29 April 2015

East Millstone Station Robbery, 1898

Detective George Totten led the young Millstone village constable William Waller through the halls of the Somerset County lockup in Somerville, New Jersey, to the cell holding his three prisoners. "Yes you may interview them", said Totten, "perhaps you may even be able to extract a confession from the scoundrels!" What Totten was really hoping for was a confession from Waller.

Pennsylvania Railroad tracks through East Millstone,
looking west toward the station.

The evening of September 17, 1898, was much like any other for Pennsylvania Railroad night watchman Henry Jones.  The sixty-eight-year-old father of five swept out the passenger cars stored at the East Millstone Station, readying them for the morning commute, and patrolled the grounds around the depot. As he made his rounds by the engine house, he was surprised and assaulted by four men - two of them masked - who gagged him and bound him hand and foot before carrying the elderly man off and stashing him in an empty boxcar.

18 September 1898 New York Times

The robbers headed to the ticket office where they inexpertly dynamited the safe - destroying the safe and office but failing to retrieve $300 from the safe's hidden upper compartment.  They did however get away with $100 from the safe, along with a silver watch and two five-dollar bills from Jones, who was discovered by commuters at six a.m. the next morning.

Pennsylvania Railroad passenger train at East Millstone Station.

Townspeople immediately pointed their collective finger at Tom Wright, the local "town terror" who was suspected in a recent burglary of the coal office.  He was soon found to be in possession of a silver watch engraved "Henry Jones".  Wright's friend, Jerry Washington, declared that he had "found" the night watchman's ticket office key just lying on the ground.  Both were soon picked up by Totten, as was their usual accomplice Tom Shine.  Getting Waller was a little trickier.

Waller had come to Millstone about a year earlier, opening a bottling works.  His appearance in the village coincided with the beginning of a number of burglaries and safe crackings. As unlikely as it sounds, he was also able to get himself elected constable of the village. Before coming to Millstone, he had been the Lehigh Valley Railroad yardmaster at Port Reading, near Bound Brook. During his time there, the railroad experienced a rash of freight car break-ins and robberies - which ceased after his departure.

26 September 1898 New York Evening Telegram

Totten knew all of this, and also knew Waller was friends with the three men in his jail - a fact Waller readily admitted, whispering to the detective as they approached the cell, "These men have been around my place, and I think I can worm a confession out of them." 

As it turns out, he should have maintained the whisper.  Totten was able to easily overhear the conversation of the four and was convinced that Waller was the ringleader of the group. He immediately arrested the young man, placing him with the other three. 

25 October 1898 Courier News

Henry Jones died just a few days later, possibly from the injuries he received during the robbery, and it was anticipated that Waller and the other three might be charged with murder. As it turned out, this was one of Detective Totten's few swings and misses in his long career. Waller was able to prove an uncontestable alibi - and was acquitted on October 25, 1898. Wright and Shine, who had also been charged, were found guilty of burglary.

25 April 2015

Orchid Range, Then and Now

The Orchid Range at Duke Farms was constructed between 1899 and 1901.  The entire building was basically taken apart and put back together prior to the Duke Farms "re-opening" in 2012.

Duke's Park Conservatory Postcard 1905

Most of you will know that Doris Duke was fascinated with orchids from a young age, and actively cultivated them during her lifetime at her estate in Hillsborough. The one named for her - Phalaenopsis Doris - is the forebear of many thousands of varieties. But the heiress is not the only woman with a local connection to have an orchid named for her.

Agnes McWilliams was born in Raritan in December 1881 into an Irish immigrant family that would eventually boast ten children. In 1899 she left the woolen mill which employed most of her family and went to work in the office of James B. Duke as an assistant to her older cousin Maggie Smith who basically ran the business of the estate. When Ms. Smith left in 1907 to take a job for one of Mr. Duke's other companies in New York, Agnes stepped ably into her shoes - her younger sister Gertrude now becoming her assistant.

The pressures of overseeing the 2,500-acre estate which was still being constructed by hundreds of workmen were balanced by the pleasures of vacations in Europe. So well did she prosper in her role that when J.B. Duke formally incorporated the estate as Duke Farms in 1917 Agnes McWilliams was named secretary/treasurer of the enterprise - the third listed officer behind Duke who was president, and estate superintendent David Smith, vice president. 

After 20 years at Duke Farms, she succumbed to a year-long illness in 1919, dying at the age of 37. In 1935 Duke Farms registered the Agnes McWilliams orchid pictured above in a print from 1960.

Duke Farms Orchid Range, March 2015

18 April 2015

The Thorn Puller, Then and Now

Referred to around Duke Farms as the Blue Boy statue, Lo Spinario (The Thorn Puller) is a copy of a first-century Roman bronze.  Much celebrated throughout the Renaissance and later, many copies were made, both in bronze and marble.  Naturally, James B. Duke needed to have a copy for his Hillsborough estate, where the sculpture became part of what the New York Herald described in a 1902 headline as "The Most Imposing Private Collection of Bronzes in America."

The Thorn Puller at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915

Incidentally, the structure in the center of the postcard was called the Lovers' Tower during Duke's lifetime.

The Thorn Puller at Duke Farms, March 2015

15 April 2015

Lord McKenzie of Flagtown

Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter?  How about the one about the farmer's daughter and the bogus Scottish nobleman? For one New Jersey family, the adventures of one Edward Hugh "Lord" McKenzie ended up being no laughing matter!

McKenzie arrived as a tramp at the door of farmer William Johnson in New Brunswick in the fall of 1887.  Exhausted from weeks and months on the road, he was nursed to health by Johnson's daughter Emma. Regaining his strength, he told a tale of having run away from Glasgow on a lark with a friend, leaving his wealthy father behind to have an adventure in America.  When their money ran out, the friend returned. But Hugh was too embarrassed to face his father, so he decided to stay and travel the country, finally winding up in New Brunswick where he learned of his father's death, and the immense inheritance he was about to receive.

You almost wouldn't blame the farmer's daughter for falling in love with the delicate young "gentleman" - if you believed any of that story was true. In the event, the couple was soon married - over the protests of neighbors, friends, concerned citizens, and the press who could find no evidence that McKenzie was in line to receive any inheritance, or had any other means of providing for his wife.

By the time McKenzie had used up what goodwill he possessed to buy a Flagtown farm on credit and start a family, his brother showed up on the scene and spilled the true story.  It seems that their father was indeed a man of means, but was in no way dead!  McKenzie had been attending college in Glasgow when his father learned he was getting into some mischief.  Among his many capers at school was the one where he posed as an American exchange student who had run out of money and cajoled classmates into buying him suits of clothes.  The elder McKenzie sent his son away to relatives in the West Indies as punishment - and it was from there that he ran away to America.

For a time, Emma Johnson made a go of it.  Working the farm, and taking care of their baby - but it wasn't long before the farm. which was never paid for, had to be returned to the seller, and Emma was back living with her father, working in neighbors' kitchens. Meanwhile, McKenzie was still bumming around New Brunswick, defrauding boarding houses and dining establishments at least through the end of 1889 when he arrested for threatening to bash his wife's brains in with their baby's rattle!

After this gruesomeness - and the charges were dismissed - the newspapers, to their credit, no longer seemed interested in "Lord" McKenzie, and so the trail grows cold.  We can only be left to come up with our own punchline for the one about Lord McKenzie of Flagtown!

11 April 2015

Eagle Gate Fountain, Then and Now

Visitors to Duke's Park a century ago would have encountered this beautiful rustic fountain when they entered through the Eagle Gate off of Duke's Parkway. Today you will pass what remains of this "niche" as you stroll Habitat Lane.  The waterfall appears shorter in the 2015 photo because the pool has been mostly filled in with gravel.

Eagle Gate Fountain postcard circa 1913

Visitors at the Eagle Gate Fountain circa 1907

Eagle Gate Fountain at Duke Farms as it appears in March 2015

04 April 2015

Vista Lake Bridge, Then and Now

I think I was pretty close with this one.  The tall trees in the foreground and to the right of the bridge really change the scene.  In the 1915 postcard, the Vista Lake Bridge looks quite impressive.  The 2015 photo from the same perspective doesn't capture what it's like to be there in person.

Vista Lake Bridge at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915

This is one of two magnificent concrete bridges built during Duke's second wave of construction at Duke's Park.

Vista Lake Bridge at Duke Farms, March 2015