31 August 2017

Bloomingdale School

If I had to nominate one year as the most tumultuous in the history of Hillsborough Township Schools it would be hard to find a better candidate than 1928. Trouble had been brewing for sixteen years and had been boiling over since at least 1925. Hillsborough Township had never adequately provided for the huge influx of students that came with the opening of the Johns Manville factory in the northeast corner of the municipality in 1912, and now they would have to answer for it.

Bloomingdale School, August 2017
On the evening of April 3, 1928, Hillsborough and Manville residents packed the little one-room Bloomingdale School on Amwell Road near the intersection of today's Route 206 to hear what the school board was going to do about the "Manville problem" - especially since they had just learned that because of the board's inaction the state was withholding the final school aid payment for the year. This would mean that unless Manville students - who had been on half-day sessions for years  - were provided with new school rooms, all of the Hillsborough Township schools would be forced to close by May 1.

Detail from the 1873 Hillsborough map showing Bloomingdale District 43

The state insisted that Hillsborough build a new eight-room brick school for Manville, plus add a four-room addition to School 1 (Main Street School). The story gets complicated from here, with a lot of business concerning improper referendums and illegally purchased land.

Bloomingdale School, July 2017

Much of the intrigue concerned board president William H. Hill - a 25-year member of the board who, according to the Courier News, bragged often of being "the guiding hand in the educational affairs of the township." He tried unsuccessfully to have a two-room school built at Blackwell's Mills - where he resided - to replace the century-old one-room school there.

Bloomingdale School interior, July 2017

After a summer spent sorting out legal problems, the school board met on November 8 to award contracts for a new eight-room school in Manville, a four-room addition to School 1, and a new four-room schoolhouse at Bloomingdale. Greasheimer Construction Company had the low bid for the Bloomingdale School: $24,192. Elling Brothers got the plumbing contract for a bid of $1,380; Burns, Lane, and Richardson won the heating contract for $3,820; C.F. Dean was awarded the electrical contract for $490. In total, Hillsborough Township's first modern school building cost less than $30,000. Construction took place throughout the winter, spring, and summer of 1929 on the lot just behind the one-room school, which was torn down that summer.

Students working on the school newspaper at Bloomingdale School,
12 April 1950 Courier News
More than 150 people attended a reception for the new "Central School" soon after it opened in September 1929. All hailed the school for its thoroughly modern facilities. The pairs of classrooms at the left and right of the building could be opened up and combined to make larger rooms for activities, and, indeed, the school hosted many gatherings of Somerset County school employees during its first years.

The rear of Bloomingdale School, July 2017

Each of the four rooms housed two grades. May Huff was the first principal and taught grades 7 and 8. Helen Nevius taught 5 and 6, Estelle Walker taught 3 and 4, and Mary Skillman taught grades 1 and 2.  The school was in regular use until 1950 when the consolidated school (HES) was built next door. After that, it became an annex for HES in times of increased enrollment and was also used on an emergency basis throughout the fifties and sixties.

Today the building houses the school's maintenance and transportation offices, as well as providing additional office space for other departments.

26 August 2017

Hillsborough Township Postwar Residential Development Part 1: 1955-1971

Readers who follow the Gillette on Hillsborough Facebook Page are participating in a year-long house-hunting expedition through the real estate ads of yesteryear. In the first 16 weeks, represented by the brief excerpts below, we have taken a look at residential development in the township between the first major postwar development in 1955 and the eve of the Planned Unit Development era in 1971. 

Enjoy the recap below, and be sure to follow the Gillette on Hillsborough page by clicking the link here, and "liking" the page. Thanks!

Are you ready to go house hunting in Hillsborough? Beginning today and continuing for the next 52 weeks we will take a Saturday morning trip back through the real estate ads of yesteryear. First up is Hillsborough's first major post-war development from the spring of 1955 - Green Hills, located at Duke's Parkway East and Route 206. 

One year after the success of the Green Hills development, Country Club Homes debuted at the northwest corner of Route 206 and New Amwell Road. Unlike Green Hills, which spelled the name of our town two different ways in their 1955 ads, Country Club Homes ads avoid any mention of Hillsborough, opting instead for "at Somerville" and "Somerset Hills". LOL.

Just one ad this week - August 1958 from the Franklin News Record for Claremont Homes. There are a number of developments in Hillsborough with "Claremont" in the name - this is the one off of Millstone River Road north of Millstone Boro. While Green Hills and Country Club Homes could boast about "city sewers" in their ads, Claremont Homes included septic systems on their 1/2 acre lots - which was a major concern 50 years later! No worries, the streets were paved!
Last week our Saturday morning house-hunting took us to Claremont Homes. This week we are visiting the other side of Millstone River Road and taking a look at Sunnyside Acres. Like Claremont, the development is divided up into half acre lots, and bus service is a unique selling point. The ad is from the August 25, 1961 Courier News.

The handful of circa 1940 homes on Route 206 near Partridge Rd. were originally envisioned as part of a large development named Hillsborough Village. Three homes were built on 1/2 acre lots and streets were planned east of the highway, but construction did not continue. Before Partridge Run could be built in 1961, the paper streets for this ghost development had to be vacated. These Partridge Run ads ran in the summer of 1961. Selling points included GE appliances and "9 full closets".

Hillsborough house-hunters in the summer of 1962 looking for new construction had two distinct choices. They could look at Village Green - New Jersey's first "cluster" development (more on that next week), or Claremont Hills which featured traditional one-acre lots. Claremont Hills is one of three Hillsborough developments using the name Claremont. These are the homes along Amwell Road between Raider Boulevard and Pleasantview Road, and on the east side of Pleasantview heading toward Ann Van Middlesworth Park. Originally envisioned as a 300 home development, my armchair survey (Google Earth!) counts less than 25.

Before we visit Village Green, located on either side of Brooks Blvd. near Route 206, you need to learn about "cluster zoning". Up until now we have been visiting traditional single-family-home residential developments of the 50s and early 60s. At that time Hillsborough's zoning ordinance required, for the most part, that homes be built on one-acre lots. The same was true all over suburban New Jersey. In fact, cluster zoning hadn't been tried in New Jersey since the 1920s. So what is it? Cluster zoning allows all of the homes - and sewer lines, roads, etc. - to be clustered in one section of a tract, leaving the rest as open space. So, the same amount of homes can be built as in traditional zoning, but each on a smaller lot. This saves money for the developer, but actually costs the municipality because residents expect the open space - including ball fields, parks, and the like - to be maintained. In fact, the amendment to Hillsborough's zoning ordinance that allowed for Village Green was promptly rescinded after the plan was approved!

If you turned down Triangle Road in the fall of 1962 you would have seen the first phase of Banor Park just going up. All you needed was a $2100 down payment for these homes on one-acre lots with city sewer and paneled rec rooms! The brand new school mentioned in the ad was Triangle Road School which had just opened on South Triangle Road.

 It's March 1964, and we are going to break the rules just this once (I think!) by venturing outside the city limits - barely. Millstone Manor is north of the village off the east side of Millstone River Road. You'll know you've arrived when you see two beautiful late 19th century homes directly opposite each other.

It's the summer of '63 and we are once again spending a Saturday morning house hunting in Hillsborough! Today we find ourselves on Township Line Road at Westbrook Farms. This is one of those developments where the name was so unfamiliar to me that I had to do a "drive by" to confirm the location. Sure enough there are still a few examples of the homes shown in the ads - in pristine original condition. These are some of the earliest homes I've come across thus far that advertise the ability to install central air conditioning. 

Imagine a day when Manhattan will be just 60 minutes away - or less! According to these ads for Homestead Village, that day was 1965. This development is on the north side of Valley Road on Warner, Wolfe, and Ebert Drives. I love how the ad is suggesting that A/C will be included - but it's really only a humidifier and filter for your forced -air heat.

Are you ready to "find your thrill"? Maybe you already did if you bought your new home in 1965 at Strawberry Hill. There's a lot going on in this ad describing the development off of Millstone River Road in the southeastern portion of the township, including renderings of the nine different models to choose from. We are still in the era of one-acre residential zoning, so nice big yards. But don't worry - TAXES ARE LOW IN HILLSBOROUGH. It says so right in the ad.

Most Hillsborough people think of Frankfort Point Heights - the development off of Amwell Road on Starview and Murray Drives - as one of our town's most desirable places to have a home. And there is no doubt that is true today. But from the time the development started building in 1965 through at least 1978 this development had issue after issue - most related to the fact that it is built on the rise of the Sourland Mountain. At the start there were no sewers, no storm-water drainage, and a difficult 12% grade going up Starview Drive. Neighbors living on East Mountain Road saw parts of their properties literally washed away as rainwater raged down the mountain. Ultimately the development survived the death of the original developer and held on until the extension of sewers into the area in the late 70s. 

Just one ad this week from 1967 - and its deja vu all over again as we kind of sort of head back to Banor Park. Yet this 33-home development on Lindstrom Drive is actually called Deer Run. So - where is the dividing line? Is the Deer Run name just a re-branding of the Banor Park project? Or is it a whole new development? We demand answers. LOL.

It's 1970 and developers are starting to think about proposals for the coming Planned Unit Development. But in the meantime, there are still a few traditional developments already in the works, including this one "in the heart of scenic Hillsborough.". What is interesting to me about these ads for Riveredge Homes from 1970-72 is the absence of the "one-acre-lot". That's because this is one of the first developments where we see the downward-creep of lot size - Just about all of these homes are on 0.81 acre lots!

In 1970, Pine Grove received approval to build 32 homes on wooded lots south of Hillsborough Road near the Strawberry Hill subdivision. Initially, Strawberry Hill residents were worried that access to Pine Grove would be solely through their development - but during construction Riverview Terrace was connected to Hillsborough Rd.

24 August 2017

The Lost Schools

A casual study of the 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro' reveals that by the middle of the 19th century nearly the whole of the township - save for the top of the Neshanic (Sourland) Mountain - had been settled for some time. Farmsteads, villages, and churches - some with already a century-long history - fill the map. Schools were also well-established by this time, and by the end of the decade had been formed into 15 districts, numbers 39 through 53 in Somerset County.

1873 Washington District 49
Although the "district" designations were dropped at the end of the century, all of the schoolhouses, or their successors, were still in use - save one. Some time between the 1878 and 1879 New Jersey School Reports, Washington District School Number 49, the Flaggtown School, was dropped from the list. This school was not in the district which would later build the Flagtown School of which we all remember - that was the Flaggtown Station District. The Washington District school was on Amwell Road, on the section that today is designated as East Mountain Road, opposite the intersection of Mill Lane. 

1878 Hillsborough School Districts
This was right in the heart if the original village of Flaggtown, named after Jacob Flagg and his descendants who owned property and a prominent tavern there in the 18th century. In those days, Mill Lane continued southeast across Amwell (East Mountain) Road and joined at a right angle with an extension of Eisler Lane. Within a few years the US Postal Service forced the village to change its name to Frankfort in order to avoid confusion with the post office at Flagtown Station - but by that time the original Flagtown School was long gone.

Notice for the sale by auction of the District 49 Washington (Flagtown) School
6 March 1879 Somerset Gazette (from the collection of the author)

The school, all of its contents, and the 1/3-acre property were sold at auction on April 8, 1879, after some sort of legal action was initiated by Elisha Wood, who owned the adjoining property at what would today be the northeast corner of East Mountain Road and the Amwell Road Bypass. It is unknown whether the school building was demolished or moved to another location.

1873 Woodville District 39
Another longtime school about which very little is known is the District 39 Woodville School, perhaps also known as the Roycefield School because of its location north of the village on the south side of Duke's Parkway. In those days, and up until the middle of the 20th century Duke's Parkway between the current Route 206 and Roycefield Road was known as Woodville Road. 

1895 Hillsborough School Districts
Today the site of the school is on property owned by Duke Farms, and it is presumed that the school - still active as late as 1895 - was closed during J.B. Duke's persistent land acquisitions between 1893 and 1916. In any case, I have yet to find anything at all about the school. It, like the original Flagtown School, remains lost.

17 August 2017

Hillsborough School

Children had already been attending the "Hillsborough" School - on the east side of Willow Road just north of its intersection with Hillsborough Road - for perhaps 100 years when the school board voted in December 1928 to wire the school for electric lights. It was hoped that the work would be completed quickly so that the building could be used for "Winter entertainments". Four months later they voted to close the school altogether.

The 1850 Somerset County map shows a schoolhouse on the site, and it is likely that a school had been there since the time the area was fully settled decades earlier. By the 1860s the Cross Roads District 45 was one of fifteen school districts in Hillsborough Township - each with its own one or two-room schoolhouse. By the 1870s the short-lived Mercer & Somerset Railroad crossed Willow Road - then known as "the dirt road leading from the Millstone-Wood's Tavern highway [Amwell Rd.] to Blackwell's Mill" - just north of the school.

1873 map showing the Hillsborough/Crossroads District

The school had an active parent community and even some social clubs for students - primarily revolving around "home economics" types of activities like sewing. Hundreds of students attended the school over the decades, but perhaps the story of just one might be worth remembering.

1872 Hillsborough Township School Districts
George Prove was an orphan born sometime in the years before the turn of the 20th century. From the time he could work (ten? eleven?) he boarded with the Wyckoff family near the school and labored on their farm. His teacher Miss Ferguson inspired and encouraged him to attend school and finish the 8th grade even though farm work kept him away much of the time.

New Brunswick Daily Home News 4 June 1916

According to a profile which appeared in the November 3, 1921, Courier News titled "What a Boy Can Do", George enrolled at Bound Brook High School, paying for room and board nearby by working farm jobs. He took his studies seriously; local newspapers noted his achievements between 1914 and his graduation in 1916.

He started at Rutgers College, earning his tuition by working at the Jersey City freight station. He was called to war in France, and when he returned he decided to continue his education by studying chemistry at West Virginia University. He graduated in June of 1921 and continued at the university in pursuit of a postgraduate degree.

The story trails off there.....but to think he got his start with no family to support him, working all the time, and attending a one-room school on a dirt road in Hillsborough, is really amazing.

During the very contentious year of 1928 - Manville schools overcrowding, state aid being withheld - the new four-room building being built at Bloomingdale was set to make the Hillsborough School obsolete. A last-ditch effort to save the school by building an addition to it was ruled out, and the school was sold on August 24th, 1929.

10 August 2017

Montgomery School

On the occasion of her 100th birthday in 1967, Mrs. Anna Van Fleet Huff Cronin sat down with one of her many relatives and answered questions about her life that had been written out for the hard-of-hearing centenarian. Of interest to us are her reminiscences of growing up in Montgomery, New Jersey.

Detail from the 1873 Hillsborough map

I know what you're thinking - what does Montgomery Township have to do with our survey of Hillsborough Township schools? The answer: Montgomery, NJ is not in Montgomery Township! Don't believe me? Go to Bing Maps right now by clicking here and you will find that the village of Montgomery lies at the crossroads of Montgomery and Wertsville Roads in Hillsborough.

Montgomery Blacksmith Shop 1970s
One of Hillsborough's two covered bridges spanned the Neshanic River just north of the settlement where a saw mill and grist mill were in operation from at least 1850. By 1870, when the three-year-old Anna Huff watched her father - prominent farmer Thomas Peter Huff - build their home northeast of the intersection, the hamlet included on the other corners the blacksmith shop of Jacob Wyckoff, the home of Constable Garret Docherty, and the C.N. Allen and Bros. General Store. 

Montgomery School, photograph courtesy of Constance Fenwick

The one-room Montgomery Schoolhouse was located on a little knoll behind the store on Montgomery Road. It is present on the 1850 map and was probably in use from an early time. By 1873, the school served the students of Pleasant Valley District 51 - but it seems that the school never went by the Pleasant Valley name, and the district was both officially and unofficially called the Montgomery district.

8 May 1929 Courier News
The school was very successful, winning many Somerset County awards in the teens and twenties, and graduated many 8th grade students, including Anna Huff, who went on to successful high school, college, and business careers. In 1919 the school was lauded for its innovative use of "project teaching." Here is how this was described in the November 14, 1919, Courier News:

In the Montgomery School, Hillsborough Township, project teaching is effectively carried out. For instance, the larger pupils have calculated the contents of two silos in the vicinity by measurements made themselves. In the same way they are working out other local problems, such as the cost of plastering the school room, painting the school house, etc. All these problems are worked out in exactly the same way as would be done by men actually engaged in doing the work.
In April 1929, as the new Hillsborough Consolidated School (Bloomingdale) was being constructed, the school board decided to close Montgomery and other one-room schoolhouses. A major factor in the decision was that at that time the state paid 75% of transportation costs to bus the 15 remaining area students to the Clover Hill School. Despite parents' protests, the school was closed and sold in February 1930.

03 August 2017

Camplain Road School

After Johns Manville relocated their manufacturing plant to the northeast corner of Hillsborough Township in 1912, the population explosion was overwhelming. The number of residents in the traditional farming community doubled in a decade. And they brought their kids.

Camplain Road School circa 1930s
Camplain Road School, an eight-room school erected in 1916, was the second school built in the Manville section of town as the number of schoolchildren increased. The first was a re-build of the school on Main Street called Harmony Plains School in 1912. After the school on Camplain Road was constructed, the schools were renamed Manville School 1 and Manville School 2; the schools didn't acquire their "Road" and "Street" names until after Manville seceded from Hillsborough in 1929.

1868 Hillsborough Township Schools

What distinguishes Camplain Road School, at least for me, is that it was the first new school built in a new area of Hillsborough, i.e. not replacing an older structure, in more than 60 years, at least. In the page above from the 1868 report on New Jersey schools, you will notice the fifteen district schools - sixteen with Branchburg Township's Branchville (South Branch) school added to the end. These were the same schools still serving students in 1916 - minus the original Flagtown (Washington) school that closed in the mid-1870s and the Woodville School that closed around the turn of the century. And all of those schools, in various incarnations, were in service since 1850 or before.

Camplain Road School closed and was demolished in the mid-1970s due to decreased enrollment and the fact that it contained substandard rooms.

01 August 2017

Anna Case Takes Flight

Metropolitan Opera soprano and concert star Anna Case spent the summer of 1919 at her "country home" Brevoort Farm in Mamaroneck, New York. She hosted a widely publicized garden party for World War I wounded veterans who were recuperating in nearby hospitals in July, but her greatest adventure came in August.

Major Sidney E. Parker and Anna Case - August 11, 1919
Now that she was a movie star - her first, and only, feature film The Hidden Truth having debuted at the beginning of the year - it was high time for a movie-star-worthy escapade. British RAF Major Sidney E. Parker was planning an air trip from New York to New Orleans via the Hudson River, Great Lakes, and Mississippi River piloting a Curtiss-Seagull Flying Boat. He planned to touch down near the Mamaroneck Yacht Club to pick up the mechanic that would be accompanying him on his trip - and somehow ended up with an extra passenger! 

A Curtiss-Seagull Flying Boat circa 1919
I will let Anna Case tell it in her own words as printed in the August 21, 1919, issue of the trade magazine The Musical Courier:

Well, it was wonderful, just wonderful! Afraid? No, not a bit of it. At any rate, it came in such a hurry that I had not time to think about any fear. The original plan was altered, so I thought the flight was off for the present, then the bicycle policeman came rushing down the lawn, shouting 'There is a chap up in the air looking for you; he was down in front of the Yacht Club asking where he could find you. I told him I would run up and tell you and fire my revolver so he would know where to come down.' In a few minutes the plane was on the water a short distance from shore; I hurried out in my canoe and climbed in. Up and on we went, down the Sound, across New York and up the Hudson, flying most of the time 2,000 feet up. It was simply glorious to see the great city, the Hudson, the Palisades, from above. You hardly realize that you are thousands of feet in the air. The only trifling uncomfortable feeling is when the machine makes a turn; that gives a sensation akin to seasickness. There were three in the plane, Major Parker, his mechanic and myself. The noise of the propeller is terrific and you cannot talk; if you want to say anything you must write a note. I was dressed as I am now, [ordinary street dress] with the addition of a flyer's cap. I surely will go up again if I have the chance.

Anna Case flew as far as Poughkeepsie, where the trio landed and had dinner. Miss Case then caught the 8:45 train back to New York and was in her bed at Brevoort Farm by midnight!

1919 Publicity Photo

In later years Anna Case also spoke of another flight she took in an early machine where the nose went straight down upon landing and they wound up propeller down in a farmer's field!