30 September 2007

Paternal Optimists

Did you ever watch two teams of seven and eight year old boys play football? I did for the first time on Saturday morning at the Hillsborough Youth Football Complex. Yet somehow I felt like I had seen all of this before.

Shielded from passing cars on Triangle Road by a berm and landscaping, the complex is truly a hidden treasure. Three beautifully kept full-sized fields - one with lighting and two small grandstands at the 50 yard line - make up the bulk of the property. There is also a restroom facility, and ample parking.

The games being played by the younger kids bore only a passing resemblance to real football. There was no tackling, of course, and it was hard to determine if they were running pre-designed plays - but it was great fun to watch. And every now and then, by some magic, a great run would be made - and even an occasional touchdown!

As I stood in the end zone to take this photo on a picture-perfect Autumn morning, with parents and grandparents watching from their lawn chairs, and pint-sized cheerleaders on the sidelines, I felt at peace - like nothing could go wrong, and all goals could be achieved.

That's when it hit me. Seven year old football is exactly like Electric Football. First manufactured in 1948, and wildly popular in the 60s and 70s, Electric Football has to be the most frustrating and unplayable game ever invented. The small plastic "players" move around on the vibrating field with no rhyme or reason, with pushing and shoving more reminiscent of a Tokyo subway station at rush hour than a game of football.

Yet there was something about the game that made us want to play it again and again. Maybe it was the danger inherent in the electricity (110 volts of fun) - who knows? - we played and played.

Whatever the reason for its popularity, I do know this - you can't be a pessimist if you played and enjoyed Electric Football. And I think the same can be said for the moms and dads at the Hillsborough Youth Football Complex Saturday morning. Set the kids up, flip the switch, and hope for that great run up the middle. This is more than eternal optimism, it's Paternal Optimism -the best kind!

28 September 2007

That Other Depot

Somerset County announced plans recently to purchase a small part of what was once called the Somerville Army Quartermaster Depot. The Depot was built in 1942 as a supply depot and prisoner of war camp. It is located just west of Route 206, about 2.5 miles south of Somerville in Hillsborough Township. There is rail access from the Norfolk Southern Railroad, and in the 1940s there was also a connection to the Central Railroad of New Jersey. More information about the depot can be found here.

The small portion that the county is purchasing was given many years ago to the US Postal Service and was in use as one of only two major supply distribution centers in the United States. Known as the Eastern Area Supply Center, the facility did not handle mail, but rather supplies used at the more than 21,000 post offices in the eastern U.S.

In 1972, the New York Times described the supply center as a "shopping center for postmasters". The center supplied not only office items, but also furniture, money orders, and even the firearms carried by postal inspectors. Items were stored in two huge warehouses totaling 385,000 square feet.

Somerset County has not decided what the property will be specifically used for, but it is adjacent to other County owned property on Roycefield Road. One interesting aspect of the Postal Service property that was not mentioned in newspaper accounts is that the septic system used by the rest of the depot leaches into a field on the USPS property. This brings to mind a money-making possibility, as Somerset County could surely charge the depot owners for use of the leach field. Why not? I'm thinking maybe 41 cents a flush!

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25 September 2007

"World's Richest Department Store"

On June 1, 1944, just 5 days before D-Day, reporters were invited to tour the Belle Mead Quartermaster Depot in Hillsborough. This was the first time the depot, which opened in October of 1942, allowed the public inside its gates.

Belle Mead Quartermaster Depot Uniform Patch

At that time, the depot property consisted of about 1000 acres of former farmland. Where twenty-six farms once stood there was now $1.2 billion of supplies warehoused in what the New York Times called "the world's richest department store".

Fourteen warehouses and five million square feet of outdoor storage space sat alongside 45 miles of railroad track. Five locomotives belonging to the depot worked to string together railroad cars for shipment. The depot was an intermediate stop for the 45,000 tons of shipping that passed through every day during the war - and supplies were constantly being unloaded, sorted, and reloaded by the 1700 civilian employees.

Shortly after the depot opened, in December of 1942, a civilian labor shortage forced the Army to employ Princeton University students on Sundays. As many as 350 students worked at the depot on any given Sunday. Faculty and administrators also pitched in, working side by side with the undergraduates. Their enthusiasm and dedication to "winning the war" motivated the students to work quickly and productively.

The depot was also home to prisoners of war. During the war, captured Italian soldiers who swore allegiance to the U.S. after Italy switched sides were formed into Italian Service Units, living and working at the depot.After the war, German prisoners began to arrive. An article in the Hopewell Herald on November 14, 1945, described how to recognize a German POW. Although the escaped prisoner would be wearing American military clothing, the letters "PW" would be painted on various parts of the uniform. There was a $15 reward for the capture of an escaped prisoner.

24 September 2007

The Survey Says!

We're finally going to be able to see just how big a property we bought. Hillsborough Township is set to perform a boundary survey at the Belle Mead GSA depot - a first step in the "closing" process for this significant purchase. They better bring a lot of stakes!

If you take a close look at the aerial map in my previous blog entry, you can see the two baseball diamonds and adjoining fields that comprise the bulk of Ann Van Middlesworth Park - Hillsborough's largest park. Now take a look at the size of the Belle Mead Depot! The park is puny in comparison. In fact, the area that we are purchasing, for $17 million in a joint effort with Somerset County, is about 438 acres - what's left of the depot after other parcels were dispensed of over the years. And that's not even a tenth of the size that was once contemplated for this massive project.

On January 29, 1941, an article appeared in the Hopewell Herald detailing how farmers on the Hillsborough-Montgomery border were being approached by two real estate agents looking to purchase between 4000 and 6000 acres of land. The agents denied that they were sent by the Federal Government - but the farmers all agreed that they would not object to selling their land for the cause of "national defense". Remember, this was still 10 months before Pearl Harbor.

After the shocking events of December 7, 1941, the depot was needed not just for national defense, but for the war effort. The depot is situated in a prime location for the transport of materials, with connections to the Reading Railroad (now CSX) and by way of a short rail spur to the Lehigh Valley Line near Flagtown (now Norfolk Southern). And contrary to what was rumored during its construction, the depot was not primarily used for ammunition, but rather as a general supply depot, originally called the Belle Mead Quartermaster Depot.

The Belle Mead GSA Depot was part of Hillsborough's history for almost 50 years, finally closing in 1991. It seems now that it is also destined to be part of Hillsborough's future.

Tomorrow: Happenings from the Depot's first 50 years.


I've written much more about the Depot. Click here.

22 September 2007

Depot Home

Government Spends Millions In Erecting Nearby Project

Extensive Building at Belle Mead is Believed to Be Ammunition Storage Location - Railroad Sidings Under Construction

Hundreds of Workmen Busy Daily

Extensive building operations are under way near Belle Mead, it is reported, by the government, said to be the beginning of an ammunition project, which, when finished, will run into millions of dollars. Several hundred workmen of all descriptions, including carpenters, electricians, masons, and other skilled labor are busy and have been for the past few weeks. More will probably be employed.

Although the procedure is secretive, at present it has been significantly rumored that the plant will be a storage center for ammunition. Buildings are going up daily and at present the site covers hundreds of acres, said to be eight miles square. Railroad sidings are in course of construction from two railroads.

The news has spread rapidly in this section and hundreds have driven to the location in the past few weeks. It represents the largest building venture and most extensive business ever to have located or been considered in this area.

[Hopewell Herald, 10 June 1942]

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20 September 2007

Good Question

Does Hillsborough's current Township Committee form of government really operate without any checks and balances? Charter Study Commission members George Ostergren and Glen Van Lier certainly think so. They each cited the lack of checks and balances as a reason they support changing to the Mayor-Council form - which includes a divided government and a separation of powers between the Mayor (Executive) and Council (Legislative). Only commissioner Gloria McCauley dared to ask the question "Why do we need a separation of powers?" Good question.

The answer is that "separation of powers" is not required for our government to have checks and balances. Municipal governments in New Jersey operate within the framework of state laws and regulations. The state, in essence, is the first check to local government power. This is a different arrangement than what we see in Washington, where the national government answers only to itself.

The Founding Fathers knew that separation of powers was limited in its ability to prevent government from becoming too powerful. That is why the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press. The press served then and now as the ultimate government watchdog - and one of the best checks to corruption and tyranny. The press, in all it's forms, serves in this same capacity in Hillsborough - as the eyes and ears of the public.

There are a few more safeguards in our Constitution - right there in the first amendment: the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. And of course, the most important of all - freedom of speech. The right to openly criticize the government, and the people in it.

New Jersey allows a simple form of government such as the Township Committee to exist without a traditional separation of powers because it is a form of government that is close to the people. This closeness allows the first amendment freedoms to be absolutely effective in providing the necessary checks and balances - something that is increasingly more difficult as government gets bigger, more complex, and further from the people.

The bottom line - we don't lack what we don't need. Separation of powers is an unnecessary medicine for an already healthy Hillsborough.

19 September 2007

Check Please

Some of the most animated testimony heard at Hillsborough's Charter Study Commission meetings came from former Township Committeewoman Sonya Martin on the topic of checks and balances and separation of powers. Her contention was that in our current Township Committee form of government, neither was present. She's half right.

"Checks and Balances" - "Separation of Powers" - It's hard to use one term without mentioning the other. In our democracy these two tenets are closely related, but they are separate ideas. In fact, "checks" and "balances" are two separate concepts themselves.

Think of it this way: checks are the safeguards built into our Constitution to keep the government from becoming too powerful. There are many different kinds of checks. Balance is the idea that no one part of the government should be stronger than any other part. Separation of powers is one of the mechanisms that makes checks and balances work. The separate branches of government - Executive, Legislative, and Judicial - each have designated powers that can serve to thwart an unreasonable domination by any one branch.

On a national level, where government functions are carried out basically in one city far from most of the population, and where there is no higher authority that the government is answerable to, separation of powers is the key to providing checks and balances. In the absence of a babysitter, far away from the scrutiny of the public, they babysit each other - and despite the occasional tantrum, this system conceived by our founding fathers has served us well for over 200 years.

Separation of powers provides great checks and balances, but it is not the only safeguard given to us by the founding fathers. In fact, it might not even be the most important. Read tomorrow to find out what checks and balances are being employed in Hillsborough today - and why Ms. Martin is half wrong!

18 September 2007

More CSC Cut and Paste

What does the Charter Study Commission think of Hillsborough's current form of government - the Township Committee? They conducted many interviews of current and past members of our own Committee and spent many meetings discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Hillsborough's 236 year old government form.

The following list of "pluses and minuses" is taken from the chart created by the CSC and displayed at their meetings. It is copied and pasted here from the Hillsborough Charter Study web site.

Township Committee - Pluses

- Simple; Close to the People; Accessible
- Make Changes Every Year via Annual Elections
- Small Government, Small Number of Elected Officials
- Few Layers of Government
- Have It Already - Know What We Have, Don’t Have To Change
- Easiest Access and Easiest to Understand by Residents

Township Committee - Minuses

- Mayor Not Elected By People
- No Checks and Balances; No Separation of Powers
- No Chief Executive - Limited Powers of Mayor
- No Initiative & Referendum
- Annual Elections Detracts From Governing
- Unclear Responsibilities & Accountabilities
- New Mayor Every Year - Inconsistent Governing; Poor Attention for Large Issues and Long Term Goals
- New Department Liaisons Every Year - Confuses Dept Heads; Inconsistent Direction; Learning Curve
- Closest Faulkner Act Form is Small Municipality and NJ State Law Says Hillsborough is Too Large to Adopt That Form
- Can’t Choose Non-Partisan
- Heavy Workload for Committeepersons

These lists are a good start, but could use some editing. For instance:
  1. Are the annual elections a plus or a minus? - this appears on both lists!
  2. The mayor IS elected by the people, just not directly. The president of the United States is also not directly elected - remember 2000?
  3. There is a misunderstanding of what liaisons do. The department heads report to the Administrator. Liaison duties are divided among township committee members so that each member can be made aware of what is happening in the various departments by consulting their fellow committeemen.
  4. The testimony of the township committee was that their workload was NOT heavy - but in essence this is purely subjective.
  5. Responsibilities ARE clear, and people ARE accountable.
  6. No checks and balances /no separation of powers - this one is key. To find out why, read tomorrow.

17 September 2007

CSC Cut and Paste

This November Hillsborough residents will be asked to vote on a proposal to change their form of government from the Township Committee form to the Mayor-Council Form. The Charter Study Commission is currently working on an informational flyer which they intend to mail to households in October.

I'm not sure what information will be contained in the flyer, but there is a lot of information in the CSC final report - including what the CSC feels are the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed Mayor-Council form.

The following was taken directly from page 22 of the final report.


1. Presidential System of Government

a. Separation of Powers

b. Checks and Balances - Veto Power

c. Mayor Elected by People - Accountable

2. Initiative & Referendum

3. One Chief Executive

4. Consistent Governing

5. Elections Not Every Year - Less Distraction

6. Partisan or Non-Partisan – Choice

7. Most Efficient with One CEO

8. Clearly Delineated Responsibilities


1. More Complex - Larger Government

2. Mayor Not Required at Meetings

3. Except for Recall - Mayor for 4 Years

4. Council Cannot Interact with Staff

5. Potential Turnover of Staff

6. Confusing for Residents

7. Elevated Potential for Conflicts

8. Possible Stalemate in Government

9. Too Much Power in Part-Time Mayor

Personally I find the weaknesses here to be formidable - and from this list alone, I can't see how the CSC could possibly have recommended Mayor-Council. But of course there's more to it than just this list - maybe the Township Committee form is so terrible that it just has to go. We'll take a look at that tomorrow.

16 September 2007

Come With Me, Play Soccer

"I have followed baseball with the closest associations, and soccer in this country is now going through the same formative stages that baseball went through...Everyone, practically, knows the organization of baseball. In time I believe that soccer will be known just as thoroughly by the public - it will rank second to baseball as the leading professional game." - Thomas W. Cahill, National Secretary of the United States Football Association, 1924

Sometime around 1974 - about fifty years after Mr. Cahill made his prediction -there was a knock on the front door of our home in suburban Monmouth County. A Brazilian man, probably in his thirties, told my mom in broken English that he was gathering boys to come with him to the weedy field behind the furniture store - where he would teach us to play soccer!

To understand how much the world has changed in 30 years you need only understand this - my mom was more than happy to let me and my younger brother, ages 10 and 8, go away with this stranger! In addition, I'm sure my mom had only a vague idea what soccer was. And all we knew about soccer was the name Pele, and that you couldn't use your hands.

Pele of course was the great star of the New York Cosmos teams of the 1970s. The success of the Cosmos played a significant role in popularizing soccer in New Jersey. The New York Times ran a story in 1977 describing how soccer was beginning to draw kids away from their traditional activities - baseball and football. One boy told how his team had allowed only one goal all season. Unfortunately it was in the championship game, which their team lost 1 - 0. "Our goalie cried for two days, but we'll give him another chance next season"(!)

Three decades later soccer has become a hugely popular youth sport. And you can forget about clueless moms - in fact "mom" has become soccer's most successful suffix. The minivan makers practically owe their business to the Saturday morning carpool crowd.

Thomas Cahill's dream of professional soccer rivaling baseball as America's national pastime may not have come true, but if he had been with me this Saturday at the Municipal Complex fields to watch some of the more than 500 children who play in Hillsborough's Recreation Soccer program, I'm sure he would have been pleased to see how soccer has been embraced by today's youth.

13 September 2007

A Tale of Two Developments

At my daughter's first day of dance class yesterday I got to talking with one of the moms about "Harry Potter". She also has a daughter in third grade, and she told me that her daughter had read nearly all of the Harry Potter books, and loved them. What's more, she was a big Harry Potter fan herself. She and her daughter had even attended two book parties when the final installment of the series was released this summer.

Now, I must admit that I know next to nothing about Harry Potter. I haven't read any of the books, or seen the movies. But that doesn't mean that I am not a fan of the fantasy genre when it comes to literature. In fact there are some books in this category that I have read over and over. It's just that I tend to be a bit "old-school" - I'm really not up on the new stuff like Potter.

There is one series of books that I have enjoyed since I was about ten or eleven years old. And I can say with near certainty that I am not the only Hillsborough resident who appreciates this author's work. That's because there are TWO developments in Hillsborough with street names based on elements from this famous trilogy.

The first development is at the corner of Beekman Lane and Triangle Road and has six relevant street names. The second is the townhouse development that straddles Raider Boulevard between Amwell Road and Route 206. This development uses four place names from the book as street names.

Do you know the street names and the author who made them famous? Give me your best guesses. And if anyone knows how and why these streets were named as they were, I'd love to hear that story too!

12 September 2007

This Is Writing

The following excerpt is from a short article titled "Beautiful Summer Resorts Near New York Not Yet Invaded by the Tourist". It is from the June 28, 1880 edition of the New York Times, and describes the summer influx of "city folk" to the unspoiled beauty of Somerset and Hunterdon counties.

Trees are well nigh as plentiful as in the proverbial "picnic woods," and it is by no means remarkable that so many of the farmers have opportunities to take boarders afforded them during the warm months. Driving along these roads these hot days one will pass farm-house after farm-house, under the ample shade of whose trees recline the city bonhomme, and in hammock or easy-chair loiters one of fashions protegees.
Following the road in this direction one strikes the north and south branches of the Raritan River. He who first strikes the scenes presented along their banks stands amazed to think of the neglected beauties and the unfrequented charms offered. The cool, impudent way in which the natives have grown up, accumulated a comfortable sum of money, built large, commodious homes and settled in the midst of these delights, exasperates the impetuous cosmopolitan, because he thinks all these things should have been revealed to the larger outside world long ago.
The farmer is, after all, the shrewder, for he perceives the advantages accruing to himself and his fortune by keeping the scenery in reserve for himself, as well as the fresh beauty of the rustic maidens. The well-to-do citizen of Hunterdon and Somerset sits in his shirt-sleeves smoking his pipe, and in his heart deprecating the innovations presaged in the yearly increase of visitors.
He does not mention his disappointment to the younger portion of his family, however, for they are "just crazy" to have the city folks come, but he pours the results of his thinking into his wife's ears as she comes in from the churning.

11 September 2007

It's All About the Core Demographic

Did you read Darren Greninger's guest editorial in today's Courier News? It was all about writing. The main point was that although corporations frequently complain about the writing skills of recent graduates, corporate writing is about as bad as it gets.

Too many catchphrases, too much marketing speak - it's all "mission statements", "reengineering", "defining core values", and "thinking outside the box". Greninger asserts that this kind of writing, when it creeps into our everyday life, does real harm to our language.

I absolutely agree. I spent many years working in an office setting with people who could barely put three words together - and they covered their lack of skill with typical 90s office jargon. As a person who cares about English, it was tough to work there. I would literally cringe reading memos, and later, email. It got so bad that I took to making anonymous corrections and slipping them into co-workers in-boxes.

I don't know where some of my former managers learned to write, but I'm sure they could have used the services of Hillsborough High School's new Writing Center. Conceived well before I was on the Board, the Writing Center is a place for students to get help with any and all of their High School writing - not just English, but History, Science, etc. Its mission is “to establish a rich and productive environment for writing”.

All in all, the Writing Center should prove to be a forward thinking strategic initiative for the efficient implementation of the tactical goals, through a wide-ranging service-orientated approach to achieving the desired outcomes in the core demographic!

10 September 2007

That's Not Writing...

I'm three months into writing "On Hillsborough", and I appear to be having my first case of "writer's block". Not that there isn't any Hillsborough news to report - there's always news. Here are two recent items:

  1. The township insurance consultant has found a way to save $400,000 per year in insurance premiums for the 165 township employees.
  2. Congressman Mike Ferguson has secured nearly $300,000 to fund the purchase of 66 self-contained breathing apparatuses for Hillsborough firemen.

These are both great stories, and worthy of mention, but I won't be elaborating on them here. The problem is that when I began writing the blog back in June, I promised myself that I wasn't going to merely regurgitate what you can already read in the Courier News and in the other local papers. I intended to use the news stories as jumping off points to provide commentary on the town and community - but there is just no where to go with these two items. Kudos all around for a job well done, and that's it.

At the outset, the directives I received from the Courier News were simple - write about Hillsborough, write about Somerset County, write about central New Jersey, or write about yourself. "Entries can be long or short", I was told, "just be sure to write five days a week"! A quick look through my blog archive shows that I have done just that, usually spending about two hours a day, or ten hours a week writing the blog - or in the case of the past few days, staring at a blank sheet of paper.

Yes, paper. From the beginning I have written out a rough draft in long hand for nearly every entry. I find that it helps me focus my thoughts, and my poor handwriting ensures that there will be a lot of changes from the first to the final draft - usually for the better.

As much as I appreciate the artistry of being able to sit at the keyboard and bang out a two-fingered masterpiece (Kerouac is one of my heroes) - I'm no artist. So as far as the blog is concerned, I won't be sitting here re-writing news stories to fit some quota, because that wouldn't be writing all...that's typing.

07 September 2007

Woods' Tavern Fire

The following short article appeared in the Hopewell Herald 20 January 1932.

The old historical Woods' Tavern was burned to the ground Friday night. Fred Brede lived there and was away at the time, but his housekeeper was at home. She discovered the fire and saved her son. Her name is Mrs. Matilda Kleyling. The building was owned by Wm. Snelling, of Newark. Somerville, Millstone, and Neshanic fire companies saved the Nelson property across the corner. The tavern was located on the State highway 31 [route 206], between Belle Mead and Somerville, and was over 194 years old. The corner where it was situated was named after and called Woods Tavern.

06 September 2007

Only One Thing Endures

When famed newspaper editor and founder of the Republican Party, Horace Greeley, remarked in 1860 “I never said all Democrats were saloonkeepers; what I said was all saloonkeepers are Democrats", he had probably never visited Hillsborough. But he made a stop here twelve years later during his ill-fated presidential campaign against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872. Ill-fated not only because he lost, but because he apparently went insane after his defeat, dying just three weeks later.

I'm not enough of an historian to know what was included in his stump speech that day at Woods' Tavern, or if he took questions, but he has left us with a number of memorable quotations. If Horace Greeley gave a press conference in Hillsborough today, I wonder what he might say.....

Mr. Greeley, the people are complaining about rising property taxes, do you have any advice?

"Go west young man"

What are your thoughts on the low voter turnout for the local elections?

"Apathy is a sort of living oblivion"

What do you think of Hillsborough being ranked 23rd in Money Magazine's list of best small towns to live?

'The illusion that times that were are better than times that are has probably pervaded all ages"

Do you think we need a full-time mayor in Hillsborough?

"The darkest hour in any man's life is when he sits down to plan how to get money without earning it"

As a founder of the Republican Party, a friend of Abraham Lincoln, and a presidential candidate yourself, do you have any words of wisdom for the local politicos?

"Fame is vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings. Only one thing endures, and that is character"

05 September 2007

Pop Quiz

In honor of the first day of school tomorrow, perhaps a little pop-quiz is in order. There are nine schools in the Hillsborough Township School District. Do you know where they all are? I'll give you the first two. The High School is located at the corner of Amwell Road and Raider Boulevard. The Middle School is on Triangle Road near Farm Road. The other seven? that's easy - six are named for the road where they are located: Woods Road, Sunnymead, Amsterdam. Auten Road, Triangle and Woodfern, and the seventh, Hillsborough Elementary, is located in the designated "center" of Hillsborough - Route 206 and Amwell Road.

But that's not your quiz. Around the time of the Civil War, Hillsborough was divided into fifteen school "districts" - numbers 39 through 53 in Somerset County. Each district had its own school - and in a 54 square mile town (actually larger than that in the 1860s with Manville and Millstone included) it was good to have a school nearby.

Now for the quiz. Each district had a name and a number - do you know where the schools were?

39 Woodville School
40 Harmony Plains School
41 New Centre School
42 Liberty School
43 Bloomingdale School
44 Millstone School
45 Crossroads School
46 Blackwells School
47 Pleasantview School
48 Mountain School
49 Washington School
50 Flaggtown Station School
51 Neshanic School
52 Pleasant Valley School
53 Clover Hill School

Let me hear you best guesses in the comments area. Gotta go - I think I hear the school bus already!

04 September 2007

Hillsborough - Track 2

It looks like Hillsborough will be coming in second - again. Recently Money magazine named Hillsborough the second best place to live in New Jersey. Now, if everything goes as planned, Hillsborough should be the second New Jersey town to have 24-hour "quiet zones" at its railroad crossings.

Westfield, in Union County, has been working since 2006 to silence train horns, and, according to a recent news article, is well on its way to being the first New Jersey town to secure 24-hour quiet zones. Montclair, in Essex County, has partial night-time quiet zones at its rail crossings.

I have mixed feelings about quiet zones. As I have stated in a previous blog entry, I feel that this initiative is only a partial solution. and that the ultimate answer would be to eliminate grade crossings completely, where possible.

In fact, that is the approach being considered by Montgomery Township for the CSX grade crossing at Route 601 in Skillman. Officials are reviewing plans to either rebuild Route 601 as an overpass - which is cheaper but not as aesthetically pleasing - or to make the road an underpass at the crossing - which looks better, but is a lot more expensive.

In any case, if the proposition is for central New Jersey to become a quieter, more peaceful place to live and work, well, I'll second that!

02 September 2007

Tocks Island Dam

Living in Hillsborough, like living in most of New Jersey, has its fair share of minor annoyances and inconveniences - traffic, property taxes, noisy trains! - but for the most part we have it pretty good. And unlike some of our neighbors - the Solbergs of Branchburg and the Halpers of Piscataway to name two - we haven't been troubled by the 21st century's newest controversy: eminent domain. In fact I don't know if there has been a major case of land being seized "for the greater good" since the US Army built the Belle Mead Quartermaster Depot over 65 years ago.

Since this week's blog has been all about driving and freedom, and since it's time for the Saturday in the Park segment, I thought I would show you some pictures of our road trip yesterday to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. The purpose of our trip was to visit Millbrook Village, a restored 19th century village complete with grist mill, church, school house, hotel, blacksmith, etc - all of the buildings old, and many original to the village.

Millbrook wasn't the only village located within the 70,000 acre park. Before 1960 there were several, some dating back to the 17th century - as well as 15,000 residents. But they are all gone now, and we did it - through eminent domain.

Around 1960 the Army Corps of Engineers devised a plan to control flooding, generate hydro-electric power, and create a 37 mile long recreational lake and reservoir, by building a dam north of the Delaware Water Gap at Tocks Island. Of course a lake that size would mean that entire farms and villages would be under water.

Despite opposition from residents, the federal government began buying homes and land, and condemning the property of those who would not sell. Between 3000 and 5000 homes were torn down. As the years passed, funding became scarce, and the engineers began to doubt the workability of the plan. While the project was in limbo, squatters moved in and destroyed the historic homes and structures that remained. The project was halted in 1978, and the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area was created about a decade later.

The Tocks Island Dam project wasn't officially de-authorized until 2002, 42 years too late for Pahaquarry Township, whose dwindled population of 12 voted to dissolve the town in 1997 and merge with Hardwick Township. Now THAT'S a ballot question!

01 September 2007

SUV vs. Mini Cooper circa 1927

The following news story appeared in the 28 December 1927 edition of the Hopewell Herald.



Two automobiles crashing into each other yesterday at Wood's Tavern, at the intersection of the Neshanic-Millstone county road and the State highway, resulted in the death of Theodore Gray, 18 years old, of Neshanic, and injuries to his bride of three months and two other occupants. gray was riding in a car driven by his brother, which collided with another driven by Theodore P. Brokaw of Belle Mead.
The injured, beside Gray's 16 year old wife, who suffered from shock and body bruises, were: Mrs. Mary Brokaw, 63 year-old mother of Brokaw, deep laceration of the scalp, and Harriet, his wife, fracture of the shoulder blade. Gray's death was caused by a fracture of the skull.
As the Gray machine reached the crossing, it was struck on the left rear side by the heavy sedan driven by Brokaw, who was on the main highway returning to Belle Mead from Somerville. Brokaw's car was overturned and Gray's machine, a light touring automobile, was jolted to a lawn nearby by the force of the impact. Gray was thrown from his car, his head striking the concrete roadway.
Both Brokaw and Frederick Gray, who drove his machine, were charged with manslaughter when arraigned. They are said to be familiar with the crossing.