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.

24 October 2007

Maintenance of Way

Over the past three days there has been a huge number of new visitors to this blog. I welcome everyone, and hope you find something interesting to read.

One thing I have noticed is that visitors have been reading blog entries from the archives. I have kept all of my previous posts available, and have given most of them labels. On the menu to the right you can choose a category and it will bring up all of the columns I have written on that subject. As you can see, I have kept these categories very broad, and there are some blog entries with more than one label.

Another thing I have done is to keep all of the comments active. In fact, I would still appreciate and enjoy hearing your comments on past stories. Each comment posted by a reader is immediately forwarded to my personal email address, so there is absolutely no chance your comments will get lost because they are attached to an old topic. In fact, comments on old topics might be just what is needed to bring those subjects back to the front page!

And as for topics - I haven't run out yet. I still have one more Hillsborough park to write about this weekend, and then on Halloween I am beginning a new series of stories that I hope to bring to you every Wednesday. And of course if anything happens in the town, I'll be sure to have some commentary on that also.

Thanks again for reading - and please bookmark Gillette on Hillsborough, send the link to your friends, and put a link on your own sites! It's great to see all those new visitors in my stats!

23 October 2007


As I watched the news reports today of the terrible California wildfires, I recalled reading about one of Hillsborough's worst forest fires. This is an excerpt from a New York Times report of many seasonal fires from April 1923.

Indications last night were that unless the wind shifted or heavy rain fell the disastrous forest fire which started Saturday on the west side of the Sourland Mountain....would ruin the wooded mountain side.

There are few houses on the side of Sourland Mountain at Somerville, near where the forest fire has been raging, but if not held in control the destruction of several small houses in the village of Posttown [later called Plainville, the site of the Carrier Clinic], at the foot of the mountains, including the farm of Judge Nelson Y. Dungan of the Circuit Court, Newark, was thought inevitable.

There was also danger that the flames would work there way around the mountain to the east side, in the direction of Flagtown, a small settlement with a number of houses and stores. Throughout Saturday night and all day yesterday 250 volunteers fought the flames, using tractors and teams in plowing furrows and making clearings. But in many instances the flames leaped across these spaces and with a fresh start, swept on. "Back-firing" also was resorted to, but in most cases this, too, proved ineffectual. The barn of R.C. Harr, a real estate man, was destroyed. Passengers on the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad [CSX], whose tracks are two miles from the mountain, viewed the fire from the windows of passing trains.

[The New York Times 23 April 1923]

22 October 2007

Black Horse Stable

Did you ever think about taking riding lessons? Well, the first step might be to step away from the refrigerator! After taking a look at the web site for Hillsborough's Black Horse Stable, I quickly discovered that the weight limit for lessons was 160 pounds. I don't imagine this cuts into their business very much, as the lessons are really geared to kids. In fact, Black Horse Stable runs some programs in conjunction with Hillsborough Recreation and the local Girl Scouts, who weigh nowhere near that much - even if it is cookie season.

Black Horse Stable - Hillsborough, NJ

On Saturday, Black Horse Stable hosted Family Fun Day, with volunteer help from the Girl Scouts of the Delaware Raritan Council and Rutgers University. This event was one of the many outings throughout the year for kids with special needs and their families that is presented by the Organization for Autism Research.

Kids learned about saddles and tack and feed, and then got a chance to meet some of the horses.

Black Horse Stable - Hillsborough, NJ

We got to visit the horses in their stables....

Black Horse Stable - Hillsborough, NJ

...and learned all about grooming.

Black Horse Stable - Hillsborough, NJ

But the best part of the day was getting up in the saddle for a long ride inside the barn and outside around the grounds. If your kids are used to riding a pony at the carnival or fair, they will be amazed at what a difference it is to be on a full-sized horse, twice as high off the ground!

Black Horse Stable - Hillsborough, NJ

All of the kids and their families had a great day, thanks to Black Horse Stable owner Arthur Stafford Taylor, his staff, and all of the volunteers. And even though I'll never weigh 160 again, the smiles on the kids' faces are enough for me.

20 October 2007

Hillsborough's Hope

As many of you know, Patty and I have been involved for about four years now with the national charity Autism Speaks, and its predecessor, NAAR (National alliance for Autism Research). October and November are the busiest times of the year for us as all of the fundraising efforts in central New Jersey revolve around Autism Speaks' signature fundraising event, Walk Now For Autism.

We started raising money a few years ago, using the tried and true technique of begging from family and friends! And we were pretty successful, raising a few thousand dollars. Last year, Patty, along with a few of our Hillsborough neighbors and some of her friends from work, decided to try to get the entire community involved, forming the walk team Hillsborough's Hope. They reached out to local businesses and the schools, in an attempt to raise awareness and solicit donations. This strategy was wildly successful, with contributions in excess of $15,000. It was amazing to see how residents and merchants were so willing to give to our cause.

This year, Patty, with above and beyond help from our fellow Hillsborough residents Kelly Neuberger and Beth Baldwin, has taken our fundraising efforts to a whole new level, increasing every aspect of community involvement. We have more families, more schools, and more businesses involved than ever before. And that's a good thing, because this year's goal is $20,000.

If you could get through the front door of my house right now you would see that the entire first floor is filled with all of the paraphernalia from our fundraisers. Stacks of Autism Speaks puzzle pieces that we sold at the "back to school" nights, Hillsborough's Hope tee shirts that we will be wearing at tomorrow's walk, and dozens of baskets and gifts that will be the prizes in our second annual basket auction on November 30.

Hillsborough area businesses have been exceedingly generous in their contributions. For a complete list of merchants that have supported us click here. Area businesses have been selling puzzle pieces (the universal symbol for autism), and displaying them on their walls. I would like to especially highlight Bagel Bop, Maggie Moos, IHOP, and Hillsborough Pharmacy for their efforts in selling the puzzle pieces.

Applebee's in Hillsborough and Cafe Cuccina in Branchburg each participated in Autism Speaks "Dine to Donate", donating a portion of one day's receipts to Autism Speaks. At each of these events, the restaurants were completely packed with diners who were there explicitly to support Hillsborough's Hope, and have a great night out.

Please click on the embedded links in this blog to find out more about Autism Speaks and Sunday's Walk Now For Autism at Mercer County College.

Thank You Hillsborough. Money Magazine was wrong - Hillsborough is the BEST place to live in America!

19 October 2007

The Answer, My Friend

At its October 9th meeting, the Hillsborough Township Committee discussed introducing an ordinance that would allow small "wind energy systems" on private property in the township. Committeeman Paul Drake led the discussion, which centered on what a small wind energy system was, and why an ordinance would be needed to allow it. Let me sum it up for you: It's a windmill - not more than 100 feet tall - and producing not more than 100 kilowatts of electricity. It has nothing to do with the amount of hot air generated by environmentalists when they get going on the topic of greenhouse gases and global warming!

Windmills of 100 feet would have to be at least 150 feet from the property line, and would only be allowed on lots of at least ten acres. Windmills would also be restricted to the mountain zone, the agriculture zone, the corporate development zone, and the Duke estate.

It's a good idea to define parameters for something like this in an ordinance. Otherwise, each property owner contemplating a wind system would have to appear first before the Zoning Board of Adjustment, and have their plans fully approved on a case by case basis. With the ordinance, residents would only have to appear before the Planning Board, to determine if their property was of the right size, in the right zone, and if the windmill was placed in the appropriate location on the property.

I applaud Mr. Drake for putting Hillsborough in the lead with this proposal - indeed we would be the first New Jersey town to have such an ordinance. These are the kinds of ideas that make things easier for residents, and keep Hillsborough at the head of the municipal pack in creativity and innovation. And then he said this, "Greenhouse gases are the largest contribution to global warming. This ordinance is one more approach to improve the use of renewable energy."

Oh that hot breeze, and just when it was starting to feel a little cooler!

17 October 2007

Manville Landfill Cold Case File

While researching the history of the Johns-Manville landfill, also known as "the dump", I came across the story of Gail Ann Kalinowski. Two stories, actually, but each with the same tragic ending.

On September 8, 1971, Gail was reported missing from her Manville home. Eighteen days later the body of the 13 year old 8th grader was found on the south bank of the Raritan River near the landfill. In 1971 it was unclear whether Gail had simply drowned, or had been murdered.

When the New York Times reported on the story a second time in October of 1973, Somerset County assistant prosecutor Leonard Arnold was ready to label the death "a definite homicide, no question". Gail had been murdered and thrown into the river.

Apparently there were some leads in the case, and at least one suspect was questioned, but I don't believe any arrests were ever made. Rumor has it that the case was still open until just several years ago when the lead suspect passed away.

I know that some readers of this blog were around at that time, and know a lot more about this than I do. If anyone remembers the details of this sad and tragic event, I would appreciate hearing from you in the comments section.

16 October 2007

The Banks of the Raritan

Somerset County announced this week that they were close to finalizing a deal to buy the old Johns-Manville landfill site on the south bank of the Raritan River. The 197 acre property is partly in Hillsborough and partly in Manville. It's difficult to see what the county could use this property for - hard to understand how or why THIS open space parcel should be selected for any kind of future recreational use - but at $700,000 for nearly 200 acres, it certainly wasn't expensive, and may turn out to be a bargain.

The property was used as a landfill by Hillsborough until around 1920, when the township sold it to asbestos manufacturer Johns-Manville. The interesting thing is that not only did Johns-Manville use the site for waste disposal for many decades, but also that the company's factory buildings ended up in the landfill themselves after they were demolished in the mid 90s.

Johns-Manville moved it's factories from Brooklyn to Hillsborough in 1912. The company felt that they had found the perfect site to build a gigantic factory on the farmlands adjacent to the Raritan and Millstone Rivers. Hillsborough was happy to have the company come, looking to encourage industry and bring jobs to the community. What Hillsborough didn't count on was the corporation's complete lack of interest in providing adequate housing for its thousands of employees.

Living conditions were described as squalid - and that was probably being generous. On April 18, 1929, a referendum passed creating the Borough of Manville as its own municipality apart from Hillsborough. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1982 as it dealt with numerous class-action lawsuits stemming from health risks associated with asbestos. A trust company was eventually formed to administer and pay claims. The Manville Trust is still in existence today, long after the company's flagship factory was buried on the banks of the Raritan.

15 October 2007

Flagtown Hero

In case you might think that Flagtown only gave us anti-heroes, here is the obituary for one of Flagtown's native sons.


Trailed Booth, Assassin of Lincoln, and Captured Several Accomplices.

Capt. John Hoagland, who commanded Company K., Thirteenth Regiment, New York State Volunteers, and was the first officer to go with a detachment in pursuit of John Wilkes Booth. the assassin of President Lincoln, died Saturday at the home of his son, Elmo C. Hoagland, 467 Tenth Street, Brooklyn. He was born seventy-nine years ago in Flagtown, N.J. Captain Hoagland, who received his various commissions from the War Governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, was mustered out of the service Dec. 1, 1864, with the rank of Brevet Major.

At the time of Lincoln's assassination the Thirteenth Regiment was encamped on Capitol Hill as part of the guard of Washington. On the night of the murder of Lincoln, Capt. Hoagland trailed Booth through St. Mary's County, Maryland, and so close did he follow him that Dr. Mudd was interrupted in setting Booth's leg. Capt. Hoagland captured one of the principal conspirators and several accomplices.

Capt. Hoagland was for many years in the importing business in this city [New York], from which he retired ten years ago, when his wife, Louise Hoagland, died, and went to live on his farm at South Branch, N.J. He left two sons, Ira Gould and Elmo C., and a daughter, Louise Dalley of South Branch, N.J.
[The New York Times 3 September 1912]

14 October 2007

This is Hillsborough

"Twelve dollars to look at a !#$&*-ing pumpkin! They must be kidding!" That's what I overheard today in the parking lot of Doyle's Unami Farm on Mill Lane as one sour family turned from the entrance and headed back to their car. What a shame.

If that family had stayed, they would have seen what $12 really buys. And I'm not talking about Doyle's Farm's famous cornfield maze (one of the first in New Jersey), or the hayride out to the pumpkin field (awesome pumpkins 55 cents a pound), or the chance for the kids to build their own scarecrow (just bring old clothes and a five dollar bill), or the opportunity to see all of the farm animals up close (sheep and goats and horses and cows).

I'm not even talking about spending the day with your family, or seeing the smiles on your kids' faces when they find that perfect pumpkin, or enjoying the fresh cool Autumn air.

I'm talking about spending $12 to stand on a field that has been farmed by the same family for 5 generations - a field where Richard Doyle started finding Indian artifacts in 1929 and amassed a collection of over 20,000 - a field that was nearly obliterated ten years ago to make way for an enormous retirement development.

Twelve dollars to stand at the top of Mill Lane, look out towards Amwell Road, and say "This is Hillsborough".

Worth every penny.

12 October 2007

Cold Enough For You? Not Yet

Feet Frozen in His Fireless Cabin

FLEMINGTON, N.J., Feb. 17 - The thermometer registered 10 below zero this morning. This surpasses all previous records.

Peach growers in Hunterdon County fear the intense cold has injured the buds, some of which, under the influence of the warm weather, had advanced. Truckmen say blackberry bushes in this section are injured.

Peter Sintox, who lives on Sourland Mountain, was rescued from his cabin today by a hunter who went to it to get warm. The man's feet are badly frozen.

[The New York Times 18 February 1896]

10 October 2007

He Made Money

On March 28, 1896, Emanuel Ninger of Flagtown decided to spend the day in New York City. This is a trip that he had made many times over the last 14 years, travelling by train and ferry to Lower Manhattan. On this day, as on most, he was carrying $300 in his wallet - all in 20s and 50s. The curious thing about these bills is that they did not bear the insignia of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. That was because he had made them himself.

20 April 1896 Fort Wayne News

For 14 years he had worked alone in a small room of his house, painstakingly hand painting US currency - usually about six notes per month. And despite his anonymous notoriety, Secret Service agents were no closer to catching him in 1896 than they had been in 1882.

Ninger was a star - his notes were not only technical masterpieces, they were incredible works of art. Collectors regularly paid twice the face value for one of his notes - if they could be found! His copies were so perfect that at least one made it all the way back to Washington D.C. and was officially retired along with thousands of other old bills. The mistake wasn't found until years later when the genuine bill bearing the same serial number came in for retirement!

An 1880 Series Ninger-drawn counterfeit.
Note the missing Bureau of Printing and Engraving attribution
which should run vertically to the left of Lincoln's portrait

By working alone and eschewing the usual distribution routes preferred by professional counterfeiters, Ninger was able to make a good living for years. When he stepped off the ferry that March day and headed up Cortlandt Street, he was full of confidence and eager to go about his business - exchanging the bills in his wallet for the real thing.

One of the stops he made was at a Third Avenue grocery store, where he managed to pass a $20 bill in exchange for a bottle of whisky. After a few more stops, he headed back to Cortlandt Street and stopped in a saloon. He asked the bartender for a glass of Rhine wine, and while his glass was being poured, he took out one of his home-made fiftys and laid it on the bar. When the bartender picked the fifty off of the wet bar, the ink began to come off on his hand. Ninger fled the saloon, but the bartender guessed that he would be heading for the ferry - and he was apprehended there by police.
Ninger confessed quickly, and took Secret Service agents back to Flagtown to show them his studio. One agent remarked on Ninger's abilities, "Why, by a legitimate exercise of his wonderful talent as shown in these bills he might have made $200 or $300 a week." Instead he was only making that much a month.

Despite protests from the art community, Ninger was convicted and served a prison sentence. When asked why he didn't put the references to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving on his forgeries, he replied that HE had made the bills, not the Treasury. And indeed he had.

09 October 2007

The Flagtown Forger

On Saturday, October 13, Hillsborough's Cultural and Arts Commission will host its annual Art Show at the municipal complex. This judged contest is open to all Hillsborough residents and promises to showcase many dozens of artworks created by our most talented neighbors. Modest prizes of fifty dollars will be awarded to the best entries - ironic since Hillsborough's most famous artist made his claim to fame forging fifty dollar bills! The story of Emanuel Ninger, the forger of Flagtown, starts back in 1882 when he first emigrated from Germany to the United States. He worked first as a sign painter in Hoboken, then bought a farm in Westfield, and finally settled in Flagtown. It was apparent to his neighbors that he wasn't much of a farmer, as they could see that he wasn't making his living from it. He explained that he was receiving a pension from the Prussian Army - in other words, he was semi-retired. The reality was that he was working harder than anyone in Flagtown!


Ninger worked in a small studio in his home meticulously counterfeiting $50 bills - all by hand. He purchased his paper from the same maker that supplied the US Treasury, and would carefully cut the paper to size and soak it in a solution of weak coffee. While the paper was still wet and semi-transparent, he would place it on top of a genuine $50 bill and carefully trace all of the details with a pencil. After the paper dried, he would use pen and ink, and a camel's hair brush to duplicate the look and feel of real currency. He might even be considered one of America's first impressionist painters. Ninger knew that it would be impossible for him to duplicate the tiniest details of genuine notes, so he used techniques to give the impression that detail was present. And although experts began finding his counterfeit notes early on, he was successful in his endeavor for 14 years, producing as many as six notes a month, distributing them carefully by himself, letting no one else in on his scheme. During those 14 years, his anonymous fame was widespread - collector's paid many times face value for one of his "works of art". Of course, it couldn't last - we'll find out what happened to Ninger tomorrow. And in case you're wondering, Hillsborough Art Show winners will be getting their $50s by check - and these will be the real thing!

07 October 2007

Borough Bombers Field

At the September 25 Hillsborough Township Committee meeting, Surrey Drive area residents expressed their concerns about the proposed construction of a youth baseball field in their neighborhood. Their criticisms were many, and valid. And despite its prior approval of the plan, the Township Committee was right to put a stop to the rehabilitation of the field until all of the residents' concerns were addressed.

The Borough Bombers are a travel team made up of eleven 9-year-olds and nine coaches. The coaches are set to construct the playing field at no cost to the township. At first this seems like a great deal for Hillsborough - a baseball field, which would be owned by the town, to be built for free, on an open space parcel already designated for recreation. In fact, a travel soccer team played on a field there in 2001. But a closer look at this parcel of open space shows us why this area may not be suited for organized team sports.

First of all, the field is not easy to find. I took a drive out to that neighborhood several weeks ago, armed with a printout of Hillsborough's GIS map - with the Surrey Drive field clearly marked - and I couldn't find it. There is no off-street parking in the area, and I could not find any place along Surrey Drive or the other adjacent roads where the field is actually visible from the road. The field is only accessible by small footpaths, which themselves are hard to find.

I am also concerned about getting an ambulance onto the site should an accident occur. And of course, as many residents mentioned, there are no restroom facilities at this location.

To his credit, police Chief Paul Kaminsky has said that the problems with the site are "correctable". That is the kind of attitude we like to see, especially when the goal is a safe convenient place for kids to play. But I'm not convinced that the Surrey Drive field is the best location for the Borough Bombers.

Below are two satellite maps. Both are at the same scale for comparison. The top one is the Surrey Drive field. The bottom one is another open space parcel in Hillsborough, also designated for recreation, but not being used. Like Surrey Drive, it is in a residential neighborhood. But this field is bigger, has street parking adjacent to it, and would be able to accommodate off-street parking and emergency vehicle access by breaking the curb in one spot.

You decide.

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

05 October 2007

Bubbling Crude

Prospectors Seek Oil In the Sourland Foothills

SOMERVILLE, N.J., Feb. 24 - Belief that rich deposits of oil may be discovered in the foothills of the Sourland Mountains near here has led to the drilling of wells on the farm owned by Martin Dolak in Hillsborough Township and announcement today that one company was prepared to risk $20,000 in the search.

Although some of Mr. Dolak's neighbors are unimpressed, suggesting that signs of oil might spring from a leak in the Big Inch pipeline, which runs within a half mile of the farm, the Van Oil Company has brought in crews and equipment from Ohio.

Mr. Dolak, who has occupied his farm for four years, said he had signed a contract with the company to permit the drilling of wells on his property and that he was to receive an eighth of any returns.

He expressed confidence that oil existed in the region, citing as evidence the fact that he and other farmers have noticed a thin film of oil on near-by brooks. Drilling will go as deep as 2500 feet, he said.

[The New York Times, 25 February 1947]

04 October 2007

Good Ideas Are Always Welcome

What would you say if I told you I had the solution for the Route 206 bypass and Town Center problems. I know, you've been hearing that for 20 years or more. But this idea will really work - all I need is a time-machine.

It's true - good ideas never go out of style. The problem is finding the good idea when you need it. A lot of good ideas fall into the category of "if we only knew then what we know now". This is one of those.

This alternate idea for a Town Center is not my own. It was conveyed to me not long ago by a former Hillsborough Township official. He's someone who cares very much about the town, and is still looking for ways to make it better - even if some of those ideas now require Doc Brown's DeLorean.

The idea: We need to go back in time about 20 years - to a time when Triangle Road was still shaped like a triangle, and Auten Road was mostly dirt and gravel. When we get there, we need to change the zoning for Auten Road between New Amwell and New Center Roads to allow for a - get this - "pedestrian friendly town center". Triangle Road could be extended to Beekman Lane, as was done in the early 90s, and businesses could line Auten Road - our new Main Street!

A beautiful, convenient, downtown shopping district would be created, where now we have only a CVS and a few storefronts. And it would be within walking distance of thousands of residents. And the best part - Route 206 would become its own bypass! with the gas stations and fast food drive thrus that cater to the motoring public, but without the traffic of people running their errands.

Alas, this can't happen now. But these kinds of exercises are important. Examining what we could have done differently in the past helps us see what we can do right in the future.

Yes, good ideas never go out of style, even if they are 20 years too late!

02 October 2007

Elect Your Own Mayor - Or Not?

Hillsborough voters will be heading to the polls next month to decide if they should elect their own mayor. At least that is what some would have us believe. And I must admit that I have fallen into this trap myself - trying to weigh the pros and cons of an elected versus an appointed mayor - when really this isn't the question at all.

Hillsborough currently operates under a Township Committee form of government - an evolved form of the New England town meeting of the 17th century. One Hundred Forty years before Hillsborough received its 1771 Charter my 8th great grandfather and his brothers attended many such meetings in Windsor, Connecticut's first town. Since meetings were held only once or twice a year, a small committee of citizens was chosen to solve problems and make decisions in the interim periods. This has now become our township committee - a 375 year old traditional government.

Considering the history involved, it almost seems inconsequential who gets to sit in the "big chair". What is important is knowing that our mayor has never been "appointed". This is a misleading word, used in this case to mean the opposite of "elected" - and it does indeed convey that sense. But in fact ALL of our township committee members are elected by the people. Voters know before they pull the lever that anyone who wins a seat on the committee could potentially be chosen by that body to serve as the mayor. Anyone deemed by the public to be unsuitable as mayor should not be elected to the committee.

Having said all that, I realize that there is support among residents for a direct election of the mayor by the people. Unfortunately, the nine month charter study has shown us that under our current form of government, direct election of the mayor is not permitted. This is the reason residents voted to have a charter study - to find out what forms of government were available, and if there were any that allowed a directly elected mayor within the framework of the township committee. The answer is no.

The only question left before us now is do we want to give up on the township committee by changing to a "more complex - larger government"? Do we want to wade through page after page of unrequested, unproven, and unappetizing soups, salads, and entrees to get to that little piece of mayoral dessert at the end?

Take a look around. Hillsborough is healthy because we skip dessert. Let's take a pass next month too.