18 April 2009

It's Unanimous! Manville Wants Out

Prognostication is a risky business - one that I try to avoid. I certainly wouldn't try to guess the results of this year's school board elections, but I do have one prediction: the decision will not be unanimous.

You'd do well making that sort of prediction every year in Hillsborough, where outcomes sometimes come down to a handful of ballots.

Courier News, 19 April 1929

Every year except 1929, that is.

On April 18, 1929, each of the 243 voters who went to the polling place in Hillsborough's unincorporated village of Manville knew exactly how their neighbors would cast their ballots. In quite possibly the only unanimous decision in Somerset County history, the residents of Manville voted 243-0 to secede from Hillsborough.

Johns Manville Plant, Hillsborough Township, circa the 1920s

Manville's official incorporation had been 17 years in the making. Since 1912, when the Johns-Manville Company moved their factory from Brooklyn to the site at the confluence of the Raritan and Millstone Rivers there had been dissension between the new working-class population and Hillsborough's traditional farmers.

30 November 1912, Courier News

Most of that dissension centered on Manville's schools. For the most part, Manville's residents - many of them eastern European immigrants - were willing to put up with muddy, impassable refuse-laden streets and cramped, often unsanitary, living conditions. But what they would not put up with was inadequate schools.

Harmony Plains School circa 1913

Time and again between 1912 and 1929, Hillsborough's school board refused to build a decent school in Manville. The school children perpetually attended split sessions in inferior overcrowded buildings. Only after the school board relented in 1926 and added a polling place within its confines did Manville finally win two seats on that body.

But even two seats, or three, or four, were not enough to sway the majority. In 1926, Manville voters rejected a ballot question calling for a portable school, and in 1927 they rejected a more substantial school in an unsuitable location.

NJ State Senator Clarence E. Case

It took the influence of State Senator Clarence Case of Somerville and the backing of the Johns-Manville Company - who heretofore had stayed out of the local squabble - to finally achieve what Manville really wanted: a referendum on independence.

Who could have predicted that 80 years later the state of New Jersey would be studying the possibility of once again joining Hillsborough educationally with Manville?

Not me, I don't make those predictions.


  1. I think if Branchburg had their way they would split from Somerville. I don't think the state will let them but they are probably better off together anyway. Are they really thinking about making Hillsborough and Manville combine? I think Hillsborough is big enough. How about Manville, Bound Brook, South Bound Brook, Middlesex Regional School... or MBBSBBMRS for short.

    What are your thoughts about having only one superintendent per county and sharing some resources between schools? Not sure if you can comment on that one but in theory it sounds like a good idea.

  2. Hi Mike!

    Manville, Millstone, and Hillsborough were all one town, or precinct, for hundreds of years before Millstone split in 1894, and Manville in 1929. It's short-sighted to think that they can never be joined again.

    As far as shared services go - I believe that this is an ongoing process that hasn't reached its full potential. Not every good idea can be thought of all at once! In other words, I believe that there are still more ways to share services and save money that have yet to be realized - and we are still a long way away from total consolidation - town to town, or at the county level.

  3. P.S. Mike, I didn't mean to say that YOU are being short-sighted - in fact, I agree that Hillsborough IS quite big already - but that doesn't mean certain efficiencies wouldn't be realized by going even bigger.

  4. Our family lore includes stories that JM advertised for employees in the coal mining areas around Nanticoke, Pennsylvania. The pitch was the opportunity to work above ground and away from the coal dust. - SG

  5. My father and his siblings were raised in Manville, most of them worked for JM, lots of my family worked for JM and my “Pop’s “ and transferred with them to Colorado. Love learning/ hearing the history!