28 September 2017

Woodfern School

Well, that didn't last long. The Hillsborough Township Board of Education began the 1959-60 school year with a brand new building - Sunnymead - but by March they were meeting to appoint an architect to draw up plans for not one, but TWO additional elementary schools. Once again the board was desperately trying - and ultimately failing - to get ahead of enrollment increases caused by the residential housing boom.

Woodfern School architect's model,
31 May 1960 Courier News

One of those two new schools, Woodfern - had been on the drawing board for more than three years, since the school board had purchased the property on Woodfern Road back in 1956. But those plans were put on hold when the board acquired the Sunnymead property. The new proposal was to build two schools - a sixteen-classroom school on Woodfern Road, and a twenty-classroom school on 31 acres to be purchased on Triangle Road.

8 June 1960 Home News
On June 7, 1960, township voters approved a bond issue of $787,000 for construction of the buildings, and $218,000 for furnishings, equipment, wells and sewage systems, landscaping, and architect and related fees. Just like at the Sunnymead School, the plans only called for the basic classrooms, offices, and nurse's office - no large cafeteria, multi-purpose rooms, or gyms.

25th Anniversary Celebration (more than two years late!)
9 June 1988 Courier News
Because the new schools weren't expected to be completed until January 1962, the school board was forced to convert two rooms at Sunnymead for classroom space, one of which was the kitchen, and utilize one room each at the Flagtown Firehouse, and the Rescue Squad building when schools opened in September 1960.

Construction took a bit longer than expected, but because costs were less than expected Woodfern School was expanded from sixteen to twenty classrooms, making it a true twin of Triangle School. Four classrooms opened on March 26, 1962, and both schools opened fully in September for the 1962-63 school year. It was to be the first time in years that every Hillsborough student would actually go to school in Hillsborough, with none being bussed to Montgomery Township.

Woodfern received its first addition in 1987 - a $784,000 multi-purpose room - part of an $8.27 million construction bond approved in December 1984 for various expansion projects.  The school expanded to its current size as part of a December 1991 $13.4  million construction referendum for improvements throughout the district. Woodfern added a cafeteria, music room, art room, three classrooms, and two small group instruction rooms. Also included was the conversion of the original small all-purpose room to a library.

Woodfern became the third current Hillsborough Township school to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2012.

26 September 2017

Anna Case's Garden Party, 1919

Anna Case spent much of 1917 and 1918 singing for the troops at army camps in New Jersey and New York, pitching war bonds, and appearing in patriotic concerts. She wrapped up her war efforts on June 14, 1919, by hosting a lawn party for hundreds of convalescent soldiers at her Mamaroneck, NY summer home.

29 June 1919 St. Louis Post Dispatch
The Metropolitan Opera soprano and South Branch, New Jersey native had just completed one of her most ambitious and successful national tours the previous month, including concerts up and down the west coast from Yakima to Los Angeles, and was looking for a way to give back to veterans of the Great War recuperating in military hospitals. When she hit upon the idea of hosting a day out at her country retreat, she asked that the most severely wounded, especially those not ambulatory, be given top priority on the guest list.

1 July 1919 Buffalo Enquirer

The piano was moved out onto the porch which was, according to newspaper reports, "decorated with masses of flowers and the flags of the allies and the Stars and Stripes." Miss Case's frequent tour companion, pianist, and composer Charles Gilbert Spross was enlisted to provide accompaniment.

1 July 1919 Buffalo Enquirer

Ambulances transported the wounded from Base Hospital 1 on Gun Hill Rd, in the Bronx to the prima donna's bungalow at Brevoort Farm. Cake and ice cream were served, and Miss Case provided the entertainment herself, singing for the assembled. Including nurses and army staff, there were about 250 total. The veterans serving then, as they do today, as a reminder of those who didn't come back.

6 July 1919 New York Herald

Telegrams from the governors of New York and New Jersey, stage favorite Frances Starr, and Thomas Edison were read. After supper, prizes were awarded in the categories of Longest Service in France, Most Prisoners Captured, and Most Wounds!

Photos are from newspaper accounts of the fete.

21 September 2017

Sunnymead School

In June of 1957, the Hillsborough Township school district was out of space, out of money, and out of time. In 1954 voters approved a $500,000 13-classroom addition to the 1950 Consolidated School (HES) designed to allow the district to accommodate up to 1,100 pupils total. Now two years later, officials were projecting 1,255 for the 57-58 school year - an increase of almost 20% - due to the build-out of housing developments at Green Hills and Country Club Homes. The immediate solution was to rent space from Montgomery Township, including a sub-standard basement room at the Harlingen School, and utilize the sub-standard rooms at the Liberty School and the Bloomingdale basement.

Artist's rendering of the proposed Sunnymead School,
26 September 1957 Home News
The long-term solution was to build a new $400,000 12-classroom school on a 26-acre tract on fronting on Sunnymead Road. The problem was that because of the 1954-55 expansion the district had exhausted its borrowing power. In due course, permission was granted from the state to exceed borrowing capacity, and on October 1, 1957, voters approved a $425,000 bond issue for Sunnymead School.

Suunymead ground-breaking ceremony,
28 May 1958 Courier News

A ground-breaking ceremony was held on May 27, 1958, with one important question remaining to be answered: Would the school utilize an appropriated $15,000 to construct its own sewage disposal plant, or could a deal be worked out to connect to the Manville sewer system. The cost to build the sewer line in Hillsborough was estimated to cost Hillsborough $50,000 - $35,000 of which would need to be picked up by the township as it was more than the $15,000 budgeted. The matter became entangled with negotiations over extending Brooks Boulevard to Route 206 and then was ultimately dropped by the school board in September.

Sunnymead School open house,
9 November 1959 Home News

By that time the new school year had started, and with Sunnymead School still far from completion, an overcrowded district resorted to using the South Branch Grange Hall to educate 45 students, as well as continuing to rent from Montgomery and use the sub-standard rooms. In the summer of 1959 the Country Club Homes Civic Association helped to move seven classrooms of furniture from the Harlingen School, and two from the Grange Hall, to make the school ready for a September opening.

A 1965 expansion added the gym on the south side of the school, and the 1989 expansion at the rear of the school doubled the capacity from 300 to 600 students and cost $2.4 million.

In 2009 Sunnymead became the second of Hillsborough's current schools to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

19 September 2017

Colonel Peter Dumont Vroom

On May 3, 1775, at the home of Garret Garretson in Hillsborough Township, the citizen-farmers of Somerset County gathered to elect officers and form several companies of militia. Chosen for the Hillsborough company were John Ten Eyck, Captain; Peter D. Vroom, Lieutenant; Jacobus Quick, Second Lieutenant. Thus began the military career of Hillsborough's first war hero.

The Vroom homestead at "Pine Bank" circa 1915.

Peter Dumont Vroom, Sr. - father of the future New Jersey governor - was born on January 27, 1745 to George Vroom and Garretje DuMont. The Vroom family came from Holland to Long island, New York, about 1638, and were subsequently early settlers of Somerset County, NJ, making their home on the banks of the Raritan River.

1850 Somerset County map showing the location of the Vroom homestead.

Vroom lived for a time in New York City, but returned in the years before the Revolution, married Elsie Bogart of Somerset County and made his home on the south bank of the Raritan River east of the village of Branchville (South Branch). This spot, long favored by Native Americans because its location at the bend of the river permitted views east and west, is known as Pine Bank.

Vroom was a prominent citizen of Hillsborough before the war having been elected High Sheriff of the County of Somerset in 1774. When hostilities began, he was quickly promoted from Lieutenant to Captain, and was then elected as First Major of the 2nd Battalion of Somerset Militia and received a commission on June 6, 1777. On September 9, 1777 he rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

Continental forces attack the Chew House
at the Battle of Germantown, October 4, 1777

The only specific war activity mentioned in the scattered brief biographies of Colonel Vroom is that he participated and was wounded in the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777. As part of the New Jersey Militia, his objective that day was to march overnight on Washington's left, engage the enemy in the flank at dawn, and get behind the enemy lines. Plans were hindered by dense fog and poor communications, and the NJ Militia failed to find the enemy, so it is unknown how Vroom sustained his wounds. The fact that his Lieutenant, John Brokaw, was killed in the battle, may point to Colonel Vroom not accompanying the Militia that day, but rather being attached to another command.

After the war he resumed public service: elected Somerset County Clerk in 1784, elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1792 - and re-elected through 1798. A staunch Federalist, he was nominated for a US House seat in 1800, but the Democrats were in ascendance in New Jersey, and Colonel Vroom was locked out of state and national office until convulsions of the War of 1812 put the Federalists back in power in 1813, and he was returned to the General Assembly for the final time.

The Vroom Burial Ground,
in the woods between River Road and The Raritan River
In between and sometimes concurrently with his state and national service Colonel Vroom also held several elected Somerset County offices, as well many Hilsborough Township elected and appointed positions. Apart from his public service he was a farmer and surveyor and an elder in the Reformed Dutch Church at Somerville.

Gravesite of Colonel Vroom. His memorial, center, is inscribed,
"Sacred in the memory of Peter D Vroom 86y 8m 10d"
He lived a long life - long enough to see his son elected governor - and died at the old homestead on November 17, 1831 aged 86. 

Colonel Vroom is buried in the Vroom Burial Ground on River Road just west of his home at Pine Bank. The house stood until the early 1930s, when hunters wandered in and attempted to start a fire in the 17th century Dutch oven, burning the house down to the foundation.

14 September 2017

Hillsborough Consolidated School (HES)

On Saturday, November 19, 1949, Somerset County Schools Superintendent Sampson G. Smith declared the era of the "little red schoolhouse" officially over. Smith made his remarks at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone of the Hillsborough Consolidated School, now known as Hillsborough Elementary School, or HES.

Artist's rendering of the proposed Hillsborough Consolidated School,
 7 July 1949 Courier News

Just 20 years earlier in 1929 Hillsborough's first modern school, Bloomingdale, was opened on Amwell Road near the intersection of the present-day Route 206. The first through eighth-grade building brought the "central school" concept to Hillsborough. But its four classrooms - five when the basement was pressed into service - only put a couple of the one and two-room Hillsborough schoolhouses out of business. Increasing enrollment meant that in the 1949-50 school year much older schools - Clover Hill, Pleasant View, Neshanic, Liberty, and Flagtown were still being utilized.

Cornerstone Ceremony at Hillsborough Consolidated School,
21 November 1949 Home News
In February 1949 Hillsborough voters passed a $380,000 bond referendum for a new twenty-room school to be built next to Bloomingdale right at the intersection of Amwell and 206. The original configuration of the building had 400 feet of frontage on Amwell Road, and 150 on Route 206. Amenities were to include a combination cafeteria-auditorium and a modern kitchen. The Home News of November 21, 1949, described other aspects of the plan:

The floor and roof will be of steel-deck construction, and the building will have flourescent lighting throughout. Its heating plant will be forced warm air, with complete fresh-air ventilation, and every room will have thermostatically-controlled heat.
Another innovation was that each "acoustically treated" classroom would include an exterior door to reduce "fire hazard".

The school board awarded construction contracts in August 1949 and construction began within the month. By June of the next year, with construction nearly complete, the school hosted its first event; the Hillsborough Schools 8th grade commencement exercises were held in the auditorium.

26 March 1965 Home News
Hillsborough Consolidated School has undergone two major expansions since 1950. The first was the addition of the classrooms, gym-auditorium, and cafeteria on the Route 206 side in 1955, necessitated by the Green Hills and Country Club Homes developments. The second was a $1.3 million project in 1992 which added the library/media center, computer lab, and music room.

Although we know the building today as Hillsborough Elementary School - and it did begin as a K-8 school - for many of the years preceding the opening of the middle school on Triangle Road, the school housed grades 7, 8, and 9. After the middle school debuted, the Consolidated School became - for a time - Hillsborough's sixth-grade school. Other configurations have included K-5 and K-6. During several school years the Bloomingdale building next door was used as an annex, sometimes for art classes, kindergarten classes, or other grades when space was needed.

The school celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2000 and currently houses students in kindergarten through fourth grade. It is the oldest of the nine Hillsborough Township schools currently in use.