27 July 2017

Harmony Plains School


Before there was a Manville, New Jersey, there was a section of Hillsborough Township tucked away in its northwest corner known as Harmony Plains. Like nearly all of Hillsborough in the 1800s, Harmony Plains was farmland, and the farmers in that section sent their children to a two-room schoolhouse on what is now Manville's Main Street.
Harmony Plains School District, 1873 map

It was first called the Gravel Hill School, but by the middle of the century had changed its name to the Harmony Plains School. By the 1870s, the Harmony Plains District was one of more than a dozen in Hillsborough Township, each with their own one or two-room schoolhouse.




Harmony Plains School circa 1900

But the Harmony Plains name goes back even further, as evidenced by the detail from the 1850 Somerset County map shown below.



Harmony Plains School 1850 map
With the instant influx of families who came to the area in 1912 when the Johns Manville plant relocated to Hillsborough, the school district immediately built an improved four-room school on the site. When another school on Camplain Road was built in 1916, the school on Main Street was renamed Manville School 1, and Camplain Road School was called Manville School 2.



Main Street School, Manville circa 1930s
Between 1912 and 1920 Hillsborough's population more than doubled from less than 2,500 residents to more than 5,000 - and all of that increase was in the Manville section of the township. After building the two schools, Hillsborough's school board was reluctant to spend any more money on Manville. the two schools were forced to go on split sessions and use substandard basement classrooms to relieve overcrowding. The issue came to a head in 1928 when New Jersey withheld Hillsborough's state school aid until a plan was in place to relieve the problem.


Demolition of Main Street School, December 1984

By that time a few of the school board members were from Manville, and they were able to form a coalition to push through an acceptable solution. Hillsborough agreed to add four rooms to Manville School 1, and build a completely new school, which became Roosevelt School. Hillsborough also used the opportunity to build a new school for themselves - but that is for a future post.

By the time the schools opened in 1929, Manville had seceded from Hillsborough and formed its own municipality. They didn't build another school in Manville until the high school was built 25 years later.

25 July 2017

John B. Alden and the Literary Revolution

One day in 1877, John B. Alden, the thirty-year-old "boy publisher" from Chicago, looked up from his desk at the New York office of the American Book Exchange and declared, "I can make new books cheaper than anyone can steal old ones". Thus began a Literary Revolution.

Ad for Alden's youth magazine What Next? from 1874

John Berry Alden was born on March 2, 1847 in a log cabin in Henry County, Iowa. At the end of the Civil War he went to Chicago and found a job as a clerk, and later manager, of a bookstore. He got into the publishing side of the business by producing youth magazines with titles like "What Next?" and "Bright Side". Unable to recover from losses sustained in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, he came to New York where he worked for a time as the business manager for the periodical "Hearth and Home". 





"Revolutionary" publisher John B. Alden

In 1875 Alden started a new business - the American Book Exchange. Customers brought him their old books and for a small fee, perhaps 10 cents, exchanged them for new ones. He was two years into that venture when he got the idea to go back into publishing in a big way. His idea was to produce books on such a massive scale - in the millions - that the production costs per book would be minuscule, and the books could be sold cheaply. He called it The Literary Revolution, and within two years he was indeed turning out millions of books. And the public was buying.


This ad ran in hundreds of newspapers in 1880
Needless to say traditional publishers were not pleased. Alden's books were only "cheap" in the sense that they were inexpensive. The books themselves, including mostly classic works of literature and many multi-volume histories and encyclopedias, were of basically the same quality as was being produced by the old publishing houses. Alden kept prices low through volume of sales, and by cutting out the middleman as much as possible and selling directly to consumers through newspaper ads and catalogs.


John B. Alden advertising postcard
He was such a disruptive force in the publishing world - selling well known and loved titles for sometimes one tenth the traditional price - that publishers began to strike back, refusing to honor advertising contracts for the "Revolution". Undeterred, Alden offered 10,000 shares of his company at $10 per share - which may have been a mistake. His public company invited greater scrutiny and rival publishers were eager to point out that there was no way that Alden was actually making a profit - especially after the low paper prices of 1879 began to spike upwards in 1880.



One of the pages from Alden's 1889 literature magazine and catalog

The initial business went bankrupt, but by 1883 Alden was back with a new enterprise - The Useful Knowledge Publishing Company - and again selling books at cut-rate prices. This company was on surer footing, and remained in business for over 20 years, allowing Alden to retire with his wife and some of his six children to a poultry farm on Amwell Road near Neshanic, New Jersey.


One of the many hundreds of different volumes published by Alden

The farm was one of the larger ones in Somerset County; Alden and his son C. Tracy had great success with eggs and chickens. And the story would end there if not for an old bank account payable to the "Receiver of the American Book Exchange" that had gone unnoticed for thirty years and turned up in 1915 - a remnant of that initial bankruptcy. This "tidy sum" allowed Alden to publish one final book - Peace and Prosperity via Justice and Practical Sense. Ostensibly written as a book-length justification for Alden's scheme to unlock the wealth of the United States by issuing a massive amount of debt from the Postal Savings Bank - a scheme which had at least one backer in the US Senate - it instead reads as a progressive Utopian dream (or nightmare), with Neshanic used as the prime example for Alden's vision.


Title page of Alden's Peace and Prosperity, second edition, 1919

The 240 page treatise has much to say about proposed national, regional, and local "mutual aid associations", i.e. socialist collectives - and he has great plans for Neshanic! The Neshanic Mutual Aid Association will take ownership of the mill, for example, and also build a dam to create an enormous Neshanic Lake at the foot of the Sourland Mountain. Roads will be built all through the mountain to provide access to "Bluff Park" above the lake. Forestry management will unlock the wealth of the timber - all for the good of the Association!

There are pages and pages of Alden's vision of an efficient community where, as he puts it, it isn't "every fellow for himself", but instead all working together against the real evil - the industrialists like Rockefeller. 

Unfortunately, Alden turns out to be a progressive in the mold of Margaret Sanger and Woodrow Wilson. Here are Alden's own words - I have censored the most objectionable:

And one beauty of the scheme is that the character of the increased population can be "selected" according to the wishes of the people now here. We do not need to employ "da-os" or "ni--ers", or sell or lease to "malefactors of great wealth" except as we choose to do - we can offer inducements to bring the desirable population. 

Alden died at his home in Neshanic on December 4, 1924. His son continued the farm very successfully for another couple of decades. Neshanic Bluff was never built.

20 July 2017

The Neshanic School

The area around the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church was one of the earliest settled sections of Hillsborough Township and likely possessed a village schoolhouse from an early time. The only one to survive into the modern era is the one-room school pictured below.


The Neshanic School circa 1900

The mid-19th century school was built on church property just behind the church, as can be seen in the postcard view below. In fact, the school is still there today, but has been nearly completely absorbed by a modern building. 


Circa 1905 postcard view of the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church
 showing the Neshanic Schoolhouse


It is presumed that the one-room school was in use until 1913 when a new school was opened further east on Amwell Road. The new modern Neshanic School was larger and used the same plan as the Liberty School. This school was active until the end of the 1949-50 school year when it was auctioned off along with the Clover Hill and Pleasantview schools. According to an article from the August 10, 1950 Courier News, the O'Brien Brothers who owned the Neshanic [Station] Printing Company bought the building with a bid of $4,750. Lawrence Lane purchased the school bell for $21.

The Neshanic School in its current incarnation
 as home to the Somerset Valley Players

The Neshanic Printing Company operated out of the school until the 1980s when it was acquired by the current owners, The Somerset Valley Players. And that would be the end of the story for me if not for the photo below which was included in the 1979 nomination documents for the Neshanic National Historic District.


Neshanic Mystery School?

The house is properly described as a former school building with some additions. Indeed, in 1940 on the occasion of his 92nd birthday, life-long Hillsborough resident John K. Saums recounted how he had been living in the old schoolhouse for 68 years! The school portion of the house was converted to a kitchen and dining area and an addition was built for other rooms. After Mr. Saums passed away that same year, the house passed to his step-daughter, and if I am not mistaken had a few owners well-known to Hillsborough people - and was used as a branch of the Somerset County Library for a time. The house is just a bit east of the church and is still a private residence today, but where does it fit in as a school? Was it one of the Neshanic Schools? Or was it moved from another site? 

Perhaps the answer is lost to time.

13 July 2017

Pleasant View School


In the early morning hours of March 18, 1943 in the north Atlantic west of Portugal, German submarine U-521 delivered the torpedo that sank US Liberty Ship Molly Pitcher. Just two weeks out of New York on her maiden voyage, the ship had been severely damaged the previous day by taking a torpedo hit from another U-boat - U-167 -  causing the 69 crew members and one passenger to abandon ship. Four were drowned.



The Liberty Ship Molly Pitcher - 1943

This news must have come as quite a shock and disappointment to the twenty-seven 4th and 5th graders who attended Hillsborough Township's Pleasant View School. Before 1860 the school was located on the north side of Hillsborough Rd. It was then relocated to the southbound side of what today we call Route 206, right at the intersection of Hillsborough Road. In 1943 the one-room schoolhouse was taught by Mrs. Florence Sutphin - who vigorously encouraged her charges in their patriotic pursuits.


The Courier News 27 October 1942

So enthusiastic were her students in their desire to help win the war, that they won the Courier News scrap metal drive contest by collecting 3,130 pounds per pupil - for a total of 88,000 pounds! At the end of the contest, children submitted essays about what they had done to ensure victory. The winner of the contest, 11-year-old Anna Piskorowski, was then invited to participate in the launching of a brand new Liberty Ship - The Molly Pitcher. Children from all over New Jersey submitted name suggestions for the ship. The students at Pleasant View wanted the ship to be named after the brother of a classmate who had been recently killed in the Pacific. Nevertheless, they were thrilled that Anna and Mrs. Sutphin were going to Baltimore to christen The Molly Pitcher.


 
The Courier News 28 January 1943 
At the beginning of the next school year, a shortage of teachers and gasoline for busing students meant that Pleasant View School had to be closed. Two weeks later it was announced that the school would be offered to the troops stationed at the Belle Mead Army Service Forces depot to be used as a service club.

After the war, the school reopened to students, but was closed and sold in the summer of 1950 as the new Hillsborough Consolidated School (HES) was set to open. Actually, the school was sold twice, as, according to a report in The Courier News, the first winning bidders "failed to comply with the terms of the sale." The school finally sold in October 1950 for $6,100.


06 July 2017

Millstone School

Just a few years ago, Millstone Boro, which hadn't had an operating public school for almost 70 years, dissolved its school district and united with Hillsborough - cementing the decades-long practice of sending its students to the township schools. But from the time Millstone seceded from Hillsborough and became an independent municipality in 1894 right thorough the first three decades of the 20th century, the situation was reversed - Hillsborough Township sending many of their students to the Millstone School.

Millstone School circa 1905

There were at least three school buildings in Millstone before the one we know as Boro Hall. The first was built in the 18th century and was near the East Millstone canal bridge. In 1807 that school was replaced by one on Amwell Road just west of the Hillsborough Dutch Reformed Church. In 1814 a new school was erected on a small lot near the northeast corner of the church facing Millstone's "main street". This was a two-story building with the school on the first floor and the second floor used for religious instruction and meetings.



Millstone School circa 1974

In 1860 a more suitable location was acquired on the hill north of the village. The school is wood framed with a brick exterior and is quite large for a one-room schoolhouse with a listed seating capacity in 1881 of 70 students.

Inset map of Millstone from 1973 atlas

Hillsborough students living in the eastern part of the township continued to go to the Millstone School after Millstone's independence in 1894 until the beginning of the 1928 school year when - on very short notice - Millstone advised the Hillsborough school board that they wouldn't be able to accommodate the 25 students that had been attending from Hillsborough. The timing couldn't have been worse for Hillsborough as they were dealing with bond issue problems relating to state-mandated school building improvements in the Manville section of the township.

Millstone School 2013
The Millstone School continued to serve Boro residents until 1943 when it was re-purposed as Millstone Boro Hall, a function it still serves today.


29 June 2017

Flagtown School

At their meeting on August 13, 1951, the Hillsborough Township Board of Education announced that they would not need to open the Flagtown School for the coming school year. Thus began the long 25-year goodbye of one of our town's most beloved schools.


Flagtown School in 2012

The Flagtown School that we remember today was built in 1915 as a modern two-room school, and soon expanded to four rooms. But this was not the first school in the Flagtown vicinity.

Detail from 1850 Somerset County map

The original 18th century village of Flaggtown was centered at the intersection of Amwell Road (now designated as an extension of East Mountain Rd.) and the road to South Branch, as shown on the 1850 Somerset County map. Two one-room schoolhouses served the community - the first near Mill Lane was later called the Washington School, and the second heading north on South Branch Road was named Flaggtown School - and later renamed Flaggtown Station School.


The Flagtown teachers outside the school in 1928.
 Principal Ralph Juppe is on the left.
When the South Branch Railroad was constructed in the 1860s, it passed just to the south of the Flaggtown School - with the 1870s Lehigh Valley Railroad also passing nearby. By 1915 it was time for Flagtown to get an upgrade. A new location was chosen south of the Lehigh Valley Railroad crossing, and the old school building was purchased by longtime Flagtown resident William H. Gillette and converted to a residence.


November 17, 1956 Courier News 
Thousands of children from all over Hillsborough attended Flagtown school in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, as the school district began to consolidate schools and create single grade-level schools. 

The school was indeed retired for a year in 1951-52, but was put back into service the next as continued enrollment growth once again vexed the school board. Students continued to attend Flagtown from the 50s to the 70s - right up until the opening of the new Hillsborough Middle School on Triangle Road. In 1976, the school board leased the Flagtown school to the municipality for $1 a year, an arrangement that lasted for many years until the township acquired the property outright.

22 June 2017

Clover Hill School

According to Edla Sutphin Bellis the thing that made Hillsborough Township's Clover Hill School unique was that the desks were not bolted to the floor. In 1991 the 94-year-old former teacher/principal recounted in a remembrance she wrote for the Courier News how this made it possible to move the desks and chairs, remove the blackboard that served as a partition dividing the two rooms, and make one large space for meetings, dinners, and entertainment. This was something that few schools had at the time.


Detail from, the 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro'
 showing the schoolhouse east of the village.

The school was built in 1918 to replace an older one-room school that had been at that location east of the village since before 1850. Mrs. Bellis was the very first principal and also taught grades 5 through 8. Her mother, a former teacher who hadn't taught in 30 years, came out of retirement to teach the younger grades. She recalled that by putting on plays and holding suppers they raised enough money to have an oil stove installed in the cupola where the older girls made soup each day for the children's lunch. The community was also able to raise enough money to install electric lights, but water still had to be retrieved at the pump outside and brought in in pails.



The Clover Hill School in 1991

Because of its location at the far western end of Hillsborough near the Hunterdon County border, many 8th grade graduates in the 1920s and 30s went on to Flemington High School instead of Somerville.


1923 admission ticket for "Always in Trouble", from my collection

The end for the Clover Hill School came in August 1950 after the Hillsborough Consolidated School (now HES) was inspected and approved to be opened that September. Actually, August 9, 1950 saw the sale at auction of three Hillsborough schools, as the Neshanic and Pleasantview Schools also had their bell towers on the chopping block. The Clover Hill School was sold to contractor John Dietz for $5,000 and was soon set up by Walter Dietz as a carpenter shop. The school was converted to a residence in 1976, and stands proudly today in its original location on Amwell Road.




The Clover Hill School as it looked just a few years ago.

15 June 2017

Harlingen School

If there is one thing I have learned while researching Hillsborough Township, NJ schools it is that during the 20th century every solution to the ever-increasing enrollment issues has been short-lived - at best. The first consolidated school - Bloomingdale - was too small to put more than a few of the rural one-room schools out of business, and necessitated the building of the second consolidated school - HES - just 21 years later. Unfortunately that 1950 school predated the beginning of the 40-year residential building boom by 5 years.



The Harlingen school soon after it was built in 1918

Which brings us to August 1957. With Sunnymead School - another proposed enrollment crusher - still two years away, the school board was scrambling to find space for 1,207 students. Five classrooms at Bloomingdale and four in Flagtown were put back online, and the two rooms at Liberty School were again pressed into service. With the 29 classrooms at the recently enlarged (there we go again) Consolidated School (HES), that left every grade accounted for except 5th.


22 November 1952 Courier News

Casting about for any sort of acceptable space, board members were fortunate to find the classrooms of the Harlingen School on the southbound side of Route 206 in Montgomery Township available. Montgomery had also begun consolidating their rural schools, and had not yet experienced the kind of suburban sprawl beginning to hit Hillsborough.



The Harlingen School with later additions

The Harlingen School, built in 1918 incorporating a typical four room configuration was later expanded to include two additional rooms. Hillsborough needed all six rooms for the 5th graders. After Sunnymead opened in 1959, Montgomery reclaimed the valuable educational space for themselves - but not before sending Hillsborough a bill for "necessary painting". Hillsborough of course disputed the idea that they had left the school in any other condition besides immaculate.

Within a year, Hillsborough was back on bended knee looking for help from their neighbor to the south. Hillsborough was again building - two schools this time, Triangle and Woodfern - but the new schools would not be ready until spring 1962. The two rooms each offered by Montgomery at Blawenburg and Skillman Schools and a sub-standard room at the Hillsborough Rescue Squad Building(!) were just enough - for the moment........


01 June 2017

Liberty School

On August 9, 1950, with the grand opening of the Hillsborough Consolidated School (now known as Hillsborough Elementary School) a month away, the school board disposed of three schools at auction. The Clover Hill School was sold for $3,000, the Neshanic School for $4,750, and the Pleasantview School for $7,000. Missing from the inventory was Liberty School - unable to be sold because a clear title to the property could not be obtained.


14 June 1957 Courier News

According to historic maps of Hillsborough and Somerset County, a school existed on the northbound side of the current Route 206 near the intersection of Valley Road from at least 1850. By the 1870s, the Liberty District No. 42 was one of 15 school districts in Hillsborough Township - each with their own one-room rural schoolhouse. Although newspaper stories from a century later sometimes described the Liberty School as being from that era, or built in 1860, it seems likely from the design of the two-room school that the building many current residents remember was actually a replacement school built in the 1910s. Indeed, the school shares a design with the Neshanic School on Amwell Road, which was built in 1913.


25 September 1954 Courier News

The problem with obtaining a clear title was that the deed restricted use of the property to a school. If the property were to be used for any other purpose, it had to be returned to the previous owner, or their heirs. By 1950, the school district had already owned the property for a century and finding legal heirs was difficult. In any case, the initial 20 classrooms of the Hillsborough Consolidated School only took a small bite out of Hillsborough's increasing enrollment issues. Liberty School was put back into regular use within a couple of years, and used regularly until Sunnymead School opened in 1959, and then on an emergency basis throughout the 1960s.



The Liberty School in the 1980s
Although students had no indoor plumbing at the school, no modern playground or indoor recreation area, and no kitchen providing hot lunches, they regularly expressed their opinion that Liberty was the best school in Hillsborough. Children who spent time at both Liberty School and the modern consolidated school, were always happiest when they were redistricted back to the little red schoolhouse on Route 206.


18 May 2017

Blackwell's Mills School

The forty-one eighth-graders who graduated in Hillsborough Township on June 15, 1929 held their ceremony at the Clover Hill Church. Dorothy Stryker from Pleasantview School played the processional as the students marched into the church, decorated for the occasion with roses and pink peonies, and sat on a platform at the front, while parents and guests crowded the pews. 



Blackwell's Mill from the 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro'


One student from each of Hillsborough's one and two room schoolhouses that produced a graduate that year was given a special part to play in the proceedings. Norman Sutphen from Montgomery School gave a recitation, Helen Olon of Liberty School sang a solo, Dorothy Van Doren of Clover Hill played the piano, Sara Labau of Pleasant View School gave a recitation, Almira Veghte of New Center School played a piano selection, Hazel Erck of the Mountain school received her prize from the Manville National Bank for getting a high score on the state test, and the graduates of Flagtown School each gave brief recitations. 

Finally, Inez Squeri from the Blackwell's Mills School stood up to recite - the last act by a student from the school that had served the children from the southwest corner of Hillsborough for over one hundred years.


Blackwell's Mills School from a postcard circa 1905

The first school in the tiny village along the Millstone River was probably built around the same time the mill went up in 1746. It was located north of the mill nearer to Millstone. In 1813 a new school was built in a new location well south of the village at the corner of Millstone River Road and its original intersection with Hillsborough Road.



Detail from the 1850 Somerset County map

In 1928 and 1929 the school board struggled with issues of overcrowding and aging schoolhouses - some without electricity. A proposal to build a new two-room school at Blackwell's Mills was put before the voters, but it was turned down in favor of a modern four-room school to replace the one-room Bloomingdale School. It was decided that the 25 or so students from Blackwell's Mills could be bused to Bloomingdale.

The school was sold at auction, along with the old Hillsboro/Crossroads School, on August 24, 1929.






16 May 2017

George H. Wert, Pulp Artist

The rocky amber mountains in the distance and the sparse scrub grass underfoot place the scene in the western American desert. A spooked horse rears back almost vertically, while a cowboy in red shirt, leather vest, green bandanna, and tall yellow hat holds tightly to the reins with his left hand. In his right he steadies his revolver, and with steely-eyed determination squeezes off a shot. 


Can you picture the scene? Hillsborough artist George H. Wert painted this cover for the October 2, 1926 issue of Western Story Magazine while looking at an old horse ambling in the meadow outside the window of his Amwell Road cabin. And he was only getting started.



George H. Wert illustration for a 1921 calendar.

George Harrison Wert was born in Brook, Indiana in 1888, His father worked for the railroad, and then later as a guard at the Indiana State Prison. After he was done with his schooling Wert also worked for the railroad. He got married in 1912, and by 1917 he had two small children, which disqualified him from being drafted during the first world war. After a move to Joliet, Illinois, he started working as an artist for an advertising company.

By the early 1920s Wert was living in Memphis, Tennessee and contributing illustrations to Collier's and other magazines. Some time after their fourth child was born in 1924, the family moved to Yonkers, where Wert began illustrating for the big New York City "pulp" publishing houses.  Pulps - named for the cheap wood-pulp paper on which they were printed - were fiction magazines popular between the 1890s and 1950s. Wert contributed interior pen and ink illustrations as well as color cover paintings for such titles as Action Stories, Short Stories, Sea Stories, and The Popular Magazine


Wert drew this picture of his log cabin in 1928.
However, his specialty was western scenes. In July 1926 The Courier News reported that he had bought the old Hahr farm on Amwell Road near Neshanic. To set the mood for his work, Wert decided that the property needed a log cabin. One of his neighbors, Richard Stryker, helped him carry hand-hewn logs and stones down from the Sourland Mountain. John Amsler of Flagtown built the cabin.

This is how The Courier News described the cabin in 1928:

The interior is very beautiful, with its wide fireplace and artistic furnishings. Unusual objects such as cowboy bridles and six-shooters suggest the Western stories which Mr. Wert delights to illustrate.

Wert's years in Hillsborough were his most prolific. He painted covers for such pulp titles as Western Story, North West Stories, Lariat, Western Adventures, and Wild West Weekly, as well as contributing interior pen and ink illustrations to those magazines and many others. Pretty amazing for a man who had never been much further west than Memphis. Essentially he came East to go West!


Detail of a Wert painting that was used as the cover for the
August 14, 1926 Western Story Magazine

Unlike some famous artists who spent time in our area but never really became part of the community (such as George Bellows), Wert and family were fully invested in Hillsborough. When his log cabin became too much of a roadside attraction he built another house on the property. He was elected to the school board at least twice. When the family decided it was time to move again, they moved to the Roycefield area. His daughter Winona married prominent Hillsborough farmer Richard Doyle in 1938. He donated a sketch of the Neshanic Methodist Church that was used for their fundraising cookbook in 1941. All the while turning out incredible artwork - especially the many covers like the ones in the collage below.


A selection of pulp covers from George H. Wert's most creative period, 1924 to 1934.

George and his wife moved to Virginia in 1942 to live with their son John, but by 1947 he was back in New Jersey, living in Readington. In 1949 he told The Courier News - perhaps tongue-in-cheek - that his paintings were not proper for children and that he was going to switch to political cartoons!

He died on April 15, 1950 at the age of 61.





11 May 2017

New Center School

On August 22, 1938 the Hillsborough Township school board decided that they would no longer pay $50 per student for seventeen children from the village of South Branch to attend school across the river at the South Branch School in Branchburg Township. All that was left to decide was whether the students should be bused to Flagtown School, or to New Center School. In a 5-4 vote it was decided to send the students to Flagtown. Exactly three months later, on November 22, 1938, the New Center School was destroyed by fire.

1850 Somerset County Map showing location of the New Center School
The school that burned down in 1938 was an improved school that was built around 1918. It had two classrooms, a library room, and a basement with a furnace room and a kitchen. But a school was at that location - currently the southwest corner of Beekman Lane and New Center Road - from at least 1850, and probably from the 1830s. In 1856 Cornelius and Sara Ann Peterson officially deeded a small lot, about 22,000 square feet, to the new school district for the "purpose of building a school house, lecture room, or church..."


One of the incarnations of the New Center School

Not many Hillsborough residents today would state that they lived in "New Center", but up until a few decades ago, this was a common designation. And the schoolhouse was the centerpiece of the strictly farming district. In fact, the actual name of New Center Road is New Center School Road or New Center School House Road - and it used to end in an intersection with Beekman Lane right in front of the schoolhouse, as can be seen in the 1850 map. When a new section of the road was built westward in the 1930s, it did not line up with the older section of New Center Road at the 4-way stop as we see today, but instead was offset to the north of the school.


The New Center Missionary Society in 1925
As the only public building in New Center, the school was the hub of local activity. No group was more identified with the district and the school than the New Center Missionary Society. The group was formed by school girls in 1857, inspired by their teacher, Sarah Provost. The initial aim of the organization was to raise money to support Christian missionary work around the world, especially in China. They did this through the collection, drying, and sale of hickory nuts that they hunted for in the woods near the school during recess. They also raised money for soldiers fighting in the Civil War, and for refugees during World War I. The club was a success, and enthusiasm was passed down from mother to daughter for generations until finally disbanding in 1961.


The school district kept the New Center School property for 20 years before selling it at auction in 1958 for $525.

04 May 2017

J. B. Duke's McKinley Bronze

On February 27, 2013 a crane carefully lowered the refurbished nine foot tall 20 ton bronze statue of President William McKinley onto its base in front of the brand new Niles, Ohio High School. The statue of America's 25th president had stood in front of the recently demolished previous high school since the early 1960s when it was given as a gift by heiress Doris Duke.


Refurbished statue of President McKinley at the new Niles, Ohio High School

Tobacco magnate James B. Duke was a great admirer of McKinley. Some time in 1906, Duke contacted Italian-American sculptor Gaetano Trentanove to commission the larger-than-life-sized tribute to the president, who was assassinated in September of 1901. The sculpture was based on a favorite portrait of McKinley that hung in Duke's New York office, and was cast in Florence, Italy in January 1907. It was intended to be displayed at Duke's Hillsborough, New Jersey estate on the site of the large greenhouses that were built between 1909 and 1912.

"The Orangery" at Duke's Park - later part of Duke Gardens

The casting of the bronze was an event in itself with the American Consul in Italy and other dignitaries present for the event.


Headline from the Baltimore Sun 5 January 1907


The McKinley statue arrived in Hillsborough later that year, and was eventually placed on a sixteen foot marble and granite base. Below is a newspaper photo from 1909 showing the statue in Duke's Park without the base.


Photo from The New York Herald 30 May 1909

In 1958 Doris Duke formed Duke Gardens, Inc. to transform the greenhouses into what would become the famous display gardens. William McKinley did not fit into her plans. She began looking for someone who would accept the statue as a donation. She was even willing to pay shipping costs. In March of 1960 the city council of Niles, Ohio - McKinley's birthplace - accepted the donation.


Courier News 11 October 1960

Transportation arrangements took seven months. On October 11, 1960 an over-sized rail car was moved onto the private siding off of the South Branch Railroad that runs through the Duke Estate. The marble and granite base was separated into five segments, and McKinley himself was lowered intact into an open gondola. At nine feet two inches square, the massive base of the monument just barely fit railway requirements.

Two years after arriving in Niles, the McKinley statue was still in the railroad yard awaiting funds to be raised to have it erected.