22 February 2018

Andrew Lane - JC Lane Stores (1870 - 1918)

By the time Andrew Lane came to Hillsborough Township in 1870, the thirty-seven-year-old Readington native had already been successful in two separate careers and was looking to begin a third.

Andrew Lane Store (left) and home (right) circa 1904
He took up carpentry in 1848 at the age of seventeen, and by twenty-one was out on his own building houses. In 1857 he became engaged in farming  - purchasing his own farm in Clinton Township in 1864. It is unclear what convinced Lane that he should move to Neshanic and open a general store, other than the fact that he saw a huge opportunity.

Neshanic Mills area  - detail from the 1873 map
When the firm of Voorhees & Brokaw were looking to sell their mill and store property in what used to be called Corle's Mills in 1870, Lane jumped at the chance to get in on the ground floor of what would soon become the new railroad village of Neshanic Station. Judge Schenck got the South Branch Railroad to cross the South Branch of the Raritan River near his property and build a station just a few years earlier - now the Easton & Amboy Railroad - later to become the Lehigh Valley Railroad - was building across New Jersey, and was set to lay tracks just north of the village. As the Courier News recounted years later:
"The enterprising storekeeper obtained a concession from the railroad to provide its workmen with food, clothing, drugs and other supplies. Local legend has it that a good part of Lane's fortune were the profits from selling the large bottles of "Spring Tonic" that stood on the patent medicine shelf - and later had a resurgence of popularoty during the Prohibition Era."
Lane did so well with the railroad contract, that by 1875 he was able to completely rebuild the old circa 1810 mill and use it as a flouring-mill, saw-mill, plaster-mill, and phosphate-mill.

Lane's Mill circa 1917. Built in 1875, burned down in 1927.

Business was so good that by the end of the decade Lane's brother Gilbert, fifteen years his junior, who had been clerking for him in the store, set up his own store at the northwest corner of Amwell Road across from the Neshanic Dutch Reformed Church.

Andrew Lane from Snell's
1881 History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties
The great flood of 1896 which washed out all the bridges from Neshanic to Bound Brook, flooding towns and villages along the way, nearly destroyed the store. As the water began to rise, Lane ignored pleas from his clerk to get the merchandise to higher ground. He lost his entire stock - and the mill sustained $2,500 damage (about $65,000 today). Andrew Lane passed away in 1903 and the mill was run for a time by his son-in-law. It was purchased by A. S. Amerman in in 1921, and was lost to a fire in 1927. Amerman later rebuilt a slightly shorter mill on the same foundation.

John C. Lane Store circa 1900
Meanwhile down at the old village of Neshanic, Gilbert Lane had passed away in 1891, leaving the store to his nineteen-year-old son John C. Lane. J. C. Lane ran the store prosperously for another quarter of a century, before it was also burned to the ground in 1918.

10 October 1957 Courier News
Andrew Lane's old store at the corner of Mill Lane remained in the Lane family for decades, and was rented out as a residence for most of that time. It too finally succumbed to a fire on March 15, 1962.

15 February 2018

Amwell Farms Inn - Capri's - et. al. (1933 - 2010)

John Trimmer was a huckster. The fifty-seven-year-old from Three Bridges Road in Hillsborough was described as such in the 1920 US Census - which noted that he sold fish and eggs. Traditionally, a huckster is a person who sells small items either door-to-door or from a stall or small store. In Trimmer's case, his store was a roadside stand at the corner of Route 31 (now Route 206) and Hamilton Road.

20 April 1932 Courier News
By the mid 1920s Trimmer's sons John. Jr. and Alfred had joined the business, expanded into trees, shrubs, and nursery items, and called the business Amwell Farms. In 1933, with the repeal of Prohibition just around the corner, New Jersey loosened the laws on beer sales, and many of Hillsborough's long dry eateries applied for liquor licenses. It was probably around this time that the Trimmer brothers sold their store to Willard S. Hafner who remodeled Amwell Farms into Amwell Farms Bar and Grill.

15 June 1938 Courier News

The business took off. By 1936 Hafner was offering live music on Friday and Saturday nights, promising, "Good Food at Reasonable Prices", and advertising in the classifieds for a "Middle-Aged woman (white) for kitchen work in bar and grill. Sleep in. Wages $30 a month and board." In December 1949, Hafner sold out to John Bennett and Edward Lyver who continued the tavern under the name Amwell Farms through the mid 1950s.

Matchbook circa 1958

In 1957 the restaurant was sold to Peter and Mary Pilat who officially changed the name to Amwell Farms Inn. Around 1961 the tavern was purchased by Salvatore Coffaro - of the well-known central Jersey pizzeria family - and his brother-in-law Michael Mastrobuono. 

3 October 1963 Courier News
It wasn't long before the pair changed the name from Amwell Farms to Capri's - which better represented the Italian-American cuisine.

9 May 1969 Courier News
After their retirement in 1973, the establishment retained the Capri name for three years - continuing to offer live music and dancing on Saturday nights. Couples only!

14 February 1975 Courier News
In October 1976 the name was changed to Hillsboro Inn.

2 October 1976 Courier News

Hillsborough residents will remember that at the time that the Hillsboro Inn went out of business in the early 1980s, it had been operating as a Go Go bar.

22 July 1982 Courier News
The site was revived in 1987 by the Charlie Brown's restaurant chain, and was very successful in Hillsborough until the entire company went bankrupt in 2010.

16 March 1997 Courier News
Today, as the corner of Route 206 and Hamilton Road approaches its centennial as a prominent place of commerce, a Chase Bank sits on the site.

13 February 2018

The Neshanic Institute

It was December 1869 and the Reverend Peter Davis "P.D." Oakey wasn't feeling well. The well-known fifty-four-year-old clergyman of both the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian denominations on Long Island decided to resign his position at the Presbyterian Church of Jamaica, Queens, and relocate to rural New Jersey for his health.
Ad from 1873 Our Home Magazine

What Oakey's Queens congregation may not have known was that earlier that year he had begun to organize a boys boarding school in Neshanic with the intention of beginning the first term in September 1870. Reverend Oakey was no stranger to New Jersey.  He was born in New Brunswick in 1816 and graduated from Rutgers College in 1841. After a three-year divinity course at the theological seminary in New Brunswick, he was assigned to his first pastorate at the Brookville Reformed Church in Oyster Bay. He moved to the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica in 1850, serving there for nearly twenty years, while also helping to start the church in nearby Springfield.

Detail from 1873 map

The site Reverend Oakey chose for his Neshanic Institute was on a hill overlooking the Raritan River near where the Lehigh Valley Railroad bridge would be built two years later.  Despite the religious background of its principal, the Neshanic Institute was non-sectarian. 

Rare postal cover addressed to a student at the Neshanic Institute, 1872

Not much is known about the school itself other than what can be gleaned from ads that ran in the New York Tribune and other publications. The school was touted as offering the "superior advantage of a good home; pleasant, healthy location; solid instruction."

Neshanic Station 1873 map

According to the 1876 Commissioner's Report on New Jersey Schools, during the previous year, there was one female and two male teachers for the seventeen students - all boys - and there had been nine graduates entering college after the close of the last academic year.

2 September 1874 New York Tribune

Reverend Oakey also found time to preach at the Three Bridges Reformed Church between 1873 and 1876 - the year that he was called back to the Springfield, New York church that he had started years earlier. He closed the Neshanic Institute at the end of the 1876 school year, and the building later was converted to a private residence. Unfortunately, it burned down sometime in the early decades of the 20th century and is not at all remembered today.

08 February 2018

Jerry Lewis Cinema - Hillsborough Cinema (1971-1991)

In this era of the of the ultra-mega-multiplex, can there be a child today who could even contemplate a movie theater with just one screen? Yet, for a two decade period not very long ago, thousands of Hillsborough Township boys and girls enjoyed just such a cinema experience at the corner of Route 206 and Andria Avenue.  

24 May 1970 Asbury Park Press

"If you can press a button, you can own a Jerry Lewis Cinema." This was the nationwide sales pitch made by Network Cinema Corporation and Jerry Lewis in 1970 seeking franchise owners for their Micro-Theatre (100 seats) and Mini-Theatre (350 seats) cinema concept. For an investment of between $10,000 and $15,000 - no experience necessary - you too could "make a lot of money."

3 July 1971 Home News
Six months after the successful area launch of a franchise in Basking Ridge, Hillsborough resident Robert Piechota and his partners held the grand opening celebration for their new 350 seat Jerry Lewis Cinema on July 27, 1971. According to The Home News, Piechota, in keeping with the Jerry Lewis family-friendly concept, promised to never show an X-rated movie - and only R-rated movies "if they're in good taste." The very first feature shown was Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man.

21 July 1971 Home News

Franchisees were expected to make money through the promise of low overhead. For instance, film projectors would be able to accommodate giant 60-minute reels - meaning that for a typical movie the projectionist would be able to switch to the second projector just once instead of every 20 minutes, hence the "press a button" idea. In January 1974 the theater was re-branded as Hillsboro Cinema, dropping the affiliation with Jerry Lewis.

27 July 1971 Courier News

The theater continued in Hillsborough for another 17 years, quietly going out of business in 1991. Robert Piechota never left the movie theater business, as he was still the owner of the Montgomery Township theater, and saw that theater through the expansion of the shopping center there. He made his return to Hillsborough with the opening of the multiplex on Raider Boulevard in 2000.