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.

Liberty School 1989


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.