22 January 2015

J.B. Duke Estate 1905

On March 26, 1905, as construction was about to begin on J.B. Duke's grand mansion in Hillsborough, New Jersey, The New York Times reported that the tobacco and power magnate had spent upwards of $2 million on improvements to the property - and that was just in the preceding three years after he had begun to very seriously transform his 2500 acres on the Raritan River.

The New York Times, March 26, 1905

There were 400 people working on the state in 1905 - which today would make it Hillsborough's second largest employer.  They were mostly engaged in landscaping - it was nothing for Mr. Duke to place an order for 50,000 evergreens, for example.  Already completed was the first of the series of artificial lakes, the boathouse, the conservatory, the magnificent stables, and the clubhouse which the Dukes were to reside in while waiting for their new home to be completed.

The mansion was never completed.

The circa 1905 postcards below are from my personal collection.  While much has changed at "Duke's Park" over the past 110 years, a careful examination of the final image reveals that at least one restriction remains constant. Enjoy!

31 December 2014


My dad was an active runner for less than 20 years, beginning in 1977 at the age of 46 and continuing until illness sidelined him at the age of 64.  He was an avid competitor, continually challenging himself in literally hundreds of road races, including 40 marathons.

Jersey Shore Marathon - 1980

Boston Marathon - 1990

New York City Marathon - 1991

I spent some time these last few days of the year scanning the many dozens of photos that my dad had kept from those days.  I combined them into one of those photo mosaic collages.

Click on this photo from the 1993 New York City Marathon to see the photos

23 December 2014

Atheist Scientific Doctor Children's Research Hospital?

Last month, actress Marlo Thomas appeared on NBC's Today Show on behalf of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Memphis research and treatment center dedicated to finding the cures for catastrophic diseases in children, founded by her father Danny Thomas in 1955.  The segment, which included a family who had been helped by the hospital, was wholly unremarkable save for one innocent remark by host Natalie Morales, followed by a brief retort by Ms. Thomas. Watch below.

“Colin’s story is just another example of the incredible work, the miracles that are performed at St. Jude…”
 “It’s not a miracle though, it’s science. This is what we do at St. Jude…”

The exchange is mild, honest, and relevant - doctors absolutely deserve credit for their amazing work and the dedication that provides them with the insights necessary to advance towards the goal of eliminating childhood disease.  And the spot was the typical kind you see during the fundraising season.

I didn't give this incident a second thought until I began to see the exchange pop up on Facebook and various blogs as a triumphant thumb to the eye of religion.  Are atheists really applauding this? Does the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital want talk of miracles banished from their bio?  That's weird.

Here's an excerpt from the Hospital's web site:

More than 70 years ago, Danny Thomas, then a struggling young entertainer with a baby on the way, visited a Detroit church and was so moved during the Mass, he placed his last $7 in the collection box. When he realized what he’d done, Danny prayed for a way to pay the looming hospital bills. The next day, he was offered a small part that would pay 10 times the amount he’d given to the church. Danny had experienced the power of prayer.

A couple of years later, doing better but still struggling, Danny Thomas prayed to St. Jude, one of the twelve apostles and the patron saint of hopeless causes, promising that if he found his way, he would one day build a shrine to St. Jude.  A decade later, after achieving international stardom, that shrine took the form of the famous research hospital named in honor of the martyred saint.

I would ask nonbelievers to take a break from their victory lap to compose a letter to Marlo Thomas, asking her to remove any mention of St. Jude from the hospital and charitable foundation that bears his name.  My suggestion would be to rename it Atheist Scientific Doctor Children's Research Hospital.

Just watch the donations pour in then.

13 December 2014

Choose and Cut Your Memories - 2014 Update

Here's an update to a post I wrote in 2008 - and last updated in 2009 - about our annual visit 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. [make that 15 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.







12 December 2014

Amwell Road Bypass

Did you find the Sourland Mountain Tavern?

When I first saw the reverse of this postcard, I thought about all of the larger older homes located along Amwell Road in the vicinity of the village of Neshanic.  

It didn't take too long to realize that there was no place like this near Neshanic.  It then occurred to me that the tavern didn't need to be near Neshanic at all - that's just a postal address.  I live near the intersection of Beekman Lane and Triangle Road, yet for the first ten years we were here - before the Hillsborough 08844 post office was established, our postal address was Neshanic Station!  So forget Neshanic.

After this revelation, I remained stumped.  It was when I sought the assistance of a long-time resident that I realized where I had gone wrong:  I had forgotten the true, original route of the historic Amwell Road!  The road I had been searching is really the Amwell Road Bypass, constructed about 25 years ago between the intersection of East Mountain Road and Marshall Road, and shown on the map below.

To find the Sourland Mountain Tavern, we need to traverse the old Amwell Road, which today has been renamed to become extensions of both East Mountain Road and South Branch Road, and is shown on the map below.

Once I knew where to look, it was easy to find this private home near Foothill Acres on East Mountain Road.

For some reason, I think I could go for a spaghetti and chicken dinner right about now, how about you?

11 December 2014

Sourland Mountain Tavern

Here's a postcard I picked up recently.  This house still stands in Hillsborough, but it is no longer a tavern/restaurant.  Have you seen it?  I have!  

Not many clues here.  I must admit, I needed to contact a lifelong Hillsborough resident to locate "The Ideal Resting Place" - by the way, that phrase itself is a clue!

One last hint: the postcard may be from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s, based on the address, but probably not any later.  Think you've got it?  Answer tomorrow.

04 December 2014

19th Century MeetUp at Belle Mead

"My darling:  Just before I left the house this morning I received two letters from you, one postmarked July 3 at Philadelphia & the other July 4 at Belle Mead.  I was glad to hear that you are feeling better."  So begins the letter written by thirty-one-year-old patent attorney Edmund Brown to his wife Mary on the evening of Thursday July 5, 1894.  Just two ordinary people engaging in typical 19th century communication - no Facebook, no Twitter, no email, no texts;  an era before the ubiquity of the telephone when your arrival by train at your destination could easily precede the posted announcement of your travel plans!

Mr. Brown was writing from his New York City office to his wife who was staying with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. James. L. Brush, in Plainville - a small village in Montgomery Twp. which has since been subsumed by the Carrier Clinic's East Mountain Hospital.  Mary had recently been in Philadelphia, but was feeling poorly.  It was hoped that a short stay "out in the country" would restore the twenty-nine-year-old city-girl to good health.  Could either husband or wife have known that Mary was as much as two months pregnant with their first child who would be born in February of the next year?

Plainville is just a short carriage ride from Belle Mead Station
 as depicted on this turn of the century Somerset County map.

After encouraging his wife to take her medicine, and describing how he eventually was able to get some relief from his hay fever by trying a new remedy ("I feel like another person today"), Edmund Brown continued the letter by laying out his travel plans.

Southbound passenger train at Belle Mead Station.
"If you hear the train, remember that your husband is passing by within a few miles of you."

The next day he would take the 11:30 from New York to Philadelphia, conduct some business, and return the same day on the 4:34, passing through Belle Mead at 6:46 pm.  If Mary had a message for him, she should write it out and have someone bring it to the station.

Northbound, approaching Belle Mead Station
"I will be out on the platform of the car as it stops, and on the lookout for a letter.....tell Harry to stand on the station platform, on the side of the track away from the station, and to look for me on the platforms of the cars"

Belle Mead Station, looking north

If Mary desired a brief visit, it might be possible for him to disembark at Belle Mead, and then catch the 8:10 pm train from Flagtown Station to continue to New York.  Considering the travel time by horse drawn coach between the stations and Plainville, this would have to be a very brief visit, perhaps only a few minutes.  Between this paragraph and the concluding one, there is a two sentence disclaimer, probably inserted just before sealing the envelope, advising Mary to not be bothered with any of this just to please him.  Perhaps on reading through his letter, Mr. Brown felt that his plans sounded too much like orders.

"If you want to see me, dearest, very bad, and can arrange with somebody
 to drive me to Flagtown to get the 8:10 p.m. train from there to N.Y.,
 send me word and I can stop off at Belle Mead & come up to the house for a little visit."
Finally, we are left with this last paragraph.  In my opinion, unmatched in the era of the emoji. Read and enjoy:

Dear little wife - I don't dare to make my letters too affectionate for fear you will think I am missing you so much you must hurry back - and yet I must tell you that I love you, darling, and long to have you with me again.  But I want you to stay there as long as it does you good, and then come home, to your own little house & to your husband that loves you so much, and let him try with all his heart to make you happy.  May God bless you, darling wife, I love you, dear, dear, little girl. - Goodbye - Your Husband

23 November 2014

Benghazi - What Difference, at this Point, Does it Make?

The seventh - or eighth, who can keep track? - congressional investigation into the September 11, 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya released its report on Friday evening in typical weekend-news-dump style, designed to be buried, forgotten, and not transmitted to a wide audience - although the two mentions of the report on Fox News through Sunday morning still beat the zero mentions of Jonathan Gruber on NBC Nightly News these past two weeks.

The report swept away all of the conspiracies concerning possible failures of intelligence, inadequate security, stand-down orders, and the like.


These were all canards.  Foolish assertions that smacked of blaming-the-victim, and not conducive to finding answers to the questions that still trouble many Americans two years later.

So, in the words of Hillary Clinton, "What difference, at this point, does it make?"   Isn't it just all about politics now?

Well, yes.  But it's been about politics since the day after the attack. And the day after that.  And for weeks and months, and now years later.

This is what Hillary Clinton said when she testified before congress in January 2013, four-and-a-half months after the attack:
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?            

The difference it makes is that the attack was neither of those things.  It was not a violent protest in reaction to an anti-Muslim video.  It was not a random act by "guys out for a walk".  It was a premeditated, well planned terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9-11.

In the days after the attack, the State Department edited intelligence community talking points, deleting all references to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.  This allowed a new narrative to take shape - the narrative of the YouTube video, the spontaneous protest.

The reluctance of the Obama administration to call it what it was - from the day after the attack when the president broadly mentioned "act of terror", but blamed the video, to appearances on talk shows, where he blamed the video, to Susan Rice's Sunday show appearances, where she blamed the video, all the way up through Clinton's congressional testimony, the public was continually misdirected away from "terrorist attack" towards "YouTube video".  President Obama even went to the UN two weeks after the attack and once again blamed the video.

Why?  Politics.  In the weeks and months before the election, the Obama administration would not allow that a terrorist attack had taken place.  Not while Osama bin Laden was dead and Al Qaeda was "on the run".  It would have destroyed the narrative.

The entire sad episode is shameful.  But as long as we still value the idea that there can be virtuous people in government service, it still matters when we look around and don't see any.

20 November 2014

Let's Remember How Hillsborough Won the War

Two noteworthy township events over the last several weeks  - the renaming of the municipal building driveway and the dedication of Mountain View Park - seem interestingly linked in the lead up to Veteran's Day.

On October 10, Mayor Doug Tomson was joined by Congressman Leonard Lance, Assemblywoman Donna Simon, local and county officials, and members of the Rotary Club of Hillsborough at a ceremony to rename the driveway of the Peter J. Biondi Building "Veterans Way" as a fitting tribute to all those who have served our country.

A couple of weeks later, Tomson, Simon, Freeholder Pat Walsh, members of the Somerset County Parks Commission, and others were photographed at the site of the Belle Mead GSA Depot for a ribbon-cutting to announce the beginning of the construction phase in the transformation of the depot into Somerset County's "Mountain View Park".

Belle Mead ASF Depot World War II era main gate

This second event was derided by some as being considerably less than newsworthy - nothing more than a pre-election photo op.  For me - and perhaps I missed an earlier announcement - the news was the name: "Mountain View Park".  I was unaware that a name had been chosen for the planned athletic complex.

Belle Mead ASF Depot Guards ready for inspection

The two ceremonies are linked because of their juxtaposition.  In the first case, a nondescript driveway is renamed in honor of our veterans.  In the second, the history of the nation's largest World War II era military supply depot is blotted out with one green billboard.

Belle Mead ASF Depot first anniversary, August 1943

As someone who would have liked to have seen Auten Road School named Veterans Memorial School when it was built 15 years ago, I can and do support the renaming of the municipal building drive.  And I have no particular objection to the name "Mountain View Park".

But as the citizens of the neighboring town of Raritan are justifiably proud and continually pay tribute to their greatest World War II hero, Sgt. John Basilone, with bridges and statues and parades, I would argue that Hillsborough's greatest World War II hero was the Belle Mead Army Service Forces Depot and, by association, all of the thousands of military and civilian personnel who were employed there during the war.

Gasoline drums ready for overseas shipment, May 1944

Let's be clear, the Belle Mead Depot wasn't just one of many dozens of supply depots scattered around the US in the 1940s.  Hillsborough's depot was the largest and greatest.  Its proximity to the New York and New Jersey ports made it THE vital classification way-point for overseas shipments.

Newark Evening News, June 1, 1944

It was no coincidence that reporters were allowed their very first access to the depot just one week before June 6, 1944.  The immense amount of war materiel  - not stored at the depot as much as continually moving through -  would have been enough to intimidate any opponent.  Much like the weigh-in before the championship bout, the sight of Belle Mead before D-Day was more than impressive.

Let's keep alive the memories of the thousands of military and civilian personnel, many from Somerset County, who fought and won the war right here in Hillsborough.  Let's make sure that one of the construction phases of "Mountain View Park" includes, at least, an interpretive display of the history of the Belle Mead Army Service Forces Depot and the part it played in defeating fascism and preserving freedom and liberty in America and around the world.