26 November 2011

Princeton Christmas Tree Lighting

One of the interesting things about the annual Princeton Christmas Tree lighting - a terrific event attended by thousands each year on the day after Thanksgiving - is that the entire event is put on by the local business community.

16 November 2011

Happy 100th

Heaven exists.  How do I know this?  Simple, there is no other place my grandmother can possibly be.

Wedding day, 1931
Born in 1911 in Brooklyn, NY to Polish immigrant parents, she grew up in a typical immigrants' turn of the century apartment building with cold running water and outhouses in the backyard.  An often absent father meant she spent much time caring for her two younger brothers and working from an early age to to help provide for her family.

With first grandchild, 1964
Despite not having much more than a sixth grade education, she worked continuously from her early teens until her retirement at age 65, finding work during the Depression as a switchboard operator - a career where she transitioned from working for the phone company to manning the switchboard for some of New York's biggest steamship companies.

90th Birthday, 2001
Happy 100th birthday, Grandma.  I hope to see you again someday.

12 November 2011

Pete Biondi, Hillsborough's Best Friend

Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State under George Washington, Vice President under John Adams, third president of the United States, upon designing the inscription for his tombstone, famously left off all of those titles.   Instead he wished to be remembered for just three things: writing the Declaration of Independence, writing Virginia's Statute for Religious Freedom, and founding the University of Virginia.

In that same spirit, as I reflect on the passing last week of Peter Biondi, I barely think about his ten years as a Hillsborough Township Committeeman, his term as a Somerset County Freeholder, or his dozen years representing the 16th district in the New Jersey Assembly.

More than anything else, Pete was Hillsborough's best friend, plain and simple.  

It hurts to lose your best friend.  It hurts a lot.

Sometimes looking at pictures helps.

Black Horse Stable Family Day for special needs children, 2007.   Pete was a tireless supporter and  advocate for the special needs community.  Over the years he made generous personal donations to Autism Speaks and the Organization for Autism Research, as well as fighting in Trenton for insurance reform and a common sense vaccination policy.

Rotary Club of Hillsborough annual Easter Egg Hunt, 2008.   Pete was  a proud member of the Rotary, and exemplified its motto, "service above self".  He was actively involved in all of their community activities, including the Easter Egg Hunt, and in later years, the annual Rotary Fair.

Portrait by Kevin Murphy, 2009.  When Hillsborough artist Kevin Murphy came to the Cultural Arts Commission in 2008  with an idea to transform our annual art show to include a commissioned portrait of a notable Hillsborough person, he already knew who the first subject should be. We Agreed.  Not only did Pete fit every imaginable criteria for inclusion in Hillsborough's "hall of fame", he was also a strong supporter of the arts, offering his personal financial assistance to the art show in subsequent years.

Memorial Day Parade, 2009.  Pete was a fixture at Hillsborough's annual Memorial Day Parade.  His support for our veterans, as well as those currently serving was unquestionable.

07 November 2011

Gibraltar Rock

On October 24, I joined the Cub Scouts on a visit to Gibraltar Rock, formerly the 3M quarry on Route 601.  Here are some photos.

We were not permitted to leave our vehicles as we toured past the huge pit where the aggregate is mined.  It was difficult to capture the awesome breadth and depth of the quarry with this car window snapshot.  Suffice it to say, it's enormous.

Huge trucks are required to move the thousands of tons of stone.

Quarry managers were available to answer questions, and explain operations - including the somewhat sobering news that there is enough stone in the quarry to continue operations for at least another century.

01 November 2011

Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks

Here are some photos from the Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks event held October 9th at Mercer County College.  I was so happy to have Patty back again as co-chair, and to be able to enjoy the day with my family, friends, and my second family of dedicated volunteers.  This was truly the most personally rewarding Walk event in the many years that I have been involved with Autism Speaks and its predecessor organizations - the weather was great,  the walkers were full of enthusiasm and smiles, and we raised a lot of money.  As of this blog post, we are well on our way to raising over $250,000 for autism research!  [note: we did it!]
Our dedicated Walk Committee, who spent nearly a year planning this event, pose for a group photo on walk day.

Our friends and neighbors who walk with us as Hillsborough's Hope are so generous with their time.

Patty, clipboard in hand, with William before the Walk.

Each year I get to thank the walkers for their fundraising efforts.  This year, I invited Miss NJ International, Brielle LaCosta, up to the stage to recognize her awareness efforts.

The sight from the stage as thousands of Autism Speaks supporters begin the Walk. 


I am hoping that dedicated and enthusiastic Walk Committee volunteer Emily Josephson will be able to join me as Co-Chair in 2012.  [note: Patty and I did not participate in the Walk in 2012]

31 May 2011

Happy Birthday Hillsborough

The anniversary of Hillsborough's 1771 Charter passed quietly this year, as has been the usual case over the past four decades.

Not so for the 1971 Bicentennial, which featured a week's worth of events - and probably a year's worth of planning - beginning with a "Miss Hillsborough" Pageant on May 22, and culminating with a family picnic, fireworks, and a Grand Parade down Route 206 on Saturday May 29.

The Franklin News Record printed a two page montage of photos from the parade in their June 3 issue.

Here's the link for the eight-millimeter footage of the parade taken by Dottie Leinenbach: 

29 May 2011

Al Nittolo, USS Corsair

It's often said that submariners have an unfair advantage over their surface adversaries.  As someone who gets mildly claustrophobic in the backseat of a Volkswagen, I just don't buy it.  I can't imagine the mental preparation that would be necessary before I could sign on for a tour of duty in a modern nuclear submarine, let alone in a tiny World War II era boat - not at the age of 47, and certainly not at 17.

USS Corsair - photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo

But that's what longtime Hillsborough and lifelong area resident Al Nittolo did in 1946 when he, along with seven officers and 68 other enlisted men, was assigned to the USS Corsair, a brand new diesel-electric sub destined for service in the Atlantic.

Photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo
A football star at Somerville High School - and again after his service at both Rutgers Prep and Washington University -  Al enlisted soon after receiving his varsity letter in December 1945. When diplomas were handed out the following June, he was somewhere in the Atlantic.
USS Corsair
Born in 1929, Al was bitterly disappointed that he was too young to enlist during the war.  He soon came to realize that for submariners in Atlantic and Arctic waters, the war was just beginning.

Photos courtesy of Mark Nittolo

Submarines proved to be the perfect tools for intelligence-gathering in north Atlantic waters - shadowing the Russian Navy at the outset of the Cold War.  When I introduced my kids to Al at the Memorial Day Parade [May 2011], he recounted the time that the Corsair got just a little too close to a Russian vessel.  On the surface, (the Corsair's batteries only permitted dives up to 22 hours), the Russian ship fired a warning shot across the sub's bow.

Photo courtesy of Mark Nittolo

The skipper immediately ordered an empty torpedo to be fired from one of the sub's ten tubes.  Al recalls the Russian ship turned and ran from the bogus bomb, and was out of sight within minutes!

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2012

Clearly, the unfair advantage has never been in our weapons, but always in the bravery of our young men who fight them.

28 May 2011

Retro Soldiers Go Wayback for 2011 Parade

Hillsborough's 2011 Memorial Day Parade was much the same as in past years - marching band, fire companies, Scouts, and youth sports leagues were all in their usual places.

But at least one group seemed out of step, or at least, unfamiliar.

Take a look at these photos from recent parades.

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2006

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2007

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2009

Hillsborough Township Memorial Day Parade 2010

The "retro-soldiers" have always cultivated a definite 20th century appearance - until this year:

Boy Scout Troop 1776 Colonial Militia Unit marches in the 2011 Memorial Day Parade

It looks like they set the Wayback Machine for the mid 1700s!

26 May 2011

Where Are the Results?

Let's go crazy for a second.  Let's assume that the additional $500 million in state aid that the New Jersey Supreme Court demanded that the taxpayers provide to the 31 former "Abbott districts" will result in 1,000 more high school graduates from our city schools in June 2012 than we will have in June 2011.  Do you think that would be a worthwhile result?

Now consider that we would be paying $500,000 per student - in that one year alone - to reach that goal.  Does it still seem worth it?  What if we thought we could increase the number of graduates by a whopping 10,000?  Off the top of my head, there might be 25,000 seventeen-year-olds in the former Abbott districts.  Would spending an additional $50,000 per student next year save those 10,000?

I know what you're thinking.  The $500 million isn't just for juniors and seniors, it's for all the kids - and we can't expect results in just one year.

Well - we're not just talking about one year.  We have been conducting this experiment for 25 years!  And it is a colossal failure.

Now, you are going to hear critics state that increased spending doesn't equal increased student achievement.  But that's not quite right either.  I can say confidently that $1,000 per student in increased state aid to a district like Hillsborough (that would be $7.5 million total) would mean infinitely more than the $2,000, on average, that was just awarded to each Abbott student.  Here, that money would produce real results - in Newark, Camden, et. al., increases in taxpayer funding have been shown to do nothing.

Hillsborough taxpayers, like those in the rest of suburban New Jersey, only want to see real results.  If not equal to the results we see here, then at least something, anything!

[standard disclaimer:  the views expressed above are my own and do not represent the opinion of the Hillsborough Township Board of Education]

30 April 2011

First Night in Hillsborough

Patty and I just passed the 18-year-mark as Hillsborough residents.  As we get further and further from the Spring of 1993, details seem to slip away.  I do remember that we had already asked our landlord if we could break the lease on our apartment, and then - as the completion date for our new house in Rohill kept getting pushed back - asked him if we could stay a little longer.  Not once, but twice.

April 30 eventually became the mutually agreed upon drop dead date to get our stuff out of Freehold and up to Somerset County.  We pressed the builder with daily phone calls to put all resources into OUR house.  Kind of silly now, as we had no kids and could surely have found a place to stay.

In the event, we had our closing on April 29 - and if I recall correctly, the moving van did roll on April 30 - along with my much beloved 1980 Pontiac Phoenix, completely filled with clothes and personal items - the last trip that car ever made.  It died right here in the garage on Conover Drive, and remained there for months.  

Beekman Lane and Conover Drive, Spring 1993
  After spending more than 6,000 nights in Hillsborough, I think back to what my grandfather said to me during his one visit here later that summer, "this house feels like home".  Eighteen years later, this still feels like home - just a bit more crowded!

11 April 2011

Who's in Charge Around Here?

At the annual townmeeting held at the house of Peter Williamson in the township of Hillsborough and county of Somerset, on the 2nd monday in April 1811, the following persons were chosen in office.

Moderator.....Peter D. Vroom
Town Clerk...Nichl. Williamson
Assessor........Peter D. Vroom
Collector.......Henry Brokaw

Commissioners of appeal - Nichl. Dubois, Dennis Van Liew, Abraham Ten Eyck

Chosen Freeholders - Nichl. Dubois, Martin Schenck

Surveyors of the highway -  Garret Quick, Gilbert B. Taylor

Overseers of the poor - Peter D. Vroom, Henry Brokaw, Peter P. Vroom

Constables - John Voorhees, Cyrenus Thompson

Judge of election - Henry H. Schenck

Pound keeper - Cornelius Williamson

Town Committee - Nichl. Dubois, Rynear Staats, John Sutphen, Peter D. Vroom, Martin Schenck

[Twenty-Four men were chosen as overseers of the roads.  Nineteen were newly appointed, only five continued with the same road they looked after in 1810.]                                      

10 April 2011

Route 206 Traffic

UPDATE: With three hours to go, April 10, 2011 has a chance to become my busiest blog day in 18 months. 

It's 2:30 on a Sunday afternoon and the Hillsborough traffic is out of control.

No, not the highway traffic.  I'm talking about the traffic on this blog!

With plenty of browsing hours left, visits to "Gillette on Hillsborough" are already triple what I would receive on an average day.

What accounts for the spike in popularity?  It has to be the story this morning in the Star Ledger about the Route 206 bypass project.  Once again, the newspaper has failed to provide the one thing that people are really interested in - A MAP!.  I know this because nearly all of the visits to the blog today are from people searching for "route 206 bypass map".

Just a few years ago, it would have been common to see a map accompanying a story like this.  In fact, computers made the creation of this type of graphic relatively easy - hence we saw a welcome increase in tables and charts and maps in the paper. 

Obviously someone realized that the person creating the graphics had to get paid.

Since I don't get paid, and therefore can't be downsized, you can click here to see my map of the 206 bypass.

09 April 2011

Blidget Widget

Do you have a web page or blog about Hillsborough or Central Jersey? Consider adding the Gillette on Hillsborough widget to your page! You can find the Gillette on Hillsborough widget down a bit in the right column of the blog. Click on "Get Widget" to bring up the embedding options.

08 April 2011

Introducing Doris Duke, for the Second Time

Many readers will know that evolving commitments on the School Board, Historic Preservation Commission, and Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism, required me to ask to not be reappointed for another term on Hillsborough's Cultural Arts Commission.

Portrait of Doris Duke painted by sixteen-year-old Hillsborough resident Kathleen Fritz, which was unveiled Friday, becoming the third portrait in Hillsborough Township's Public Art Collection.
One of the last things I worked on as chair of the commission in 2010 was the selection of Doris Duke as the third subject for Hillsborough Township's Public Art Collection - an adjunct of the annual Art Show.  In preparation of the 2011 show, which was held last weekend, I met with Duke Farms chief Tim Taylor to discuss involving Duke Farms in the project - where the 2010 student grand prize winner is commissioned to paint a portrait of a notable Hillsborough resident under the tutelage of premier portrait artist Kevin Murphy.

To say that Mr. Taylor was enthusiastic about the project would be an understatement.  He pledged full cooperation of both himself and his staff, and I know their assistance was greatly appreciated by the Cultural Arts Commission.

Tim Taylor of Duke Farms addresses the assembled at the awards ceremony of the Hillsborough Cultural Arts Commission Art Show.
During our meeting last Fall, Mr. Taylor spoke about Doris Duke's love for the arts, and how she would have been so pleased to see young people engaged and participating in the arts.  He reiterated those themes when he spoke during the awards ceremony on Friday just before the unveiling of the Doris Duke portrait, but he also said something that I hadn't heard before.  Apparently Miss Duke only sat for one portrait during her lifetime.

In 1924, twelve-year-old Doris Duke was painted by renowned English portraitist John Da Costa.  Da Costa specialized in children's portraits, and a photograph of his painting of the young Doris Duke appeared in the December 21, 1924 edition of the New York Times.

07 April 2011

All Eyes on Eagles

Season three of Duke Farms' popular Eagle Cam premiered this week, with two of three eaglets already hatched by Wednesday.

Online TV Shows by Ustream As the babies grow they really become eating machines, devouring everything big daddy brings to the nest - including fish, eels, turtles, rabbits, and assorted roadkill.

06 April 2011

New Looks

Blogger has recently introduced five new, fun ways to view the blog.

Start here with "Mosaic", http://www.cnhillsborough.blogspot.com/view/mosaic#!/ , then check out the rest.

"Snapshot" is pretty cool - displaying every single image that has ever appeared in "Gillette on Hillsborough".  If you see something that looks interesting, just click on the pic to bring up the related blog post.

"Flipcard" has the ability to show thumbnails all of the nearly 700 posts on one page.

Have fun.

31 March 2011

A.T.M. U.G.H.

I've been a big fan of TD Bank, formerly Commerce Bank, for more than twenty years.  The innovative financial institution, started in south Jersey in the 1980s, popularized such concepts as seven-day banking and evening hours.

One aspect of their operation that I have been critical of is their "drive-thru" lanes, which do not include a drive-up ATM.  I do not believe this is an oversight.

Part of the Commerce Bank/TD Bank business plan appears to be to force customers to enter the building to get cash.  I guess that once inside, you're supposed to feel all warm and fuzzy about the bank and decide to put all of your money there - or take a big loan.

Still, it seems funny that "America's Most Convenient Bank" won't allow customers the convenience of the drive-thru ATM.

Up until this month, I have used a simple workaround.  I have combined stops for coffee with necessary cash withdrawals by using the very consumer-friendly PNC Bank ATM at the WaWa on Triangle Rd., which for years has had no fee at all, from either PNC or TD Bank.

Imagine my surprise last week when I hit that button for $100 "fast cash" and was swiftly docked $102!  Where did that $2 go?  Not to PNC.  It looks like TD Bank has found a convenient way to grab a couple bucks - a 2% commission in this case - from their loyal customers' transactions at WaWa.

What to do?  Here's a clue - I won't be changing my coffee place.

25 March 2011

Adjusting Open Space Tax Rate is Child's Play

What happens to property tax rates after a town-wide revaluation, such as the one recently completed in Hillsborough?  As my high school calculus teacher might say, the math here is "child's play".  In order to collect the same amount of taxes, when the assessed value rises, the tax rate must go down.

We have already seen this calculation put into place with the proposed school tax.  On Monday the School Board is expected to propose a new tax rate of $1.45 per $100 of assessed value, where the old rate was just over $2.00.  The Township Committee will propose a similar adjustment in their upcoming budget.

So far, so good.

But what happens to other fees that aren't necessarily property taxes, but are tied directly to property values?  Shouldn't those be adjusted also?

In dozens of New Jersey communities that have undergone revaluations over the past several years, the answer is either "no", or "we didn't think of it".  Incredible!

The example at hand is the Open Space Tax.  In Hillsborough, the tax  - approved by voters in the mid-90s to preserve open space and farmland - is currently set at 4 cents per $100.  Leaving the tax rate as it is would result in an unjustified windfall for the town, and create an increased, unapproved, tax burden for property owners.

Amazingly, nearly 75% of towns that have found themselves in this situation have done just that - collectively receiving a bonus of more than $15 million.

Not in Hillsborough, where Mayor Gloria McCauley has instructed the township attorney to investigate how to legally change the voter-approved tax rate to reflect the reassessments.

After that, the rest is, indeed, child's play.

23 March 2011

Flagtown Forger, Retired

By the time Emanuel Ninger's cell door clanged shut in the late Spring of 1896, the Flagtown Forger was already a legend. As early as 1879, his hand painted masterpieces, mostly 20s and 50s, began showing up at banks around the nation. After his arrest - he slipped up by laying a newly minted twenty dollar bill on a damp counter at a New York City bar, causing the ink to run - art critics came forward to hail the German immigrant, not as a Prussin War pensioner as he claimed to be, but as a near-genius of impressionism, and to plea for a short sentence.

Nevertheless, Ninger confessed, was tried quickly, and sentenced to six years at an upstate New York prison.

Most accounts of Ninger's exploits end with his incarceration - but there may be a bit more to the story.

Ninger's wife, Adelaide, vowed to move herself and her children from Flagtown to Buffalo in order to be able to visit her husband in prison and await his eventual release. Nearly penniless - Secret Service agents had confiscated all the cash they found in the home, both counterfeit and genuine - Mrs. Ninger didn't have the means to set up a new household in another state.

Enter Newark brewer, philanthropist, and sometime alderman, George W. Wiedenmayer.

Newark brewer and philanthropist George W. Wiedenmayer

Perhaps because of their shared German heritage, his appreciation for fine art, or some other reason lost to time, Wiedenmayer came forward and offered to buy the Ninger house in Flagtown, thereby putting Adelaide in funds for her relocation to Buffalo.

While preparing for the move that summer, Mrs. Ninger and a trusted neighbor decided to search one more time for any cash or valuables possibly hidden by her husband. Although Secret Service agents had searched in every nook and corner, it appears that they overlooked the cellar floor.

Upon prying up the floorboards, the women were astonished to find $5,000 in gold - the news of which quickly spread throughout Flagtown and all of Hillsborough.

A search of US census records reveals the Ninger family, minus Emanuel, living in Buffalo in 1900. It was in July of that year that Ninger, after time off for good behavior, was released. His freedom was brief, however, as he was then tried, sentenced, and served an additional term in a New Jersey prison for manufacturing the funny money.

By 1910, the entire family was reunited and living in Berks County, Pennsylvania, where Ninger described his occupation as "farmer". Curious, since he had done practically no farming at his Flagtown farm, instead claiming he derived his income from a Prussian War pension - a false claim used only as a cover for his counterfeiting operation.

So, what was Ninger doing in Berks County? An interview with Secret Service Special Agent Bruff on the topic of Ninger which appeared in a December 1910 issue of the New York Telegraph provides a clue. Bruff claims that Ninger was so well-respected, after a fashion, by the Secret Service, that he was being paid by the government to no longer be a forger! In essence, he was receiving a retirement check in order to ease the minds of officials at the Treasury Department who had spent nearly two decades and $750,000 trying to apprehend him.

It appears Emanuel Ninger may have gotten his pension after all.

17 March 2011

Hillsborough, County Down

Benjamin Franklin made his first and only visit to Hillsborough in October 1771 - a trip that perhaps set in motion the American Revolution. No, not OUR Hillsborough. I'm talking about Hillsborough's de facto sister city - Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland - the ancestral home of Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough, Secretary of State for the American Colonies in the 1770s.

Benjamin FranklinLord Hillsborough

During Franklin's 1771 diplomatic mission to the British Isles, he made his first visits to Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. It was in Dublin that he surprisingly encountered Lord Hillsborough, noted enemy of American interests, personally responsible for many of the most odious economic policies affecting the Colonies.

Circa 1790 Coat of Arms

What astonished Franklin was Lord Hillsborough's apparent change of demeanor. In London, he was antagonistic and confrontational - in Dublin, he was cordial, amiable even, inviting Franklin and his entourage to stay with him at his estate as they continued on their journey to Belfast.

There was no way Franklin could turn down such a generous offer, particularly because they would have to necessarily pass right by Hillsborough's door.

Hillsborough Castle - the 18th century Georgian manor,
built by Wills Hill in Northern Ireland.
 It was sold to the British government in 1922

Once at the Hillsborough estate, the American Party was treated quite hospitably, with particular attention being paid to Franklin. Remarkable since Lord Hillsborough had treated the American diplomat so contemptuously in London.

During the four-day visit, an extraordinary effort was made by Hillsborough to ingratiate himself with the Americans and to foster a good opinion of himself - including assigning his eldest son to drive Franklin forty miles on a sightseeing tour of the Irish countryside.

All of which made Franklin highly suspicious. He knew that Lord Hillsborough cared not for him, and even less for America. His only conclusion was that, "all the plausible behaviour I have described is meant only, by patting and stroking the horse, to make him more patient, while the reins are drawn tighter, and the spurs set deeper into his sides."

Franklin returned to America with an even deeper distrust of Lord Hillsborough and England's policy makers.

And we know what happened next!

04 March 2011

Question for the Governor

I was never a Boy Scout, but I still believe in being prepared.  Even though I had no intention of raising my hand at Governor Chris Christie's town hall meeting in Hillsborough on Wednesday, I had a question prepared anyway.  Hey, you never know.

Governor Christie at the Hillsborough Municipal Complex

*Here's my question:

Governor, I've lived in Hillsborough almost twenty years.  In that time I have found Hillsborough to be a wonderful community full of caring people.  Having been involved in some charitable efforts in town, I have seen firsthand the generosity of our residents.  Whether it's fundraising for national charities, building a playground for disabled kids, or keeping our food pantry stocked, the people of Hillsborough always come through.

Even though Hillsborough is not an affluent community - in fact, our per capita income is right about at the state median - we acknowledge that there are communities needier than ours.  We know that New Jersey's poorer cities need our income tax dollars to fund their schools.  But Hillsborough is also a frugal community - evident in the fact that we have had amazing student achievement in our own schools, while spending far less than other comparable districts.

What we demand to see are results.  Right now, we're just not seeing it.  We send 60% of state aid to thirty urban districts, and it isn't doing any good.  Some of these districts spend two or even three times as much per student as we do in Hillsborough, and it's all for nothing.  If a student is going to drop out of school anyway, they could do it for $10,000 a year as easily as they could for $30,000.

Governor, when are we going to see some return on our investment in the urban districts?

*As always, this blog post represents my personal opinion and not that of the Hillsboroughh Twp. Board of Education.

28 February 2011

Abraham Parsell, Miniature Portraitist

I hope you're planning to attend the Seventh Annual Hillsborough Art Exhibit on Friday, April 1st, 2011 at the Municipal Building.  Among the hundreds of works on display, you are sure to encounter a number of fine portraits in all shapes and sizes.  Indeed, the highlight of the show is sure to be the unveiling of a large portrait of famous Hillsborough resident, philanthropist Doris Duke.

But it's a safe bet that none of the portraits will be as small as those painted by Hillsborough's most noted portrait artist, Abraham Rykers Parsell.  Born in Neshanic in 1791, the second of the six children of Oliver Parsell and Lucretia Williamson, Parsell moved to New York as early 1820 to set up shop as a miniature portraitist.

The first interesting thing about Parsell is that he chose to forsake the traditional career path of the portraitist in the pre-photographic era, which would be to constantly travel.  The fact that he was able to sustain a career in New York, competing with classically trained artists, for almost forty years, is proof of his talent and the quality of his output over time.

The second interesting aspect of Parsell's art is that not only did he apply paint to the front of the 2-1/2 by 2-1/4 inch translucent piece of ivory used for the portraits, but he also painted skillfully on the back side, which, according to Vincent DiCicco and Howard P. Fertig in their article about Parsell for Antiques and Fine Art, produced "muted tonalities on the front of the image" and illustrated "clear understanding of the medium in which Parsell chose to work".

Not much is known today about Parsell. He married Mary Richards in 1819 and had three children, only one - John - surviving infancy. He worked mostly in lower Manhattan. As an adult, John joined Abraham at work in his studio, but it isn't known how much involvement he had in the actual painting if any.

Abraham Parsell died in 1856 and is buried in his wife's family's burial ground in Springfield, New Jersey.