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.