men, tickets cost $10. In addition, patrons parked off-site and were transported by bus to the club.

15 February 1968 Franklin News-Record

Even though the party had been planned for about a month, local police were tipped off on the night of the event that something different was going down on Route 206. When the twelve municipal, county and state police officers arrived about an hour into the show, they found two nude women, professional strippers from New York,  on the stage.

Ultimately, charges for the proprietors and organizers of the event were reduced to disorderly conduct, and the New Jersey Alcohol Beverage Control Board revoked the liquor license. 

The Wengryns sold the property later that same year to the group that developed Hillsboro Plaza on the site.

09 August 2019

Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen (1817 - 1885)

On the morning of August 9, 1894, friends, family, and dignitaries both local and national gathered at Newark's Military Park to pay tribute to and unveil a statue of one of the 19th century's most prominent Americans, Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen. The keynote speaker was US Ambassador to Germany Theodore Runyon who spoke for a full thirty minutes on the extraordinary life of the Hillsborough Township native.

Statue of Frederick T. Frelinghuysen at Newark's Military Park. Photo circa 1900.

Frederick T. Frelinghuysen was born on August 4, 1817, in Millstone, NJ into one of the most storied families in Somerset County history. He was descended from Rev. Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen who emigrated to America from Holland in 1720 and organized nearly all of the early Dutch Reformed Churches in Somerset, Hunterdon, and Middlesex Counties. The Reverend's second son was Rev. John Frelinghuysen who was instrumental in starting the school that became Queen's College, now known as Rutgers University. John Frelinghuysen's son, the grandfather of our subject, was General Frederick Frelinghuysen - a graduate of Princeton University in 1770 where he was a classmate of future President James Madison, an artillery commander at the battles of Trenton and Monmouth, and a member of the continental congress.

The Frelinghuysen homestead in Millstone
General Frelinghuysen had three sons. The youngest, Frederick, the father of our subject, was educated at Princeton and practiced law in Millstone. He died suddenly in 1820 at the age of thirty-two, leaving his widow the former Mary Dumont (daughter of wealthy Hillsborough landowner Peter B. Dumont), three daughters, and two sons - the youngest being Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, just three years old.

Frederick T. Frelinghuysen

The young boy was soon adopted by his uncle, the General's second son Theodore Frelinghuysen. He could have wished for no better mentor as his career closely followed the path of his distinguished uncle.  "Fred", as he was known to his friends, entered Rutgers as a sophomore and graduated in 1836 at the age of nineteen. After a further three years of study in his uncle's law office in Newark, he was admitted to the bar in 1839. 

Frederick T. Frelinghuysen

Well known for his commanding oratory, Frelinghuysen inherited his uncle's law practice and made a great success representing the New Jersey Central Railroad Company. In 1842 he married Matilda Griswold and together they had three daughters and three sons. He was appointed to a six-year term as New Jersey Attorney General in 1861, and then appointed by Governor Ward, to fill the unexpired term of US Senator William Wright in 1866. In 1871 he was elected by the NJ legislature to a full six-year term as senator. 

Members of the 1876 Electoral Commission

Frelinghuysen's time in the Senate was filled with contentious debate over Reconstruction, the impeachment of President Johnson, and the contested 1876 presidential election results. His strong patriotism, and his enduring Christian faith, along with his skills in rational argument, served him well during his Senate career.

President Chester A. Arthur

A change in the political makeup of the New Jersey legislature from Republican to Democrat denied Frelinghuysen a second full term in the senate but in 1881 after the assassination of President Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, in one of his first acts as president, appointed Frelinghuysen as Secretary of State. It was during these years that he played host to the president on several occasions at his 150-acre Hillsborough Township estate. The property, inherited from the Dumont side of his family, is on the south bank of the Raritan River on River Road and is the wooded lot know owned by Duke farms. It was here that President Arthur courted Frelinghuysen's daughter, Tillie, leading to rumors that marriage was certain. However, it was not to be.

Arthur decided not to run for reelection in 1884, and Frelinghuysen retired to his home in Newark upon the inauguration of the new administration in March 1885. Almost immediately upon his return he fell ill and lapsed into a coma, dying peacefully in his home on May 20, 1885. The city of Newark, in combination with its leading citizens, commissioned a bronze statue of Frelinghuysen to be placed near his home in Military Park. Hartford sculptor Karl Gerhardt designed the nine-foot-tall statue which sits on a granite pedestal twelve feet high. A fitting monument to a great statesman.

24 July 2019

Polish Falcon Camp (1933 - 2017)

The Polish Falcon Camp on the appropriately-named Falcon Road in Hillsborough Township, New Jersey can trace its roots back to the opening of the Polish-American Home on August 31, 1930, in Manville. More than 6,000 attendees enjoyed a parade, evening dance, and festivities celebrating Polish heritage.

Polish Falcon Camp, Hillsborough - postcard
With such a tremendous turnout, it wasn't long before there was talk of organizing a local chapter of the Polish Falcons of America. The Polish Falcons - begun in 1863 with the first American "nest" forming in 1887 - is a fraternal organization with a strong emphasis on physical fitness.

2 September 1930 Courier News

William Mazur of South River, who had been connected with other Falcons chapters in New York and New Jersey, and was a physical fitness buff himself, pushed for a new Manville area chapter. The unit was finally organized in March 1932 with Edward Knitowski elected as the first president.

1950s and 1960s ads for events at the Polish Falcon Camp

Organizers immediately set about looking for land to build a camp where they could have swimming and other outdoor recreational activities necessary for their mission, while also providing buildings for indoor entertainment and meeting space. In 1933, 80 acres of farmland on Weston Road - soon to be renamed Falcon Road - was purchased and buildings were constructed. 

Polish Falcon Camp, Hillsborough -  postcard

The camp was dedicated on Sunday, July 16, 1933, as Polish Falcon Camp, District 1. Stormy weather didn't prevent 2,000 people from attending the festivities. When the organization was incorporated the next month it was expressed that the aim of the club was, "social, athletic and civic in its scope of cementing love of their parent homeland in Polish Americans."

1970s ads for events at the Polish Falcon Camp.

The Polish Falcon Camp quickly turned into a popular entertainment destination for both members and non-members. For decades patrons could enjoy a night out with dancing and music by such notables as the Gaines Orchestra, the Kryger Brothers, Stan Skawinski, Jimmy Sturr, and Stanky and His Pennsylvania Coal Miners.

Polish Falcon Camp, Hillsborough - postcard
But of course, physical fitness and recreation remained a primary part of the Polish Falcons. There was always the annual summer camp and swimming in the pool. 

Long-time area residents will remember the fire Christmas morning of 1966 which destroyed the main building of the camp. An overnight snowstorm left volunteer firefighters with the task of first digging out their cars before they could respond to the firehouses. A Somerset County snowplow proved to be one of the most valuable pieces of equipment on the scene.

Barbara Zukowski, Miss Falcon 1969 - and Lisa Formus, Miss Falcon 1991

A new community center was completed in May 1968 and the camp continued for another five decades with all of its regular activities, including the annual Miss Falcon contest.

By 2017, with interest in ethnic heritage organizations on the wane, the owners of the property, Polish Falcons of America, rebranded the camp as Falcon's Nest - a modern catering facility with meeting, dining, and activity rooms as well as an outdoor stage.

17 July 2019

Golf Land (1996 - 2002)

In the summer of 1995 Larken associates received Planning Board approval to build a driving range and miniature golf course on Hillsborough Road just east of Route 206 and the Conrail overpass. At that time the Hillsborough Township Committee was still promoting the idea of an expressway named Corporate Way through that section of the municipality, and Planning Board members liked the idea of a facility of this type in the area, with Board President Thomas Bates noting that a driving range might be an "incentive for corporations to move to Hillsborough."

5 May 1996 Courier News
Initial plans called for a 40-tee year-round driving range, a state-of-the-art miniature golf course - no windmills here - batting cages, a pro shop, and a snack bar. Shortly after ground was broken in the spring of 1996, PGA club pro Robert Mauer was brought on to direct the golf operations - which included setting up driving and miniature golf tournaments, conducting golf seminars and providing lessons.

1 August 1996 Courier News
Before the grand opening in July, it was announced that the recreation center would also include a pro shop and a snack bar. Freeholder Director Peter Biondi got a sneak peek at the facility a few days before opening when he beat out Thomas Bates and Mayor Ken Scherer in a driving competition by being the only player to land his ball on the green.

13 April 1997 Courier News

By the time Golf Land opened the snack bar had evolved into a separate concession called Cafe on the Greens owned and operated by Wayne and Dawn Blauth who also owned the Pennington Bagel Experience. The cafe, which received favorable reviews, was open every day early for breakfast and closed late at 10 or 11pm depending on crowds.

3 July 1997 Home News
In 1997 Golf Land expanded by adding a second tier of 20 stalls to its driving range. It was noted that all of the 40 stalls in the lower tier were lighted and heated for year-round use.

31 August 1997 Courier News

Robert Mauer used all of the latest late-90s technology in his lessons, including videotaping his students' swings. He also predicted that virtual reality was the future of teaching golf and was looking forward to bringing it to Hillsborough.

29 September 1997 Courier News

After the initial excitement of the first few years, Golf Land settled down to steady business at the range, mini-golf, and batting cages. It was a popular destination for parties and club activities.

13 June 2002 Courier News

In 2002, Golf Land was demolished and the land was purchased for the Route 206 Bypass project.

25 June 2019

Tine's Greenhouses - NJ Botanical Gardens (1891 - 2004)

John Tine was just 21 years old when he purchased an eight-acre property tucked into the northeast corner of the triangle formed by the intersection of the South Branch Railroad and what was then called Woodville Road, but today is known as Duke's Parkway. The year was 1891 and Tine's idea was to do something different with farming employing greenhouses.

10 September 1936 Courier News

The initial business consisted of propagating and selling vegetable plants to area farmers. Indeed, Tine considered himself to be a farmer and continued with this business model for many years, making deliveries by horse-drawn wagon.

A portion of a 1932 map showing the location of the Tine property.

In 1893 Tine got a new neighbor when tobacco tycoon James B. Duke began buying properties to the north, east, and eventually all around the eight-acre nursery to assemble his Duke's Park. Whether Duke was spurned in efforts to buy out the nursery, or simply did not deem the effort necessary, it appears he simply ignored the Tines. In fact, he located one of the main entrances to the park, the Eagle Gate, directly across from the greenhouses.

27 July 1941 Courier News
As the management of the business passed to Tine's son John V.A. Tine they began to move away from vegetables and started to offer geraniums, petunias, ornamental plants, and flowers. In the 1930s and 40s, they operated a successful flower shop on Main Street in Somerville.

1 June 1935 Home News

Before the days of plastic sheeting, running a business that depended on a couple of dozen glass-covered greenhouses could be hazardous. In one particularly devastating May 1935 hailstorm, the Tines lost 400 panes of glass. Doris Duke lost about 200 panes in the same storm. Three years later, Doris Duke set off the damage when dynamiting to remove her father's spectacular fountain terraces caused shock waves that again shattered a number of Tine's greenhouses.

1 August 1975 Courier News
In the 1970s with the business now being run by grandson Clifford Tine and wife Madge, they changed their name to New Jersey Botanical Gardens. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nursery became widely known across the state and hosted many special events - including appearances by legendary WOR radio host Ralph Snodsmith. By 1987 the nursery consisted of 14 greenhouses with 5,000 varieties of plants.

Third generation proprietors Clifford and Madge Tine,
 18 October 1987 Home News
Clifford Tine passed away in 2004 and the property was sold to Duke Farms in 2007.