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. B. 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.