29 February 2008

Lucky Leap Day

When I was going to school, there was always one kid with that unfortunate February 29 birthday. How unlucky. I always wondered if maybe he later picked the lotto, or hit a pick 6 at the track - just to even things out. I mean, what could be worse than only having your birthday once every four years!

In the latter part of the 19th century the popular notion was that leap year was the only year a woman could propose marriage. Men were permitted to decline however - and wouldn't that be anticlimactic after four years of planning. And remember, there was no leap year in 1900 - only century years divisible by 400 get the extra day.

The purpose of leap year of course is to try to squeeze the earth's 365 1/4 day calendar into man's 365 day calendar. Leap year - with the century years rule, does a pretty good job of keeping the vernal equinox on March 21. And that's really what this is all about.

Did I say a "pretty good job"? Well, the system isn't perfect. By the year 10,000 we may have to add one more day - February 30th perhaps? - which would only occur maybe once every 10,000 years.

Hey, I just discovered a worse birthday than Leap Day!

28 February 2008

Duke's Parkway West

I read with interest today about Hillsborugh Township's request for Somerset County to take over the ownership of Duke's Parkway West. The first thing that struck me is that Duke's Parkway West is only 1.5 miles long. It sure seems a lot longer. Doesn't it go all the way from Route 206 to Auten Road?

View Larger Map

Actually only the section between Route 206 and Roycefield Road is designated as Duke's Parkway. The stretch between Roycefield and the intersection of Auten and New Centre Roads is designated as New Centre Road - and New Centre Road is a county road.

It makes perfect sense for the county to own Duke's Parkway West as well - and not just because it will save Hillsborough some money in snow plowing and maintenance. It makes sense because county roads are supposed to lead to other county roads or state highways. They are designed to be through routes - not roads that morph into local streets or dead ends.

And it makes sense for another reason. Raider - Auten - New Centre - Duke's Parkway is used by residents as an alternative to Route 206. I have been in favor of dualizing the section between the Auten Road School and Route 206 (as well as some day putting an overpass at the Norfolk Southern rail crossing). It seems to me that this would have a much better chance of happening once that stretch has primarily one owner.

Think of it - our own personal 206 bypass - for a fraction of what the other one would cost!

27 February 2008

The Sad Mortality of the Ryan Family

This story appeared in the Somerville Union on February 13, 1873. Can you imagine anything sadder than this?

Four Children Die Within Two Days

A sad case of mortality occurred at East Millstone last week,the particulars of which are as follows: Mr. James Ryan had a family of five children, the oldest being a boy of eleven years of age. The next youngest, a boy of seven years was out playing with his sled on Wednesday afternoon, to all appearances as well as usual. He came into the house, lay down on a lounge, and complained of a pain in his head. This was about 7 o'clock in the evening. Soon after he began to vomit, and he continued to grow worse, vomiting occasionally, until 11 o'clock the same evening, when he died.

The second victim, an older brother, had the same symptoms the same night, and died at 7 o'clock the next morning. The father sent to New Brunswick for coffins for the dead, and before the coffins arrived two more of his children were attacked in the same manner as the above, and in a few hours they too were dead, both dying at about the same time.

The youngest of the four was seven, and the oldest eleven years. The fifth and only child left in the family seems to have escaped. Dr. W.B. Ribble informs us that the children died with cerebrospinal fever, or spotted fever.

The duration of their sickness was from six to twelve hours, and all four died within twenty-four hours.

26 February 2008

Some Contest

Yesterday was the last day to file a petition to run for a seat on one of the local Boards of Education. The Courier News has a breakdown of all the candidates that have filed in Somerset, Hunterdon, Union, and Middlesex counties. It was very sad to see that in many towns these races will be completely uncontested. The worst example of apathy is in Tewksbury, where there are three seats up for grabs with no takers - not even the incumbents are willing to have another go!

Here is a story that appeared in the September 21, 1946 edition of the New York Times. You can decide which story is scarier - today's candidate story in the Courier, or this one from 62 years ago.


Somerset County Coroners Have No Duties, Get No
SOMERVILLE, N.J., Sept. 21 - Somerset County voters will go to the polls in November to choose a pair of coroners, an office that exists only on paper and for which there are no candidates. It is a legal must on the ballot.

In the personal choice column of the ballot will appear the caption for coroners and opposite it "Vote for two." If the voters select two candidates who qualify, the two will have no office or duties nor will they be in a position to collect for anything done.

Since Somerset County has a county physician to do the work a coroner might be expected to do and formerly did, the office of coroner apparently is a vestigial remnant of the law that still provides for three in the county. One actually holds office now, but there is little in the records to show where he resides or might be located, if needed.

These are my personal views as a Hillsborough resident and homeowner, and do not reflect the opinions of the Hillsborough Township Board of Education.

23 February 2008

The Fun Fair Frivolous Five

I spent a couple of hours today at the Woodfern School Fun Fair - a nice family-oriented fundraising event put on by the Woodfern Home and School Association.

Friday's snowy weather didn't keep anyone away as the gym, cafeteria, and parking lot were filled with people when we arrived at 11:30. It was nice to see so many teachers helping out as volunteers as well as parents and teenage brothers and sisters.

My kids love these things - the simple games where everyone is a winner, the arts and crafts, the pizza and cotton candy, and especially the prizes!

The prize room was full of all sorts of mini made in China wonders - the plastic dinosaurs were my son's particular favorite. Each of my kids got a nice armload of stuff for their thirty prize tickets (15 each, no crying!).

Seeing all of the prizes got me thinking about the school fun fairs I went to when I was a kid. We never had any prizes like those. In fact, the prizes I remember most vividly were the castaways from people's record collections. If you sunk the basket, or knocked down the threee milk bottles you got to rummage through a water-stained box of LPs looking for gems such as this:

or this:

and maybe if you got there early, you might find this treasure:

Thank goodness we no longer traumatize our children in this way!

22 February 2008

The Price is Right?

By now you probably know that Hillsborough Township is looking to buy a new emergency vehicle for the rescue squad. The new truck will replace the squad's 16 year old vehicle which is nearing the end of its useful service life. And this won't be just any old truck, but a state of the art machine with an estimated price tag, including equipment, of $670,000.

Does that sound like a lot of money to you? Can we put a price tag on people's lives? Isn't there someone out there that can get this thing for us wholesale? How about trying to pick one up on Craigslist.

That's exactly what the New York Times reported Cheif Curvin Wolfgang of the East Prospect, Pennsylvania Fire Company did when they needed a replacement for their 33-year-old aerial platform truck. He knew a brand new truck would cost his town $700,000 - so he googled the phrase "aerial truck for sale".

His search took him to the classified ad web site Craigslist, where he saw a listing for a 1993 Pierce aerial platform truck. The interesting thing about the truck was that it had not been used for 10 years. It had been left behind on Governor's Island in New York harbor by the U.S. Coast Guard when they turned over control of the island to the city and state of New York a decade ago.

And the best part was Chief Wolfgang was able to negotiate a sale price of just $75,000!

O.K. Maybe we won't be able to find a bargain like that for Hillsborough - and we certainly won't be able to get the kind of advanced machine that we want. I understand that.

So, here's another idea. Let's sell the old truck on eBay - you never know who might be looking for what we've got! And I'll only take a 3% commission!

20 February 2008

The Murder of Twelve Year Old Jasper B. Baird

The early morning of June 29, 1867, began like many other Saturday mornings at the Auten Road home of Andrew and Aletta Baird and their five children. By five-thirty the sun was already shining, and breakfast was on the table - plenty to eat for a hungry farm family and their serving girl, and their tenant - 45-year-old Jacob van Arsdale.

Twelve-year-old Jasper was sent to find Mr. Van Arsdale at the small shed where he was working at shoe-making and call him to breakfast - and told to come right back while it was still hot. The Bairds didn't know that Mr. Van Arsdale had already been to the house that morning, and had seen the African-American servant already seated at the breakfast table before him. This enraged him so, that he went straight back out to his shop and decided to kill the first person who entered.

Just minutes after Jasper went to call Van Arsdale, the murderer ran back to the house and went straight upstairs and changed his clothes. He bolted down the stairs, knocking Mrs. Baird to the ground, and ran to the Roycefield depot of the South Branch Railroad.

Jasper was found by his family in Van Arsdale's shop, lying in a pool of blood with a shoe-knife in his neck. Also found in the shop was a loaded shotgun - and a sharp hatchet was found hidden in his room.

Van Arsdale didn't get far. He was pursued to the depot and was taken into custody when the train got to Somerville. After a trial of seven days in which the courtroom was filled to capacity throughout, the jury took just three hours to reach their guilty verdict on October 30, sentencing Jacob Van Arsdale to death. It was reported at the time that Van Arsdale had been in contact with the noted Spiritualist Mrs. Jackson, and this bestowed a certain amount of sensationalism on the proceedings - Somerville was crowded with tourists hoping to see her testify.

25 October 1867 New York World

Despite the fact that Van Arsdale had been known to threaten others - even once threatening to kill his own father - or perhaps because of that fact, the jury, the court, and even the prosecutor petitioned the Court of Pardons to commute his death sentence. On November 29, 1867, the court spared Van Arsdale's life, ruling that there was a question as to his sanity and that life imprisonment would be justice enough!

18 February 2008

Early Thaw? No Problem

Happy Presidents' Day! The NEW unofficial start of summer.

Well, maybe it's not the OFFICIAL unofficial start of the summer - that honor still belongs to Memorial Day - but it sure didn't feel like winter! Hey, if Al Gore is right, we might be looking at a six month beach season in the not so distant future. And the best part - the beach will be somewhere around Easton Avenue!

No, the real bad news isn't global warming - we'll adapt to that pretty quickly. The problem will be staying in shape for that extra-long summer. Forgot about waiting for New Years' resolutions to start working out - we'll have to get back in the gym around Halloween.

What's that? You've been putting off getting back into shape? It just so happens that Hillsborough is hosting a Health & Fitness Seminar on Wednesday February 20 at the Municipal Building. The event, which features Dr. Jeff Levine, (pictured), from "The Biggest Loser", as well as personal trainers Margo Mayer and John Balle, begins at 6:30 p.m. and is free to the public.

Summer might be coming a litle earlier this year, but you've still got time to look great on the beach. Find out how to get started from the real experts this Wednesday.

17 February 2008

We Ain't So Bad

If you weren't thinking about property taxes on the 14th - and who was? - then you probably missed the story in the Courier News Local section with the headline "Property revaluation in Bound Brook."

Bound Brook has not had a property revaluation in 20 years. Consequently, property in the borough is currently assessed at about 47% of its true market value. And Bound Brook isn't alone. There are at least four other Somerset County municipalities with assessments that are around 50% of market value - South Bound Brook, North Plainfield, Somerville, and Rocky Hill.

How could this happen? Are all of the local officials in these towns corrupt? - manipulating assessments for personal gain? If that's the case, then the whole county is corrupt!

Except, of course, Hillsborough - where assessed values have not slipped nearly that much, and where our officials are planning to fix our own assessment program so that it is the envy of the other towns!

16 February 2008

My Three Cents

The US Treasury is broke - or will be soon.

Clyde Haberman's interesting column yesterday detailed how the US Mint is losing over $100 million a year making pennies and nickels. How can this be? We can't make money by making money?!?!

Apparently it costs 1.67 cents to make a penny, and 9.5 cents to make a nickel. And we can't make it up in volume. In fact, increased demand for pennies and nickels only puts us deeper in the hole.

There are some who are proposing to make this 100th year of the Lincoln penny its last - or maybe give Lincoln one more farewell tour in 2009.

I have another idea. If reducing demand for the coins will save us some money, maybe there is a way for Hillsborough to get something out of this. The elected officials of Somerset and Mercer Counties should partner with all of our local banks to request that no more pennies and nickels be sent to their local branches. We could make up the change shortfall out of our own pockets and piggybanks by exchanging loose coins for dollars at the banks, insuring the banks have enough of the un-precious metals on hand to do business.

Then we ask for the savings to be used to restart the West Trenton Rail Line!

What do you think?

15 February 2008

Forget the Bypass

I'm done with valentines - now it's time to get serious!

After today, I don't care if they ever build the Route 206 bypass. Just fix the highway between Triangle Road and Brown Avenue - including that railroad bridge!

I am now confident that widening just that stretch of 206 would solve 75% of our problems.

Traffic congestion occurs when there are too many cars on the road. Let's get the cars to where they are going - FASTER. Widening the road doesn't just create twice as much space to park cars - it actually gets cars OFF the road by allowing drivers to get to their exits more quickly.

I'd be willing to have the bypass project be killed permanently if the state would promise to fix that northern stretch of our beloved highway this year.

Who's with me?

14 February 2008

206, I Love You

You had me at "Hello".

That was about fifteen years ago, when our romance began. Although you've changed over the years - gotten wider in all the wrong places - I could never leave you. I could list a dozen reasons why you are maddening - and still I remain.

For better or worse, you make this town. You are the heart and soul of Hillsborough. Even today there is no escaping you. Especially today, there was no escaping you - north, or south!

Happy Valentine's Day, Dear Highway. I think I speak for all the residents of Hillsborough when I say, "206, You complete me".

13 February 2008

Weirder, Wilder, Wickeder

If you surfed over to On Hillsborough today looking for your weekly installment of Weird, Wild and Wicked Wednesday and didn't find it, don't be alarmed. There's more on the way!

After having done the first twelve stories, I thought I would take a break for a while before presenting the final dozen. But after looking at my files, it turns out that there are at least TWO dozen more! So this will only be a one week break, and then it's back to WWaWW.

Here are some of the stories still to come.

  • The Murder of Twelve Year Old Jasper P. Baird [1867]
  • The Ryan Family's Sad Mortality [1873]
  • The Life, Love and Lunacy of Joshua Gates [1877]
  • Sourland Barbarians [1880]
  • The Bad Samaritans of Somerville [1880]
  • War Games Across the River [1896]
  • Railroad Robbery...and Murder [1898]
  • Killer Wind at Mine Rock [1899]
  • Shooting the Dam [1900]
  • Logtown Lightning [1900]
  • Mischievous Twins at the County Jail [1906]
  • Hypnotized to Death [1909]
  • Candyman Licks Highwayman [1911]
  • Somerville Ghost Keeps Town Awake [1915]

I should eventually get to Raritan's phantom army base, the slasher on the mountain, the Koinonia Commune, the jet crash on the mountain, and the murder of a Bell Telephone executive on Woodfern Road - as well as many train wrecks and crashes, and the famous "frog war"!

Keep reading!

12 February 2008

Lincoln's Jersey

Abraham Lincoln never slept in New Jersey. He passed through our state only a few times, most notably on the trip to Washington for his inauguration in February 1861. After leaving New York by ferry on February 21, he boarded the train at Jersey City, making brief stops at Newark, Elizabeth, New Brunswick and Princeton before arriving in Trenton.

New Jersey State House, 1861
John Warner Barber & Henry Howe,Our Whole Country or the Past and Present of the United States....Volume I
 (New York: Tuttle & McCauley, 1861), 465.

He made two speeches in our capital that day - one before the state senate, and one before the assembly. This is what he told the senate:

I am very grateful to you for the honorable reception of which I have been the object. I can not but remember the place that New-Jersey holds in our early history. In the early Revolutionary struggle, few of the States among the old Thirteen had more of the battle-fields of the country within their limits than old New-Jersey. May I be pardoned if, upon this occasion, I mention that away back in my childhood, the earliest days of my being able to read, I got hold of a small book, such a one as few of the younger members have ever seen, ‘Weem’s Life of Washington.’ I remember all the accounts there given of the battle fields and struggles for the liberties of the country, and none fixed themselves upon my imagination so deeply as the struggle here at Trenton, New-Jersey. The crossing of the river; the contest with the Hessians; the great hardships endured at that time, all fixed themselves on my memory more than any single revolutionary event; and you all know, for you have all been boys, how these early impressions last longer than any others. I recollect thinking then, boy even though I was, that there must been something more than common that those men struggled for; that something even more than National Independence; that something that held out a great promise to all the people of the world to all time to come; I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated in according with the original idea for which that struggle was made, and I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle. You give me this reception, as I understand, without distinction of party. I learn that this body is composed of a majority of gentlemen who, in the exercise of their best judgment in the choice of a Chief Magistrate, did not think I was the man. I understand, nevertheless, that they came forward here to greet me as the constitutional President of the United States – as citizens of the United States, to meet the man who, for the time being, is the representative man of the nation, united by a purpose to perpetuate the Union and liberties of the people. As such, I accept this reception more gratefully than I could do did I believe it was tendered to me as an individual.

11 February 2008

My Assessment

I've been reading the grumblings on the internet about the upcoming Hillsborough property "revaluation". I am far from an expert in this area, but I understand it enough now to give my opinion here.

The first thing to know is that revaluation is different than reassessment. For many years Hillsborough participated in a program of yearly reassessments of properties. These "rolling reassessments" looked at a different neighborhood, or multiple neighborhoods, each year, and reassessed home values based on recent sale prices and other criteria.

For most of the years that Hillsborough performed rolling reassessments, the program worked just fine - insuring that all properties in Hillsborough were assessed at near their market value, and that everyone paid their fair share of property taxes.

A few years ago, after a reassessment of the Flagtown section, residents in that area were hit with a huge increase in the assessed value of their homes - one that would lead to a property tax increase in one year of greater than 35% in many cases! Obviously something was wrong with the program. After complaints by Flagtown residents, the Hillsborough Township Committee decided to drop the rolling reassessment program.

Since Hillsborough has not been doing reassessmenst for a few years, our assessed values have fallen far enough below market values that a revaluation needs to be done. A revaluation essentially reassesses all properties at the same time - and looks at more than just recent sales in determining value. This revaluation will cost us about $1 million, maybe more, which will be spread out over a few years.

In the revaluation, every home's assessed value is sure to go up, but that doesn't mean everyone will be paying more in property taxes. Some people will pay more, some will pay less - and everyone, hopefully, will be paying their fair share. What will make our taxes go up, at least a little, is the additional cost of the performing the revaluation.

Did our township committee do the right thing by killing the rolling reassessment program a few years ago? Clearly they were being responsive to residents - something we heard a lot about during last year's CSC hearings. Were they being too responsive? Should the residents of Flagtown have been told to get lost? After all, staying with rolling reassessments would have saved us the cost of the revaluation.

I am not sure what the right answer is. But I do know this - I am aware of only one person in Hillsborough who is always right, who has never made a mistake. Until we are ready to anoint him emperor, we should recognize that our township committee has to make a lot of tough choices - a lot of judgement calls - some popular, some not so popular - and endure a lot of second-guessing.

My assessment is that they are at all times looking out for the best interests of the residents and the town - yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

09 February 2008

Monetize This!

Did you get a postcard last week from the Hillsborough Assessor? Mine looks the same as it did last year - no changes for 2008. Look down at the number in the lower left-hand corner. Wow! It's hard to believe that we are paying that much.

Do the Trenton politicians care about what Hillsborough homeowners are paying in property taxes? Well, I'm certain our assemblyman does - and not just because he lives here. And you can be sure there are a few others here and there.

But on the whole - from the Governor and his advisors on down - the powers-that-be just don't care.

Why should they? They don't levy the tax, they don't collect the tax - they have nothing to gain if property taxes go down, and nothing to lose if they go up.

Of the three major taxes that Hillsborough residents pay - the property tax is the most regressive and hits people the hardest. The fairest tax is the state income tax - based on one's ability to pay. Low income - low tax. Simple. The sales tax, based on the theory that those who spend more can afford to pay more, is also more progressive than the property tax - although there are plenty of frugal high income people - you probably know a few!

Residential property taxes have only a minor correlation with one's ability to pay. There are lots of homeowners in town who bought their houses thirty or forty years ago and wouldn't be able to buy the same house today - they would never be able to afford it.! Why do we think they can afford today's property taxes?

The governor can talk about solutions to the state's financial woes - monetization, dramatization, whatever - but he would never suggest increasing the rates on one of the less regressive taxes to give some relief to the towns and property owners. Why? Because no one in Trenton wants to be the one who raised our taxes.

They leave that sorry chore to the guy that sends the postcards.

After reading this through, I think I need to add the disclaimer that these are my personal views as a Hillsborough resident and homeowner, and do not reflect the opinions of the Hillsborough Township Board of Education.

06 February 2008


On October 4, 1892, Benjamin Mitchell went insane.

Ben was the clubhouse manager of the West End Athletic Association in Somerville. West End had just lost the championship game of the Central New Jersey Baseball League. Despondent over losing the pennant, he snapped - became delusional - and went screaming from the clubhouse, convinced that the players were trying to kill him in anger over their loss.

Somerville Athletic Club. postcard circa 1912

Benjamin was quickly captured and taken to the Somerville jail. During his first night in the lock-up, he escaped by leaping from a second-story window, fleeing across Hillsborough to Belle Mead. He came to the farm of William Ely, appealing for help - looking for protection from the men he believed were pursuing him.
New York Herald headline, 7 October 1892

Mr. Ely sent Ben to the poorhouse run by Mr. Van Cleef. He wasn't there long. By midnight he had slipped away from the poorhouse - with Van Cleef and two neighbors in pursuit - and returned to the Ely farm, breaking in through the kitchen and grabbing a shotgun that Mr. Ely kept standing in the corner.

Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 October 1892

When Van Cleef and the two farmers caught up with Ben at the Ely place, he opened fire, causing Van Cleef and company to retreat and fetch help from Squire Hageman. They woke Hageman, swore out a warrant against Benjamin, and returned to the Ely farm with several constables in tow. Ben was still holed up in the kitchen, and once again shot at the men, wounding the two farmers.

The constables, Van Cleef and Mr. Ely huddled briefly and came up with a plan. Mr. Ely went into the house by the back door and came into the kitchen through the rear, creating a diversion while the rest of the men forced their way into the home from the front.

Benjamin Mitchell was subdued and tied hand and foot for his trip to the more secure Somerset County Jail - where he awaited commitment to the asylum.

On October 29, 1892, it was reported that Mitchell was removed to the Soldiers' Home in Washington D.C.

05 February 2008

Happy-Time Timeline

Did you see the story in Sunday's Courier News about HBO's upcoming Doris Duke movie? The movie is a semi-fictionalized account of the relationship between Ms. Duke and her butler.

What I found fascinating about the article (aside from the last few paragraphs!) was the timeline of events provided by Duke Farms and included as a sidebar in the paper. The timeline contains mostly happy events, and has large chunks of years missing. There is little from the years between 1938 and 1958, for example. Interesting, since these years were some of the most contentious ones between Doris Duke and Hillsborough Township.

Here are some headlines from the New York Times to fill in the timeline, just covering the years 1939 through 1943:

Hillsboro Asks Ruling on Levy of $150,000 on $17,000,000
[23 August 1939]

JERSEY TOWN WINS FIRST ROUND TO TAX HUGE DUKE PROPERTIES Hillsborough gets State Approval to Levy on Power Company Intangibles in Move to End Local Imposts for Years
[5 June 1942]

Federal Court Decides to hear Big Tax Suit Against Her
[1 August 1942]

She Wants 'Many Thousands' from Hillsborough, N.J., for Annoyance Over Taxes HOLDS HOME IS IN HAWAII
Alleges 'Deceit and Deception' in $13,850,705 personal Levy Against Her
[22 October 1942]

and finally

Court Dismisses Big Levy on Utility by Hillsborough
[11 Feb 1943]

02 February 2008

Groundhog Day

I just realized what Hillsborough is missing. We need our own groundhog.

What better ceremony can there be for a "ceremonial" mayor than to preside over Groundhog Day?

Hillsborough is full of groundhogs - finding one won't be a problem. The problem will be naming the critter. Punxsutawney has Phil, Staten Island has Chuck(?), what should Hillsborough's groundhog be called? If we are going to present this idea at a Township Committee meeting, we should have a catchy name picked out beforehand.

I know my creative readers will come up with some euphonious appelattions - let's hear them right here in the comments.