31 July 2009

The New Jersey State Bird

July is the best time of year to photograph the New Jersey state bird. No, I'm not talking about THIS state bird -

Or THIS guy - who has been singing a lot lately -

I'm referring to the Eastern Goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) which was adopted by the NJ Legislature as the official state bird on June 27, 1935.

They come in a female version too -

Goldfinches don't begin nesting until weed seeds are available in July and August. That's when they are the most active. You can see the thistle flying as they work to get at the seeds.

Here's a goldfinch in action, observed from the same window in my study from which I snapped all of these photos.

30 July 2009

Solar Power Pays

Solar power is coming to central New Jersey - and guess who is paying for it? PSE&G's announcement this week that they have awarded a $200 million contract to Petra Solar to install 200,000 solar panels on utility poles in 300 communities served by the utility comes with a price tag attached. Customers will see their electric bill increase by $1.28 annually the first year, up to to $4.08 annually by 2028.

Small price to pay, right? Maybe. My math tells me something different. The 200,000 solar panels are supposed to supply enough electricity to power 64,000 houses. That works out to 3 or 4 panels per house. And at a cost of just $1000 per panel (200 million divided by 200,000) - heck - I'll just buy 4 myself, take my house completely off the grid, and have the whole thing pay for itself in a couple of years!

Even if the panels actually cost twice that amount, I would still come out way ahead. But that's not how it works. In the crazy world of New Jersey public utilities, we get rate increases to pay for an enormous solar project so that PSE&G can continue to sell us the ALREADY PAID FOR, FREE ELECTRICITY in perpetuity! Yikes!

28 July 2009

Double Take on Two Bridges

Passengers travelling through Somerset County on the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad in the fall of 1918 might have been heard to wonder aloud, "Where are we?" Everything seemed familiar as the engineer blew his whistle at the Dutchtown-Harlingen Road crossing and then headed north towards Belle Mead, and then it all changed - no more whistles, no more crossings. The clickety-clack of wheel on track and chug-chug of the engine is all that would be heard as the locomotive sped towards Manville. They were now passing through Hillsborough's first "railroad quiet zone".

The Delaware and Bound Brook - now the CSX West Trenton Line, but then a subsidiary of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad - had undertaken a major grade separation project in 1917 and 1918, building road bridges at six railroad crossings in Hillsborough and Montgomery Townships. These include the bridges over the railroad at Route 206 near the Belle Mead train station, Hillsborough Road, Homestead Road, Amwell Road, Hamilton Road, and Bridge Street in Manville. Nearly a century later, most of these bridges are still being used every day - but not for long.

The 1918 Amwell Road bridge was rebuilt with a new span just a few years ago. Now the Homestead Road bridge, also from 1918, and the Hillsborough Road Bridge from 1917 are due to be rebuilt next year at a cost of $3.2 million. That's almost as much as the entire D&BB Railroad was worth when they were originally built.

The two bridges are important elements in the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad Historic District. Although the bridges themselves are not deemed to have any historic value on their own, the state has determined that removing them would have an "adverse effect" on the historic district. Therefore, the NJDOT is proposing, as mitigation, to reconstruct the bridges in place, with new bridges that resemble the old ones, including architectural elements that will "maintain compatibility" with the historic district.

It sounds like a good plan. These bridges are deficient and need to be replaced.

And in case you are wondering - they took care of the Dutchtown-Harlingen Road crossing by building a bridge at that location in 1926. Only the crossing at Sunnymead Road would seem familiar today to a traveller from a century ago.


Here's a question for Hillsborough history buffs. Do you know why the Delaware and Bound Brook Railroad is the railroad that nearly wiped "Hillsborough" off the map? Answer in an upcoming post.

26 July 2009

Bagels for Thirty!

What do you do for breakfast Sunday morning when you've just had thirty hungry kids at your house for a sleepover Saturday night? For the bleary-eyed Hillsborough mom I met while standing on line at Bagel B.O.P. this morning the answer was simple. "I have no idea what they want for breakfast", she told me, "but I know everyone likes bagels."

True enough. And if you include yourself in "everyone", it's probably because you've eaten some really tasty bagels in your lifetime. That's where Hillsborough's Bagel B.O.P. comes in. Located at 450 Amwell Rd., Bagel B.O.P. (Baked on Premises), was our town's first made-from-scratch bagel shop and has been a Hillsborough tradition for twenty years.

On her website, shop owner Roseanna DiMarzio explains what makes Bagel B.O.P. bagels the best. It starts with fresh ingredients - flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt. Bagels are formed and proofed overnight and cooked early the next morning, first in boiling water then in the oven. Each bagel comes out hot, moist and fluffy. You can't get that by trucking them in from a bagel factory.

I've been a huge fan of Bagel B.O.P. for fifteen years. Not only because of their great bagels, homemade cream cheeses, and the rest of their delicious menu items, but also because of their involvement and support of community events and organizations such as the Hillsborough Education Foundation and the Raiders athletic teams. They also support charitable causes such as the Autism Speaks puzzle piece campaign.
It's not just that everyone loves bagels, it's that everyone loves a GREAT bagel. Whether you are getting breakfast for a family of four, or a posse of thirty, there's one place to go in Hillsborough for a great bagel that's Baked On Premises - Bagel B.O.P.

23 July 2009

Rotary Fair Cancelled for Tonight

The Hillsborough Rotary Fair is cancelled for the evening of Thursday June 23. The Fair will resume tomorrow through Saturday - 6 to 11 pm each day.

22 July 2009

Keep Those Ads Coming

Have you seen the latest campaign ad featuring Chris Christie? It shows the Republican gubernatorial hopeful appearing at a congressional hearing where he was asked to speak about a handful of appointments he made while he was U.S. Attorney.

I did a double take at the end of the ad when I noticed that it was paid for by Jon Corzine! The ad shows Christie standing up and leaving the room rather than sitting there and listening to a politically motivated assault on his character. Surely this ad must have been paid for by the Christie campaign - what could Corzine possibly hope to prove by questioning Christie's appointment of Attorney General John Ashcroft's legal and consulting firm as a monitor in the Zimmer Holdings case? That Ashcroft used to be Christie's boss?

O.K. I'm certain Ashcroft and Christie have a cordial relationship. I am also certain it is NOTHING like the relationship between Corzine's predecessor and one Golan Cipel! Or how about Corzine and Carla Katz?

Keep those ads coming Mr. Corzine - each one costs you about 2 points in the polls!

20 July 2009

Rotary Fair Begins Tonight

The Hillsborough Rotary Fair begins tonight at 6 p.m. and continues through Saturday July 25. This year, every night is "wristband night". Ride all of the rides for one low price!

Click on the picture to view and print the flier.

19 July 2009

Summer Arts Festival Recap

The Summer Arts Festival at Mountain View Plaza on Sunday was a real treat with something for everyone. From teen rock bands with real attitude...

... to an acoustic duo performing classic Beatles songs.

In between, Hillsborough mayor Frank DelCore was enticed into wearing a beanie cap with a propeller on top, as part of a promotion to raise money for a children's charity.

Thank you Allegra School, Plaza Deli, and all the rest of the businesses that made Sunday afternoon so much fun.

18 July 2009

Anna Case Weds

The front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 18, 1931

It's been a long time since one of Hillsborough's hometown girls appeared on the front page of every daily newspaper in the United States - seventy-eight years, to be precise. On July 18, 1931, the national media reported the marriage of South Branch native and former Metropolitan Opera soprano Anna Case to telegraph tycoon Clarence H. Mackay.

Photo from the Muncie Post Democrat July 31, 1931

At the time of her marriage to C.H. Mackay, Anna had risen from shooing flies in her father's blacksmith shop, to earning money for clothes by driving passengers to and from the train station in a horse cart for 25 cents per trip, to singing in the South Branch Reformed Church choir, to appearing on stage as a member of the Metropolitan Opera.

Along the way, she found the time to date Enrico Caruso, record for Thomas Edison, become one of the 20th century's foremost concert performers, and even make one of the first sound movies.

There is much more to learn about Anna Case. I am hoping one of my readers - perhaps a longtime Hillsborough or South Branch resident - will be able to give me more info. Please leave a comment on this blog.

17 July 2009

Before the Fall

"If we are heading for a fall, the reasons are many: rising taxes, increasing welfare, unsustainable debt, expanding government, state paternalism, apathy." I am writing these words today, but they could just as easily have been spoken on the floor of the Roman Senate in the second or third century AD.

The similarities between 21st century America and second century Rome are uncanny. We face every problem they faced, including near elimination of the middle class through ever increasing taxes, overflowing welfare rolls due to endless government dole of one form or another, even takeover of their once proud independent cities by the central government.

And you know what? No one cared. Citizens were happy to let the government take care of them, whatever the cost. Of course, the cost was the fall of the Roman Empire.

There is no doubt some saw it coming - knew it had to happen - knew it couldn't be fixed - couldn't wait for the whole thing to blow up so that Western civilization could begin anew.

I wonder if those people are around today, cheering Corzine and Obama at the PNC Bank Arts Center, perhaps.

16 July 2009

Manville, NJ 08835

Things are looking up for Manville history buffs. Two recently announced projects are sure to inspire a new appreciation for the borough which split from Hillsborough in 1929.

The first is a history book being compiled by members of the Manville Library Board with help from former borough councilwoman and writer Kathye Quick. You can read more about the project here.

The second is a new blog started by Manville resident Mike Polnasek featuring photos and stories of the borough's past. This blog is truly interactive - some of the most interesting tidbits are to be found in the comments left by readers. If you are a long time resident of Manville or Hillsborough, or just someone who wants to learn more about our two towns and their shared history, I suggest you check it out here.

15 July 2009

Drunken Brawl at Town Hall

Have you taken a walk through the municipal building on a Monday evening when court is in session? Much of the time you won't even know that anything is going on. It can be downright peaceful - serene, even.

21 December 1901 New York Tribune

Not so in Hillsborough's sometimes colorful past. Take the 1901 case of Brophy vs. Vandermark. Mr. Vandermark, who lived up on the Sourland Mountain, had a long overdue grocery bill at the store kept by Mr. Brophy. Unable to extract payment, Brophy sought to impose a levy on Vandermark's household goods - an action that Vandermark attempted to evade by claiming that everything in his home was actually owned by his wife.

12 June 1901 Hopewell Herald

Brophy engaged 33-year-old Nelson Dungan, a former Somerset County prosecutor from Rocky Hill, to represent him in a lawsuit against Vandermark. Subpoenas were sent out by both sides to thirteen "mountaineers" prepared to give testimony as to who held legal title to Vandermark's worldly goods.

On the day of the trial, Friday, December 20, 1901, Justice George Corle - himself a grocer - rode up from Neshanic Station to oversee the proceedings, and Constable Dennis Wyckoff made the long carriage ride from Bridgewater to keep the peace in the courtroom. It's a good thing he brought two associates with him.

Justice George S. Corle's own store in Neshanic Station

Hillsborough Town Hall  - likely at this time the Neshanic Hotel - was packed with hundreds of residents who apparently came out to see a good show. They got their money's worth. All thirteen of the witnesses came off the mountain dead drunk, and - according to a story which appeared the next day in the New York Daily Tribune - "proceeded to run the trial as they saw fit."

The first witness, Tom Johnson, was so drunk that he couldn't stay on his feet during the oath. When Constable Wyckoff attempted to help him up, Johnson started a fight - forcing the sixty-six-year-old Wyckoff to defend himself by striking Johnson a heavy blow to the head with the court Bible!

Nelson Y. Dungan for the defense

When Johnson was dragged from the room, a general melee ensued. Justice Corle, assisted by the three constables, was somehow able to regain control of the courtroom and determined to continue the trial, saying, "These mountaineers are as sober as they are ever likely to be".

Confused, incoherent testimony ensued, but it took the jury just ten minutes to return a verdict in favor of Mr. Brophy. The only possessions determined to be truly owned by Mrs. Vandermark were a bedroom set - and a lemon tree!

14 July 2009

Neighborhood That Never Was

Today I present a real mystery. Pictured below is a portion of Hagstrom's 1945 map of Somerset County showing portions of Hillsborough and Manville. Route 206 - then designated as Route 31 - is at the left, and Manville's Main Street is at the right.
Just east of Route 206, south of Duke's Parkway, there appears a grid of streets with avenues named Hamilton, Sylvan, Roselynd, Frazee, and Garretson, along with Lewis Place, Ellis Place, Vance Place, and Jean Place. The east-west streets are extensions of Manville's Green Street and St. John Street.
An examination of aerial photographs taken both before and after this map was produced - in 1931 and 1956 - show nothing but cleared farmland on this tract. This parcel appears to have remained farmland until the Campbell Road/Nostrand Road development was built in the 90s.
Was this an early plan for a post-war Hillsborough housing development? If so, it would have predated Green Hills, its eventual neighbor to the west, by a decade, and New Jersey's famous cluster development, Village Green, by 15 years.

Ideas anyone?

13 July 2009

Extarordinary Times - Extraordinary Budget

Hillsborough's 2009 budget is up for public comment at the next Township Committee meeting on Tuesday [July 14, 2009]. The $28 million budget, which includes a $36 annual tax increase for the average Hillsborough home, might be considered a decent budget under ordinary circumstances. Considering the national recession/depression, and the disastrous economic condition of New Jersey, this budget is extraordinary.

Going into the budget process this year, township officials had to find a way to make up for a $270,000 reduction in state aid - on top of a $600,000 decrease the previous year - as well as a decrease in interest earnings of $200,000. This was accomplished by reducing appropriations from 2008 levels for 34 separate budget line items - and holding steady 24 others - as well as eliminating 5 full-time positions, for a savings of over $800,000!

I would also characterize the budget as being employee-friendly - a worthy accomplishment in these hard times. Because the full-time staff reductions were accomplished by eliminating two positions through retirements, two by not filling vacant positions, and one through combining a vacant position with a current one, no one will be receiving pink slips this year. Compare that with Montgomery, which is eliminating 14 jobs, and Franklin Township which is negotiating with unions over layoffs and furloughs.

I believe the relatively good shape Hillsborough finds itself in is due to good fiscal management over the last several years. A useful example is the township's recent aversion to borrowing. Hillsborough's debt service this year is just $2 million, while Montgomery - which also has a $28 million budget - has a current annual debt service of $5 million! We can see how out-of-control borrowing severely limits budget flexibility by taking a look at each municipality's proposed capital budget. Hillsborough is spending a modest $800,000 in capital expenditures, while Montgomery is only able to budget $111,000.

Having said all of that, there are still more savings to be found. I am confident that in future years the Hillsborough Township Committee will find more ways to save through shared services, and will seriously consider using Somerset County for emergency dispatch services.

09 July 2009

The Old Bridge

A few days ago I put up some photos of the new bridge over the Neshanic River on Amwell Road. My pics, taken from the passenger seat as we travelled east over the bridge, only presented the new road surface and guard rail. Nice and shiny new, yes, but that's not what a bridge is all about.

A bridge, above all else, is about structure. And boy, did the Amwell Road bridge need a new structure! It wasn't easy to see from your car as you sped to and from Hillsborough, but it was clear the entire bridge needed to go.

Hillsborough resident and super talented landscape artist Joe Kaz sent me some photos he took of the bridge in September and October of 2007.

I'm not sure what was holding up the bridge in the 18 months or so between the time these photos were taken and its demolition, but whatever it was, I'm glad it's gone.

08 July 2009

Both Hands Blown Off

Like many of you, I received a donation request from the Hillsborough Rescue Squad this week. Thinking of taking a year off? Read this account from the New York Evening Telegram dated March 8, 1897.

Remarkable Exhibition of Nerve Displayed
by a Wounded New
Jersey Sportsman.


SOMERVILLE. N. J.. March 8.—B. S. Tollman, of Flagtown. who had both his hands shattered by the accidental discharge of a shotgun yesterday morning, is progressing favorably to-day and will recover. Meantime the entire district is discussing the extraordinary nerve displayed by the injured man after his terrible accident.

Mr. Tollman, who was formerly an inspector on the Central Railroad of New Jersey, now owns a large stock farm. He has already gained a reputation for bravery but his remarkable endurance of yesterday has stamped him as a man or iron nerve.

Stephen P. Tallman was an agent for the Burton Stock Car Company, and was an inventor who held many patents for stock car improvements. He later owned a large stock farm near Flagtown/Frankfort

When both hands were literally blown to pieces, he coolly walked into the bathroom and held his arms under a stream of water, without uttering a sound. James Painter, his manager, found him bathing his mutilated limbs, and was greeted with a smiling request that he would chop off four of his employer's fingers. This Painter did, and after the arteries had been bound up roughly Tollman and Painter drove seven miles to Somerville to secure medical assistance.

The blood Tollman lost on the journey was enough to kill any ordinary man. The trip lay across rough roads, and, with foaming horse and mud-covered wagon, the men eventually arrived at Dr. W. J. Swinton's office. More painful operations followed, which Tollman bore without wincing; and afterward was driven home smiling, minus one-half his usual complement of fingers
on each hand.

Tollman is a strong, powerful man, otherwise his constitution could not have withstood the shock.

[New York Evening Telegram, 8 March 1897]

07 July 2009

The Plain Truth

What do New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and twenty-three other states have that New Jersey doesn't?

That's right. According to the most recent survey by the Young Center for Anabaptist [Amish] and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, there isn't one Amish settlement in the Garden State.

The greatest number of Amish communities are in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, with lesser numbers spread throughout the Midwest and South - and there are even a few settlements in Colorado, Washington, and Maine! The Mid-Atlantic region is also well-represented by the previously mentioned states. In fact, New York has the sixth largest Amish population in the U.S.

Why no Amish in New Jersey? It would appear that our state, particularly right here in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties, would be a good fit for the Amish. Plenty of farmland, moderate weather, and sizable markets for produce and other Amish produced goods.

There seems to be only one major factor keeping the Amish from New Jersey. According to the Young Center, the number one enticement for Amish families to migrate to a new state is "fertile farmland at reasonable prices". Reasonable prices. Who would have guessed?

I suppose there is no COAH for the Amish.

06 July 2009

You've Got to Be In It? You've Got to Be Kidding!

Let's get one thing straight - the New Jersey Lottery, in all of its forms, is a tax. And more than that, it's the worst kind of regressive tax, because it disproportionately hits the poor. A 2008 Carnegie Mellon University study on how poverty influences the decision to buy lottery tickets noted that, "lotteries set off a vicious cycle that not only exploits low-income individuals' desires to escape poverty but also directly prevents them from improving upon their financial situations".

This is why the recently enacted state law imposing an income tax up to 11% on lottery winnings is so puzzling. The lottery is, or should be, a revenue machine. If the state isn't making enough money from it, they need to adjust the variables - change the payouts, cut the overhead, whatever - not tax the few lucky ones that hit a prize over $10,000.

Hey Trenton, I've got an idea. Why not a $1 billion lottery? "Instant Billionaire". It would be the biggest game ever. All you need to do is enact a special 99% billionaire lottery tax.

02 July 2009

Summer Arts Festival

Summer Arts Festival at Mountain View Plaza - July 19, 2009. Click on the image to view and print the flier.