22 February 2018

Andrew Lane - JC Lane Stores (1870 - 1918)

By the time Andrew Lane came to Hillsborough Township in 1870, the thirty-seven-year-old Readington native had already been successful in two separate careers and was looking to begin a third.

Andrew Lane Store (left) and home (right) circa 1904
He took up carpentry in 1848 at the age of seventeen, and by twenty-one was out on his own building houses. In 1857 he became engaged in farming  - purchasing his own farm in Clinton Township in 1864. It is unclear what convinced Lane that he should move to Neshanic and open a general store, other than the fact that he saw a huge opportunity.

Neshanic Mills area  - detail from the 1873 map
When the firm of Voorhees & Brokaw were looking to sell their mill and store property in what used to be called Corle's Mills in 1870, Lane jumped at the chance to get in on the ground floor of what would soon become the new railroad village of Neshanic Station. Judge Schenck got the South Branch Railroad to cross the South Branch of the Raritan River near his property and build a station just a few years earlier - now the Easton & Amboy Railroad - later to become the Lehigh Valley Railroad - was building across New Jersey, and was set to lay tracks just north of the village. As the Courier News recounted years later:
"The enterprising storekeeper obtained a concession from the railroad to provide its workmen with food, clothing, drugs and other supplies. Local legend has it that a good part of Lane's fortune were the profits from selling the large bottles of "Spring Tonic" that stood on the patent medicine shelf - and later had a resurgence of popularoty during the Prohibition Era."
Lane did so well with the railroad contract, that by 1875 he was able to completely rebuild the old circa 1810 mill and use it as a flouring-mill, saw-mill, plaster-mill, and phosphate-mill.

Lane's Mill circa 1917. Built in 1875, burned down in 1927.

Business was so good that by the end of the decade Lane's brother Gilbert, fifteen years his junior, who had been clerking for him in the store, set up his own store at the northwest corner of Amwell Road across from the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church.

Andrew Lane from Snell's
1881 History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties
The great flood of 1896 which washed out all the bridges from Neshanic to Bound Brook, flooding towns and villages along the way, nearly destroyed the store. As the water began to rise, Lane ignored pleas from his clerk to get the merchandise to higher ground. He lost his entire stock - and the mill sustained $2,500 damage (about $65,000 today). Andrew Lane passed away in 1903 and the mill was run for a time by his son-in-law. It was purchased by A. S. Amerman in in 1921, and was lost to a fire in 1927. Amerman later rebuilt a slightly shorter mill on the same foundation.

John C. Lane Store circa 1900
Meanwhile down at the old village of Neshanic, Gilbert Lane had passed away in 1891, leaving the store to his nineteen-year-old son John C. Lane. J. C. Lane ran the store prosperously for another quarter of a century, before it was also burned to the ground in 1918.

10 October 1957 Courier News
Andrew Lane's old store at the corner of Mill Lane remained in the Lane family for decades, and was rented out as a residence for most of that time. It too finally succumbed to a fire on March 15, 1962.

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