30 November 2010

"Extravagant, Luxurious..." Beekman Gardens

Here are some 1977 ads for the Beekman Gardens and Beekman Village apartments and townhouses.

Rents that started at $260 per month 34 years ago are now at $1000.

29 November 2010

A "most beautiful" Complex

Here's an ad from January 1975 for Hillsborough Gardens, one of the many apartment and townhouse developments in the Triangle Road - Farm Road area.

According to the real estate websites, monthly rents have more than quadrupled over the past 36 years, with an 872 sq. ft. apartment now starting at $985.

25 November 2010

"Bring Your Own Turkey? Sure!"

It's Thanksgiving in Hillsborough, circa 1960. I hope you brought your appetite -and your turkey!

November 1960 Ad for Thanksgiving Dinner at the Town and Country Inn
Click on the image to enlarge the menu.

18 November 2010

Shovel-Ready, 1897

When the members of the Bridgewater Township Committee were roused from their beds by phone calls and messengers just after midnight on October 24, 1897, they probably weren't expecting to hear that they were in the midst of an invasion by "a thousand men from Baltimore", but that was exactly what was happening.

25 October 1897 New York Times

The New York and Philadelphia Traction Company had been involved in a bitter three-year dispute with the Brunswick Traction Company over who had the legal right to build and operate a trolley line between Bound Brook and Somerville. Earlier that evening, a train left Baltimore for Finderne carrying enough railroad track for two and a half miles of road (enough to build from the border of Somerville to the border of Bound Brook), a trolley car, and 1,000 laborers, foremen, and engineers under the employ of the New York and Philadelphia Traction Company - with orders to build the railway, and let nothing stand in their way.

4 November 1897 Electrical Engineer trade journal

The few police officers the township committee had at their disposal were completely ineffectual, so they called on the Somerset County Sheriff - who quickly recruited 50 "special deputies". He was joined by Edward Radel, the president of the Brunswick Traction Company, who arrived a short time later with 50 men of his own, and an injunction from a Superior Court Judge.

4 November 1897 Electrical Engineer trade journal

The New York and Philadelphia men, who outnumbered the locals by ten to one, kept right on working - digging up the street, setting sleepers, laying rail, and setting poles - despite a pouring rain all day. Fueled by coffee, and the occasional "stronger stimulant", the laborers worked at an incredible pace. By the afternoon, they were already stringing the overhead electric cable.

The New York & Philadelphia and Brunswick Traction companies
merged in 1898 to provide trolley transportation between
Raritan, Bound Brook, Plainfield, and New Brunswick

President Radel made one last stand at a 1,000 ft. stretch of land bordering a farm which he owned, but his men were easily overpowered and the work went on.

The Finderne Hotel, circa 1894, erected by John C. Shaw.
His house was adjacent to the hotel.

New York lawyer John C. Shaw, a supporter of the New York and Philadelphia Company, recently had a large dynamo installed at his magnificent residence in Finderne, supposedly to supply electric light. It was from this location that power was supplied to the trolley line. By the following morning, the invading army had left for Maryland, eager to be out of the state before any legal action could take place.

Main Street (Somerset Street) Raritan, with trolley tracks,
circa 1911

The route then became the quintessential "road to nowhere" - or "traction road to nowhere". A line from the outskirts of Somerville to the outskirts of Bound Brook didn't provide any utility except to frustrate the Brunswick Traction Company and coerce the Bridgewater Township Committee to acquiesce to what was a "done deal".

Main Street Somerville circa 1910

Throughout the fall and early winter of 1897 that prospect seemed highly unlikely. At least one Bridgewater Township Committeeman was still bristling at being called a "hayseed" by an officer of the New York & Philadelphia outfit during the summer - and injunctions to halt further worker were obtained and sustained into the next year.

A trolley car passes the Hotel Somerset on Main Street
in Somerville in the 1920s.

Negotiations were also going on behind the scenes between the two rival companies. The Brunswick Traction Company had already connected Bound Brook to New Brunswick by laying tracks on the east side of the Raritan River.  When the New York & Philadelphia Company dropped its plans to set their own Bound Brook to New Brunswick route west of the river, the Brunswick company dropped its opposition to their rival's Somerville to Bound Brook enterprise, and indeed floated the idea of merging to the two companies.

Main Street Bound Brook,
looking west from East Street

Things looked bright for restarting construction of the line when the weather improved in the spring - until the courts stepped. On March 30 a ruling was handed down by the Chancery Court that said that all injunctions against construction were still in place and that the matter needed to proceed through the courts to its final resolution.

On the trolley from Bound Brook to Plainfield through Middlesex,
circa 1910

With all of the interested parties now ready to drop their opposition, a petition was made to Chancellor McGill of the Chancery Court on March 31, 1898, to immediately halt the case. The petition was received favorably, and, although not official until October, The New York & Philadelphia and Brunswick Traction Companies were now one.

Pinback Button,
Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough

Eager to finally have the trolley run through Somerville, the Bridgewater Township Committee (Somerville was not an independent municipality until 1909) gave the company six months to complete the line from the eastern end to the western end of the borough, after which the failure to complete the line would mean the loss of their franchise. 

The trolley depot in Dunellen, circa 1910

At the end of the six months, there was still a considerable distance to go on the western end. There were also obstacles at the other end of the line. It wasn't until the end of September that the Somerset County Freeholders agreed to allow tracks to be laid on the Union Avenue bridge over Green Brook. As a condition, the traction companies agreed to pay half the cost of erecting a future span.

The trolley viaduct east of Bound Brook crossing over the
Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley, and Port Reading railroads 

There was one final engineering feat needed to complete the line - the large trolley bridge, or viaduct, east of Bound Brook which crossed over the Jersey Central, Lehigh Valley, and Port Reading railroads.

George Street New Brunswick circa 1905

The first run over the completed route was made ceremoniously on January 25, 1899. Two decorated trolley cars left New Brunswick at 9:30 am, crossed the Raritan at the Albany Street bridge, and proceeded on River Road to the Bound Brook viaduct where the cars were stopped so that a bottle of champagne could be broken. The cars were then run over the viaduct for the first time and through Bound Brook into Somerville and Raritan.

Front Street Plainfield circa 1910

From there the cars motored back through Bound Brook to Plainfield before backtracking to Dunellen for a celebratory dinner at Taylor's Hotel.

Taylor's Hotel, Dunellen, circa 1910

Today, it seems almost as remarkable that all of this construction was completed between October 1897 and January 1899 as it does that "1,000 men from Baltimore" did the two-and-a-half-mile stretch through Finderne in 24 hours. Can you imagine what this would take today?

17 November 2010

"Next stop Secaucus - Watch the closing doors"

Now that Governor Christie has sunk the ARC rail tunnel, plans are being floated by the Bloomberg administration to turn New Jersey commuters into straphangers by bringing New York's Number 7 subway line under the Hudson.

New York City's 7 train with the Newark skyline in the background

The line, which runs from Flushing, Queens to Times Square, is already undergoing an extension project which will bring the tracks right up to the Hudson River waterfront at 11th Avenue and 34th Street.

The main advantage this plan has over the ARC tunnel is the cost to New Jersey taxpayers. The overall price tag is estimated to be less than half the amount of the NJ Transit ARC tunnel, plus, other jurisdictions - New York City, Port Authority - would be expected to chip in this time.

The disadvantage is that the ARC tunnel promised a "one seat ride" into the city for many commuters, whereas the new plan would have commuters switch to the 7 train at Secaucus.

The proposal appears to be sound. In fact, it really is not very different than the PATH trains that already run under the Hudson in two separate tunnels - and require jumping on and off at Newark or Hoboken.

Hillsborough Township commuters know that potential reactivation of NJ Transit's West Trenton Line is wholly dependent on increasing Hudson River tunnel capacity. This proposal does the trick, and would potentially allow West Trenton Line trains to deliver passengers to Secaucus for transfer to the subway.