16 February 2017

OOOOOH! 8844

According to Snell's History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties (1881) there were thirty-four post offices in Somerset County in 1879. Nine were in Hillsborough - ten if you count Clover Hill. The others were located at Blackwell's Mills, Frankfort (Flaggtown), Hillsborough, Millstone, Montgomery (the hamlet on Montgomery Road), Neshanic, Roycefield, South Branch, and Weston.

From the 1873 map

Having more than a quarter of all the post offices in Somerset County located in one township was convenient for residents, but certainly didn't help Hillsborough's identity problem. Look through any old local newspaper from the 19th or early 20th centuries and you will realize that no one lived in Hillsborough (until it came to tax time!). People regarded themselves as inhabitants of their local hamlets.

As the town progressed through the 1800s and into the 1900s, the post offices were closed, or incorporated into other jurisdictions - Weston to Manville, Millstone to Millstone. At the same time, the larger housing developments which began to spring up after 1955 belonged to no village in particular. One of the last post offices to close, at the end of the 1970s, was the one which operated out of Amey's General Store in South Branch. This left only the Flagtown Post Office which had been relocated to its current location decades earlier.

As development continued apace through the 1970s and 80s, Hillsborough residents not living in Flagtown were assigned addresses and Zip Codes corresponding to post offices in neighboring municipalities - Somerville, Belle Mead, Neshanic Station, Skillman, or Flemington. For many residents this was just fine, for others the 1980s were now worse, postally speaking, than the 1880s! At least those old post offices were IN Hillsborough.

The Courier News 18 June 1995
The 80s became the 90s and Hillsborough residents continued seeking solutions. One proposal that didn't gain a lot of traction was for the municipality to be divided into four postal zones each with an address containing the word "Hillsborough".  There had to be a better idea than that.

The Courier News 19 September 1995

By the summer of 1995 the township committee was still undecided about which course to pursue. Township Committeewoman Helen "Chickie" Haines told the Courier News that having one post office "would unite the community".
"I think it would be terrific. I think it will give us a sense of community. Besides that I think it's neat to have a centrally located post office of a proper size for this community."
Committeeman George Ostergren wasn't so sure, telling the Courier News, "I haven't seen any gung-ho activity in Hillsborough Township for the change."

Once the US Postal Service was on board with the idea of a centrally located Hilsborough post office, a USPS district manager explained that the people of Hillsborough would also need to hop on. At least 85% of residents would need to return a mailed survey - and at least 50% of those would have to be in favor of the post office. And, of course, the township committee would have to endorse the plan.

Courier News 16 December 1995

To help gauge public opinion, the township committee commissioned a two-day telephone poll conducted over the weekend of December 16th and 17th 1995. Although there were only 135 responses, 111 were in favor of the plan, and the township committee dutifully gave their endorsement at their December 19th meeting.

All that was left was for the USPS to send out their survey, and wait for the mail to come in.

We will continue with that part of the story next week.



14 February 2017

Anna Case and Her Dogs

The career of soprano Anna Case is filled with many distinctions. The South Branch, New Jersey blacksmith's daughter was the first singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera without European training, she sang live over the radio in some of the first transmissions to reach a wide audience, and she was featured in the first program of motion picture "talkies" - singing a song that she wrote herself.


7 February 1915 New York Times
But Anna Case wasn't the only member of her family with an historic first. Her prize winning dog Boris was the first Russian Wolfhound to appear on stage with the Metropolitan. He was led onto the stage by Italian baritone Antonio Scotti for a scene in The Huguenots during a December 1914 performance. The New York Herald described Boris as "a picturesque dog, even when suffering from stage fright, as he was last night."


Portrait by artist Michel Jacobs as reproduced in the
February 1925 Edison Phonograph Monthly magazine.

It is fair to say that the diva loved her dogs, and especially loved Boris. She was photographed numerous times with both Boris (official name Ranco o' Valley Farm) and his son Nickolai. She even chose to have her portrait done by artist Michel Jacobs posing with Boris.

With Boris at The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, February 1915

She also loved showing her dogs, entering them many times over the years at the Westminster Kennel Club annual show, and others on Long Island.

25 March 1923 Asheville, NC Citizen-Times

Anna Case kept her dogs as close as possible. They stayed with her in her New York apartment when she was in town, and joined her at her summer residences whether at the Jersey Shore, or on Long Island. When she was on tour, the dogs went to stay with her mother in South Branch.

With Boris in New York, October 1916



With Boris and Nickolai on Long Island, August 1921

Summer 1930

Dogs remained an important part of the life of Anna Case after her marriage to communications industry mogul Clarence H. Mackay in 1931, She continued to show dogs, and the couple were photographed often with their pooches. 

With Brownie at the Westbury Dog Show September 1936.

The Mackays with Bang Stone Peggy and Duke, May 1937


Anna and Brownie




25 January 2017

Montgomery - Blackpoint Road Covered Bridge

The evening of July 19, 1921 was a tough one for Somerset County, NJ bridges. Fierce thunderstorms and ensuing floods of the Raritan and Millstone Rivers destroyed at least five bridges. It was almost six.

Barely escaping, but much damaged, was the old covered bridge which spanned the Neshanic River on Montgomery-Blackpoint Road in the Montgomery section of Hillsborough Township. 


Montgomery-Blackpoint Rd. Covered Bridge, from a very wrinkled photograph.


Yes, Hillsborough once had a second covered bridge - and for a brief time on that July evening, we had a third! The raging torrent that was the Neshanic River through Hunterdon and Somerset Counties ripped the small covered bridge at the Rainbow Hill Road crossing from it's moorings and sent it careening two miles downstream to the Montgomery Bridge.




As was reported two days later in The Courier News:

There the wreckage jammed up against the piers and sides of the bridge, which is considerably damaged and warped by the pressure from the Hunterdon County structure.

The Montgomery bridge, built in 1832, was repaired and put back into service for seven more years. a contract worth $24,000 was awarded on June 15, 1928 for removal and replacement of the bridge.

South Branch Covered Bridge circa 1907

The South Branch Covered Bridge survived the 1921 floods, but even after undergoing extensive renovation in 1924, couldn't be saved and was removed and replaced in 1929.

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.



2016

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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.