31 October 2008

Somerville is Spooked

Approximately 800 area residents made their way to the Jersey Central Railroad passenger station in Somerville late on the night of Friday, July 23, 1915 - hoping to be scared out of their wits!

25 July 1915 New York Herald 

They came looking for the ghost that had been seen and heard scampering about the large railroad yard between the station and the cemetery. For about a week, hideous shrieks had been heard in and around the lines of freight cars and the big roundhouse. On Thursday night, twenty-five brave souls accompanied by policeman Joseph Hanlon camped out until daybreak near the station to investigate the strange goings-on. Their affirmative report of "mysterious noises [that] came and ended at frequent intervals" is what brought the crowd out on Friday.

From the 1882 panoramic map of Somerville -
the cemetery is at the bottom right

Thomas Hagan, the rail yard night watchman, was the first to hear the piercing cries and the first to see the human-like figure flitting in the shadows earlier in the week. At first, Hagan was laughed at - but then residents of Somerville began to hear the eerie cries. Cries so loud and evil that they were unable to sleep.

24 July 1915 Courier News

Borough residents began sitting up at night, leaving their lights on, listening for the ghastly yells - which now seemed to be coming from the graveyard. Hagan and three other railroad employees finally had enough and abruptly quit - unable to stand the strain of working while a ghost was lurking.

Now 800 of Somerville's bravest citizens, aided by the Chief of Police, his officers, and seven railroad detectives were determined to catch the ghost at last - and put an end to their nightly terror.

Alas, it was not to be. Sometime after midnight, strange sounds were heard, but could not be located - and the apparition failed to appear. The crowd dispersed - some relieved, some disappointed. And the Somerville Spook was never heard from again.

30 October 2008

All Together Now

When does A + B = C? When "A" is a $49,000 federal grant, "B" is $171,000 in off-site developer contributions, and "C" is the new Center for Senior Citizens at the Hillsborough Township Municipal Complex.

Senior citizens and township officials celebrated the grand opening of the center on Monday with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a tour of the facility - which includes a 1,758-square-foot main area, a 537-square-foot game room, and a 415-square-foot computer room with internet access.

The equation can also be applied in another way, as now both local senior citizen's groups A and B will have enough room to participate in joint activities, or just Congregate!

29 October 2008

Taking a Flier?

Being an unaffiliated voter - not registered with either political party - has its advantages. One is that I tend to get election mailers from both parties. Maybe they consider me a swing vote. After all I did vote for Ross Perot - twice!

In the past two weeks I have received four campaign fliers from candidates running for election to the Hillsborough Township Committee - two from Dawson/Foranoce and two from Ferrera/McCauley. The number of mailings was the only thing the two campaigns have in common. The tone and information value of the two sets of campaign pieces couldn't be any more different.

One Ferrera/McCauley piece described their political philosophy and their personal accomplishments, and the other touted specific accomplishments of the township committee over the last several years.

The Dawson/Foranoce literature - one piece on taxes and the other alleging that the Hillsborough Township Committee is controlled by developers - told me nothing about the candidates and nothing about what their plan is for Hillsborough.

I understand that challengers need to attack, but at some point we need to know what their plan is. At this point, it appears that their plan is to do everything, make every decision, just the opposite of how the current township committee has done things.

Right now Hillsborough is in great financial shape (while the state and nation collapse all around us), we have controlled spending and reduced costs (spending less per person than Bridgewater. Montgomery, or Franklin), and we are a leader in quality of life issues (including open space, recreation, and railroad quiet zones).

Do you really think Hillsborough would excel in all of these areas if every decision had been made "just the opposite"? Of course not.

My mailbox is still open for business, and I'll be checking every day for new fliers. Keep 'em coming!

28 October 2008

1923 Hillsborough Commuter Train

In the 1920s, the Lehigh Valley Railroad still had regularly scheduled passenger service between Easton, PA and New York City - including their signature "Black Diamond Express" whose only intermediate stop was at South Plainfield.

Hillsborough commuters had a choice of two station stops for boarding - Flagtown or South Somerville (previously named Royce Valley) - and you had to be on time because there was only one train each morning that stopped at these stations.

The train left Flagtown at 7:00 AM and South Somerville at 7:06, and arrived in New York at 8:43. The return trip in the evening was 3 minutes faster as the 5:22 PM train got into Flagtown at 7:02 PM.

Check out this schedule from 1923!

26 October 2008

Flemington Wants Trains

Like many Central New Jersey communities, Flemington is seeking restoration of passenger rail service. Hillsborough is already on board with plans for the reactivation of the CSX West Trenton Line - a project that is at least 10 to 20 years in our future - but Flemington's plan should also be intriguing for Hillsborough residents and officials, because 7 miles of the 18 mile line between Flemington and Bound Brook would run through our town. There would be more track in Hillsborough than in any other community along the line!

Flemington last saw passenger service along this corridor on April 25, 1953 when Jersey Central's No. 1555, nicknamed "Old Friendly" made its final run on the South Branch Railroad between Flemington and Somerville. The photo below is from the station stop at Neshanic Station that day.

CNJ Last Day Neshanic Station 1953

The section of those tracks between Three Bridges and Somerville was torn up years ago, and the proposed route wouldn't use that exact alignment, but would use the existing Norfolk Southern Lehigh Valley Line which closely parallels the old Jersey Central route.

This line also had passenger service a century ago, with stops in Hillsborough at Flagtown and at Royce Valley, where the railroad crosses the present day Route 206.

What do you think? Should Hillsborough endorse restoration of passenger service along this corridor? How about turning Flagtown into a "transit village", or building a commuter rail station at Docherty Park?

If the West Trenton Line is expected to take another 10 to 20 years, this plan will take about 20 to 30. Still, it will never happen if we don't plan for it now!

23 October 2008

Puzzle Pieces

Thank you to the following Hillsborough and area businesses that have supported Autism Speaks and Hillsborough's Hope by selling Puzzle Pieces in their stores.

Bagel Bop - Hillsborough

Learning Express - Branchburg and Hillsborough locations

Maggie Moos - Hillsborough

Hillsboro Pharmacy - Hillsborough

Kidz on the Move - Hillsborough

IHOP - Hillsborough

Secrets Salon and Day Spa - Bridgewater.

Please help us thank these area businesses by patronizing their stores!

20 October 2008

Time Warp

Members of the Hillsborough Township Committee joined the Planning Board on the dais of the multipurpose room to hear the concerns of citizens and citizens' groups about the proposed development.

Residents of the town had been hearing about the project for weeks, and had legitimate concerns about what impact this massive project would have on the town - especially property values, school enrollments, and environmental impact. After all, the project was planned for an environmentally sensitive area of the town. Experts came forth to state that projects like this in Franklin Township and Bridgewater had caused taxes to rise, and had strained those communities.

Sound familiar? This event took place in the multipurpose room of the Hillsborough Consolidated School - now known as Hillsborough Elementary School - on May 15, 1953!

It concerned the proposal by 3M to build the quarry and roof tile granule manufacturing plant on the border between Hillsborough and Montgomery.

Fifty-five years later, Hillsborough faces another tough development challenge. And though much has changed since 1953, one thing remains the same - Hillsborough's open, resident-friendly municipal government still encourages citizens to come out and actively participate in the democratic process.

19 October 2008

Thank You!

What an amazing day! There are no words to describe what it was like to look out from the stage at our 9th annual Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism and see the thousands of walkers committed to our goals of raising awareness and funds for autism research.

It was each of you, who came out to Mercer County College on a beautiful, crisp, Sunday afternoon, who made the day so special. Each year we are getting closer to finding the missing pieces of the autism puzzle - and it's because of you! Thank you for once again making the Central Jersey Walk a huge success!

For the next few weeks, we will be entering your donation information into our Walk website. We will let you know when the entry process is complete. We will continue to credit your team until December 31.

Post Walk Donations: (Be sure to indicate the team to be credited.)

Autism Speaks
Walk Donations Department5
455 Wilshire Blvd, #2250
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Attn: CNJ Walk

Walk Day Photos are now posted to the website. Thank you again for all of your hard work! We will continue to keep you posted as our total continues to rise. Enjoy your week!

Patty & Greg Gillette

16 October 2008

Finances Shaping Up

According to one of our area's oldest road signs, the southern border of our town is just 3.9 miles from the "New Jersey Neuropsychiatric Institute". But when it comes to sound fiscal policy, Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships are a world apart.

An article in today's newspaper describes the problems Montgomery is having with development plans for the former "Institute" - which began as the New Jersey Village for Epileptics in 1898, became the NJ Neurpsychiatric Institiute in 1952, and changed its name to the North Princeton Developmental Center in 1975.

The Center closed in 1998, and Montgomery purchased the site from the state in 2005 for $5.65 million - and then spent another $22 million to clean the site with the hopes of developing 42 of the 257 acres as Skillman Village.

The crippled economy has wreaked havoc with those plans. None of the developers contacted by Montgomery Township have committed to the project, and taxpayers are left holding the bag.

How big of a bag is it? The debt service on the loan Montgomery took to buy the property is $880,000 per year. That amounts to 3.25% of their annual budget! Yes, three and a quarter percent of Montgomery Township's municipal budget is used to pay the debt service on this ONE project.

Hillsborough's Chief Finance Officer recently released his annual report on the state of Hillsborough's finances. The eight page report is full of interesting information, not the least of which is the fact that while other municipalities - like Montgomery - have been borrowing, Hillsborough has been paying down it's debt - saving taxpayers thousands of dollars each year and putting the town in great financial shape!

We're in such good shape that if our financial report had legs it could make that 3.9 mile run down to Skillman Village in about 20 minutes!

15 October 2008

Walk Now For Autism 2008

[This is the official press release for our upcoming event on October 19. Many of our Hillsborough friends will be joining us for the walk.]

Dina Schwab – 609-228-7315; dschwab@autismspeaks.org
Lauren Havanki – 609-228-7332; lhavanki@autismspeaks.org


-- Increasing Awareness and Raising Funds to Support Research into the Nation’s Fastest-Growing Developmental Disorder--

Thousands of walkers – including individuals with autism, their families and friends – are expected to join together to raise much-needed funds for critical scientific research and to increase awareness about a growing health crisis that now affects 1 in every 150 children at Autism Speaks’ 9th Annual Central NJ Walk Now for Autism on Sunday, October 19 at Mercer County Community College. All proceeds from the event benefit Autism Speaks, the nation’s leading autism advocacy organization.

Last year’s event raised more than $280,000 with 4000 participants and 115 teams. This year’s goal is to break $400,000.

Toys“R”Us, Toys“R”Us Children’s Fund and Parade Magazine proudly serve as national sponsors of the Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism program. Other sponsors are Fruscione Foundation, Janssen, Merck, Black Rock, Nutricia, and Wilshire Enterprises.

Walk Now for Autism is a unique fundraising event which creates a safe and fun day for families who are affected with autism. The day includes a 2 to 3 mile walk and Community Resource fair with educational sources, therapists, schools, recreational organizations, and creative child-friendly activities; a true “one-stop-shop” for families affected by autism. This year Toys“R”Us will have a tented space serving as home base for Geoffrey the Giraffe. Attendees will also be able to stop by and sign their children up for Geoffrey’s Birthday Club and pick up the “Ten Toys That Speak to Autism” handout, a list of toys that help build the skills of children with autism, created in collaboration with Autism Speaks.

Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by extreme behavioral challenges. Another child is diagnosed every 20 minutes.

WHAT: Autism Speaks 9th Annual Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism

HOW: To register, visit http://www.walknowforautism.org/

WHEN: Sunday, October 19
12:00 pm Check-in
2:00 pm Walk starts

WHERE: Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, NJ

14 October 2008

Are We There Yet?

Hillsborough NJ Old Mileage Sign

3M 1.1 Mi.
J&J 2.4 Mi.
N.J.N.P.I. [NJ Neuropsychiatric Institute] 3.9 Mi.
Hopewell 8 Mi.
Princeton 9 Mi.

13 October 2008

Worst Ever?

I think it is very possible that yesterday's blog post titled Norz Hill Boo and Moo was the poorest writing I have ever done for On Hillsborough. There was almost nothing interesting about it at all - which is a shame because we DID have a great time at Norz Hill Farm, and they deserved a better piece.

I usually strive for better than this - I really do not know what happened. Very disappointing.

It's like going to the movies expecting to see this

And getting this instead!

12 October 2008

Norz Hill Boo and Moo

Halloween is in full swing at the 1500 acre Norz Hill Farm on South Branch Road. We enjoyed a fun Sunday afternoon at the farm - including picking pumpkins, finding our way through the corn maze, and taking the farm tour.

Norz Hill Farm is home to 300 milking cows who supply milk to Quick Chek and Shop Rite supermarkets.

Norz Hill Farm 2008

The farm tour included information about the herd, which also includes heifers - cows too young for milking - as well as dry cows who no longer produce milk. Norz Hill is also the "go to" farm when cows are needed to appear on television and in print ads - which means Hillsborough has some of the most famous cows in America!

Norz Hill Farm 2008

We didn't stay late enough for the haunted Creepy Hollow attraction, but the kids posing like this in the corn maze is always creepy enough for me!

Norz Hill Farm 2008

11 October 2008

300 Reasons to Keep Looking Up

Is this it? Is this what 400 years of American achievement has brought us? Have we finally become a society that measures its worth solely on the size of our bank accounts rather than on the value of our contributions?

It wasn't that long ago that the thirty year long "me decade" was a punchline. It's not so funny anymore. J.F.K.'s inaugural exhortation has been flipped on it's head - and a nation where hard work was once valued is now the nation where gamesmanship is most prized. Why work for your money when your money can work for you! Sounds good until your money goes on strike!

So what is there to look forward to? Where can we find optimism in a bearish world?

The ideas and ideals that made America are still here. There are still people that want to live up to them - leaders and followers.

As this is my 300th blog entry for Gillette On Hillsborough, I have given it the traditional nominal title. I don't have all 300 reasons to keep looking up, but I will get you started with a few.

I believe we can have compassion without resentment.

I believe we can have assistance without entitlement.

I believe we can have ambition without greed.

I believe we can have service without self-interest.

What do you believe?

07 October 2008

Good Farmer, Great Neighbor

Are you taking the kids to one of the local farms this Halloween season? There are at least three farms right here in Hillsborough that rev up the "agricultural tourism" aspects of their businesses this time of year, and all are a good bet for an afternoon of family fun.

Hillsboro Farm is located on Hillsborough Road, Norz Hill Farm is out on South Branch Road, and Doyle's Unami Farms, which I wrote about last year, is near the end of Mill Lane. All of the farms generally offer all of the usual Fall season activities like hayrides and pumpkin picking, and you can visit their websites for more info.

The photos below are from our 2003 trip, just down the block, to our favorite Hillsborough family farm, Everett's. Tom Everett's name is well known in Somerset County and across New Jersey for his leadership on agricultural issues and farmland preservation. The Everetts exemplified everything that makes a good farmer a great neighbor - not the least of which was a generous hospitality, shown to its best advantage each Halloween.

After Tom Everett's untimely death from pancreatic cancer in 2005 at the age of 55, Everett's Family Farm ceased their farm stand and Halloween activities. Thanks Tom for being a friend to the New Jersey farmer, and a great Hillsborough neighbor.

Everett's Family Farm 2003

Everett's Family Farm 2003

Everett's Family Farm 2003

06 October 2008

Bye Bye 7?

Could this be the end of New Jersey's 7th Congressional District? According to a recent article in the Courier News, our state's slow population growth over the last decade could mean a loss of one congressional seat after the 2010 census. It just could be number seven!

New Jersey at one time had as many as fifteen seats in congress, but lost one after the 1980 census, and another after the 1990 census as population growth boomed in the "sunbelt" and slowed in the northeast. Now the decade long exodus of New Jersey residents - 377,000 lost to out-of-state migration - may mean that our thirteen congressmen could be reduced to twelve.

Our 435 United States Representatives are apportioned by Congress, but the congressional districts are drawn by the state legislatures. The 7th district, a traditionally Republican territory, meanders from Hunterdon to Union Counties, and borders more districts - six - than any other district. It's easy to see how a Democratic state legislature and Democratic governor would carve up the 7th, with the western and central parts of the district being joined to the 5th and 11th districts, while the eastern portion is gobbled up by the 6th, 10th, 12th, and 13th.

Take a look at the map below to see what I mean.

Subtle boundary shifts would also have to be made, to keep populations fairly even, and the districts would have to be renumbered from 1 to 12, but the 7th as we know it may be finished!

Of course the re-districting would not go into effect until 2013 - just in time for Leonard Lance's third term!

05 October 2008

GSA Depot Blaze

Last week's fire at the former Belle Mead GSA Depot exemplifies the danger inherent in vacant properties in general, and in disused Federal properties in particular. We can be thankful that no child vandals, or firefighters, were injured or killed in the blaze - and can view this incident as a wake up call for township and federal officials , and the general public.

Part history, part curiosity, and part eyesore, the GSA Depot has been part of Hillsborough for over 65 years. Now we need to kill the curiosity by demolishing the eyesore. The township committee has taken the first steps by approving acquisition of the 369 acres to be used primarily for recreation. The federal government needs to replace missing security fences and tear down unsafe buildings on the property.

Mayor Ferrera has called on Hillsborough Township Police to increase patrols in the area. When the depot was in operation, it was regularly patrolled by guards wearing this patch on their uniforms.

Belle Mead GSA Depot Military Police Patch

02 October 2008

Absolutely Positive, For Sure

It's campaign season in Hillsborough! Did you notice? Letters-to-the-editor, campaign signs on every corner, internet forums overflowing with vitriol - all the good stuff!

Mayor Anthony Ferrera and familiar face Gloria McCauley are set to square off against newcomers Matt Dawson and Manny Foranoce for two, three-year seats on the township committee.

So what sort of campaign can we expect from these four? It seems like negative campaigns are the norm these days - unfortunately, none of the four candidates has a name that rhymes with "spender" or "dance", so I guess that's out!

What I would really like to see is a positive campaign of issues and ideas. Mayor Ferrera has a record of service on the township committee with accomplishments he can tout, and decisions he can defend. Gloria McCauley has served proudly on last year's Charter Study Commission, and on various township boards and commissions. Matt Dawson and Manny Foranoce each have ideas to bring to the table, and criticisms of the current township committee.

All four candidates have a vision for the future of Hillsborough, and strategies for making it happen.

And that's all you need for an absolutely positive campaign. You don't need personal attacks on a candidate's character, libelous claims of immorality, or misinformed charges of unethical behavior. Those are the tools of the desperate, and none of us are that desperate, I hope!