30 April 2008

Phantom Post

On December 29, 1917, Army recruits began arriving at the train station in Raritan, New Jersey. They had been dispatched by their local draft boards to the Raritan Ordinance Base, arriving with one-way tickets from places like Little Compton, Rhode Island and Albany, New York, and from as far away as Minnesota and Michigan. Approximately 4000 draft boards were ordered to send qualified recruits to this location.

New York Times headline, 30 December 1917

The first few recruits to arrive inquired of the townsfolk as to the location of the base. "No base here", was the reply. In fact, there was no military installation of any kind in the Boro of Raritan. Upon examination of the recruits' official orders, the locals began to doubt themselves. Maybe there was a base here after all - certainly, the generals in Washington couldn't be mistaken, after all, there's a war on!

Raritan Station Circa 1906

Soldiers were shown around the town, but the base could not be found. With night approaching, the local Knights of Columbus and Elks opened their clubs to the men, and private citizens offered their homes.

30 December 1917, New York Tribune

Raritan officials contacted New Jersey's highest-ranking army officer, Adjt. General Frederick Gilkinson. General Gilkinson called Washington and was assured by General Crozier that there was indeed an ordinance base in Raritan and that they should keep looking. After Raritan officials balked, Gen. Gilkinson sent his staff Lieutenant H.L. Leonard up from Trenton to assess the situation.

Somerset Street Raritan Circa 1905

Meanwhile, the newspapers were all over the story. They had contacted General Crozier, who still insisted the base was in Raritan. All this time, soldiers continued to arrive!

31 December 1917 Asbury Park Press
By the end of the second day, the puzzle was beginning to come together. It seems that the postmaster in Raritan had been receiving letters for the last month addressed to the Raritan Ordinance Base, Raritan, N.J. He had sent all of the letters back to Washington as "misdirected". A Mr. Latham of the Newark Spring Mattress Company revealed that he had recently fulfilled an order for 1000 mattresses for the Raritan Base, and had shipped them to Metuchen.

31 December 1917 Courier News

General Crozier finally realized that the Raritan Ordinance base was not in Raritan at all, but was on a 2000 acre parcel along the Raritan River in Metuchen. What was worse was the base was still under construction and was nowhere near being completed!

Camp Raritan, Bonhamtown, NJ circa 1918

Crozier blamed the mistake on a subordinate, but he still had to answer to a congressional committee on the matter, and in particular to Senator Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, whose home was in Raritan:

"While we are a hospitable people and welcome strangers, we have been a little embarrassed at not being able to provide the military base these misguided soldiers expected to find. My fellow townsmen have arranged to entertain the soldiers who are already there, but if more are coming they'd like to know about it in advance!"

29 April 2008

The Good Life

Today marks the 15th anniversary of my residency in Hillsborough. Yes, we closed on our house on April 29, 1993. I remember we had just one day left on our lease at the apartment in Freehold, and were relieved not to be out on the street!

We started looking for houses in 1992, after Merck moved their corporate headquarters from Rahway to Whitehouse Station. The commute from Freehold to Hunterdon County was just too far, and Merck was offering a generous relocation program - provided you moved within a designated perimeter.

I had been to Hillsborough a couple of times before when I worked presenting educational programs at New Jersey schools. I liked the area because it reminded me of where I had grown up in Monmouth County. I liked the mix of suburban and semi-rural. I remember thinking that Hillsborough would be a great place to raise my family.

Unlike a lot of the kids I grew up with, I never had the attitude of wanting to get as far away from my hometown as possible. I thought my hometown was great - and I was glad to find that a place like it still existed in New Jersey in the 1990s.

Yes, there is always a nostalgia for the small-town America of Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney, with it's Main Street and mom and pop grocery. But there is also value in the kind of suburban childhood I had - with its station wagons and backyard ballgames.

That's the kind of childhood I wanted my kids to have - and I found it right here in Hillsborough. Truly, the best move I ever made.

28 April 2008

Your Central Jersey

The Courier News is launching a new web site tomorrow - replacing c-n.com. It is called My Central Jersey, and combines the Courier site with the Home News Tribune site.

It looks interesting - busy - commercial - and informative. I haven't decided the order.

I do not yet know what level of participation I will have in the new web site. I do see that other Courier News Community Bloggers are up and running over there.

We'll have to wait and see what happens to On Hillsborough! In the meantime, I suggest you bookmark this page, so you can find me in the future.

27 April 2008

Autism Awareness Day

Today we went to see the Trenton Thunder play the New Britain Rock Cats at Waterfront Stadium for their Autism Awareness Day.

The kids had a great time. In between the chicken fingers, french fries, funnel cake, and cotton candy, they even managed to watch some of the game.

Patty and I are the chairpersons for the 2008 Central New Jersey Walk Now For Autism fundraising event for Autism Speaks. The walk will take place at Mercer County College on Sunday, October 19.

Last year, Hillsborough really came through for this great cause. Our team, Hillsborough's Hope - with tremendous support from parents, schools, and the business community of Hillsborough, raised over $40,000 for autism research.

Central NJ Walk Now For Autism/Hillsborough's Hope 2007

To get involved this year, click here.

To find out more about Autism Speaks, visit their website here.

26 April 2008


The twenty-fifth person to visit On Hillsborough today will be my 10,000th visitor since I started tracking visits back in July.

I am very pleased about all of the positive feedback I've received, and I am sure that the next 10,000 visits will take about half the time as the first 10,000.

In the meantime, take a look at this $10,000 note.

25 April 2008

60¢ Hole

New Jersey celebrates Arbor Day on the last Friday in April - which happened to be today! I got a jump on the holiday by planting a small tree earlier in the week. We chose a crabapple tree to replace the Bradford Pear that we removed about a year and a half ago.

We loved the pear, but it had a number of problems. First, it was a builder's tree that was too close to our house. Actually, it used to be our neighbor's tree before we had our house built and a new property survey was done, and it was found to be on our property! It was perfect as their tree, not so great as ours. especially since the builder ended up planting another Bradford Pear just a few feet away from the first one, to compensate our neighbor for the tree that wasn't theirs!

Both trees lost limbs over the years, as these pears tend to do, and both were leaning way over toward our house

Here is a picture from April 2003. This was taken about a week before I had surgery on my back - you may notice that I'm leaning more than the tree is!

There's an old adage that says never plant a $50 tree in a 50¢ hole. They always tell you to make the hole two or three times wider than the root ball. I don't buy it.

A few years ago I read that putting a tree in a large hole only encourages the roots to grow around in spirals inside the space of the hole, and never go beyond into the rest of the soil. The theory is that roots seek the path of least resistance, and don't venture out of the soil/peat moss mix that you use to fill the hole unless they really have to - especially when the soil is hard clay like we have in Hillsborough. Researchers have tested this theory by digging up trees after two, three and four years.

Consequently, using simple math, I dug a 60¢ hole for my $60 tree. I think it will do just fine.

24 April 2008

C'mon Get Happy

The Hillsborough Township Committee recently approved the allocation of $51,000 from its capital improvements budget to purchase a new bus for the senior citizens.

The seniors need a safe bus - but that doesn't mean it has to be a boring one. Please tell me we aren't getting the typical blue, white, or gray. I was thinking we should get something like this:

I'd actually go out and get a CDL for a chance to drive our seniors around on the Partridge Family Bus!

23 April 2008

Hide the Keys

By now you've read about the 6-year-old boy tragically killed when the ATV he was riding was hit by a car on Skillmans Lane in Franklin Township. Presumably the boy was riding without his parents' permission, although the case is still under investigation.

It's hard to believe that this terrible accident could not have been prevented. Sadly, stories like this one are nothing new. The brief news report below appeared in The New York Times on December 16, 1945.

Jersey Boy Killed by Train

SOMERVILLE, N.J., Dec. 15 - Rudolph J. Miskinski, 15 years old, was killed this afternoon when the truck he was driving was struck by a westbound passenger train of the Lehigh Valley Railroad at a grade crossing in South Somerville [Hillsborough]. State police said the youth had taken the vehicle from the yard of his home here without his father's permission. The train was delayed thirty minutes by the accident.

22 April 2008


It was deja-vu all over again when I opened the Courier News to the editorial page today. Over there on the left side of the page - could it be? - I'm in reruns already? It seems to me I saw the same Gillette on Hillsborough excerpt on April 17, only five days ago!

To be fair, this reprint was more like an extended version. After all, they managed to include the punch line this time. Let's consider this one the "director's cut"!

Maybe the Courier News is planning a retrospective of my Greatest Hits - although I hardly think the one about the Rotary Club dictionaries would be included in any "Best Of'" collection. And don't those box-sets usually signal the end-of-the-line? Does this mean I'm on my way out?

Maybe there's something they're not telling me. Stay tuned!

21 April 2008

Play Ball!

Just days after announcing a new four year agreement to continue using the township youth baseball fields, the Hillsborough Baseball League had their official Opening Day Parade and Ceremony at the Willow Road complex.

Representative teams from the various leagues, in full uniform and carrying team banners, marched in a parade from Field 7 to Field 2 where the 53rd opening day ceremony took place.

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

League officials explained that the Hillsborough Baseball League was no longer affiliated with "Little League", but was now part of the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken organization. Then it was time for the singing of our National Anthem, led by members of the Hillsborough High School Choir.

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

County Freeholder and Hillsborough resident Jack Ciattarelli and son Jake were on hand to throw out the first pitch...

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

Vincent Ferrera shouted "Play Ball"...

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

Somerset Patriots mascot Sparkee greeted the kids...

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

And then it was time for the games!

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

Hillsborough Baseball League Opening Day 2008

Safe to say, the entire day was a home run!

14 April 2008

Look This Up

I have a bunch of dictionaries on the shelf in the study where I write. I never look at them anymore. The real fat one was most recently used to flatten out some film negatives that had curled. The truth is that it's easier to go to the computer than the bookshelf.

So easy that I had forgotten what it was like to pick up a dictionary and just browse. Until I picked up Webster's Dictionary for Students - Presented by The Rotary Club of Hillsborough to the Third Grade Class, 2007-2008.

This is a pretty good book - every word a kid would need to know. There is even a glossary of misused and misspelled words at the back, as well as a list of the common spelling rules, like i before e, etc.

I asked my daughter if she had used the dictionary. Sure, the whole class was using the dictionaries the very first day. Great, what was the first word you looked up?

She started to laugh - jackass, page 213.

I'm going back to the computer.

13 April 2008

Walking Distance

Shore Road Hospital in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was the kind of community hospital that people walked to. In fact, that's just what my mother did on the morning of April 12, 1964. On a sunny Sunday morning, suitcase in hand, and nine months pregnant, she proceeded down Marine Avenue to Shore Road.

After a quick exam, her doctor famously told her that she had some hours to go yet, and that he was going to play tennis.

Where was dad? He was back at the apartment trying to assemble the crib. Yes, the scene is right out of a fifties sit-com.

I didn't make my appearance until 4:08 p.m.

The hospital is long gone now, apparently demolished during the Verrazano Narrows Bridge construction later that year.

My mom reminds me of all of these details every year around this time.

Muhlenberg is also a hospital people walk to - and I'm sure there are a lot of memories associated with it. Herb Kaufman, who blogs about Plainfield for the Courier News, has written extensively about the closing of Muhlenberg. Read more here.

12 April 2008

Urge to Merge?

There's a new commission meeting in Trenton as part of Governor Corzine's plan to urge municipalities across the state to consolidate. Their mission is to come up with strategies, incentives, carrots and sticks - anything that will get New Jersey's 500 plus towns to merge operations.

There is no doubt that we have too many municipalities. H0me-rule is one thing, but this is ridiculous. Three hundred years ago the state was made up of several large townships and some small villages and cities. The trend over the past 200 years has been for new municipalities to be calved from old ones - a trend that continued right through the last century.

Hillsborough is a good case study. Our township was once united with Montgomery - if you can believe that - and known as the Westering Precinct of Somerset County. After Montgomery was separated, Hillsborough was a large 59 square mile farming community with several small villages - the most important one being Millstone, which served as the County Seat in the 1700s. By the late 19th century, Millstone broke away to form its own municipality.

In 1929, seventeen years after the Johns-Manville company opened its huge asbestos factory in the northeast corner of Hillsborough, the Manville village residents had had enough, and also broke with Hillsborough.

What should Hillsborough's position be with regard to town mergers? Should we lay low and see what happens? Should we proactively look to merge with one or both of our former territories?

Let me know what YOU think!

11 April 2008

No Luck

This is a picture of my grandfather, Ernest W. Gillette. I never knew him.

My dad rarely, if ever, spoke about his father. In fact, the first time I remember him speaking at any length about my grandfather was when my grandmother passed away in 1993. It was then that he told me the circumstances of his father's death.

My dad and my grandfather were at a late summer baseball game. The year was 1948 - my dad was not quite 17 years old, but had graduated from high school that June. My grandfather, who suffered from heart disease, had a heart attack while watching the game - and passed away shortly thereafter. He was 53 years old.

I was reminded of this when I sat beside my father's hospital bed watching TV the first week of April, 2002. We were watching a baseball game and talking about what kind of season the Mets were going to have. My dad had made the decision that morning to forgo any further treatment for multiple myeloma - a cancer that was only diagnosed just 2 months earlier.

I told my dad that I felt fortunate, lucky to have had him in my life for 38 years - since he only had is own dad for such a short time.

My dad, the bravest man I ever met, facing his imminent death, comforted me as my tears began to well up - and said, as only my father could "Greg, there's nothing lucky about this".

He passed away just a few days later on April 11, 2002.

09 April 2008

Mischievous Twins at the County Jail

This wild story appeared in my favorite newspaper over 100 years ago. It's hard to believe that we blame kids' misbehavior on video games! These two kids would have been safer with a Gameboy!


Mischievous Little Boys Cause a Stampede in Somerville.

SOMERVILLE, N.J., Nov. 8. - George and Irving Blaney, twins only 10 years old, now confined in the old Somerset County Jail, charged with stealing, set fire to the mattresses in all the cells on the upper tier this morning by throwing in red-hot coals from the stove in the corridor.

This was done while the prisoners were taking their morning exercise. The smoke soon filled the west side of the jail and caused a stampede among the inmates. Mrs. Anderson, wife of Deputy Sheriff Anderson, heard the prisoners screaming and saw the blaze. Sheriff Cooper turned in a fire alarm, and then began transferring the prisoners to the other side of the jail.

The twins stoutly denied having caused the fire, but ever since being confined in the jail they have been up to all kinds of mischief. They will be taken to the Reform School to-morrow.

[The New York Times, 9 November 1906]

08 April 2008

200 Reasons to Keep Writing

In ten months of writing On Hillsborough, I have never once thought about quitting. That doesn't mean there haven't been many obvious reasons to give this up - I am reminded of those every time I sit down to write.

Firstly, this takes a lot of time. I feel fortunate if I can turn out one of these blog entries in under two hours. Surprisingly, it's the short pieces that end up taking the most time. That's because a a very short piece usually means that I have spent a couple of hours staring at a notepad or computer screen trying to work up something longer, and then have scrapped it and substituted a "quickie".

Secondly, the pay isn't great - in fact it's non-existent. This is just one of my eight or ten unpaid jobs. And unlike a typical job, there is no praise for doing good work - no pats on the pack, no "attaboys". Sure, I get to see an excerpt of one of my pieces on the editorial page once or twice a week, but that is always a surprise. I have zero contact with any of the editors that put me up to this. I still have to pay for my Courier News subscription like everyone else.

Thirdly, I have been singled out and berated for some of my views - especially my stance against government change in Hillsborough last year. I have been called a liar and a criminal - and have unfairly been put on the defensive on numerous occasions because of my opinions.

So why do I keep writing? I have an absolute right to say what I want to say - even if there are those that don't agree. I am not afraid of criticism - I welcome it. Writing makes me a better thinker and a better person. I love this town - I love to write about its past, present, and future - I want to make it better. I enjoy the act of writing and am proud of the finished pieces.

Yes - these 200 blog entries are the 200 reasons I keep writing. I know I have hundreds more waiting to get out - one at a time - five days a week - 20 days a month.

You keep reading, I'll keep writing!

07 April 2008

Wills Hill

I want to thank all of the people who gave up a part of their gorgeous Saturday afternoon to come to the municipal complex and share their historic photos and memories as part of the Hillsborough historic mural project. In the short time I was there, I saw some great old photos - including the original Belle Mead train station and the Mercer & Somerset Railroad Hillsborough station.

I also viewed a small mock-up of how the finished mural might look - complete with representations of Hillsborough's historic houses, churches, and people!

But one person conspicuously missing was our town's namesake - Lord Hillsborough himself!

Born as Wills Hill in Gloucestershire, England in 1718, he became a member of parliament in 1741, and a member of the Irish parliament in 1742. He was created Earl of Hillsborough in 1751. He held several positions in the British government before being named Secretary of State of the American Colonies in 1768.

Counties in Florida and New Hampshire were named for Lord Hillsborough. And in 1771, our newly formed township was named in his honor.

Today, of course, we consider Lord Hillsborough to have been on the wrong side of the Revolution. Yet, 237 years later, the name still seems to fit - and it would be fitting to have old Wills up on the facade of our municipal complex - don't you think?

02 April 2008

Logtown Lightning

Yesterday's warm weather and thunderstorms almost made me think that it was already summer! Before heading out to that favorite camp site, read this short story from the June 11, 1900 edition of The New York Times.


BOUND BROOK, N.J., June 10. - During the electric storm on Friday night three boys, Trombley, Franklin, and Welsh, said to be New Yorkers, who were camping at Logtown, in the Sourland Mountains, some miles from this point, were stunned by lightning striking near their camp. They are said to have suffered no ill effects.

At Wood[s] Tavern lightning struck a tree near which Dr. Partridge was seated in a carriage. The doctor felt the effects but slightly. The horse, however, was so badly hurt that it had to be killed. The Lamington Church steeple was struck for the fifth time in as many years.

01 April 2008


It looks like the Route 206 bypass project is on the fast track - finally!

After an almost 50 year wait for a new highway through Hillsborough, the shovels are ready to hit the dirt by Memorial Day, with a few changes to the previous plan.

"We're going all out for the people of Hillsborough", said DOT spokeswoman April Furst. "We will be adding lanes, eliminating traffic lights, and smashing straight through Pike Run. And we'll be pushing north also - our new slogan is Brown Avenue or Bust!"