|Senator John R. McPherson photo portrait by Matthew Brady|
McPherson was born in 1833 in Livingston County, New York, and moved to Jersey City at the age of 26. He knew how to make money in the cattle business, and kept right on doing it in New Jersey, especially after he was elected as a Jersey City alderman in 1864. As the New York World put it in an 1897 profile, "He had a knack of getting on the winning side, especially when politics and business overlapped."
|Patent for an improved stock car, 1876|
After six years as an alderman, three as president of that board, he was elected to the New Jersey State Senate. In 1876, the same year he filed a patent for an improved stock car design, McPherson was a Democratic presidential elector for Samuel J. Tilden in his failed bid to defeat Rutherford B. Hayes - the closest presidential election in U.S. history - setting up his own nomination and election by the New Jersey State Legislature to the first of his three terms in the U.S. Senate.
|Senator McPherson in 1891 when he was being talked up for a presidential run|
|Belle Mead looking west toward the Sourland Mountains|
|Belle Mead looking east|
According to Van Aken's later testimony, he and Senator McPherson were well acquainted through Van Aken's business interest in New York dockyards. It was easy then for him to approach McPherson with a scheme allowing the senator to purchase the foreclosed property at a low price of $30,000 and continue Van Aken's development plan, with the eventual profits to be split between the gentlemen.
That's not how McPherson remembered it when the pair met again eighteen years later, with near tragic consequences.