31 December 2009

Abolishing Design Committee is Wrong Move

The Township Committee voted this week to abolish Hillsborough's Architectural Design Standard Sub-Committee. The move, first proposed earlier this month, is part of the town's "economic action plan" - a plan to remove unnecessary and onerous regulations on Hillsborough businesses.

The problem, as I see it, is that this committee may not be unnecessary, and may not be onerous.

At the meeting where the sub-committee was dissolved, former township committeeman and Planning Board member Paul Drake, and Planning Board member Marian Fenwick-Freeman, questioned whether eliminating the sub-committee would really save developers any money. Ms. Fenwick-Freeman also stated that the design standards drafted by the sub-committee were essential for improving the look of many recent projects, especially the new Walgreens on Route 206.

Now that the shovels are ready to hit the ground on the 206 bypass, the often talked about "town center" may actually become a reality. Larken has already presented a concept plan for its property on the northwest corner of 206 and Amwell Road, and other property owners are sure to follow.

While it is true, as Mayor Frank DelCore stated this week, that the architectural standards themselves are not being abolished, and that the Planning Board can oversee compliance, having a strong Architectural Design Standards Sub-Committee demonstrates that Hillsborough is serious about the appearance of development in our town.

Furthermore, it is not yet known what effect other elements of the economic action plan have had on business in Hillsborough. It may be that previous measures have already provided the boost needed to get things turned around.

Deputy Mayor Bob Wagner, the lone dissenting voice on this issue, asked whether the issue could not be studied further. I agree. If abolishing this committee is truly a good idea, it will still be a good idea in 2010. If it is a bad idea, Hillsborough residents may suffer the consequences for the next decade.

22 December 2009

The Two Flaggtowns

Those of you who have taken an interest in Hillsborough history may have picked up some erroneous information along the way, especially concerning the origins of local place names.

1850 map of Flaggtown.
For example, how many times have you heard that Hillsborough is so named because of its hilly contours? Or that Neshanic is a corruption of New Shannick?

And what about Flagtown? A popular misconception states that Flagtown derived its name from the practice of displaying a flag at the station to signal an oncoming train to stop for passengers. That's a cute story - one that some old-timers swear by - and Hillsborough did have at least one "flag" station, Roycefield. The problem with that is Flagtown was named long before any trains rolled through our town, perhaps fifty years earlier! Not only that, but Flagtown isn't even where you think it is!

Flagtown, originally spelled "Flaggtown", was named for 18th century Hillsborough resident and landowner Jacob Flagg. Around 1800, Flagg owned property near where the YMCA is located today, at the corner of South Branch Road and East Mountain Road. Two centuries ago, this was the intersection of the original Amwell Road and the road to South Branch. By 1850, this crossroads village boasted at least three stores, a post office, a school near the corner of Mill Lane, and a hotel.



The 1860 Farm Map of Hillsborough also places Flaggtown at the crossroads - and shows the hotel, as well as a store in the same spot, and in the same configuration, as today's Corner Store.

1860 map of Flaggtown.
Then the railroads came. The Lehigh Valley Railroad and the South Branch of the Jersey Central each had stations near Flaggtown. Since the tracks did not actually pass through Flaggtown, the station area was named Flaggtown Station. The original Flaggtown was designated as Flaggtown Post Office to differentiate it from the new Flaggtown, and for many years they existed as two distinct villages, in much the same way as Neshanic and Neshanic Station coexist today.

1873 map showing Flaggtown P.O. and a slightly misplaced Flaggtown Station.
In January 1878, in order to remedy the confusion caused by having two nearby post offices containing the name Flaggtown - Flaggtown and Flaggtown Station - The US Postal Service renamed the Flaggtown Post Office to Frankfort, effectively erasing the historic village of Flaggtown from the map. When the map below was drawn by the United States Geological Survey in 1898, the original Flaggtown had been renamed Frankfort, a name still in use by one of the housing developments in the area today. Flaggtown Station lost its second "g" and became plain old Flagtown.

1898 USGS map showing Flagtown and Frankfort.
So, the next time anyone asks you about Hillsborough history, you'll be ready with at least three answers, Wills Hills, the Earl of Hillsborough, the Indian-named Neshanic River, and Jacob Flagg.

20 December 2009

Early Christmas Present

The state is seeking bids for construction of the first phase of the Route 206 bypass project. This part of the highway will run from Amwell Road to Hillsborough Road, and involves intersections with traffic lights at Hillsborough Road and near Amwell Road, as well as bridges over Homestead Road and the Conrail rail line.

Construction expected to begin in 2010!

19 December 2009

Sewers Make Sense

Hillsborough is accepting bids for the construction of a sanitary sewer system in the Clarement section of the township. This is good news for the residents of this 1950s era development - and good news for our town.

The simple fact is that individual septic systems for a residential development of many dozens or even hundreds of homes on small lots is not a 21st century solution for the problems of wastewater management. The knowledge that the total $5.5 million price tag for this project will be paid for by the affected homeowners through a special assessment should ease the minds of those who ask why the town should be laying out so much money for a select few.

Homes hooked into the sewer system are immediately worth more than the equivalent home on septic. This benefits the current homeowners, the future homeowners, and - as the value of the property increases - the entire town.

17 December 2009

Ten Years - and Counting

Friday, December 17, 1999. That was my final day of work at a "real job".

I left my former employer with little fanfare. Most didn't even know I was going. In fact, since we closed the office for two weeks at the end of the year, most people I said goodbye to in the pub after work assumed they would see me January 2nd! When I said, "Today's my last day", they said "Me too!", and I didn't correct them.

16 December 2009

Bulldozer!


When we were kids playing out in the backyard, there were a lot of ways G.I. Joe could stop this bulldozer - most of them involving his "kung-fu grip".

In real life, things are a bit different, as Milford resident Dennis Brandt found out at Osterman's Nursery recently.

Mr. Brandt discovered too late that the bulldozer he had just jump-started was still in gear. In an attempt to stop the dozer, he jumped up on the track, was thrown to the ground, and run over.

Luckily for Mr. Brandt, his severe injuries are not life threatening. Still, it appears these confrontations are better left to the sandbox.



15 December 2009

Salt Facility Won't "Pinch" Budget

The numbers tell us all we need to know:


  • 220 miles of icy roads

  • 3000 tons of salt

  • 2% interest rate


Hillsborough's current salt-storage facility, built in 1982, holds just 664 tons of salt. Industry trade groups recommend storing 75 to 100 percent of the salt that will be needed on a yearly basis. For our town, that amounts to somewhere between 1,900 and 2,500 tons of salt - or three to four times as much as can currently be stored.


There is one more number - $350,000. That's the price tag for the new facility.

While some may see a disconnect between a township committee that has promoted "pay-as-you-go" and "debt reduction" and a plan to borrow $350,000, to me it makes sense.

The point of debt reduction is to decrease the yearly debt service so that a necessary project like the salt storage facility - which, by the way, also helps compliance with state stormwater regulations - can fit within the annual budget. At an interest rate of 2%, this salt project shouldn't "shake up" Hillsborough's finances at all.

14 December 2009

Choose and Cut Your Memories

Here's an update for a post I made last year. Hurry, there's still time!


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.

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

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

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




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13 December 2009

Medicare Flip is a Flop

Now that Joe Lieberman has flip-flopped, it appears the Senate's new compromise health care reform bill will not include a "Medicare buy-in" for 55 to 64-year-olds. That's too bad, because it was one of the few parts of the bill that actually made sense.

Look at it this way. If you were running an insurance company for people aged 65 and over, what would be the one guaranteed way to lower the average cost for each insured? Simple, get some younger, healthier people into the pool.

And conversely, if you were tasked with insuring all adults aged 18 to 64, what would be the one sure-fire way to lower their premiums? Easy, get the older people out of your pool.

Add this to the fact that the 55 and up group are the ones that are losing their jobs, and their insurance along with it, and you had a perfectly simple way to reform health care.

12 December 2009

Medicare for the Masses?

What’s this? Congressional Democrats are mulling an idea to expand Medicare to cover people 55 and over? That idea doesn’t sound half bad. In fact, it sounded pretty good when I first had the idea six moths ago! Here’s what I wrote on June 22 in a blog titled, “Enough to Make You Sick”.


I can’t take it anymore. I have to weigh in on the Health Care debate.

What is coming out of D.C. is enough to make you sick. Proposals that will turn the nation with the BEST health care in the world for the vast majority of its citizens into a nation of poor health care for everyone are coming fast and furious.

What is wrong with the health care we have now? Simple answer – some people fall through the cracks. They aren’t old enough for Medicare, not poor enough for Medicaid, or have lost the job that used to provide their coverage.

Simple solution. Since Medicare, for all of its faults, still seems to work, why not just extend Medicare to YOUNGER PEOPLE. Let’s go all the way down to 55. Let’s do it over a period of five to ten years. If you can make it to 55, you’re set. Younger than 55, make sure that you or your spouse has a job that covers you. Over 55 – Hey! Your employer is now off the hook for that huge expense. Under 18? Let the states figure that out – most have programs for children.

That’s it. My solution. Oh, by the way, every other “cost savings” that President Obama has spoken about – computerization of medical records and the like – can work under my plan also. And we won’t need to bankrupt our country first, or kill a lot of citizens with crummy nationalized medicine.

10 December 2009

Hillsborough Under Water

A month after a devastating, torrential rainstorm swept through Somerset County leaving half a dozen people dead and millions of dollars in damage, the Bureau of Water Control of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection was making plans to sit down with representatives of the 78 communities in the Raritan River Basin to come up with strategies to mitigate future flood damage.

The South Branch of the Raritan River, circa 1906

This was in September of 1973!

Although Hillsborough did not suffer greatly in the August 2nd storm, the municipality, particularly the little village of South Branch, was at the epicenter of future flood control plans.

One idea, which was already on the table before the 1973 storm, was a proposal to build a reservoir at the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Raritan River. The Raritan Confluence Reservoir would have put put parts of Branchburg, Bridgewater, and Hillsborough under water. You can see on the map how a reservoir about as big as Spruce Run would flood a portion of the three municipalities.


View Untitled in a larger map

At that time, the state had already been acquiring land for the reservoir - but faced with opposition from South Branch residents concerned with the loss of historic sites in the area, an immediate 120 day moratorium on land purchases was instituted.

The New York Times, 23 September 1973


As late as 2000, the reservoir was still being talked about. At a meeting of the State House Commission, an acre of land that was part of the proposed reservoir was leased to the Branchburg Funeral Home on Route 202 to be used for overflow parking. The lease had an initial period of five years with a five year option. At the same meeting, it was also mentioned that at some time in the future the reservoir would need to be built - just not in that decade.

Well, that decade is just about over, so, what do you think? Should we drown a little bit of Hillsborough to help control flooding?

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08 December 2009

Civil Disunion

The Senate Judiciary Committee's approval of the "same-sex marriage" bill will likely set up a vote in the legislature later this week. Governor Corzine has promised to sign the bill into law if it is approved before his term ends in a few weeks. This bill is very likely to become law, because, once again, short-sighted politicians have tied their own hands.

New Jersey's "Civil Union" law - passed earlier this decade - was written in such a way that it expressly singles out gays and lesbians for special treatment. In effect, the law makes a civil union equal to a marriage - in everything but name. By providing that civil unions can only take place between same-sex partners, and that the partners can not be related - the two critical items for a gay marriage - legislators ineptly created a "separate but equal" version of marriage.

You can't do that. Separate is always unequal.

What should have happened half a dozen years ago is that civil unions should have been open to all adults - and they should have had nothing whatsoever to do with marriage.

There are certain legal advantages to marriage that are not enjoyed by non-married people. Civil unions should have been a tool for any two people - mother-daughter, sisters, life-long buddies - to confer some legal status on a loved one who they are sharing their life with.

By granting gays and lesbians special status in the civil union law, New Jersey has already approved same-sex marriage.

I believe in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is the union I feel deserves special status. It is likely all of New Jersey's legislators were born of such a union. They would do well to remember that when they cast their vote.



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04 December 2009

Christmas Tree Lighting

The annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony will take place tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Hillsborough Township Municipal Complex.

The High School concert band will perform and there will be light refreshments.

All courtesy of the Hillsborough Women's Club.

02 December 2009

Triangle Road Turkey Trot

A century ago, when Diamond Jim Brady had one of his homes right here in South Branch, he liked to invite friends "down to the farm" for a weekend in "the country". More than 100 years later, Hillsborough, in many ways, is still "the country" - especially when it comes to wildlife.

What has changed in the past several decades is the amount of automobile traffic on our roads. In an effort to keep our wild and domestic animals and our wild and domestic drivers apart, there are road signs placed in the areas where animals regularly cross or come near roadways.

We have deer crossing signs, and cow crossing signs, and geese crossing signs. Maybe we need one of these, too.

Just a few days before Thanksgiving, I spotted this turkey on the north side of Triangle Road.

I wasn't sure which way he was headed - and I'm not sure he was either - until he decided to make a run for it.
With barely a pause to look both ways, he was across the westbound lanes and on the median.


Narrowly avoiding one car, he made it safely to the other side.


Why did the turkey cross the road? I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with that Chicken Holiday van!

01 December 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find

I recently added a new search box to the blog. You can find it over there on the right of the page. For some reason it appears to give better results than the search function in the top left corner. Results appear in a box at the top of the page in a typical Google format. You can also expand your search to results contained elsewhere in cyberspace.

Another way to find things on this blog is by using the categories on the right side of the page. I have been very stingy in my use of "tags" or "labels" with my posts. This has allowed me to develop an index of Hillsborough topics. It's easy to browse an area that is of interest to you.

Happy searching!

30 November 2009

Post Office Nightmares?

Two recent letters to the editor of the Courier News - one written by fellow Board of Education member Wolf Schneider - serve to remind us of the sorry state of affairs at the Hillsborough Post Office.

This is a topic I have tackled previously. In October of 2007 I detailed the fact that of all the area Post Offices, Hillsborough has the shortest hours. Six weeks later, I wrote about the appalling lack of urgency exhibited by the postal workers at the counter. With long lines snaking around inside the building, the employees move like they are underwater, or perhaps taking a space walk.

A year later, the Hillsborough Postmaster seemed to signal his surrender by writing a letter to the editor urging residents to stay home - buy stamps by mail, use the USPS website.

We have had our own "Hillsborough" Post Office for less than a decade. You would think that it would be able to survive more than eight or nine holiday seasons before devolving into the complete mess that exists today.

Maybe we need someone like chef Gordon Ramsay to come in and completely overhaul the place, like he does on his "Kitchen Nightmares" show.




On second thought, after witnessing the abominable service, he'd probably just yell, "Shut it down! Shut it down!"

15 November 2009

Anna Case is Made

When the curtain rose at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on the evening of November 15, 1909, it is a fair bet that many in the audience were not there to see Carl Burrian in the title role of Tannhauser, or superstar diva Johanna Gadski as Elizabeth, but rather to see Anna Case, the blacksmith's daughter from the little village of South Branch, New Jersey, in the first of her 154 appearances with the Metropolitan Opera.





Anna's road from shooing flies in her father's shop to the grand opera stage was a steady climb - from singing in the local church choir, to becoming choir director and organist at the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church, to being the featured soloist at the First Presbyterian Church in Plainfield - a gig that paid her $24 a month, just barely enough to rent a room at 225 East Fifth Street.



During this time she was also taking lessons from Madame Augusta Ohrstrom Renard - who secured her an even better paying job singing at a church in Brooklyn. Although she would later protest that she was never "discovered" - that it had been her own hard work all along that led to her success - Anna's big break came when she attended a reception for outgoing New Jersey governor Edward Stokes in Sea Girt. When she was invited to the stage to sing, the governor was apparently knocked out. He secured an engagement for Anna at Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel where she would sing weekdays from four to six p.m. - accompanying herself on piano.





It was during this engagement that she was first heard by members of the Metropolitan Opera, Johanna Gadski and manager Andreas Dippel among them. Mr. Dippel arranged for an audition at a hotel in Manhattan. With opera star Geraldine Farrar playing her accompaniment, Anna wowed the Met management and was promptly signed to a contract.



In her own words. "I really didn't appreciate all it meant until I told my singing teacher. She said, 'You are made.' I said, 'I am not so sure, you really can't tell from a beginning.' She replied, 'This beginning is the end; it is all up to you from now on.'


No sooner had the ink dried on Anna's first contract than the publicity machine was out in full force. Stories about Anna's humble beginnings began appearing in local newspapers across the country six months before she had sung a note.


South Branch played the central role in the myth-making that was to come, and that continued for the next 20 years and beyond. Throughout the rest of her distinguished opera, concert, recording, and radio career, she was always known as the blacksmith's daughter from that little New Jersey village.

10 November 2009

Revaluation Opportunity Missed

If you're a property owner in Hillsborough, you've probably already received a letter from the township and Appraisal Systems, Inc. notifying you of the 2010 revaluation. A brochure answering many typical questions accompanied the letter.

One curious aspect of the revaluation plan, as noted in the first sentence of the letter, is that it will apply only to "taxable real estate". That's interesting since there is one large piece of "non-taxable" commercial real estate in Hillsborough - the VIP Industrial Park located at the old South Somerville Depot on Route 206, north of Docherty Park.

The VIP Park is not taxable because, although the leaseholder - who signed a 35 year lease in 2004 - is running a commercial warehouse and transload operation on the site, the land is owned by the federal government.

In 2005, the township committee came to an agreement with the leaseholder whereby Hillsborough would not go to court to try to collect taxes on the property if the VIP Industrial Park entered into a PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) Program. The agreement calls for Hillsborough to receive a payment of $300,000 per year for the duration of the lease, which can go up or down based on the square footage of the property currently being utilized for commercial purposes, but can not fall below $200,000.

To tell you the truth, I have never been fully satisfied as to how the $300,000 payment was determined. For one thing, it is supposed to represent the total amount of property tax that would be paid if the property was on the tax rolls. But if that is the case, shouldn't the school system be receiving 65% each year? And what about the county's nearly 20%? In the current scenario, the municipal government receives the entire amount.

Now, it may be that $300,000 is a fair and accurate figure - or even an amount that trends in favor of Hillsborough - but I was kind of looking forward to the 2010 revaluation to find out for sure. With the notice this week that the revaluation will only include taxable real estate, an opportunity to discover the true "income producing potential" of the depot is being missed.

09 November 2009

Mayor "Corky"

I was saddened to hear of the passing of former Hillsborough Township mayor John Guerrera. Saddened for his family and friends who have lost their loved one, and saddened for the residents of Somerset County who have lost one of their most dedicated public servants.

I am also saddened for myself because of the fact that I never had the opportunity to meet and speak with this fascinating man - a man who served in the Navy in World War II, practically started the Hillsborough Democratic Organization, served three terms on the township committee with three stints as mayor, ran for a state senate seat in 1981 (giving Dems their best showing that decade), and served on the Somerset County Tax Board.

I am certain I could have learned a lot from a man who accomplished all of this and still had time to be an avid golfer, run his own business, and have a Twitter account!

Take a look at the handsome young man in the bottom left corner of the 1943 Somerville High School Yearbook.

02 November 2009

Daggett's Dead Letter Office

About a month ago I wrote here:

It seems incredible that a candidate with no established organization could get enough monetary contributions to qualify for matching funds if all of that money came with the purest of intentions.

Now, with the admission by the New Jersey State Democratic Committee that they are behind the robocalls asking registered Republicans to vote for Chris Daggett, we see clearly who is behind the Independent candidate’s campaign. A vote for Daggett IS a vote for Corzine – the Corzine camp admits it!

And so, at the risk of repeating myself, I urge voters who wish to send a real message to Trenton to vote for the candidate who will deliver that message – Chris Christie. Pulling the lever for Daggett sends your message straight to the Dead Letter Office.

31 October 2009

Hypnotized to Death

William Davenport removed his coat and hat and bent down low over the lifeless body lying on the autopsy table at the city hospital. He pulled back the black sheet and placed the tips of his fingers lightly over the motionless heart. With his lips close to the ear of his subject, he spoke in earnest.

"Bob! Your heart!"

Silence.

"Bob! Your heart! Your heart is beating!"

The eyelids did not flutter. There was no breath.

"Bob, your heart action is beginning. It is beginning."

Davenport bent lower still as the county coroner and other physicians looked on approvingly. Almost whispering now, "Oh I say, Bob, look, your heart is beginning to beat."
What is this? A scene out of a Vincent Price thriller, or maybe something you saw once on the late late late show?


None of the above. This scene took place November 9, 1909 in the "dead room" of Somerset Hospital in Somerville. Amateur hypnotist William E. Davenport of Newark had been summoned by "Professor" Arthur Everton to try to revive the rigid body of Robert Simpson. This request came from Everton's jail cell.


Thirty-five year old Robert Simpson was a piano mover, a streetcar conductor, and a "horse", i.e. a professional hypnotist's subject. Simpson had worked many times with stage hypnotist "Professor" Arthur Everton, and their performance at the Somerville Opera House on the evening of November 8 was transpiring as usual until near the end of the show.

Everton first placed Simpson in a hypnotic trance. But rather than command Simpson through a comedic skit of some sort, he induced in Simpson a rigid cataleptic state and suspended him horizontally between two chairs.



Just as they had performed countless times before, Everton climbed up and stood for a few moments on Simpson's chest. The subject remained motionless, unable to hear the audience applause that swept through the theater. Everton removed the chairs, stood Simpson up, and attempted to summon him from the trance.

Just as Simpson should have been waking up, he collapsed violently to the ground. A visibly shaken Everton dragged Simpson into the wings and worked feverishly to revive his friend. Only a few minutes later he called to the audience for a doctor.

Simpson was immediately pronounced dead at the scene by Dr. W. H. Long, the county physician, who happened to be in the audience that evening - but Professor Everton pleaded with the medical men, stating that he believed Simpson was still in a trance, and could be revived if he had time to work on him.

Long agreed, and they took Simpson to the hospital where Everton worked on him through the evening, until exhaustion and the local police put an end to it. The professor was taken to the Somerville jail and promptly charged with manslaughter.



The New York Times and many other daily newspapers reported several times on the incident - including Davenport's failed attempts to awaken Simpson, and Everton's hypnosis of the jailer. Over the next several days, amateur hypnotists and spiritualists from around the country flooded the Somerville telegraph office with advice on re-animating Simpson.

Meanwhile, Everton, in a state of near total collapse in the lock-up, continued to insist that Simpson was alive - despite an autopsy that showed he had died from a ruptured aorta. He was eventually released on $4000 bail to await a grand jury hearing of the case.


A grand jury met for three days in Somerville, but chose not to indict Everton, delivering their verdict on December 24th.   Three weeks after Simpson's death The New York Times ran a full-page story under the headline, "Is Hypnotism Another Narcotic Poison?", which recounted the events in Somerville, and hoped that the incident would lead to a better understanding of the devastating effects of hypnotism on an unsuspecting public.

30 October 2009

Rewarding Evening

Hillsborough's Hope, the local fundraising team for the international charity Autism Speaks, held its Fourth Annual Basket and Silent Auction at the Bridgewater Marriott on Friday October 30th. It was quite a rewarding evening.

The Marriott proved to be a wonderful venue for this special event, and quite a change from the North Branch Firehouse - unavailable this year due to the remodeling of their banquet room. At the hotel, there was even enough space to give the more than 250 prizes a room of their own!



There were a number of unique silent auction items this year, including a personal dining experience with Executive Chef Christopher Lee at his New York restaurant.



As was the case last year, deciding where to "drop your tickets" is one of the toughest, yet most enjoyable, parts of the evening.



Of course nothing beats hearing your number called in the ballroom!



It would be difficult for me to thank everyone who made the evening the most successful ever for Hillsborough's Hope. There were so many who contributed - from our friends who solicited donations, to the dozens of local merchants who generously contributed prizes, to the many volunteers who helped set up and run the event.

A special thank you must go to my beautiful wife Patty, co-chair of Central New Jersey Walk Now For Autism and a tireless supporter of Autism Speaks, who probably put in more hours making it all come together than all of the many volunteers combined. Her only goal is to raise all the money it will take to find a cure for autism. Her only reward is the feeling she gets from doing her best. And she always does her best.

29 October 2009

Anna Case Debuts

Central New Jersey's most famous diva made the first of her many debuts on October 29, 1887. It didn't take place at a famous opera house, or Carnegie Hall, but rather in this yellow house in Clinton. For this is the birthplace of Anna Case, the daughter of a New Jersey blacksmith who became the first singer without European training to grace the stage of the Metropolitan Opera.

Birthplace of Anna Case, 15 East Main Street, Clinton, NJ.

The eldest of the three children of Peter van Nuys Case and Jeanette Ludlow Gray, Anna grew up in South Branch, Hillsborough Township, where her father set up as the village blacksmith.



South Branch Village blacksmith shop of Peter Case circa 1907.


Anna grew up in poverty. Most of her youth was spent taking care of her two younger brothers and running the household for her sickly mother. She also helped in the blacksmith shop, and did enough odd jobs around town - cleaning houses and driving a horse and carriage taxi to and from the train station - to buy herself one new dress and pair of shoes each year.

She also sang. She recalled later, that by the age of nine if she wasn't getting the solo on Sunday in the choir of the South Branch Reformed Church she would be bitterly disappointed.





Anna Case singing in the choir of the South Branch Reformed Church as depicted in a 1913 newspaper.

Neighbors and friends encouraged the young Anna - against her father's wishes - to pursue a career in music. Already self taught on violin and organ, the teenager knew that to become a great singer she would need a teacher. Mrs. Dewitt Bowman, wife of the South Branch grocer, loaned Anna enough money to take lessons twice a week from Somerville music teacher Catherine Opdyke.


Catherine Opdyke, Mrs. Dewitt Bowman, and the young Anna Case from a 1931 newspaper story.

It was also around this time that Anna got a $12 a month job as organist at the Neshanic Reformed Church. It wasn't long before Miss Opdyke knew that Anna's talent was beyond the scope of her teaching.



Anna Case with local music teacher Catherine Opdyke as depicted in a 1925 newspaper account of her career.


She recommended Anna to Madame Augusta Ohrstrom-Renard, a former dramatic soprano with the Royal Opera of Stockholm, Sweden, who was teaching in New York. The proceeds from a concert performance by Anna at the Neshanic Church helped repay her loans, and a new job singing in the choir of the First Presbyterian Church in Plainfield paid for her lessons in New York.

It wasn't long before Anna would be discovered - but I will save that part of the story for another time.

One of the earliest publicity photos of Anna Case as published in National Magazine in 1910.

27 October 2009

Sunnymead, or Sunnywood?

It was my great pleasure to attend Sunnymead School's 50th Anniversary Celebration Open House last month. One of the highlights of the day was viewing the artwork created by the current kindergarten through fourth graders especially for the anniversary depicting events in history and popular culture from the 60s to the 00s!

28 May 1958 Courier News

The most educational aspect of the day for me was getting a chance to meet the VIPs - Sunnymead School alumni from the past decades - some even from that first class in 1959. As the former students walked the hallways looking to find themselves in their old class pictures, I had the chance to join in a few conversations.

More than a few alumni remarked on how much the area had changed since they were kids. But not in the way you might expect. I was told how the area around the school, which is now almost completely wooded in all directions used to be mostly open fields. You could walk out the front door of the school and run all the way to Manville without ever dodging so much as a sapling.

Could this be true? We're talking about almost 300 acres here. Take a look at the current satellite view of the area. Sunnymead School is right in the center.


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Here is the same view taken in 1963.




Perhaps Hillsborough should consider changing the name of the school to Sunnywood!