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.

27 February 2011

It's Spring Clean-Up Time in Hillsborough

As soon as the snow starts to melt, people begin asking questions about the Hillsborough Annual Clean-Up.

As in years past, you will need a coupon to visit the dump site.  Coupons will be available at the DPW building from March 21 to April 29.

For more info, click on the flier below.

26 February 2011

Central NJ Walk Now for Autism - Sunday October 9, 2011

It seems like it was just a few weeks ago that we wrapped up the 2010 fundraising season for Central New Jersey Walk Now for Autism Speaks - and it was!  But already the work begins planning our 2011 event.

The 12th Annual Central NJ Walk Now for Autism Speaks event will be held Sunday, October 9, 2011 at Mercer County Community College.  For more information, please click here.

Hillsborough's Hope was the top fundraising team in 2010, thanks to the generous donations of hundreds of Hillsborough families and the support of our local professional and business community.

Please plan on joining us this year on October 9th.

25 February 2011

Christie Coming to Hillsborough for Town Hall Meeting

Governor Chris Christie is coming to Hillsborough Wednesday March 2, for a town hall meeting.  Because of space limitations at the municipal building, residents are asked to RSVP by clicking here.

Not only is this your chance to ask the governor a question, you just might become a YouTube sensation!

24 February 2011

Christie Gets Down to Business

For years, New Jerseyans have pleaded with Trenton politicians to run the state like a business.  And for years, governors have said, yes!, you're right, I will take a business-like approach.  I will strive for efficiency, I will eliminate waste, etc.  Yet no one has been able to actually deliver on this promise.

The problem, up to this point, is that government is not set up to be run like a business at all.  Every business operates with the knowledge that they may go "out of business" at any time.  They are constrained by this premise in everything they do - borrowing, investing, spending, expanding, and bargaining.

State government has always operated as if they can't go out of business, and everyone knows it - the special interests, the unions, and the politicians themselves.  Promises made today can be figured out tomorrow.  There's always tomorrow - no one is going anywhere.

Until now.  Decades of taxing and spending and borrowing, combined with the current recession, may have actually, finally, brought politicians to the realization that New Jersey CAN go out of business.

The temptation is to say, so what?  Better to go bankrupt, or get a federal bailout, than to upset the status quo.

With the 2012 budget, Governor Christie is leading with the opposite approach.  We MUST upset the status quo,  It is actually NOT better for New Jersey to bankrupt itself. 

I agree.

23 February 2011

Somerset Dems Seek Candidates

Are Somerset County Democrats looking for love in all the wrong places?

I received an interesting valentine of sorts last week from the Somerset County Democratic Committee containing the local politics equivalent of the "Be Mine" candy heart.  After asking around, it became apparent that I was not the only "local democrat" who received the letter seeking candidates for November races.

I was invited to call and schedule an appointment with the screening committee so that we might evaluate my qualifications to run for freeholder, or assembly, or even state senate!

The only problem is that I am not a Somerset County Democrat!  As an unaffiliated voter, I belong to no political parties or clubs - which I guess still makes me marginally acceptable as a potential democratic candidate.  Or at least more acceptable than the many Hillsborough Republicans who also received the letter.

I suppose the oft-heartbroken Somerset Dems are casting a wide net.  On Valentine's Day, it's hopeful to believe there are many fish in the sea.  Of course, you never know what you might catch!

22 February 2011

The Ballad of Hans van Pelt, Part 3

The conclusion of the Ballad of Hans van Pelt.  If any kind reader knows anything about the origins of this tale, or about its author Joseph Hunt Miller, please leave a comment.

But before a man moved, a fresh breeze in the air
Uncovered the legs that were galloping there,
When the gleaming sharp point of each curving cow horn
Seemed the point of a lance by an enemy borne.

Then arose a wild cry that rang far through the town,
That the Tories in hot wrath were fast riding down.
Such a racket, and tumult, and terrible roar
Never Middlebush heard neither since or before.

When his tired horse at last to the spur gave no heed,
And in vain strove the rider to quicken his speed,
As the day hid its face under night's sable gown,
On a slow-walk he rode into Millstone's fair town,
Where Ten Eycks, and Ten Broecks, and ten dozen or more
Of Van Dams and Van Liews, of Van Duzens, Van Dor-
Ens, Van Veghtens, Van Camps, Van Arsdales, Van Dycks,
Van Cleefs, and Van Syckles, Van Homes and Van Slykes,
Who, that evening as wont having finished their chores,
Were all gathered in groups, just in front of their doors;
The men smoking and joking; the good women knitting-
An employment they follow, whether standing or sitting.
Salutations they gave Hans, believing the stranger
One riding the land with war's tidings of danger.
Came his words to their ears, like chill winds to the flowers,
When an iceberg has stranded on tropical shores-
"The British have come!" - then, on turning his head
And beholding the moon, which now arid and red,
Hung low in the east, and shone through the dim haze-
"New Brunswick is sacked! See, the town's in a blaze,
And on their swift horses they hitherward come,
The soldiers of Howe to pillage your town."

Then the hardy Ten Broecks were all in a quiver,
Through the bold Ten Eycks swept an aching cold shiver,
And the tremor contagious spread to each man
Till aching and shaking stood every Van.

Trusty scouts were sent forward who rode all the night
Nor returned to the town till the dawn's early light,
Though far they had ridden, some to New Brunswick below,
They found in the land not a sign of the foe.
Then the Vans took to swearing and swore all the day,
If ever again Hans should ride down that way,
Though he came like a priest, in a cassock and gown,
Only his ghost should ride forth from the town.

At midnight Hans reached the high hill of Neshanic,
Where he sprang from his horse and ran in his panic
To a cave on its brow, where long hidden he lay.
What came of him then, I really can't say,
For like the old dame, who lived under the hill,
For all that I know he is living there still.

Joseph Hunt Miller

21 February 2011

The Ballad of Hans van Pelt, Part 2

Part two of Joseph Hunt Miller's ballad of Hans van Pelt.

With knees pressing the saddle, erect in his seat
Hans rode into town through long Albany Street
Where he gazed with fresh joy at the tall stately stores
All with large, painted signs overhanging their doors,
So distinctly each lettered on wood, or on tin;
Without asking he knew who were merchants within.

In the heart of the city appeared to his ken
The endless long line of fair women and men,
And though bells were not ringing he had not a doubt
That service, was over, and church was just out,
And surmised, as he gazed on the gaily dressed crowd,
That New Brunswick's fine town-folks were all over-proud
In not giving to strangers that shake of the hand
That plain folks would give in Neshanic's green land.

At a window where brokers pile high their bright gold
He was gazing, and dreaming of riches untold,
When he heard a voice cry, "The British have come!"
Then approaching him near the clear tap of the drum.
Soon quivered the air to the bugle's loud blast,
And in martial array came a squad marching fast-
Not the soldiers of Howe and in red coats of flame,
But wild urchins, who mimicked war's blustering game.
On perceiving them Hans was stricken with fear
That each boy in the ranks seemed a tall grenadier;
Each gay feather a plume arid each broomstick a gun,
With a bayonet flashing the light of the sun.

Then the whip and the spur with wild vigor applying,
Up long Albany Street he rode galloping, flying
Far away from the foeman who had taken the town.
With a hand on the pommel to hold his weight down,
He rode galloping, flying past meadow and wood,
With the wild fear of danger ever chilling his blood,
And as thus he rode on, like an aspen he shook
When he turned in his saddle behind him to look,
For a cloud of red dust that arose in his rear
Seemed a British dragoon at a charge with a spear.

As in his mad flight he was riding adown
The broad highway that leads to old Middlebush town,
Some stray cows that were grazing along the roadside
The wild horse and his rider in wonderment eyed;
And when started the leader, alarmed at the sight,
With long tails high in air, the whole herd took to flight,

And then swiftly together pell-mell they came down
Horse, rider, and cows on old Middlebush town;
While the citizens hearing the noise and the clatter
From their houses all ran to see what was the matter;
And preceding the cloud wreath they knew that there must
Be strong winds in its folds to uphold the red dust.

'Twas a whirling tornado, destructive in wrath,
Such as sweeps the green fields, as it speeds on its path,
Bare as lands in the east that the locusts encamp on,
Or the fields through which ran the red foxes of Sampson.

Continue to Part 3 here

20 February 2011

The Ballad of Hans van Pelt, Part 1

Joseph Hunt Miller is the author of this long ballad recounting the Revolutionary era story of Hillsborough's "boy who cried wolf" - Hans van Pelt,  The Sourlands rock formation Fort Hans, near the Montgomery - Hillsborough border, is named after the eager, but misguided Neshanic farmer.  Thanks to Marion Fenwick-Freeman for providing me with a photocopy of the tale - which I will post in three parts.  Enjoy!

Hans Van Pelt

Hans Van Pelt was an honest low-Dutchman;
Not low in his stature, but low by the Van
That you find in his name and which proves his descent
From the burghers of old, who, with peaceful intent,
From the Indians bought all the valleys along
The Raritan, and the Musconetcong;
A long belt of land that runs from the West,
From where Delaware joins with the laughing Pequest,
To East where Passaic, or Hackensack flows,
And Communipaw rests in its quiet repose.

In the day of our fathers, New Brunswick was known
Through all this broad belt as the chief market town,
And thither our farmers oft wended their way
With their barley and oats, and their long wains of hay;
And such stories they told by their bright Winter fires
That each lad in the land longed to see its tall spires.

So one day, as noon's shadows to rosy tints melt,
That bold son of Neshanic, young, burly, Van Pelt,
On horse ventured forth for this city so gay.
Joy gleamed from his eyes as he rode on his way;
But a sad thought at times drove its light from his face-
The thought that Lord Howe might soon capture the place;
For of all things under the sun, or the moon,
The most fearful to him was a British Dragoon.

When many a farm house and hamlet were passed;
When the shadows of day had so shortened their cast,
That the reaching foreleg of the horse in its tread
Stood over the shade of the animal's head,
From the brow of a high hill he saw at his feet
New Brunswick, above which the hazy smoke curled
From full many a forge; while beyond, with sails furled,
Rode long schooners and brigs, from the marts of the world.

There afar flowed the Raritan winding its way
Through long meadows and marshes to Amboy Bay;
And there down in the waters reflected were seen
The wild blossoms in bloom on its borders of green,
For so lovely the wild flowers were blushing in bliss
Where daily the ocean runs up for a kiss;
Where, with shoulder to shoulder, the river and sea
Push their way through the reeds, and across the green lea,
Till the wavelets, all standing tip-toe on the shores,
With their cool lips just touch the warm lips of the flowers;
Where the river and sea, in a bright silver tide,
From the blossoms that deck the smooth meadow-lands glide,
And soft sighs, and low sobs all the little waves heave,

While each tardily moves, as if loathing to leave,
Till, increasing in speed, they, in quick-pulsing swells,
Go far down to the bay, passing hills and fair dells.
For a romp on the beach with the wild sea's gay shells.
Continue to Part 2 here

18 February 2011

Lincoln Lunches with Legislature

On his way to Washington, D.C. for his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Trenton for a reception given by New Jersey lawmakers. I previously wrote about Lincoln's speech to the senate - essentially a version of his campaign stump speech, with some added remarks about our state's importance in the Revolution.

For his speech to the assembly - a body composed mostly of Democrats who did not support the nation's first Republican president - Lincoln spoke of the cuff, hinting for the first time that he might resort to force - "put the foot down firmly" - to preserve the union.

Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen: I have just enjoyed the honor of a reception by the other branch of this Legislature, and I return to you and them my thanks for the reception which the people of New-Jersey have given, through their chosen representatives, to me, as the representative, for the time being, of the majesty of the people of the United States. I appropriate to myself very little of the demonstrations of respect with which I have been greeted. I think little should be given to any man, but that it should be a manifestation of adherence to the Union and the Constitution. I understand myself to be received here by the representatives of the people of New-Jersey, a majority of whom differ in opinion from those with whom I have acted. This manifestation is therefore to be regarded by me as expressing their devotion to the Union, the Constitution and the liberties of the people. You, Mr. Speaker, have well said that this is a time when the bravest and wisest look with doubt and awe upon the aspect presented by our national affairs. Under these circumstances, you will readily see why I should not speak in detail of the course I shall deem it best to pursue. It is proper that I should avail myself of all the information and all the time at my command, in order that when the time arrives in which I must speak officially, I shall be able to take the ground which I deem the best and safest, and from which I may have no occasion to swerve. I shall endeavor to take the ground I deem most just to the North, the East, the West, the South, and the whole country. I take it, I hope, in good temper--certainly no malice toward any section. I shall do all that may be in my power to promote a peaceful settlement of all our difficulties. The man does not live who is more devoted to peace than I am. None who would do more to preserve it. But it may be necessary to put the foot down firmly. And if I do my duty, and do right, you will sustain me, will you not? Received, as I am, by the members of a Legislature the majority of whom do not agree with me in political sentiments, I trust that I may have their assistance in piloting the ship of State through this voyage, surrounded by perils as it is; for, if it should suffer attack now, there will be no pilot ever needed for another voyage.

Gentlemen, I have already spoken longer than I intended, and must beg leave to stop here.

17 February 2011

New Supermarket for Hillsborough

With the newspapers reporting that the Hillsborough Pathmark is on the list of stores that will be closed as the A&P corporation struggles to recover from bankruptcy, it may be a good time to reflect on the opening of our town's first modern supermarket.

Co-owners John Plesa and Charles Mazur join Hillsborough Committeemen John Guerrera and Elliott Smith, Ray Eghertt, Jr. and Tom Marshall of R.L. Eghertt Refrigeration, and Mrs. Charles Mazur at the grand opening of the Foodtown supermarket on May 21, 1969.
On May 21, 1969, Charles Mazur and John Plesa opened their third area Foodtown in the Route 206 "Hillsboro Plaza". The modern building, most recently occupied by Cost-Cutters, went up in just a couple of months that spring, and featured all of the latest refrigeration equipment and display shelves - along with seven (!) checkout lanes.

Other tenants at the Hillsboro Plaza included Buxton's, Roma Beauty Salon, and Town & Country Barber Shop.
The proprietors touted the plaza's "substantial free parking", and ease of loading up one's car.

But the best thing about the new Foodtown? Has to be those 1969 prices!

14 February 2011

Crash, Boom, Bang

New Jersey's Safe Corridors highway safety program is now seven years old.  Misnamed from the start - the designation was applied to a dozen of the state's most unsafe roads - Safe Corridor signage was supposed to alert drivers and reduce accidents on some of New Jersey's deadliest highways.

Has the program been successful?  In an era of text-happy teens and otherwise inattentive drivers, most of the state has seen a reduction in collisions along these routes.  That's great for most of the state, but right here in Hillsborough, our Route 206 Safe Corridor saw an 11% increase in accidents from 2004 to 2009 - the most recent year in which statistics are available.

Looking for answers?  A DOT spokesman blames the 206 troubles on increased traffic volume, and says there's nothing the state can do about it.

07 February 2011

Dam, Dam, Dam

The Houston-based El Paso Corporation has agreed to remove three dams from the Raritan River as part of a settlement to compensate New Jersey for damage to natural resources from four industrial plants it operates in the state.  Two of the offending facilities, EPEC Polymers Inc in Flemington, and Nuodex Inc. in Woodbridge, are in the Raritan River watershed. 

Removal of the dams is being applauded by environmental groups as the project will allow fish such as American shad, striped bass, American eel, and herring to reach further upriver to spawn.  The faster flow of the river without the dams is also better for the overall health of the river and the surrounding wildlife.

The first dam to be removed will be the Calco Dam, in the vicinity of Polhemus Drive in Bridgewater.  Built by the Calco Chemical Company in 1938, it was used to disperse chemicals into the river, and is currently used by the  Somerset Raritan Valley Sewerage Authority.

View Raritan River Dams to be Removed in a larger map

The two other dams, shown on the map above, are closer to home.

The Nevius Street Dam, located between the Nevius Street Bridge and the Basilone Bridge, was built in 1901 and was used to provide water to the lakes on the Duke Estate.

The Robert Street Dam was built some time before 1930.  Located near the eastern tip of Duke Island Park, it's purpose is unclear - but I am guessing it also had something to do with the Duke Estate.

The Headgates Dam, at the western end of Duke Island Park, is not slated for demolition.

HeadGates Dam at Duke Island Park

04 February 2011

Hillsborough - All Grown Up?

I once suggested Hillsborough should get its own groundhog, along the lines of Punxsutawney Phil, or Milltown Mel.  Now, with the release of the US Federal Census data, I'm thinking it would make better sense for our town mascot to be a snail.

During the past decade, Hillsborough's population increased just 4.6%.  Not only is that the lowest percentage increase in a century, but the 1,669 residents added between 2000 and 2010 were the fewest since our town's first post-war population boom of the 1940s, when residents increased 46% from 2,645 in 1940 to 3,875 in 1950.

It was just four years ago, during the charter study to recommend a new form of government for the town, that some proponents of the mayor-council form of government cited Hillsborough's increasing population as one of the reasons we needed a "larger, more complex" form of government.  We often heard Hillsborough's population estimated to be 40,000 or near 40,000.  In fact, at the current rate of growth, it would take another full decade for Hillsborough to increase its population from the current 38,303 to 40,000.

How is this possible?  Aren't houses going up everywhere, aren't the schools bursting with kids?  No and no.  Residents who have moved here during the past two decades sometimes have the mistaken notion that we have been in the midst of a building boom.  Old-timers know the real boom was in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s, with population increases each decade of 96%, 46%, 72%, and 51% respectively.  The last big wave of residential development was in the 90s, when 8,000 newcomers moved in for an increase of just 27%.  And as for the schools - there are about the same number of students in 2011 as there were in 2001, with projections for a slight downward trend over the next several years.

Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted an early spring, but I'm predicting 10 more years of slow stable snail's pace growth in Hillsborough.

01 February 2011

Somerset County's Amazing Race

One of my all-time favorite reality TV shows is "The Amazing Race".  The program, which begins airing its 18th season later this month, pits around a dozen teams of two in a combination international scavenger hunt and athletic competition in a race around the world.

The Somerset County Parks Department stages its own "amazing race" each August.  The "Somerset County Caper" is a fun two day trek through the various county parks and recreation areas.  Family teams compete in challenges, search for clues, and complete tasks - all while learning what our parks have to offer.  Every team that completes all of the challenges by the Sunday afternoon deadline is in the running for some great prizes.

This past August was the first time our vacation schedule allowed us to join in the fun.  We had such a good time, I think we will planour 2011 vacation around the Caper!

Getting ready for the paddle boat race at Colonial Park.

Bocce at Colonial Park.

Looking for the hidden clues at Natirar.

Collecting all of the stamps for the scavenger hunt book.

A golf lesson at Warrenbrook Golf Course.

William is a natural!

Doing the Chicken Dance at the Duke Island Park bandshell.

Water Balloon toss at North Branch Park.


Three-quarters of the Gillette Quartet.

Chasing tennis balls - and occasionally hitting one -
at the Green Knoll Tennis Center.

Contemplating the wildlife at the Lord Stirling Park Environmental Education Center.

Enjoying a musical lesson in ecology courtesy of Kathy Byers
 and Lydia Adams Davis.

Everyone got into the act!