31 December 2009

Abolishing Design Committee is Wrong Move

The Township Committee voted this week to abolish Hillsborough's Architectural Design Standard Sub-Committee. The move, first proposed earlier this month, is part of the town's "economic action plan" - a plan to remove unnecessary and onerous regulations on Hillsborough businesses.

The problem, as I see it, is that this committee may not be unnecessary, and may not be onerous.

At the meeting where the sub-committee was dissolved, former township committeeman and Planning Board member Paul Drake, and Planning Board member Marian Fenwick-Freeman, questioned whether eliminating the sub-committee would really save developers any money. Ms. Fenwick-Freeman also stated that the design standards drafted by the sub-committee were essential for improving the look of many recent projects, especially the new Walgreens on Route 206.

Now that the shovels are ready to hit the ground on the 206 bypass, the often talked about "town center" may actually become a reality. Larken has already presented a concept plan for its property on the northwest corner of 206 and Amwell Road, and other property owners are sure to follow.

While it is true, as Mayor Frank DelCore stated this week, that the architectural standards themselves are not being abolished, and that the Planning Board can oversee compliance, having a strong Architectural Design Standards Sub-Committee demonstrates that Hillsborough is serious about the appearance of development in our town.

Furthermore, it is not yet known what effect other elements of the economic action plan have had on business in Hillsborough. It may be that previous measures have already provided the boost needed to get things turned around.

Deputy Mayor Bob Wagner, the lone dissenting voice on this issue, asked whether the issue could not be studied further. I agree. If abolishing this committee is truly a good idea, it will still be a good idea in 2010. If it is a bad idea, Hillsborough residents may suffer the consequences for the next decade.

22 December 2009

The Two Flaggtowns

Those of you who have taken an interest in Hillsborough history may have picked up some erroneous information along the way, especially concerning the origins of local place names. For example, how many times have you heard that Hillsborough is so named because of its hilly contours? Or that Neshanic is a corruption of New Shannick?

1850 Somerset County Map

And what about Flagtown? A popular misconception states that Flagtown derived its name from the practice of displaying a flag at the station to signal an oncoming train to stop for passengers. That's a cute story - one that some old-timers swear by - and Hillsborough did have at least one "flag" station, Roycefield. The problem with that is Flagtown was named long before any trains rolled through our town, decades earlier! Not only that, but Flagtown isn't even where you think it is!

The heart of Flagtown/Frankfort circa 1900.
The hotel is the building on the left.

Flagtown, originally spelled "Flaggtown", was named for 18th century Hillsborough resident and landowner Jacob Flagg. Around 1800, Flagg owned property - and a tavern - near where the YMCA is located today, at the corner of South Branch Road and East Mountain Road. Two centuries ago, this was the intersection of the original Amwell Road and the road to South Branch. By 1850, this crossroads village boasted at least three stores, a post office, a school near the corner of Mill Lane, and a hotel.

1860 Farm Map

The 1860 Farm Map of Hillsborough also places Flaggtown at the crossroads - and shows the hotel, as well as a store in the same spot, and in the same configuration, as today's Corner Store. In the early days of Hillsborough's history, the Township Committee often held their annual meeting at Flagg's Tavern.

1873 Map of Hillsborough

Then the railroads came. The Lehigh Valley Railroad and the South Branch of the Jersey Central each had stations near Flaggtown. Since the tracks did not actually pass through Flaggtown, the station area was named Flaggtown Station. The original Flaggtown was designated as Flaggtown Post Office to differentiate it from the new Flaggtown, and for many years they existed as two distinct villages, in much the same way as Neshanic and Neshanic Station coexist today.

21 January 1878 Monmouth Democrat

In January 1878, in order to remedy the confusion caused by having two nearby post offices containing the name Flaggtown - Flaggtown and Flaggtown Station - The US Postal Service renamed the Flaggtown Post Office to Frankfort, effectively erasing the historic village of Flaggtown from the map.

28 January 1878 Philadelphia Inquirer

Flaggtown Station lost its second "g" before the turn of the century and was soon known simply as Flagtown. The Flagtown we know today began to take shape around 1912 when the Equator Realty & Improvement Company divided the property north of the stations into lots. Take note of the price notation "AND UP" - the $49 lots were only 25 x 110. Still a bargain!

24 April 1912 The Brooklyn Citizen

Meanwhile, the old village of Flaggtwon, without the benefit of the railroad stations, diminished somewhat in importance. Eventually, the post office was moved to Flagtown and the name Frankfort became disused - although it does appear on the map below which was surveyed in the 1930s.

1945 Hagstrom Map of Somerset County

So, the next time anyone asks you about Hillsborough history, you'll be ready with at least three answers, Wills Hills, the Earl of Hillsborough, the Indian-named Neshanic River, and Jacob Flagg.

20 December 2009

Early Christmas Present

The state is seeking bids for construction of the first phase of the Route 206 bypass project. This part of the highway will run from Amwell Road to Hillsborough Road, and involves intersections with traffic lights at Hillsborough Road and near Amwell Road, as well as bridges over Homestead Road and the Conrail rail line.

Construction expected to begin in 2010!

19 December 2009

Sewers Make Sense

Hillsborough is accepting bids for the construction of a sanitary sewer system in the Clarement section of the township. This is good news for the residents of this 1950s era development - and good news for our town.

The simple fact is that individual septic systems for a residential development of many dozens or even hundreds of homes on small lots is not a 21st century solution for the problems of wastewater management. The knowledge that the total $5.5 million price tag for this project will be paid for by the affected homeowners through a special assessment should ease the minds of those who ask why the town should be laying out so much money for a select few.

Homes hooked into the sewer system are immediately worth more than the equivalent home on septic. This benefits the current homeowners, the future homeowners, and - as the value of the property increases - the entire town.

17 December 2009

Ten Years - and Counting

Friday, December 17, 1999. That was my final day of work at a "real job".

I left my former employer with little fanfare. Most didn't even know I was going. In fact, since we closed the office for two weeks at the end of the year, most people I said goodbye to in the pub after work assumed they would see me January 2nd! When I said, "Today's my last day", they said "Me too!", and I didn't correct them.

16 December 2009


When we were kids playing out in the backyard, there were a lot of ways G.I. Joe could stop this bulldozer - most of them involving his "kung-fu grip".

In real life, things are a bit different, as Milford resident Dennis Brandt found out at Osterman's Nursery recently.

Mr. Brandt discovered too late that the bulldozer he had just jump-started was still in gear. In an attempt to stop the dozer, he jumped up on the track, was thrown to the ground, and run over.

Luckily for Mr. Brandt, his severe injuries are not life threatening. Still, it appears these confrontations are better left to the sandbox.

15 December 2009

Salt Facility Won't "Pinch" Budget

The numbers tell us all we need to know:

  • 220 miles of icy roads

  • 3000 tons of salt

  • 2% interest rate

Hillsborough's current salt-storage facility, built in 1982, holds just 664 tons of salt. Industry trade groups recommend storing 75 to 100 percent of the salt that will be needed on a yearly basis. For our town, that amounts to somewhere between 1,900 and 2,500 tons of salt - or three to four times as much as can currently be stored.

There is one more number - $350,000. That's the price tag for the new facility.

While some may see a disconnect between a township committee that has promoted "pay-as-you-go" and "debt reduction" and a plan to borrow $350,000, to me it makes sense.

The point of debt reduction is to decrease the yearly debt service so that a necessary project like the salt storage facility - which, by the way, also helps compliance with state stormwater regulations - can fit within the annual budget. At an interest rate of 2%, this salt project shouldn't "shake up" Hillsborough's finances at all.

14 December 2009

Choose and Cut Your Memories

Here's an update for a post I made last year. Hurry, there's still time!

One of the nice things about having the Christmas tree in the family room - in the corner between the fireplace and the T.V. - instead of the living room where we used to put it, is that we are able to enjoy it more. And not just during the commercials!

As I have been sitting here looking at the tree, it occurs to me that in the last several years, we've never had a bad one. I can't remember one scrawny, needle dropping, flimsy limbed fir in at least the last ten years.

The reason must be that we always choose and cut our tree at the Shadow Hill Farm on Grandview Road in Skillman. I can only think of maybe two years since the mid 90s when we purchased a tree elsewhere - and in at least one of those years I believe it was because the farm didn't open!

The setting - at the top a hill at the edge of the Sourlands - is gorgeous and serene, the proprietors are friendly and helpful, and the trees are top-notch!

But, of course, as I sit here and look at the tree - all trimmed out, and tricked out, with ornaments and lights - I don't really see the Christmas tree at all.










13 December 2009

Medicare Flip is a Flop

Now that Joe Lieberman has flip-flopped, it appears the Senate's new compromise health care reform bill will not include a "Medicare buy-in" for 55 to 64-year-olds. That's too bad, because it was one of the few parts of the bill that actually made sense.

Look at it this way. If you were running an insurance company for people aged 65 and over, what would be the one guaranteed way to lower the average cost for each insured? Simple, get some younger, healthier people into the pool.

And conversely, if you were tasked with insuring all adults aged 18 to 64, what would be the one sure-fire way to lower their premiums? Easy, get the older people out of your pool.

Add this to the fact that the 55 and up group are the ones that are losing their jobs, and their insurance along with it, and you had a perfectly simple way to reform health care.

12 December 2009

Medicare for the Masses?

What’s this? Congressional Democrats are mulling an idea to expand Medicare to cover people 55 and over? That idea doesn’t sound half bad. In fact, it sounded pretty good when I first had the idea six moths ago! Here’s what I wrote on June 22 in a blog titled, “Enough to Make You Sick”.

I can’t take it anymore. I have to weigh in on the Health Care debate.

What is coming out of D.C. is enough to make you sick. Proposals that will turn the nation with the BEST health care in the world for the vast majority of its citizens into a nation of poor health care for everyone are coming fast and furious.

What is wrong with the health care we have now? Simple answer – some people fall through the cracks. They aren’t old enough for Medicare, not poor enough for Medicaid, or have lost the job that used to provide their coverage.

Simple solution. Since Medicare, for all of its faults, still seems to work, why not just extend Medicare to YOUNGER PEOPLE. Let’s go all the way down to 55. Let’s do it over a period of five to ten years. If you can make it to 55, you’re set. Younger than 55, make sure that you or your spouse has a job that covers you. Over 55 – Hey! Your employer is now off the hook for that huge expense. Under 18? Let the states figure that out – most have programs for children.

That’s it. My solution. Oh, by the way, every other “cost savings” that President Obama has spoken about – computerization of medical records and the like – can work under my plan also. And we won’t need to bankrupt our country first, or kill a lot of citizens with crummy nationalized medicine.

10 December 2009

Hillsborough Under Water

A month after a devastating, torrential rainstorm swept through Somerset County leaving half a dozen people dead and millions of dollars in damage, the Bureau of Water Control of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection was making plans to sit down with representatives of the 78 communities in the Raritan River Basin to come up with strategies to mitigate future flood damage.

The South Branch of the Raritan River, circa 1906

This was in September of 1973!

Although Hillsborough did not suffer greatly in the August 2nd storm, the municipality, particularly the little village of South Branch, was at the epicenter of future flood control plans.

One idea, which was already on the table before the 1973 storm, was a proposal to build a reservoir at the confluence of the North and South Branches of the Raritan River. The Raritan Confluence Reservoir would have put put parts of Branchburg, Bridgewater, and Hillsborough under water. You can see on the map how a reservoir about as big as Spruce Run would flood a portion of the three municipalities.

View Untitled in a larger map

At that time, the state had already been acquiring land for the reservoir - but faced with opposition from South Branch residents concerned with the loss of historic sites in the area, an immediate 120 day moratorium on land purchases was instituted.

The New York Times, 23 September 1973

As late as 2000, the reservoir was still being talked about. At a meeting of the State House Commission, an acre of land that was part of the proposed reservoir was leased to the Branchburg Funeral Home on Route 202 to be used for overflow parking. The lease had an initial period of five years with a five year option. At the same meeting, it was also mentioned that at some time in the future the reservoir would need to be built - just not in that decade.

Well, that decade is just about over, so, what do you think? Should we drown a little bit of Hillsborough to help control flooding?

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08 December 2009

Civil Disunion

The Senate Judiciary Committee's approval of the "same-sex marriage" bill will likely set up a vote in the legislature later this week. Governor Corzine has promised to sign the bill into law if it is approved before his term ends in a few weeks. This bill is very likely to become law, because, once again, short-sighted politicians have tied their own hands.

New Jersey's "Civil Union" law - passed earlier this decade - was written in such a way that it expressly singles out gays and lesbians for special treatment. In effect, the law makes a civil union equal to a marriage - in everything but name. By providing that civil unions can only take place between same-sex partners, and that the partners can not be related - the two critical items for a gay marriage - legislators ineptly created a "separate but equal" version of marriage.

You can't do that. Separate is always unequal.

What should have happened half a dozen years ago is that civil unions should have been open to all adults - and they should have had nothing whatsoever to do with marriage.

There are certain legal advantages to marriage that are not enjoyed by non-married people. Civil unions should have been a tool for any two people - mother-daughter, sisters, life-long buddies - to confer some legal status on a loved one who they are sharing their life with.

By granting gays and lesbians special status in the civil union law, New Jersey has already approved same-sex marriage.

I believe in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is the union I feel deserves special status. It is likely all of New Jersey's legislators were born of such a union. They would do well to remember that when they cast their vote.

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04 December 2009

Christmas Tree Lighting

The annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony will take place tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Hillsborough Township Municipal Complex.

The High School concert band will perform and there will be light refreshments.

All courtesy of the Hillsborough Women's Club.

02 December 2009

Triangle Road Turkey Trot

A century ago, when Diamond Jim Brady had one of his homes right here in South Branch, he liked to invite friends "down to the farm" for a weekend in "the country". More than 100 years later, Hillsborough, in many ways, is still "the country" - especially when it comes to wildlife.

What has changed in the past several decades is the amount of automobile traffic on our roads. In an effort to keep our wild and domestic animals and our wild and domestic drivers apart, there are road signs placed in the areas where animals regularly cross or come near roadways.

We have deer crossing signs, and cow crossing signs, and geese crossing signs. Maybe we need one of these, too.

Just a few days before Thanksgiving, I spotted this turkey on the north side of Triangle Road.

I wasn't sure which way he was headed - and I'm not sure he was either - until he decided to make a run for it.
With barely a pause to look both ways, he was across the westbound lanes and on the median.

Narrowly avoiding one car, he made it safely to the other side.

Why did the turkey cross the road? I'm not sure, but I think it had something to do with that Chicken Holiday van!

01 December 2009

Seek and Ye Shall Find

I recently added a new search box to the blog. You can find it over there on the right of the page. For some reason it appears to give better results than the search function in the top left corner. Results appear in a box at the top of the page in a typical Google format. You can also expand your search to results contained elsewhere in cyberspace.

Another way to find things on this blog is by using the categories on the right side of the page. I have been very stingy in my use of "tags" or "labels" with my posts. This has allowed me to develop an index of Hillsborough topics. It's easy to browse an area that is of interest to you.

Happy searching!