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!

08 April 2016

The Neshanic Hotel

The Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church began construction in 1759 and was completed by 1772, one year after Hillsborough Township received its royal charter. There was most likely an inn near the church at that time, as Amwell Road was already an important stagecoach route in the latter half of the 18th century.

Postcard view of the Neshanic Hotel circa 1912
The present Neshanic Hotel, however, dates to the middle of the 19th century. Along with the church, it is one of the iconic structures of the village of Neshanic, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. The four larger rooms on the ground floor served for banquets and meetings - indeed the Hillsborough Township Committee at least occasionally met here before the first municipal building was erected in 1931. The second floor contained as many as six guest rooms - reconfigured into rental apartments later in the 20th century. The third floor was mostly an excuse to include the small windows as a design element.

View of the Neshanic Hotel, April 8, 2016 after an early morning fire.
According to Ursula Brecknell in her book "Hillsborough - An Architectural History", the last use of the hotel for its intended purpose was by the road crews who paved Amwell Road between Neshanic and Clover Hill in the 1920s. As she writes, "The foreman later married the widow who kept the hotel, and the couple then chose to close its operation."

National Register application photo, 1979
The significance of the Neshanic Hotel to Hillsborough history is not in its ordinary mid 19th century Italianate architecture, but rather in its location and importance to the historic village of Neshanic. Let's hope the hotel can be restored and preserved and continue to serve as a reminder of Hillsborough's past.

07 April 2016

The Great Flood of 1896

Conductor Kline of the Central Railroad of New Jersey's South Branch division stepped out of the cab of his idle locomotive and walked with trepidation towards the Neshanic bridge. He had left Flemington at 5:40 pm and had already run through 15 inches of water between Woodfern and Riverview, but this was a different situation entirely.

New Central Railroad of NJ bridge and Elm Street Bridge circa 1909
The South Branch of the Raritan River had been rising since 9:00 am that morning of February 6, 1896. By the afternoon, Bound Brook was under six feet of water, and Somerville wasn't much better. All of the bridges across the Delaware and Raritan Canal were not just washed out, but were actually swept away in the floods. Residents in the towns and villages were huddled on the second floors of their residences as floodwaters raged through the streets.  Debris of every kind, including drowned livestock, could be seen floating down the Raritan from Somerville to Bound Brook.

Headline from the New York Sun 7 February 1896

All of the area railroads had already halted traffic as the Millstone, Raritan - North and South Branches as well as the main stem - and the Neshanic overflowed their banks. At the Black Point bridge near the mouth of the Neshanic River the water was already fifteen feet above normal. The situation at the Neshanic bridge was not good. Rising waters were above the level of the railbed, and raging. Kline called the engineer out to take a look. The bridge abutments had been partially washed away, but the bridge seemed secure.

Like a scene from a movie, the conductor and engineer walked back to the locomotive, climbed aboard, and decided to go for it. The engineer built up a head of steam, and sent the train speeding over the river into Hillsborough. Once across, they looked back and saw one of the two sections of the steel bridge collapse into the river and be carried downstream in the torrent.

They brought the train safely into Somerville - and just in time. By 10:00 pm the Raritan at Somerville had risen twenty-five feet. 

31 March 2016

The Old Red School House

[Amazingly, everything we know today about the Old Red School House is due to the reminiscences of Governor Peter Dumont Vroom. He was the youngest student in the very first class taught at the school in 1796. His remembrances were collected in Abraham Messler's 1899 book First Things in Old Somerset.]

Master Warburton was a "kind and affectionate" teacher. Look not to the neatly trimmed birch rod resting against the side of his leather armchair in the corner of the room, but rather be reminded of the fact that he sometimes pretended not to see that the last grains of sand had slipped through to the bottom of the hourglass signalling the end of midday recess.

This circa 1785 school house in Eureka, Vermont
 is probably of much the same size and type as
 Hillsborough's Old Red School House

An Englishman by birth, past middle age but not elderly, John Warburton was the first teacher at Hillsborough Township's Old Red School House. The one-room school, twenty-four feet square, finely built with one door and few windows, was notable for it's red paint with white trim. This was Master Warburton's domain. Built on a little knoll on a sliver of land between River Road and the Raritan east of Beekman Lane in 1795, the school was also his home.

Detail from the 1850 map of Somerset County
 showing the location of Pawnepack Creek,
Beekman Lane, and the Old Red School House

In those days, the little stream which runs northward through the fields and under the road by way of a large diameter steel pipe before exiting to the Raritan, flowed year-round and had a name - The Pawnepack. The little schoolhouse with its chimney on one end was just to the west of this tributary. Inside, the smallest students sat on rows of backless benches, while those who could read and write and work out their arithmetic problems sat on similar benches on each side of a long table. Two smaller tables, each at a different height for those just learning to write, were placed at the front of the room near the master's aforementioned chair. The only another adornment, aside from the large fireplace at the back wall, was the trap door in the ceiling.

Today you could hardly squeeze any sort of building
 into this location between River Road and the Raritan

It was customary for teachers to board week by week at the homes of their students. This arrangement made it possible for the farmers to afford to pay a good teacher, who otherwise would need a salary commensurate with the expenses of keeping a home. In this Master Warburton was the exception. He preferred at all times to make his home in the school house. Each Sunday morning he would arrive at the home of one of his pupils and enjoy breakfast with the family. Before leaving, he would fill his wicker basket with provisions for the week, and a quart bottle with milk. A fresh quart of milk would be brought to the master each school day by one of his students, along with assorted foodstuffs as required.

Dilworth's Spelling-Book, 1796

Master Warburton only taught subjects that he knew well - no history or geography or higher mathematics. He relied solely on four texts - Dilworth's Spelling and Arithmetic books, The New Englad Primer, and the Bible. At recess children played along the Pawnepack and in clearings on both sides of River Road - no traffic in those days. Then it was back to class.

In the evening, Master Warburton pulled two long benches together, and by placing blankets upon them made up his bed for the night. His private place was up through the trap door into the garret. This is where he kept his few small possessions, and secreted away his earnings - a portion of which he dutifully sent to his elderly parents in England. At a time when everyone went to church, no one ever saw the Master in attendance. It was supposed that, being English, as opposed to most of his charges who were of Dutch descent, that he observed the ways of the Church of England, and that one of the fancy books on the table near his chair was the Book of Common Prayer - though no one ever knew for sure.

A view of the Old Red School House site from across the Raritan in Duke Island Park -
notice the pipe which carries what remains of Pawnepack Creek

After many years at The Old Red School House, changing demographics and newly constructed schools in the area forced John Warburton to move on. He taught for a while at another school in the vicinity, eventually using his savings to retire to a small parcel in the hills north of Somerville, where he built a small house and lived out the last years of his life.

The Old Red School House stood on the banks of the Raritan for many years afterward - sometimes pressed into service again as a school, or a Sunday-school. Without regular use, the paint began to peel and chip, the clapboards loosened up, and the changing banks of the river washed the land away until the building was only a memory.

11 March 2016

Clover Hill Cider-Vinegar Works

Take a drive west from Hillsborough down Amwell Road, and just past the village of Clover Hill you will come to the intersection of Cider Mill Road. Only a few Hillsborough residents will know firsthand why the road is so named, but the rest of us can surely guess!

Advertisement for Case's Cider and Vinegar

Around 1869, Zebulon Stout started making cider and vinegar at his farm near Reaville. After partnering with John P. Case some time in the 1870s, the operation was relocated to Case's farm near Clover Hill.

Advertising postcard showing the cider-vinegar works at the Case farm
 just west of Clover Hill
They processed apple juice, but their biggest seller was apple cider vinegar. The Clover Hill location produced and sold between 2,500 and 5,000 barrels a year during the last decades of the 19th century right up through the sale of the business to E. P. VanAtta in 1906. He built a new plant in Flemington, and the prominent buildings of the original cider-vinegar works burned down in 1957.

Aerial view of the farm today.
 The cider - vinegar works building burned down in 1957
The original farmhouse as well as some of the outbuildings pictured in the advertising postcard can still be seen on the north side of Amwell Road, as shown in the aerial photo above.

10 March 2016

Maggie's Farm

Upon entering the office of Miss Maggie Smith in the great coach barn of James B. Duke's Hillsborough, New Jersey estate, the first thing you would notice is a sign hanging over her desk with the simple request, "Be Brief". Visitors would do well to take heed, for, you see, the general manager and ultimate authority at Duke's Farm is a very busy woman.

Miss Maggie Smith in her office
 in an illustration from a May 1904 Syracuse Herald story

The child of immigrant parents - her mother came from Germany in 1859, and her father was born in France - Maggie and her four sisters and two brothers moved back to New Jersey from Easton, Pennsylvania in the mid 1880s, possibly when Mrs. Smith was widowed. A teenager at the time, Maggie and her elder sisters Mary and Kate found work at the Raritan Woolen Mills, earning about $40 a month. After several years at the loom, Maggie decided to go to school in Newark to learn bookkeeping and accounting - and she arranged for Kate to go to cooking school and to receive training in professional housekeeping. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. As the Smith girls were completing their programs, J. B. Duke was making the first purchases of the acreage that would become his New Jersey estate.

The Raritan Woolen Mills circa 1906

It is not known how the Smith girls and J. B. Duke found each other. We do know that Maggie started work as an assistant to the estate manager as early as 1893 when Duke was just beginning to assemble the properties that would become Duke's Farm (later Duke Farms, then Duke's Park, then Duke Farms again!). She kept at this apprenticeship for five or six years, and was given the reigns in 1898.  

11 November 1900 New York Herald

Duke soon turned over near complete control of every operation of the estate to Maggie. It was reported that it was absolutely no use calling him at his New York office or apartment. When he wasn't around, she had the last word - and eventually, even when he was around. The tobacco tycoon had such confidence in the Raritan mill girl that she was in charge of the cash, the books, hiring, firing, approving all requisitions - whether for a set of crockery or thousands of shrubbery - and writing all checks on her own account. 

She had the combination to the huge safe in her office (you can still see it today) and held her ground during the violent labor strikes of 1903 and 1907. The years between 1898 and 1908 were undoubtedly the busiest decade ever at Duke Farms - with the series of artificial lakes being excavated, hundreds of thousands of trees and shrubs to plant, and upwards of 400 laborers of all kinds employed on the estate at any one time. In 1904 she even hired a private mounted police force to patrol the grounds. They all answered to Miss Smith.

Maggie Smith deploys Duke's mounted guards,
from an illustration in the 15 May 1904 New York Press
Along with sister Kate, Maggie also supervised all of Duke's social events at "the farm". Arranging for transportation for guests, planning meals and activities, and often acting as hostess for the millionaire bachelor. For all of this, she was paid around $5,000 a year - a ten-fold increase from her wages at the mill - as well as being given trips to Europe and valuable tobacco stock as Christmas gifts. Maggie, and Kate - and another sister Mary who was later employed as a housekeeper - were frugal with their wages, accumulating enough to donate generously to Catholic charities and even have a large window installed in the church in Raritan as a memorial to their mother.

Maggie Smith and her sisters were known to be very protective of Mr. Duke. When he suddenly, secretly, wedded wealthy New York divorcee Lillian McCredy in 1904, Maggie must have been shocked. When Duke sued for divorce a little more than a year later, Mrs. Duke counter-sued, alleging that the Smith girls rebuffed all of her requests and made her feel like an unwanted guest at the Hillsborough estate. She went on to allege improprieties between Duke and Mary Smith - vehemently denied by Duke.

Maggie Smith's office at the Duke Farms Coach Barn in 2014

In May 1907, the Daily Press of Plainfield reported that Maggie Smith had resigned from Duke Farms to take a job in New York as treasurer of one of the Duke companies, ending her time in our area. But for a few years, a mill girl from Raritan was the most powerful woman in Hillsborough, perhaps the county. In her own words, all it took was "hard work and a will to succeed." You couldn't ask for a briefer prescription than that.

22 February 2016

Peter Dumont Vroom (1791-1873)

Peter Dumont Vroom was the only New Jersey governor born and raised in Hillsborough. This is a brief chronology of his life and many accomplishments.

  • 12 December 1791 - Born in the village of South Branch (then called Branchville) to Colonel Peter Dumont Vroom - a veteran of the Revolution and subsequently a politician who held many offices at the local, county, and state level - and Elsie (Bogert) Vroom. Their home was actually just north of the village near the confluence of the north and south branches of the Raritan River.
  • Spring 1796 - Was the youngest of the first set of pupils to attend the newly constructed school house between River Road and the Raritan River just east of the Beekman Lane intersection. This building, removed in 1830, became known as the Old Red Schoolhouse.
  • Circa 1805 to 1813 - Attended the Somerville Academy, then Columbia College in New York, then studied law in Somerville and passed the bar in 1813.
  • 1813 - 1826 Practiced law in Sussex and Hunterdon Counties before moving back to Somerville.
  • 1826-1829 Elected as a Jacksonian to the NJ General Assembly.
  • 1829-1832 First term as governor. Accomplishments included prison and militia reform, Promoted the chartering of a company to build the Delaware and Raritan Canal. and a company to build the Camden and Amboy Railroad - and later endorsed the merger of the two companies, creating a virtual transportation monopoly.
  • 1833-1836 Second term as governor. Acting in his capacity as chancellor of the court of chancery, wrote decisions affirming the government's right to use eminent domain.

The South Branch Miller's Mansion. Not Governor Vroom's childhood home, but possibly a later residence.

  • 1837 Sent to Mississippi by President Van Buren to adjust land claims concerning the forced removal of the Choctaw Indians.
  • 1838 - 1840 Served in the US House of Representatives as a Democrat. Although defeated on election day, suspicious results from Monmouth County that led to a Whig victory were overturned by a Democratic controlled US congress as part of  the "Broad Seal War", and Vroom was seated.
  • 1844 Led the New Jersey Constitutional Convention, calling for greater power for the executive branch.
  • 1853 - 1857 Served as Ambassador to Prussia in Berlin during the Crimean War.
  • 1861 - Served as a commissioner to the Virginia peace conference attempting to hold off the Civil War.
  • 1865 - 1873 Served as a law reporter for the NJ Supreme Court.
  • 18 November 1873 - Died and was buried in the Dumont Burial Ground on the south side of River Road in Hillsborough.