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 the 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 schoolhouse, 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 schoolgirls 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 World War I refugees. 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.