12 December 2018

The Murder of Jack Morton - 1971

It is doubtful that killers Freddie Cisson and Henry Molka knew anything of the man they murdered in the early morning hours of Saturday, December 11, 1971, except that he had some money and they wanted it.

Jack Andrew Morton

Could they have known that 58-year old Jack A. Morton of Hillsborough Township was a vice-president at Bell Labs where he had been employed since 1936? That he was a gifted electrical engineer who first worked on microwave technology and radar which led to innovations that changed the course of World War II in the Pacific? 

Jack Morton's 1971 book Organizing for Innovation
That in 1948 he led the team that improved upon and produced the first useful transistors - an invention that has made our modern electronic world possible?

1 June 1960 Home News
That among his many honors was the coveted David Sarnoff Medal for "outstanding leadership and contributions to the development and understanding of solid state electron devices" - or that he held 24 US patents?

3 February 1948 Courier News
That he moved with his family to Hillsborough in 1944, purchasing the famed "Humble House" on Riverside Drive - and that he volunteered on the local Planning Board, Industry Board, and anything else that his busy schedule would allow? Or that he had just published a book - Organizing for Innovation - detailing the best practices and leadership required for success in the age of technology?

Jack Morton, William Shockley, and Addison White of Bell Labs -
the men who gave the world the transistor.
Fortune Magazine, 1953
All the two unemployed mechanics from Reaville knew was that he was an amiable man who bought them a few drinks at the Neshanic Inn where he had stopped on his way home from a business trip. The three sat together until closing time and were seen leaving together. Morton's car was reported on fire on Woodfern Rd. at 4:30 a.m. where firemen found Morton's lifeless, bruised, and badly burned body in the backseat. 

13 December 1971 Courier News
When Cisson and Molka were seen driving past the scene of the ongoing police investigation several times later that morning they were arrested, and later identified.

13 December 1971 Courier News 
Both killers were convicted in 1972 and sentenced to life imprisonment, where presumably they had plenty of time to contemplate the life they took.

14 November 2018

Piggeries at the Polls, 1939

When heiress Doris Duke presented plans to construct a massive piggery on her Hillsborough, NJ estate in 1950 township residents and officials were suddenly confronted with an issue that they thought had been put out to pasture a decade before.

16 March 1939 Courier News

It was in September 1938 that Henry Krajewski and family purchased farm property on Amwell Road in the Woods Tavern area east of today's Route 206.  The first red flag should have gone up when neighbors learned that the twenty-six-year-old was from Secaucus - New Jersey's pig capital during the first half of the 20th century. 

Henry Krajewski and friend,
31 October 1958 New York Daily News
Hillsborough farmers had always raised pigs, but no one had ever contemplated an operation of the size soon endeavored upon by Krajewski. By March of 1939, the piggery was already 400 strong, with plans to grow to 4,000. It wasn't the actual pigs that so distressed Hillsborough residents, but rather the smell of the refuse they fed on and the generally unsanitary conditions of the farm.

1 July 1939 Courier News
Hillsborough's most recent sanitary code dated from 1907 and was wholly inadequate to deal with large-scale pig farms. A new ordinance was quickly passed requiring those who wished to keep more than 50 hogs to obtain a $10 permit and submit to inspections by the Board of Health. In short order, Krajewski was issued several fines which he refused to pay. When a second large piggery opened on Amwell Road that summer, and then a third, piggeries were thrust to the forefront as an issue during the campaign for township committee.

6 November 1939 Courier News
J. Irving Stryker of South Branch, the Republican challenger against incumbent Democrat committeeman J.V.D. Drake, pledged that "Undesirable enterprises such as piggeries, where thousands of swine are fed on garbage under filthy conditions, must not be permitted." Other campaign issues check the usual boxes - rateables and road conditions.

8 July 1939 Courier News
In probably the closest election in Hillsborough history, Stryker defeated Drake by two votes.

In March 1940 the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a Hillsborough ordinance, challenged by Krajewski, forbidding the dumping of garbage in the town. The next month, Krajewski announced that he was ceasing operations and moving back to the pig-friendly environs of Secaucus. Two other piggeries in Hillsborough closed at the same time. 

New Jersey and the nation would hear a lot more from Henry Krajewski in the coming decades!

22 October 2018

Somerville High School

For most of the 19th century, a New Jersey high school education was primarily for academically-minded students who were continuing on to college - and before 1871 high schools were nearly all private institutions, further discouraging attendance.  It was in that year that the New Jersey Legislature passed an act that made all public schools, including public high schools, free.

The 1856 Somerville Public School, pictured in 1891.

At that time there were very few public high schools in the vicinity of Hillsborough - the ones in New Brunswick and Plainfield were about the closest. Somerville began adding classes for high school students in the mid-1880s, perhaps some being held in the 1856 Public School on West High Street pictured above. A high school building - pictured below - was also opened in 1894. The left side of the building shown here was later connected with the 1912 school which also fronted on West High Street.

The 1894 high school pictured in a 1909 photo.

There were twelve students in the first graduating class of Somerville High School in 1888. The most notable among them - because he later became a teacher at the high school and then served as the Somerville tax collector for 25 years - was Hillsborough Township lad Charles Hamilton. 

1888 Somerville High School graduating class.
Charles Hamilton is standing at the rear, center.
Photo courtesy of Mary Margaret Hamilton Tripp

Charles was the first member of the first alumni association for the high school when it was formed in the 1920s and was again the first member of the re-formed alumni association in 1959!

1888 Somerville High School graduate Charles Hamilton,
 13 November 1959 Courier News

It is possible that Charles Hamilton attended the building shown below in a postcard from 1905. This iteration of Somerville High School was directly behind and attached to the rear of the 1856 Public school. This building still stands today, connected to the current middle school by an enclosed walkway.

Somerville High School circa 1905.
Note the public school in the rear.

While the three buildings shown above are certainly fine examples of 19th-century public school architecture, they are not what could be called modern buildings. The first truly modern Somerville school building was the aforementioned 1912 school shown in a circa 1915 postcard view below. This building was to the west of the 1856 Public School and connected to the 1894 high school just behind it.

The building on the left was completed in 1912.
The high school was on the second floor.

I include the 1912 school in this survey because in the early 1920s the second floor was used for the high school. As a testament to its modernity and functionality, the school was still being used for elementary school students through 1998, and then for another decade as a public preschool before being demolished in 2009.

The "new" 1924 high school facing Cliff Street,
 now the Somerville Middle School

On November 4, 1922, approximately 1,200 Somerville school children took part in the ceremony to lay the cornerstone of a brand new high school - on the same block as the other schools, but this time facing Cliff Street. Students sang "America" and "The Star-Spangled Banner", and helped bury a time-capsule. The school was dedicated on February 22, 1924, with 1888 grad Charles Hamilton acting as emcee. Two weeks earlier the Somerville Girls' Basketball team won the first-ever game played in the new gym.

Student Train Pass, September 1927

As one of only two area high schools - the other being Bound Brook - Somerville had already been accepting students on a tuition basis from nearby municipalities for decades. Hillsborough, Millstone, Branchburg, Bridgewater, and even Readington Township in Hunterdon County sent students to Somerville. Students such as Margaret Quick took the train each morning at 5:55 a.m. from Neshanic Station to Somerville, returning to Neshanic Station at 5:25 p.m. Now that's a long school day!

The state of the regional, consolidated, and tuition high schools in 1960.

In the 1960s overcrowding at the high school became an issue. Bridgwater built its own high school around 1960, relieving the pressure somewhat. But by the mid-60s Somerville was no longer accepting Hillsborough's ninth-graders and eventually decided not to accept any new students from Hillsborough - although those already attending would be permitted to remain and graduate. After Hillsborough opened its own high school in 1969, Branchburg was left as the only town still sending students on a tuition basis to Somerville - and that continues to this day.

Plan for a new high school, 11 March 1969 Courier News

In 1968, after 44 years on Cliff Street, the Somerville school board began talking about building a new high school in a new location. Contracts for a $3.1 million school to be located at Davenport and Orchard Streets were awarded in March. This school - designed for 1,300 students - opened in October 1970. Apart from a small addition constructed on the south side of the building about 20 years ago, the footprint of the high school remains essentially unchanged.

12 October 1970 Home News

Today Somerville is one of the top 50 high schools in New Jersey as ranked by US News and World Report, serving just under 1,200 Somerville and Branchburg students.

23 September 2018

The First Basilone Parade, September 19, 1943

Seventy-five years ago this week Hillsborough Township played host to one of the most significant and nationally-publicized events in Somerset County, New Jersey history. The occasion was the homecoming of Raritan's war hero and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone.

Collier's Magazine 24 June 1944
Sgt. Basilone's story and heroics are well-known to readers so I will only recount them briefly. He was born in 1916 while the long-time Raritan family was living in Buffalo, New York. Within a couple of years, they were back in the Boro with John attending St. Bernard's parochial school. He dropped out after 8th grade and enlisted in the army in 1934 at the age of 17. Posted to the Philippines, he picked up his nickname "Manilla John" through his boxing prowess. He returned to the States after three years of service, then joined the Marines in 1940.

18 September 1943 Home News
He was in Guadalcanal in October 1942 when 3,000 Japanese soldiers attacked his position at Henderson field defended by a few dozen men under his command. With a couple of machine guns, his pistol, and a machete, he spent two days holding off the ferocious attack. When the Japanese retreated at the end of the second day, Sgt. Basilone was one of only three men left standing in his unit. He had personally killed 38 Japanese soldiers. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism.

20 September 1943 Courier News
Somerset County Judge George W. Allgair spearheaded the drive to honor Sgt. Basilone upon his return to Raritan in September 1943. It was soon announced that John Basilone Day would begin with a parade from Somerville to Raritan, then across the Nevius Street Bridge and conclude with a rally in the meadow at the northern end of the Doris Duke estate.

20 September 1943 Courier News
Sunday, September 19, 1943, began for Sgt. Basilone and his family with High Mass at St. Ann's Church in Raritan followed by lunch at Raritan Valley Farms Inn. Then it was on to Somerville for the parade.

20 September 1943 Home News
Sgt. Basilone rode in an open car in the parade which included military, veteran, and fraternal organizations, marching bands, Boy and Girl Scouts, 100 Free French Sailors, military personnel from Hillsborough's South Somerville quartermaster sub-depot, and even a Navy blimp flying overhead. It was estimated that 15,000 people lined the streets of Somerville and Raritan to catch a glimpse of Sgt. Basilone.

20 September 1943 Home News
New York newspaper columnist Harry Hershfeld was master of ceremonies for the rally at Duke's Park which besides the usual politicians and dignitaries - such as former U.S. Senator and Raritan native Joseph Frelinghuysen and New York Mayor Jimmie Walker - also included nightclub entertainers Danny Thomas, Maurice Rocco, and Robert Maurice, and Hollywood starlets Virginia O'Brien and Louise Allbritten.

20 September 1943 Home News
The star power was brought out to sell war bonds - and it was announced from the podium that $1.4 million had been sold in the lead up to John Basilone Day. Johns-Manville Corporation alone gave $500,000, and the three large Somerset County banks each gave six-figure amounts. The Bridgewater Township Board of Education even chipped in by buying $15,000 worth of bonds.

20 September 1943 Home News
Keeping with the theme, $5,000 in war bonds bought with contributions from the grateful Raritan community was presented as a gift to Sgt. Basilone.

20 September 1943 Home News
The rally at Duke's Park, attended by an estimated crowd of 20,000 - and filmed by the cameras of Fox Movietone News - began and ended with a song from 17-year-old singing sensation and Raritan native Catherine Mastice. She opened with The Star Spangled Banner and closed the rally with God Bless America. In between, she performed a new song, "Manilla John", written especially for John Basilone Day by another Raritan native Joseph Memosi.

17-year-old Raritan songstress Catherine Mastice
photo borrowed from http://www.raritan-online.com/parade-1943.htm

Life Magazine had their photographer present to capture the events of the rally for a feature that appeared in the October 11, 1943 issue of the popular periodical.

Images from the 11 October 1943 Life Magazine feature story
Sgt. Basilone only spoke briefly at the event. He confided later that the events of the day were overwhelming and that he regretted not saying more. It's hard to imagine a Marine who held off the enemy for almost three days with no sleep or food being overwhelmed by well-wishers at a day in his honor, but on the other hand so many wanted to get close to him that day, touch him, touch the medal, that security was needed at various points to keep everyone safe.

26 September 1943 syndicated comic strip
Sgt. Basilone's time back in the old neighborhood was brief. On the same day the syndicated comic strip above appeared in newspapers across the country, the decorated war hero was in Plainfield at another rally selling bonds.

27 September 1943 Courier News
Before too long the military sent him on a national war bond tour with celebrities John Garfield and Virginia Grey. He put in many requests to return to the fighting in the Pacific but was always told that he was too valuable here at home.

27 September 1943 Courier News

At the end of 1943, the military relented, and Sgt. Basilone reported to Camp Pendleton to begin training. He officially reenlisted in the Marine Corps on July 3, 1944, and on July 10 he married Sgt. Lena Mae Riggi whom he had met while stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Sgt, Basilone was killed on February 19, 1945, during the first day of fighting on Iwo Jima.

12 September 2018

The Hillsborough Family Fallout Shelter, 1961

When entrepreneur Richard Burr was looking for a secure Hillsborough, NJ location for his document storage business Vital Records, Inc. in 1980, he chanced upon a location on New Center Road that proved to be perfect.

12 November 1962 Life magazine
What Burr found in a "for sale" ad in the Courier News was the below-ground facility built by AT&T in 1970 as an "underground communication transmission installation" - one of many throughout the U.S. - from which the telephone giant hoped to keep long-distance lines operational after a nuclear attack. Burr described the structure as "designed to withstand everything except a direct hit."

26 August 1991 Courier News
AT&T was a bit late to the game. The idea of using a fallout shelter - a reinforced concrete structure, often underground, where people could survive the radiation that would accompany an atomic bomb - was first promulgated in the 1950s, and then conceived of for residential applications in the early 1960s. In fact, if Vital Records, Inc. ever runs out of space on New Center Rd., they may be able to find some on Claremont Drive!

5 November 1961 Home News
By the late 1950s, with the cold war heating up and fear of an atomic attack growing, the federal government distributed pamphlets - like the one below endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences - showing citizens how they could build their own shelters.

1959 Fallout Shelter pamphlet
If you didn't want to build it yourself, there was no shortage of contractors that would do it for you, as evidenced by the 1961 advertisement below from The Courier News.

11 August 1961 Courier News
Claremont Developers, Inc. of Manville took it one step further with the next phase of their Hillsborough development off of Millstone River Road. One of the options offered on Claremont Drive was a complete "Civil Defense Approved" fallout shelter under the garage. The 22 by 14-foot space would be able to accommodate 20 people if necessary but was set up for a family of four with a bunk bed, chemical toilet, and a two-week supply of food included in the purchase price.

3 November 1961 Home News

Claremont built at least one shelter in the model home on Claremont Drive and held an open house in November 1961, complete with an appearance by Mrs. New Jersey!

01 September 2018

Roycefield Falls, Then and Now

To create the desired park-like setting at his Hillsborough, New Jersey estate, tobacco tycoon James B. Duke had his architects design and construct a series of interconnected artificial lakes on the massive property. The lakes were fed by water pumped from the Raritan, and the various levels of the lakes allowed for the transitions to be accompanied by various waterfalls.

Roycefield Falls at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1905

Duke also did work on a minor tributary of the Raritan which later took the name Duke's Brook. Here he instructed his architects to place dams at several locations along the stream to create small lakes behind them. This is no doubt what was intended by the dam that created the "Roycefield Falls" at the bridge near the intersection of Roycefield Road and Duke's Parkway.

Shady Nook Arch Bridge, postcard circa 1907

Just upstream from this location Duke built a beautiful double-arched stone bridge meant to span the widened stream created by the dam. The bridge still exists today but is overgrown and completely inaccessible to the public.

Roycefield Falls at Duke Farms, 2017

25 August 2018

Duke's Brook from Roycefield Road Bridge, Then and Now

One of the most remarked upon features of Duke Farms - the early 20th century Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco millionaire James B. Duke - is the low stone wall that surrounds most of the historic core of the enormous property.

Duke's Brook at Duke's Park, postcard circa 1915
Often overlooked are the extensive stone retaining walls built by Duke's army of laborers along the course of Duke's Brook and the Raritan River.

The Raritan River looking East from the Nevius Street Bridge, circa 1906
Today the walls continue to hold back the banks of the brook just as they did more than a century ago.

Duke's Brook at Duke Farms, 2017