12 February 2021

The Battle for the Sourland Mountain (1953 - 1959)

The Battle for the Sourland Mountain didn't take place during the American Revolution, though it lasted nearly as long as that entire war. Rather, the battle began in January 1953 when Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing - better known today as simply 3M - announced their intentions to build a stone quarry and roofing granules manufacturing plant in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships.


24 January 1953 Home News


The Minnesota company began buying options and researching titles of mountain properties in the last few months of 1952. They planned a $2 million operation with the mining being conducted in Hillsborough and the manufacturing taking place in Montgomery Organized opposition to the plan from residents in both towns arose almost immediately after a public information session was held at the Hillsborough Consolidated School in February 1953. 


14 April 1953 Home News


Residents raised questions about water use, noise from blasting, increased traffic on local roads, and general quality-of-life issues for mountain property owners. They focused on opposition to the approvals that would be necessary for both towns to change the zoning from residential and farming to industrial. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing responded by publishing two open letters on consecutive weeks in April in an attempt to allay the public's fears.


April 1953 Courier News


Enter Dr. George Gallup - Montgomery Township resident and founder of the famous Gallup Poll - and the Community League of Montgomery. They presented the Montgomery Planning Board with an 840-signature petition in opposition to the quarry focusing on the tax impact of industrial development. 


29 April 1953 Home News

According to Dr. Gallup and the League, "the long term effect of industry is to increase taxes", "municipal debt and bonded debt increase rapidly as industry moves in", and, "industry increases population density, and population density brings high taxes."


23 May 1953


Opposition to 3M - and to the proposed zoning changes - was just as strong in Hillsborough as it was in Montgomery. At a May 22, 1953, public meeting attended by 225 residents, 3M went so far as to offer to buy the house of every concerned citizen within one mile of the quarry.


28 July 1953

With the various government bodies in both towns in favor of the development, the opposition turned to a new tactic - changing the forms of government. From their inception in 1771 and 1772, Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships respectively used the township committee form of municipal government. In the 1950s this consisted of a three-member committee, elected at-large for three-year overlapping terms, with each committee member having an equal vote and a nominal mayor being selected among themselves.


28 July 1953 Home News


New Jersey state law offers a couple of different ways to change government forms. The one attempted in Hillsborough and Montgomery was to petition for a special election. Hillsborough's Community League submitted a petition to the town clerk at the beginning of August requesting an election on August 25th to change to a council-manager form of government. Montgomery had already submitted their identical petition a week earlier.


4 August 1953 Courier News


The council-manager form allows for 5,7 or 9 Council members or Mayor and 4, 6, or 8 Council members with the Mayor elected at-large. The Council is elected all at-large or a combination of wards and at-large and serves 4 year concurrent or staggered terms. A municipal manager serves as the chief executive and has responsibility for the budgets and the appointment and removal of department heads. Eight out of nine former Hillsborough committeemen weighed in with their opposition to a change, and even Doris Duke was asked for her opinion (she declined to provide one).

19 August 1953 Home News

After Montgomery's voters rejected the change by a vote of 538-382, the writing was on the wall for Hillsborough. And indeed Hillsborough voters followed suit, keeping the township committee form by a vote of 981-410. For many residents of both towns, these votes were more reflective of a desire to keep their nearly two-century-old government than they were indicative of acquiescence to the quarry. Dr. Gallup compared the tumult that raged all summer to the Civil War. "Sometimes a father will be on one side and a son on the other. Men who have been good friends all their lives are arguing. Next-door neighbors are no longer in agreement." And so the battle continued.

26 August 1953 Home News



After the defeat at the polls, the Hillsborough Community League directed its energy towards stopping the zoning change. They argued that the quarry and plant would depreciate home values and that the zoning laws would be neutered if changes were made solely for the benefit of individual companies. At a three-hour meeting in October, many residents were still voicing concerns. Even Dr. Russell Carrier - of the noted clinic - testified that his patients would be adversely affected by the quarry one mile down the road.

9 October 1953 Home News


The battle had its first political casualty a month later when Hillsborough Mayor Richard Van Doren was upset in his bid for reelection by the Community League backed candidate Richard Musa. Van Doren cast one of the two Yes votes in the 2-1 approval of the "3M" zoning ordinance on October 8. 

15 January 1954 Home News

The ordinance was passed again due to technical errors on December 10, 1953 - but with a new township committee in January with a seeming 2-1 opposition to 3M (as well as a new planning board), all bets were off. Thus began six years of constant litigation in the courts and changes in stance by the governing bodies, especially after Van Doren was elected back to the committee in November 1954.


6 July 1956 Courier News

The various lawsuits between and among the two townships, residents, and #M were consolidated in 1954 and came to trial in 1956 with Hillsborough prevailing in Superior Court. Zoning ordinances were again proposed and adopted and the New Brunswick Home News even ran a headline on December 16, 1956, that read, "Battle Nears End". But the zoning ordinances were ruled invalid upon appeal by the plaintiffs to the New Jersey Supreme Court in April 1957.


31 January 1959 Courier News

In March of 1958, the Hillsborough Planning Board again recommended an amendment to the zoning ordinance to allow 3M to operate on the mountain. This set off another round of lawsuits with Hillsborough prevailing in Superior Court on January 30, 1959. A ruling on June 1, 1959, by the Supreme Court, upholding the validity of Montgomery Township's zoning ordinance seemed like it would be the final shot in the six-year battle but Hillsborough residents were back in court that October with more objections to the zoning ordinance - namely that the setback requirements for the zone (reduced from 1,000 feet to 100 feet to satisfy a previous lawsuit) were "arbitrary and capricious".

17 January 1960 Home News

A final ruling was handed down by the Supreme Court on November 23, 1959, upholding the Superior Court's previous decision, and within weeks contractors were on the site resuming the engineering work required to build the facility. 

Gibraltar Rock Quarry, 2011


The quarry and roofing granules plant opened in 1961 and was operated by 3M until being sold to Gibraltar Rock in 2009. Gibraltar continues quarrying at the site and in 2011 stated that they could continue digging there for another 100 years! 

1 comment:

  1. Interesting that local residents in 1953 so accurately predicted the negative impacts of the proposed quarry. It’s unfortunate that there was no negotiated term that could have limited the duration of quarrying activities to a fixed number of years. Very sad to see the ongoing destruction of this part of the Sourlands region.

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