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.



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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.