31 December 2007

What Happened?

December 31. All of the newspapers have their best and worst of the year stories, top ten lists, most noteworthy and newsworthy, etc., etc. The big end-of year wrap-ups! "The Fewest Homicides Since 1992!". "The Least Rainfall Ever".

Since I don't write about everything that happens in Hillsborough, this blog is already composed of what I felt were the biggest or most interesting stories of the year.

Maybe you are of a different opinion. What did I miss? Here's your chance to make your own Top Ten Hillsborough Events of 2007 - The Good, The Bad, and you know the rest.

Let us know by leaving a comment down below.

See you next year!

30 December 2007

Hellooooooo Chiyoda!

As 2007 draws to a close, I realize that I have been writing the On Hillsborough blog for almost 7 months. I have enjoyed working on it, and enjoy hearing feedback and questions from readers.

Probably the question that is asked most frequently is, How many readers do you have? Funny - people never ask, How do you get your ideas?, or How do you find the time to keep doing this?! Readers want to know if they are the only ones reading! This is the same kind of psychology that makes movie box office receipt lists and television program ratings charts so popular. And also why we need to know which candidate is leading in the polls, or who has raised the most money.

Everyone wants to be on the winning team. If no one else is reading On Hillsborough, why am I wasting my time!

So, for all of you time-wasters, here are some blog stats. I started keeping track of blog traffic on July 3rd - and since that time I have had 5,405 visitors to On Hillsborough, and have had over 8000 pageviews. Over 3600 of those visits have come from people who have surfed over from the Courier News web site. About 500 have found me through NJ.com, and 300 from Blogger.com. People searching with Google have been directed here 250 times, and finally, 515 of you have this site bookmarked or have typed cnhillsborough.blogspot.com into your browsers.

Those are just the top five ways you've gotten here - there are 93 more! On Hillsborough has been linked around the web, and many of you have emailed a link to someone with a web mail service.

2,180 visits came through the Patriot Media Cable Network, 731 through Verizon, 309 through Juno, 196 through Embarq, 164 through America Online,114 through Optimun Online, and 55 through Comcast. The rest of you have been logging on from work - especially from the big pharmaceutical companies!

Around 2000 visits came, as you would expect, from Somerset County - but the rest of Central New Jersey is well represented. And I have had 300 hits from New York. People have logged on from as far away as Santiago, Chile and London, England. But the prize for the most far-out reader goes to some anonymous soul in Chiyoda, a section of Tokyo, who visited On Hillsborough twice on July 28th!

There you have it - all of your questions answered. I think I need to make a resolution tomorrow to never write a blog entry like this again!

29 December 2007

Patriot Media Raises Rates!

I have been a cable television customer in Hillsborough for almost fifteen years now. I have generally been pleased with the service. In fact I would say service has improved markedly since 1993. Outages are almost unheard of, and the cable modem service has been getting more reliable and faster year by year. I really can't live without it.

So I guess I shouldn't complain about the notice that arrived with today's mail. Yes, Patriot Media will be raising the rates for almost all of their services in 2008. Most items will be going up a dollar or two, with many increasing by six or seven dollars a month. My bill, for Full Basic Cable (not digital) and Internet service (including modem rental) will go up $3.25, or about 3%. Not too bad.

What is lousy, however, is the justification for some of the increases. In their letter to customers, Patriot Media touts the addition of four new channels in 2007. Fox Business Network was added to Digital Basic - and that service is increasing by a dollar a month. TBS HD was added to HD Basic - and that service is increasing by a dollar a month. The NBA Network and the NHL Network were added to Digital Sports Arena - and that service has no increase.

So what do I get for the $2.25 increase for Full Basic? Nothing - the same old lineup of channels that they have offered for a few years now. And that other dollar? That's the 50% increase in the cable modem rental! Even at the former $2.00 a month rate, I've probably paid for that modem many times over already - do I really need to throw away $36 this year? Seeing as how the modem has worked flawlessly these many years, and the fact that I need it to post these blogs, that answer is probably yes - I hate to change something that I depend on when it's working.

And anyway, when factored into the total entertainment budget for our family, this 3% rate increase turns out to be less than 1% - and I can live with that!

27 December 2007

Convoy

The New Jersey Department of Transportation is set to codify regulations that allow 102 inch wide tandem tractor trailers to use Route 206 through the Princetons, Montgomery, and Hillsborough. This is exactly the opposite of what Hillsborough Township was expecting - especially since the state DOT classified Route 206 as a "safe corridor zone" in 2002. That designation called the highway a "congested and hazardous traffic area" in need of improvement.

The Big Rigs have never been officially banned from Route 206 - truckers have apparently been using their common sense and staying off the road anyway. What this new regulation does is advertise 206 as an acceptable truck route. Drivers who have not been using the highway may be fooled into thinking that some improvement has been made, or some new safety study has been conducted. Unfortunately, they will find the same road that existed in 2002 - just as congested and hazardous as before.

The new truck access rules will be released on January 22. That gives us less than 4 weeks to protest this absurd plan. All we need are about a dozen tandem tractor-trailers and drivers. We can line them up by Mountainview Road, and head south. A real Convoy! Through Montgomery, Princeton Township, Princeton Boro, Lawrenceville, and right down Broad Street in Trenton. Then it's just a right turn onto State Street - and pull up right across the street from the State House!

Let's see how many legislators like these trucks rumbling down their "main street"!

24 December 2007

en jay dot com

I'll admit it - I still read the Hillsborough Forum over at NJ.com. And, although I haven't participated in any discussions there recently, I still find it to be fascinating, and sometimes frustrating, reading. It is especially frustrating when people post completely incorrect information about our school district and Board of Education. I hope NJ.com readers know not to trust everything they read on that site!

One recent interesting discussion has expanded to cover many topics of interest to Hillsborough residents: the role of government, open space, property taxes, free speech, farming.

I have been thinking about these topics also - and I am sure I will cover all of them in the upcoming year.

For those of you that have put in requests, I have been researching the Duke Estate and hope to start posting on that topic soon. Until then, let me know which other topics are of greatest interest to you.

22 December 2007

Factually Speaking

I continue now with my comments on the Letters to the Editor of the Hillsborough Beacon from December 20.

Commission presented truthful information - Glenn van Lier, Commissioner, Hillsborough Charter Study Commission. Mr. van Lier writes about the campaign against government change. He believes that the Charter Study Commission provided truthful, factual, and useful information during their study. I agree. Before the charter study, I did not know about all of the different forms of government that were available to Hillsborough. And while I admit that I was predisposed to keeping our current township committee form - because I could not see any major flaws in it - my mind was definitely open to finding a better government for Hillsborough if one existed. I could not have been confident in my final decision to vote no if not for the information provided by the Charter Study Commission. Thank you Glenn, Chris, George, Gloria, and Bill!

Here is where Mr. van Lier and I apparently disagree. He seems to believe that a rational person knowing all of the facts about the Mayor-Council form of government as presented by the CSC could not have possibly, conscientiously voted no. He believes the only way a person could vote no is by listening to the well-financed "lies" of Residents Against Larger Government. This is an incorrect notion.

Although the CSC presented many facts about the TC and MC forms of government, the conclusions they reached from those facts were in many cases merely opinions or judgements. For instance, Mr. van Lier stated many times during the study that the system whereby township committee members acted as liaisons to the various departments was "confusing". The testimony of our township committee members was that it was not confusing at all! The department heads report to the administrator. The liaisons are in place so that the township committee members can confer with each other - so that all five can be kept abreast of what is happening in the departments, without having to be on top of each one on a daily basis.

Liaisons are just one example. Township Committee Member Carl Suraci came to the microphone on more than one occasion at a CSC meeting to question whether certain facts about the TC form of government should be placed with the strengths or the weaknesses. In fact, the CSC acknowledged this uncertainty by placing "annual elections" on both lists!

What Mr. van Lier describes in his letter as lies are really only different conclusions. One of the RALG lies - the Beacon recommendation - was no lie at all. The Hillsborough Beacon editor said that there was no overwhelming need for change, and from that he concluded that we should vote yes. The RALG concluded that we should vote no.

In essence, the CSC did exactly what they should have done - lay out the facts and let the people decide. The voters said no to a "more complex. larger government".

And that's a fact!

21 December 2007

LTE

I like to read. Most of the time I have at least two books going. I just finished the phenomenal Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar - Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, and I have just started Paul Theroux's China travelogue Riding the Iron Rooster.

But the majority of my reading is devoted to the newspapers. I receive three daily papers and the weekly Hillsborough Beacon. I invariably turn to the editorial page first to get a feel for what's on the minds of the editors and letter writers.

Thursday's Hillsborough Beacon contained four important letters to the editor. I am going to use this space to briefly comment on each one.


  1. Farm sale helps land preservation - by Sam Conard, Agricultural Advisory Committee. This letter talks about the sale by the township of two farm properties on Mill Lane that were acquired as open space. Mr. Conard goes on to say that the properties are deed restricted to remain as farms, and that it was always Hillsborough's intention to put these properties into the hands of private owners. What this letter doesn't say, although it is implied, is that there are many ways to preserve open space - purchasing property outright, buying development rights, having farms enter into the Farmland Preservation Program - as well as buying properties for later sale. Hillsborough does and should use all of these methods to preserve the character of the township.


  2. Vaccines should be free of thimerisol - Peter J. Biondi, Assemblyman, 16th Legislative District. Assemblyman Biondi's letter is about a pending state mandated plan to require preschool age children to receive flu shots. Almost all of the flu vaccine currently produced contains the mercury laden preservative thimerosal. Thimerosal has been linked to an increased diagnosis of autism in children. Some experts will try to tell you that studies have found no link between autism and childhood vaccines. The truth is that there is a statistical link - scientists just haven't been able to find the medical link between the two - at least not yet. Until they do, this issue is really about money. Thimerosal has been removed from all vaccines save the flu shot. Currently it is more costly to produce a thimerosal free product, but with state mandated vaccinations for all children, it seems to me that the drug companies could easily make up lost revenue in the sheer volume of vaccine that will be sold. Not to mention that New Jersey is the first state to propose such a vaccination program - and when other states do the same this will surely be a windfall for the drug companies. I agree with the Assemblyman that New Jersey should err on the side of caution, and demand a thimerosal free vaccine for our children.


  3. Salary debate misses real problem - by Amadeo D'Adamo Jr., Professor Emeritus of Biology, CUNY. Mr. D'Adamo writes about teacher salaries and administrative costs of our school district. This is a letter that I cannot comment on. But I will tell you that the Hillsborough Township Board of Education will be negotiating a new contract with the teachers in 2008. I know the Courier News and the Hillsborough Beacon will be covering this story - so look there for news!


  4. Commission presented truthful information - Glenn van Lier, Commissioner, Hillsborough Charter Study Commission. This important letter needs its own blog entry. I think I'll hold off until tomorrow to delve into old CSC business.

19 December 2007

Who Needs Enemies?

Today's Weird, Wild, and Wicked story is a quick one. So quick that I'm going to let the long forgotten anonymous New York Times staff writer tell it in his own words, which appeared in the November 12, 1896 edition of the paper.


Accidentally Shot by a Friend.

FLEMINGTON, N.J., Nov. 11. - George D, Maybuff of Little Ferry, N.J., a business man of New-York, was accidentally shot by Herman Fagan, a close friend of his, while gunning on Sourland Mountain yesterday. One grain of shot entered into his neck and two passed through his left wrist and two teeth were knocked out. The wounds bled freely, but are not dangerous. [Sure, nothing dangerous about being shot in the face, causing one to "bleed freely". He probably didn't need those teeth anyway!]

16 December 2007

Post Office Woes

About six weeks ago I wrote about the Hillsborough Post Office on Amwell Road. I am still amazed that the 08844 US Post Office is open for business just 40 hours each week - especially since the Belle Mead office is open 62 1/2 hours!

Maybe the Hillsborough Post Office doesn't need to be open many hours because the employees are so efficient and work so quickly. Or maybe not.

I paid a visit to the post office one afternoon last week. There were about 10 people on line ahead of me. This won't take long, I thought, especially since two windows were open. Boy, was I wrong. I stood in line for almost 30 minutes before I gave up and walked out. In that time, just three customers were served.

I know this is a busy time of year, with people mailing packages, etc. I understand that each customer may need a little extra time to figure out that the envelopes for their holiday cards need $0.90 stamps. All of this would be fine if the employees didn't move so slowly. They seemed to be moving underwater, with no concern that the line behind me was now snaking around the inside of the building, not to mention the unmoving line in front of me!

Employees were constantly being interrupted by other employees to explain something or help with something, or to call a supervisor, or whatever - right in the middle of waiting on a customer!

Is there no one there that says "Wow, look at this line! Let's work quickly and get these people out of here"? On the contrary, these employees seem to know that the Hillsborough Post Office has one of the shortest work weeks in Somerset County - and they can't wait for that whistle to blow!

15 December 2007

I Forgot to Mention...

...my other idea for a Hillsborough train station on the West Trenton Line. In a previous blog entry I wrote that the train station location should be reconsidered. I would favor a station south of Hillsborough Road, possibly in the vicinity of Mountain View Road. This would provide access to both the southern terminus of the proposed Route 206 bypass, the "old" Route 206, and the Belle Mead GSA property.

What I forgot to mention was my idea for the Pike Run "right of way". The Pike Run development in Montgomery Township is bisected by a swath of land that was reserved for the previous Route 206 bypass plan. That plan would have had 206 running right through the middle of the development. I would suggest a road being built on that right of way - a street that would intersect Pike Run Road and Township Line Road, and would lead to the parking lot of my "Hillsborough/Belle Mead" station.

What do you think?

14 December 2007

Kid Nation

Wednesday marked the season finale of "Kid Nation". Both of my kids, ages 5 and 8, have been fascinated by this CBS reality show for the past thirteen weeks - and I have watched along with them.

Forty children ranging in age from 8 to 15 spent 40 days last April and May in the wilderness of New Mexico, at a privately owned ranch built to look like the fictional ghost town Bonanza City. The kids were completely (well, mostly) on their own - cooking, cleaning, and generally looking after themselves for 6 weeks.

Divided into four teams, they competed in challenges every three days. How well each team did in the challenges determined what place they had in Bonanza City society - the Upper Class, the Merchants, the Cooks, or the Laborers.

Kid Nation was also an exercise in government. There were elections, and four kids were chosen to be on the "town council". What was this town council? It was essentially the township committee form of government - just like we have here in Hillsborough. There was no directly elected mayor - no separate branches. The four council members worked together to solve problems, lead the town, and most importantly, award a $20,000 gold star to one lucky kid at the end of each episode.

Overall the kids did a nice job running the town. So good in fact, that Bonanza City just might make Money Magazine's best town list next year - at number 24!

12 December 2007

"Old Bill"

"Please - let my son go with me! I'm all he has - he needs me - don't separate us!" The cries of a mother soon to be parted from her infant child? No. These were the pleas of "Old Bill" Conover asking a judge in Somerville to let him take his fourteen-year-old son to the state prison with him!

20 July 1900 Brooklyn Citizen


It is said that Mr. Conover came from a respectable family - but alcohol was his downfall. Sometime around 1890, with two young daughters, a four-year-old son, a wife, and a liquor habit to support, he took up thievery. Horses mostly, as they were easy to steal and easy to dispose of.

It was in 1890 that his wife left him, taking his two daughters, leaving him with his little son Elyah. The two grew attached to one another - it was the two of them against the world. Elyah was described as "half-witted", but whether this was truly the case is unclear - although we can be pretty certain that he did not attend school.

20 July 1900 Brooklyn Citizen


Bill and Elyah lived for many years in a cave in the Sourland Mountains. The cave was furnished like a typical home, with a bed and other odd pieces of furniture, kitchenware, and oil lamps. Most of these were acquired by begging - and stealing. The cave home was Bill's base for his raids on neighboring farms across the countryside of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties.

20 July 1900 New Brunswick Daily Times


One night in the summer of 1900, "Old Bill" went down to Hillsborough Township for a raid on the farm of Richard Carter near Frankfort. He got away with a horse and a carriage - but he was spotted.

Old Courthouse, Somerville, circa 1905


He was arrested on July 20. Elyah begged to be allowed to go with his father to the County Jail. The scene was so pitiable that it was allowed. When Bill was sentenced a week later to three years in the state prison, Elyah was ready once again to accompany his father. Instead, he was sent to an institution - and neither was ever heard from again.

11 December 2007

Pheasants Landed





These four Ring-necked Pheasants are the current residents of the triangle of land bounded by Beekman Lane, the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and the Rohill development. This patch of land has been in the news recently, but I don't think the pheasants read the paper.


I wonder what they'll think of their new neighbors.

10 December 2007

The Big Puzzle

In reading all of the recent articles on the possible reactivation of the West Trenton rail line, it occurred to me that passenger train service for Hillsborough is really part of a bigger puzzle - one that includes not just the train station and transit village, but also the creation of Hillsborough's "town center", the redevelopment of the Belle Mead GSA Depot, and the Route 206 bypass.

While the town center plan has been around in its present form for several years now, the purchase of the old GSA depot is recent, and the Route 206 bypass plan has changed several times over the years - the newest plan being unveiled this past summer.

With these changes in mind, it makes sense to me to also re-examine the future location of the Hillsborough train station. The planned placement of the station at Amwell Road may no longer make sense.

It has been pointed out that the Amwell Road station would be less than three miles from the proposed Belle Mead station in Montgomery. While it is possible for two stations to be this close, or even closer - Somerville and Raritan, for instance - those stations serve existing town centers. There is nothing like that along the line from Amwell Road to Township Line Road.

I would like to see a proposal for a combined Hillsborough/Belle Mead station south of Hillsborough road, with direct access from the 206 bypass to the parking lot. A location that would serve the needs of Hillsborough and Montgomery residents, and also be near the GSA depot. In this proposal, Montgomery does not get a train station within their borders. Too bad. They could live with it - the same way Hillsborough had to accept the revised 206 bypass that took the highway away from Pike Run.

09 December 2007

Make Me an Offer

Ten days ago, I wrote about some of the reasons the reactivation of the West Trenton rail line doesn't make sense. Chief among these is the cost. It's hard to get around the idea that this 27 mile railroad will cost $220,000,000 - and will benefit only a few hundred commuters, and a handful of weekend day-trippers. Is it really worth it?

Today's Courier News is full of articles touting the benefits of bring passenger train service back to Hillsborough, Montgomery, and the Hopewells - and I agree with most of those also. So, lest you think I'm all negativity on this, here are some reasons to get the trains a-rollin'.

First of all, building this kind of project always seems to make sense in the long run. Twenty years from now, people will likely say "they should have built this ten years earlier"! And they would probably be right. The cost of building only goes up, and patrons nearly always materialize to fill up the infrastructure. You never hear about highway authorities removing lanes!

People want to live in towns that have rail service. It's no good if the station is in the next town, four or five miles away - it needs to be here. And this is true even for people that have no plans to ever ride the rails. Residents feel that having a train station in town adds to the value of their properties - and they are correct! The added value of the station gets built into the selling price of your home, even if the home is never sold to a commuter!

A Hillsborough train station and "transit village" opens the door for new business opportunities. In a town that has been trying to attract commercial and industrial development for 50 years, and has not had a lot of success, the promise of economic prosperity through redevelopment sounds promising, and should be tried.

Finally, we know that Hillsborough residents pay more than their share of state income tax, but do not receive much back - in state aid to schools, for instance. So, despite that whopping $220 million price tag, this is a chance to get some of Hillsborough's money back in Hillsborough. And that's an offer I can't refuse.

08 December 2007

December 8, 1980

The following piece is what I wrote in my journal on December 8, 2005 - the 25th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. Very rough - and no Hillsborough content (!) - but here it is anyway.

It is amazing to me to think now that there was a time in my life when every door was open - when the world was wonderful and full of possibilities. When evil only existed in fairytales.

Was I ever really so young - naive - optimistic? I was born five months after JFK was assassinated - and all I knew about Viet Nam was what I read in Mad Magazine. In 1980, there was no tragedy that had ever touched my life. I had lived through no world wars or depressions, as my father had. Parents and grandparents were all alive, no one was ill, no one was divorced. Life was - despite typical teenage traumas - a wonderful journey.

Everything changed on the night of December 8, 1980. Now the world was an evil, dangerous place - where there was no fairness - no justice.

At that time I was a huge Beatles/Lennon fanatic - following all the news, clipping every article on his musical comeback. I was really never bitter or sarcastic before that time - but I recognized right away that I had changed.

How could he be killed? Why? Why NOW? I still find myself asking those questions 25 years later. Two things are clear - the music of John Lennon and The Beatles helped shape the person I am today, and John Lennon's tragic death marked an important turning point in my psychic journey.

05 December 2007

A Mighty Wind (watch out chickens)

Have you been enjoying the windy weather? It seems that Hillsborough has a long history of windstorms - some quite severe, even freakish in nature. Today I offer up two stories of strange wind.

New York Times headline, 20 May 1936

In July of 1915, a deadly storm that had wreaked havoc across the Midwest made its way through Somerset and Hunterdon counties. One of the worst-hit towns was East Millstone, just across the river from Hillsborough. The cyclone-like storm tore the roof off the Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse and snapped the trunks of 75 trees. A piece of the galvanized roof of the Harmer Rubber Reclaiming Company was ripped off and spun through the air 700 feet before coming to rest in the backyard of a neighboring home.

8 July 1915, Home News

The town was in chaos for the few minutes that the storm lasted. Abraham Nevius reported that his chicken house had been lifted whole into the air - only the floor remaining firmly attached to the foundation - with chickens clinging desperately to the interior, while some fell out of the bottomless building. The chicken house was carried on the wind across two fields before finally crashing and smashing to pieces.

9 July 1915, Courier News

In ten minutes it was all over, with farmers and townsfolk pumping out their cellars, and wondering how they would recover all of the seriously damaged crops.

20 May 1936 Home News

Twenty-one years later the folks - and chickens - on the other side of the river, in Hillsborough, got their freak storm. Alfred Huff, whose farm was on Blackwell's Mills Road described what happened after his cousin, Reynold Olsen, shouted out a warning to run:

"All of a sudden I heard a whistling and a rumbling. I saw a funnel-shaped cloud coming from the southeast. The next thing I knew, the combination tool-shed and chicken coop was sucked off the ground. It must have gone up about forty or fifty feet. It was carried about forty feet from where it had stood and then dropped and scattered all over the place.
"Eight fruit trees were pulled up and some of the siding and shingles torn off the barn. The whole thing happened in less time than it takes to tell it. Then it was calm. It was kind of creepy, it was so still."
Huff also reported that his son, Thurston, was lifted up in the air while riding his bicycle and ended up, unscathed, in a ditch at the side of the road.

19 May 1936 Courier News

Peter Clerico's farm was also struck by the storm. Once again, chickens got the worst of it, with the twister tossing the chicken house several hundred feet. Oddly, these two farms appeared to be the only ones affected - other farmers in the area had no idea any kind of a storm had passed through!

04 December 2007

Tilting at Windmills

Hillsborough is set to take another tilt at windmills later this month. Discussions to make small wind-energy systems a permitted use in certain areas of the township were suspended last month over concerns about the environmental impact of the towers.

Are there any forms of energy - renewable or not - that don't have a negative impact on the environment? We know the consequences of relying on oil, coal, and natural gas to power our modern world. Less obvious perhaps are the negative side effects of hydro-electric power, solar power, and now, wind.

Ecology aside, the greatest problem with wind and solar power is that they are too expensive - more expensive than the fossil fuels - and it will always remain so. Why? Because the people that control the oil can charge whatever they want for it. And in spite of the fact that the the price of oil has been rising for decades, there is nothing that says the price of oil couldn't begin to fall. Fall just enough so that it is below the price of the renewable energy sources.

Here's why: Despite being told for years that oil is a finite resource, there is still plenty of it in the earth. Oil will not become truly expensive until there is almost none left! Perhaps instead of trying to conserve oil, proponents of renewable energy should be trying to use it up!

Crazy? Possibly. But no wilder than seeding the atmosphere with dust particles or putting giant reflectors into orbit to cool the earth - two ideas that scientists are working on now. Talk about "tilting at windmills"!

30 November 2007

Thank You

This is a quick note to thank everyone that made tonight's basket auction fundraiser for Autism Speaks a huge success.

A big thank you to all of the area businesses that donated prizes and food, and to all of the volunteers that have worked for three months or more to set up this event.

And of course we wish to thank all of the 150 plus ticket buyers that came out to the North Branch Fire House and helped us raise more than $8000 for this great cause.

29 November 2007

All Aboard?

The Hillsborough Township Committee is set to pass a resolution endorsing the re-activation of passenger rail service on the CSX West Trenton Line. This is supposed to be a first step in the town's effort to lobby New Jersey Transit. In reality, the towns involved have been in favor of this plan for a long time - it wouldn't have gotten this far if they had been opposed.

That's one way of looking at it. A cynic might say that NJ Transit is going to do what they want, whether the towns are with them or against them. A cynic might think that today's meeting at the municipal complex was more about "promotion" than "feedback". Was it? I was unable to attend - so you tell me.

The most interesting statistic from NJ Transit's study of the project comes from the "ridership forecast". They estimate that there will be 2,660 riders each day on the new service. That sounds pretty good - until you realize that 1,420 of those riders will be commuters that have moved over from other rail lines. There will be only 1,240 NEW riders per day on this $220 million railroad! Did I mention that those are 2007 dollars - and that the line would also need $12 million a year in operating subsidies from the state (that means you and me).

And don't forget - NJ Transit actually uses the term "trips", not "riders". When we realize that nearly ALL of the trips will be "round trips", then we conclude that just 620 PEOPLE will be ditching their cars to ride the rails each day - 620 people from all of the towns along the route - Ewing, Hopewell Township, Hopewell Boro, Montgomery, Hillsborough, as well as the other neighboring towns.

Despite that, I'm for it. If they just change one thing...

28 November 2007

What a Load of Dirt!

It's time again for a Weird, Wild, and Wicked story from Hillsborough's past. Today's story takes us back to the summer of 1965 for an incident that many residents will still remember - especially those living in the area of Brooks Boulevard.
Headline from The New York Times, 1 July 1965

Joseph Utasi of Manville owned a six-acre parcel on the border of Manville and Hillsborough. Actually, almost all of the property was located in Hillsborough - just a small 2-foot strip was in Manville.

18 November 1963 Courier News

A few years earlier, Mr. Utasi became aware of the fact that Brooks Boulevard had been extended through his property, Apparently, that right of way had been there since 1925, but had only recently been improved. That fact was of no comfort to Mr. Utasi. By 1963, he was demanding the return of his property and the removal of the road. In November 1963 he briefly put up a fence across the road in protest.


19 November 1963 Courier News

When Hillsborough and Manville declined to return the property, Mr. Utasi had another idea. He would give up his rights to the disputed land if Manville would annex ALL of his property. He believed he had a deal, but a year later nothing had been done.

19 November 1963 Home News


At this point, he decided to take another course of action. He woke up one morning at his home on Seventh Street and got some dirt. Forty-five tons of dirt to be precise - which he proceeded to dump on Brooks Boulevard in the vicinity of 20th Avenue. He erected a sign which read "Private Property - No Trespassing".

30 June 1965 Courier News


There is no report on the reaction of the residents of the new Village Green development, but they couldn't have been very pleased. Hillsborough and Manville officials were also not pleased - Brooks Boulevard was then, as it is now, a main link between the towns - and quickly got a court order for the removal of the dirt.

1 July 1965 Philadelphia Daily News


An Associated Press report that appeared in the July 2, 1965, edition of the New York Times quoted Mr. Utasi as saying, "I'm a man of action. I put it down, so I can pick it up. I was directed by the court to do it, and I did it."

Joseph Utasi was charged with obstructing a public street by depositing debris - which must certainly be the wildest case of understatement in Hillsborough judicial history!

27 November 2007

Ch Ch Ch Ch Changes

When I was a kid I was a big sports fan. My teams were the Mets, Knicks, Islanders, and Jets - and I guess they still are. One of the cool things about following your favorite team thirty years ago was that you always knew who was on the roster, year after year. You didn't just root for the uniform - you followed the players' careers. When your favorites were traded, that was a big deal.

Things are different today. Free agency has changed the way sports work. Trading and signing players has become a game of its own -and an exciting one. Every general manager is working to make his team better - to improve performance - to achieve goals. The World Series, The Superbowl, The Stanley Cup - everyone wants to get there, even if it means changing the team on a yearly basis.

Hillsborough Schools are going through some changes too. So many, that it feels like we have a whole new team! And, although it would not be proper for me to comment here on those changes (and I won't), I can give you an idea of the changes that have taken place since the summer, and what the administrative roster will look like by the middle of January:

  • New Superintendent
  • New Business Administrator
  • New Assistant Business Administrator
  • New Director of Human Resources
  • New Transportation Director
  • New Special Services Director
  • New Math Supervisor
  • New Fine and Performing Arts Supervisor
  • New Principal at Auten Road School
  • New Principal at Woods Road School
  • New Principal at Triangle School
  • New Public Information Officer

Even though the days of Garvey, Russell, Lopes, and Cey appear to be over, I know the residents of Hillsborough are always rooting for the schools. I am too.

26 November 2007

Extra Innings for Boro Bombers

Two months ago the Hillsborough Township Committee rescinded its initial approval for the construction of a youth baseball field near Surrey Drive. This was undoubtedly the right call - what initially looked like a win-win for the township and the kids, would have been a big mistake. The Surrey Drive field has problems with parking, emergency access, and restroom facilities - it just isn't suitable for organized sports.

In a previous blog entry, I suggested another possible home for the nine-year-olds known as the Boro Bombers. Now the Township Committee has come up with their alternative: a 20 acre parcel adjacent to the Hillsborough Promenade. That's fine with me. My suggestion was only to show that there were other sites available - that the town didn't have to be locked into its first choice.

Residents will get their chance to speak out about this new proposal at the next Township Committee meeting. I expect there to be valid objections to this proposal also - but probably not enough to kill it.

The important thing to remember about small parcels like this that are donated for open space is that if they are not put to use, they become eyesores. Large contiguous tracts are different - they can provide greenways, or scenic vistas, that add to the beauty of our town. There is nothing scenic about overgrown weed-fields.

When the Boro Bombers step up to the plate next month to take another crack at the Township Committee, they are sure to be swinging for the fences. This time, it looks like a home run.

21 November 2007

Spouseless, Troutless, Dead

Wednesday, October 6, 1926, was a mild autumn day in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Stanley, Stanley, and Paul decided to spend the afternoon fishing. Stanley number one is 32-year-old Stanley Sobotka - a still young veteran of the Great War with a wife and two small children at home in South Somerville. Stanley number two is his friend Stanley Gersarek. Paul is Paul Prevosnec - the unwitting villain.

South Branch Railroad Bridge, Postcard circa 1909

The three friends made their way to a favorite fishing spot on a bridge crossing the Raritan River north of the Duke Estate. This bridge was used by the Central Railroad of New Jersey's Flemington Branch, which ran southwest from Somerville, across the river, and through the Duke Estate, and on to Flagtown, Neshanic Station, Three Bridges, and Flemington.

Headline from The New York Time, 7 October 1926

The men had an unusually large catch that day - which must have cheered Sobotka, who was in a state of extreme melancholy all afternoon. He couldn't stop talking about his wife who had left him just three days before. He seemed inconsolable. The large quantities of alcohol consumed by the three probably didn't help either - but at least they had the fish!

7 October 1926 Home News

Around 8 PM, as the friends gathered their belongings for the trek home, Prevosnec quietly put everyone's fish into a bag and slipped away in the darkness. Upon discovering that their friend had made off with the fish, Gersarsek began to laugh. Surely this was a joke - all in fun. But Sobotka was not in a joking mood, remarking, "It's tough enough to lose your wife, but when your friend runs away with the fish you've caught, that's the limit!".

7 October 1926 Home News

Gersarsek told the police what happened next: "We heard the rumbling of the train approaching. I told him to look out, but he kept walking towards the track. I said 'Don't walk over there, the train is coming and you'll be killed'. I ran and grabbed him by the arm to pull him back, but Sobotka pulled away and sat on the rails. He said 'I don't give a damn if it does come. My wife has left me, and now Prevosnec has run off with the fish'. I tried again to pull him to safety, but I had to leap back when the locomotive was upon us."

In an instant, Stanley Sobotka was killed. Spouseless, troutless, and dead.

20 November 2007

Location, Location, Location

Are you ready for rail service to return to Hillsborough? The project to restore service to the West Trenton Line is on track(!), and trains could be chugging into Hillsborough Station within 10 years - certainly within 20.

It's not too early to begin thinking about what having a New Jersey Transit train station in Hillsborough will do to our community. NJ Transit is looking for public comments on the project, and will be holding a meeting at the municipal complex on November 29 from 4:00 PM to 8:00 PM.

Along with the station comes the idea of a "transit village" - a commercial and residential development around the station, designed, in essence, for rail commuters. This is an idea that the state is pushing - and it seems inevitable. This is one of the reasons that the eventual location of the station should be paramount.

I am not convinced that the placement of a Hillsborough train station near Amwell Road and Clerico Lane is in the best interests of the town. Isn't there a better spot for "the village"?

I'll have more thoughts on this in a couple of days. Think it over and let me have your ideas in the comments section of the blog. Choo Choo!

19 November 2007

Bizarro World

"Shall a charter study commission be elected to study the charter of the township to consider a new charter or improvements in the present charter and to make recommendations thereon?"

Haven't we already done this?

Yes, we have - now it's someone else's turn. This Friday, while we Hillsborough residents are making turkey sandwiches and nursing our tryptophan hangovers, residents of the Union County Township of Union will be celebrating the 199th birthday of their township, and considering whether to make its bicentennial year its last.

More Deja Vu.

A local citizen's group had been organizing a petition drive to put a government change question on next year's ballot. The group, Citizens for a United Union, has called for a Mayor-Council form of government with a directly elected mayor, with both ward representatives and at large councilmen. The Township Committee, some of whom support the idea of a directly elected mayor(!), introduced the charter study ordinance because they questioned the motives and financial backing of CUU, and wanted to prevent the spread of misinformation.

As we know from our own recent history, a charter study ordinance trumps a petition drive - if it is introduced and adopted legally - and apparently the Township Committee in Union has all of their ducks in a row thus far. Perhaps they learned from the missteps in our town.

I don't know a lot about Union Township, but I do know this. Its 54,000 residents live in a municipality that is 9 square miles in size. That comes out to 6000 residents per square mile. Contrast that with Hillsborough's 40,000 residents in 54 square miles - or about 750 per square mile - and you can see that a government form used by the cities may actually be appropriate for Union Township. This is one large densely populated township!

Ready for the twist?

Union County democrats have had control of the Township Committee for ten years - and they are the ones resistant to change! We know from Hillsborough's Charter Study that one of the main reasons behind the push for government change is that the party on the "outs" wants "in", while the party in power, wants to stay there. We also know that this is not a good reason to change government forms.

Unlike Hillsborough, there may be a few good reasons to change forms in Union - about 6000 per square mile!

14 November 2007

The Outrage at Sourland Mountain

The New York Times called it "The Outrage at Sourland Mountain". Newspapers nationwide picked up the story - writing at first with condemnation and indeed outrage towards the perpetrators, and later with astonishment that such an act could be committed - and even tolerated - in the modern age. It was January 1877.

24 January 1877, Troy, New Yor, Daily Times


Amos and Ida Sheppard lived in a small neat two-story house on Hollow Road on the Sourland Mountain - just across the border from Hillsborough in Montgomery Township. At that time, living on the mountain was a bit like living in the Wild West - hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-loving. Ida specialized in loving. It was rumored that she got a little too intimate with the husbands of her neighbors, causing her to earn a bad reputation.


A portion of the 1873 map of Hillsborough.
Blue stars indicate the homes of some of the principal figures,
and the location of the store

Fanny Conover of Montgomery-Zion Road took particular exception to Ida Sheppard's behavior. When Ida ran away for a dalliance with her son-in-law Jake Hegeman (who happened to be Ida's cousin) she said it made her "feel bad". Hegeman had money but left none for his own wife and three children which he left in the care of his mother-in-law.

28 January 1877 New York Daily Herald


Mrs. Conover spoke freely about her indignation with some of her female neighbors - all of whom agreed with her. She told her friends that she would pay handsomely if someone would tar and feather Mrs. Sheppard, or do something else to punish her. This news made its way to Jacob Sheppard, Ida's brother-in-law, who lived on Zion Road. He made a visit to Mrs. Conover the next day to find out if she was serious. She said she was - but later claimed that this was the last she heard about it until the deed was done.

The store at Rock Mills as it looked in the 1930s.


On January 10th William Docherty, 18 years old, was on his way to a fundraising party at the parsonage in Rock Mills when he stopped into the store run by James Tuttle Peak. There he found his brother Howard (16) and Richard Van Liew (27). They told a story about Fanny Conover offering half a gallon of rum to anyone that would tar and feather Mrs. Sheppard. When Jacob Sheppard showed up at the store, he agreed to go out to Mrs. Conover's house to check again that she was ready to pay for their services with rum. She was.

24 January 1877 New York Daily Herald


At this news, William Docherty went down the road the Jacob Sheppard's to fetch a couple of jugs of cider - enough to fortify the gang. When he returned to Tuttle Peak's barn, he found that they had been joined by Isaac Peak, John Corbett, Charles Hoff, and Alfred Cray - all young men in their teens and early twenties. Tuttle Peak helped them to black their faces with burnt cork, and heated the tar over his fire, before going upstairs and coming down with a load of feathers.

The men went to the Shepherd house about midnight. They called out for Amos Sheppard but he refused to come to the door. As they crashed through, The Sheppards jumped through a front window wearing only their nightclothes. Amos ran through the freezing snow and out onto Hollow Road. Ida wasn't so fortunate. She slipped on the ice and fell. Isaac Peak grabbed her. Charles Hoff ran after Mr. Sheppard, while William Docherty and Alfred Cray ran back to Peak's store.

The home of Elizabeth Van Liew, 
photographed in 2009

Amos Sheppard ran north to the crossroads and found refuge in the house of Elizabeth Van Liew - a relative of the assailant Richard Van Liew. Freezing and frightened, he took refuge in the Van Liews' setee, and was, in the words of Mrs. Van Liew, "too scared to breathe".

Isaac Peak, Howard Docherty, Richard Van Liew, and John Corbett - fortified by the cider and their own adrenaline - gathered up Ida Sheppard, tore the clothes from her body, and tarred and feathered her right there on the stoop of the Sheppards' back porch.  It was later alleged that there was a further assault on her person. Some accounts say that quartet left her for dead in the snow and continued their drunken reverie through the night, others that they returned her to her bed. In any case, Ida was found later by her husband - unconscious, but alive.

23 January 1977 New York Herald


The seven, proud of their deed, boasted all the next day. They met up at Peak's store and indeed received their reward from Fanny Conover. Of course, Ida, being alive, was able to identify five of her attackers: Richard Van Liew, William Docherty, John Corbett, Alfred Cray, and Charles Hoff. Isaac Peak and Richard Van Liew immediately left the county, but the others were quickly rounded up and fingered Jacob Sheppard, Fanny Conover, and James Tuttle Peak as their accomplices.

The one-day trial took place in Somerville on April 26, 1877. Van Liew, the oldest and perceived as the ringleader, received an 18-month prison sentence, Cray got 15 months, Hoff, one year, and Corbett and William Docherty, each 9 months. Howard Docherty, as a minor, received three months in the county jail.

In the aftermath of the "outrage", all the community feeling was on the side of Ida Sheppard - who after being treated by Dr. Ludlow went to live three miles away with her mother - and against the "desperadoes" and their meager sentences. The Sheppards' marriage had not been a happy one, and it is unlikely that the couple ever reunited.

09 November 2007

Time For a Break?

Dear Readers,

I'm tired. After 101 posts for On Hillsborough, it may be time for a short break. I have decided to take the next four days off, rest a while, and come back November 14 with my first "Weird, Wild, and Wicked Wednesday" story.

But that doesn't mean I am leaving you without your usual dose of Hillsborough commentary. I have asked some friends - with the eerily familiar names Kirby Hoffman, P.F. McGuinn, and Rick Algernon - to fill in for me while I'm gone. Each has a unique perspective on our town - and each certainly has a style all their own.

There may even be a surprise guest commentator, if he's not too busy.

Of course I hope to return the favor for these guys some time by commenting on their towns.

See you in a few days!

Greg

P.S. If you're not getting this, this link may provide a preview, of sorts: Courier News Community Blogs.

07 November 2007

You Fool!

Is there such a thing as a foolish vote? Proponents of ballot question 5, which would have changed Hillsborough's form of government from Township Committee to Mayor-Council might say yes.

If you've been reading the letters to the editor and browsing the internet forums these past several weeks in the run-up to the election, it's easy to form the opinion that the 40% who voted for change think the 60% who voted against it are fools. After all, according to the "vote yes" contingent, the vote no crowd was swayed by a big money campaign, duped by lies, and cheated out of their vote.

Well, it's easy to say that now! Of course, those of us who were skeptical from the start - before the campaign - are told that we didn't have an "open mind". No matter that the only individuals in this process legally required to have open minds were the Charter Study Commissioners - and at least one of them, probably two, had their minds made up before the study began.

And here's the twist - I haven't met anyone who voted no on question 5 who thought anyone that voted yes cast a "foolish vote". People that voted yes obviously felt that having a directly elected mayor and separate branches of government trumped any problems or uncertainties of the Mayor-Council form. And that was a perfectly reasonable and appropriate reason to vote yes.

As we see from the outcome Tuesday, it appears that it was unwise to castigate no-voters and fence-sitters for their personal choices. Truly, there are no "foolish votes", only foolish people.

05 November 2007

100 Reasons to Vote No

At one of the first Charter Study Commission meetings, I asked the commissioners to characterize Hillsborough and delineate some of its problems. Describing Hillsborough was easy - it is a suburban community with some semi-rural areas, and little commercial or industrial development. Defining the problems was harder.

I agree with one of the local newspapers that "there are no overwhelming problems facing the community that demand change". The problems that Hillsborough does face - notably development pressures and Route 206 traffic - won't be solved by changing from the Township Committee to the Mayor-Council form of government. And that's too bad.

I attended many Charter Study meetings, and watched the rest on video - and from the very beginning I have been looking for a reason to change. You would have to be a fool not to want to make your town, and your life, better. Lots of reasons were given for why a change is needed - "direct election of mayor", "checks and balances", "four year terms for mayor and council" - but those are merely consequences of voting yes, not reasons TO vote yes. I don't see how any of those things will make the town better, only different.

I have also been following the "Vote No" campaign. For a lot of voters, their statistics concerning the property tax increases in other towns that have changed are particularly compelling. For you skeptics, consider this: if there were any towns where property taxes went DOWN by 39% or 16% or even 2% after changing to Mayor-Council, don't you think you would have heard about it by now?

The Mayor-Council form of government is a more complex form that undoubtedly works best for more complex towns. It allows the mayor to do things that we don't need to be done, and forbids the council from doing things that we have come to expect. It's not right for us.

I'm voting no on Question 5. This is not a vote against the work of the Charter Study Commission, or even a vote against Mayor-Council, but rather a vote to preserve our simple form of government - one which is small and close to the people. A government that isn't broken, and that is working every day for our community.

And if you're wondering about the title of this blog - this is my 100th blog entry for On Hillsborough, and I wanted to work in the number 100 somewhere. You don't need 100 reasons to vote no, you just need one. Make it a good one.

See you at the polls.

04 November 2007

No "Off" Year in Hillsborough

Will you be voting on Tuesday? If you will, you won't be alone - it will only seem that way. Many of Hillsborough's voters will likely stay away from the polls this year. After all, this is traditionally the most "off" of "off years" - no Presidential race, no US Senators, no Congressmen, no Governor. If only there were some other local question to galvanize voters.

Just kidding.

On November 6 Hillsborough will choose whether to keep its current Township Committee form of government, or change to a Mayor-Council form of government. Each form has its strengths and weaknesses. Yes and no are each valid choices - just as TC and MC are each valid forms of government.

How will you vote? This is your chance to make a pitch right here by clicking on "comments" or "post a comment". Take a minute to let us know how you are voting and why.

03 November 2007

Flagtown Eats Trains

Traffic Delayed at Flemington

Flemington, N.J., Nov. 28. Ten inches of snow fell here. The storm was the severest since the memorable blizzard of 1888. All the country roads are drifted full, and overland traffic is impossible. Only one of the large number of milkmen reached Flemington today, and a milk famine resulted.

The Flemington branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad was opened last evening by three engines and a snow plow. No trains have arrived over the South Branch of the Central Railroad. A train from Somerville this morning attempted to reach here, and became stalled in a deep cut near Flagtown. The train was shovelled out and returned to Somerville. No attempt was made to open the road until today.

The newspaper train on the Lehigh Valley Railroad became stalled in a deep cut near Flagtown about 4:30 yesterday morning. Express train No. 1, also bound west, became stalled near the same place about four hours later. Both trains have been shovelled out. All trains now being run over the east bound tracks at that point.

[Trenton Times, 26 November 1898]

02 November 2007

My Favorite Day of the Year

My favorite day of the year comes a week later in 2007 - yep, you guessed, it's time to "fall back". Early Sunday Morning, November 4, it will be time once again to say goodbye to Daylight Savings Time by setting our clocks back one hour. This is the first year the United States is employing its extended daylight savings hours, and it seems to have been a success thus far - despite the fact that most of the world is sticking to the old shorter daylight savings period, which ended last weekend.

Yes, the U.S. is a time rebel! But at least our familiar Time Zones are still intact. A recent AP article in the Courier News chronicled the plan by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez to set his nation's clocks back by 30 minutes. Apparently he does not wish to be in the same time zone as the "imperialist powers" in Washington D.C. Venezuelan government officials have been studying this change for eight years, and had planned to make the switch by the end of last month.

The original U.S. time zones were not conceived of or implemented by the U.S. government, but rather by the U.S. and Canadian railway companies. Before their adoption of standard time zones on November 18, 1883, each railroad company kept its own "standard time" - which may or may not have been in sync with any of the "local times" kept by municipalities or counties.

The U.S. Congress didn't get into the act until March 1918, when they passed the Standard Time Act. This law also created Daylight Savings Time, as a way to have more daylight hours in the evening, and created what is arguably every parent's favorite day of the year - the day with the extra hour of sleep!

I'm going to use my extra hour to sleep and dream. Maybe dream of a world where there is no "spring ahead"!

01 November 2007

Patterns

If you are a regular reader of On Hillsborough, you will have noticed that many of my recent posts have included satellite photos of locations in our town. I guess you could say that I am addicted to Google Maps! Many of you have probably used Google Maps, or Google Earth, to get a bird's eye view of your house or neighborhood. Sometimes things look very different when viewed from directly above, and sometimes the buildings and other structures make very unusual patterns.

Take for example this satellite image.


View Larger Map

These are The Meadows townhouses on Bloomingdale Drive, one of Hillsborough's most unique developments.

The story of The Meadows goes all the way back to 1969 when Hillsborough created a "planned unit development" zone in the triangle between Amwell Road and Route 206. This plan provided for up to 8200 units of garden apartments - and indeed applications were filed for construction of 8000 units.

Then the residents found out. There was no way semi-rural Hillsborough was ready for 8000 residential units. Over a period of six years, township officials renegotiated with builders - eventually bringing the density of development down from 10 units per acre to 4.

Architect Daniel Cahill designed the project in 1977 to include about 1000 homes. Each of the approximately 60 "clusters" includes sixteen 1400 square foot residences. There is a driveway into the center of the cluster for vehicles, and garages are under each unit.

Interestingly enough, because these are only two bedroom units, it initially took seven to eight houses to produce one school age child! In 1977, when housing prices were not as outrageous as they are today, most growing families opted for still affordable single family homes. Of course, today, there are many school age children living in The Meadows - but in 1977, when the yearly cost to educate one child in our schools was $1500, the eight units it took to produce that child paid a collective $10,000 in property taxes!

Yes folks, there was a time when residential development meant a revenue surplus for the town. In fact, there was so much money coming in, that, because of state caps on expenditures, Hillsborough literally could not spend it all!

Now that's the kind of unusual pattern we'll likely never see again, even with a bird's eye view.

31 October 2007

Weird, Wild, and Wicked Wednesday

Happy 10th anniversary! It was ten years ago today that Hillsborough banned Halloween. Well, that's what all of the newspapers and radio talk shows said back in 1997 - I'm sure you remember it. The notion seems almost laughable now. How can a town with so many weird, wild, and wicked stories ban the weirdest, wildest, and most wicked holiday?

To celebrate this dubious decennial, I've decided to spend one blog entry a week recounting some of the wildest stories from Hillsborough's past. Stories of horse thievery, child murder, brutal highwaymen, train wrecks, and strange wind! - to name just a few of the topics.

And of course no journey down the bizarre backroads of Hillsborough history would be complete without a trip up the mountain. There's no telling what kind of depravity took place up there. Well, actually, I am going to tell it! And you can read about it right here every Wednesday.

Stay tuned...

30 October 2007

Hillsborough, NJ 08844

It's almost the end of the month, and you know what that means. No, not setting back the clocks, that happens a week later this year. And I'm not talking about Halloween - this is even scarier. Yep - it's time to pay the bills. Get out the checkbook, fire up the calculator, and lay in a good supply of first class postage stamps. With all of the bills we have, it's a good thing Hillsborough has it's own convenient United States Post Office - right here on Amwell Road. Wait - did I say "convenient"? Maybe I should rephrase that.

It wasn't all that long ago that Hillsborough had no post office of it's own. Sure, we had the Flagtown Post Office within our borders, and the Belle Mead Post Office practically on the line between Hillsborough and Montgomery - but before 2001 there was no post office called "Hillsborough". In fact, Hillsborough residents couldn't even use the word "Hillsborough" in their mailing addresses. Depending on what part of town you lived in, your mailing address was either Belle Mead, or Flagtown, or Neshanic Station, or Somerville - no matter that three of those locales aren't even located within our town!

The effort to get our own post office took more than a decade, and it wasn't easy. The US Postal Service is an enormous, slow moving bureaucracy - it's a wonder and a credit to those involved that we were able to pull this off. Our own Hillsborough Township Post Office - 08844! - with a shiny new building, state of the art, and so convenient for residents.

There's that word again - convenient. Just how convenient is the Hillsborough Post Office? Sure, it's practically in the center of town, and that's great - if you can get there when it's open. Did you know that of Hillsborough and the three post offices it "replaced" - Somerville, Belle Mead, and Neshanic Station - Hillsborough has the shortest hours?

That's right. Hillsborough, with its 10AM to 5PM weekday schedule, and 9AM to 2PM Saturday schedule, is open just 40 hours per week. Compare this with Neshanic Station, open 45 hours, Somerville, open 59 1/2 hours, and Belle Mead, open a whopping 62 1/2 hours each week. Even Flagtown, where area residents continue to get their mail, is open 52 1/2 hours!

Early riser? Drive to Skillman - open each day at 7AM, 50 hours a week. Want to stop by after work? Go to Raritan - open weeknights until 7 PM, 57 hours a week, or Manville - also open until 7 PM, 53 1/2 hours a week.

Are there any post offices with shorter hours than Hillsborough's? Of course! Take the long drive down Great Road deep into Montgomery, behind the general store - you've seen it, the tiny old Blawenburg Post Office, open 45 minutes less each week than the shiny new state of the art Hillsborough facility! And then there's East Millstone. They close each day for two hours at lunch time - and still manage to operate 32 1/2 hours a week. Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that, I don't want the Hillsborough Postmaster to get any crazy ideas!

Getting the Hillsborough Post Office was enormously important for Hillsborough's identity. Nothing says "you've arrived" like a return address label with your actual real life locale printed right on it. But we need more than just a symbol. We deserve a well-staffed post office, open early, open late, and truly convenient for residents. Hillsborough is a first class town - we deserve nothing less from our post office.

29 October 2007

Sourland Mountain Preserve

It's hard to imagine that just fifty years ago there was not one park in Somerset County. It's even harder to imagine that when the newly formed Park Commission announced in June of 1958 its plan to acquire 10,000 acres for our first five parks, the Sourland Mountain was not in the mix. It would be another fifteen years before the Commission came up with a plan to purchase 900 acres on the mountain, and combine it with 650 acres donated by 3M and 46 acres donated by Park Commissioner Asa Farr, to create what was then called Sourland Mountain Park.

Sourland Mountain Preserve - Hillsborough, NJ

Today, the Sourland Mountain Preserve encompasses over 3000 acres in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships. Some of the highest points of the entire Sourland region are located within this rock strewn preserve, and can be accessed by the many well maintained trails. There are especially good views along the path of the Texas Eastern Pipeline, which is kept free of trees and brush.


Sourland Mountain Preserve - Hillsborough, NJ

I find that the park has a different character depending on the season. In the spring, when the streams are running strong, there are spots along the trails where you are literally hopping from rock to rock to stay dry. The summer is a lot drier, and a lot greener - a great time for bird (and bug) watching.

Sourland Mountain Preserve - Hillsborough, NJ


In Autumn, with the leaves showing their brilliant reds and oranges, and the crisp cool air, it's easy to imagine that instead of walking through second-growth forest in 21st century suburban New Jersey, you are scouting the primeval forests of 17th century New England.

Sourland Mountain Preserve - Hillsborough, NJ

For me, the best thing about hiking up at the preserve is the chance to spend a day with my daughter, doing something we both enjoy. Something that requires no special skills or equipment, something we can do at our own pace.


Sourland Mountain Preserve - Hillsborough, NJ

And something we can enjoy long after her shadow is as long as mine. That's easy to imagine.

26 October 2007

Can You Dig It?

It's been said that English pirate Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, was fond of burying his treasure. Active up and down the Atlantic coast in the 18th century, he is rumored to have hid his plunder in many spots from the Carolinas to Long Island - even in New Jersey. I'm sure the crew from New Jersey American Water wasn't thinking about pirates when they began digging on Route 206 near McDonald's on Thursday - and they surely didn't find any treasure!

What they did find, and accidentally rupture, was a two inch gas line - causing the closure of Route 206 and the evacuation of nearby businesses for several hours in the middle of the day. What happened? Wasn't their map marked with an "X"?

Small gas lines are only one of the many utilities buried all over New Jersey. Dig almost anywhere and you are likely to find water and sewer pipes, electric, cable television, and telephone lines, and even the new fiber-optic cables.

Hillsborough is unique because besides all of the usual pipes and wires we are also home to two major pipelines vital to the nation's energy supply. The Buckeye Pipeline carries oil from New Jersey's oil refineries westward to Pittsburgh and Buffalo. This pipeline runs right through the center of Hillsborough, paralleling New Amwell Road, and ironically is only several yards away from the small gas line ruptured by the water company.

The second pipeline is the Texas Eastern natural gas pipeline. In the map below it is easy to see scarred earth as the pipeline crosses the Sourland Mountain, heads for Mountainview Road, crosses Route 206 and continues eastward.


View Larger Map


This pipeline is part of the system of Big Inch and Little Inch pipelines that were originally built during World War II to carry crude oil from the Texas oil fields to the New Jersey refineries. This was far safer than shipping by tanker, where there was a major risk from German submarines. After the war, the pipeline was re-fitted to be used for natural gas - and still serves that purpose today.

No, Blackbeard never visited Hillsborough - and never buried any treasure here. But I think it's safe to say that the oil and gas flowing beneath our feet is worth considerably more than any old chest filled with silver or gold - even if there is no "X" to mark the spot.