27 July 2017

Harmony Plains School


Before there was a Manville, New Jersey, there was a section of Hillsborough Township tucked away in its northeast 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.