29 May 2019

Pine Terrace (circa 1905 - 1943)

A drive today through the Hillsborough Township hamlet of South Branch gives only the barest hint of the lively little village that existed around the turn of the last century. We can still see the imposing South Branch Reformed Church and the Miller's Mansion - also known as the Vroom House - as well as a smattering of 19th-century homes along River Road and Orchard Drive, but gone forever is the mill itself with all of its storehouses, the general store - later a US Post Office - the homes on the west side of River Road, the wheelwright/wagon shop, and both of the blacksmith shops. Also missing is the impressive mansion on the lot to the south of the church known as Pine Terrace.

Pine Terrace, postcard circa 1907
Pine Terrace was built in the middle of the 19th-century by John and Gilbert Amerman - brothers who also were instrumental in the establishment of the church in 1850. In fact, the Amerman family donated the land for the church, owned the mill and a general store, and built other houses in the village, notably "Hilltop" - the house at the corner of River Road and Orchard Drive.

Ad for Pine Terrace from the 30 May 1909 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Their mansion was actually two complete houses of ten rooms each, joined in the center by a large reception hall. The richest family in the village spared no expense in the construction or furnishing of the home with 14-foot high hand blown mirrors imported from France adorning the reception hall, fine marble mantels at the fireplaces, and ornamental hand-worked plaster on the walls throughout the house. 

The village of South Branch from across the river, postcard circa 1907
After Gilbert passed away in 1886, the village doctor William H. Merrell - who was in practice in the village for 40 years - made his office in Pine Terrace. When John Amerman died in 1904 the mansion was acquired by Charles S. Phillips and wife. The house had served sometimes as a boarding house and meeting place, but the new proprietor turned it into a full-fledged summer resort accommodating up to 35 guests.

Guests on the steps of Pine Terrace,
as reprinted in the South Branch Reformed Church 150th Anniversary book.
Ads taken out in New York newspapers promised "home cooking, fresh vegetables, eggs, milk", and most importantly, "no mosquitos". Activities included horseback riding, boating, fishing, and simply enjoying the beautiful scenery. Of course, a bath was included, and a piano was available in the parlor for rainy-day entertainment. All this at a cost of only $6 (and up) per week.

22 January 1964 Courier News
Pine Terrace quickly found its niche catering to religious and youth groups looking for a place in the country for a summer retreat. Rooms were always available for South Branchers out-of-town guests and many local residents had their special occasions catered in the Pine Terrace dining room.

20 March 1964 Courier News
Charles Phillips passed away in 1943, after which Pine Terrace fell into disrepair. In 1963, the South Branch Reformed Church began negotiating to buy the property, initially looking to repurpose the mansion for a new education center. They completed the deal but found that the building would not suit their needs. The contents were sold at auction - the imported mirrors that had cost $1000 a century earlier went for just $14 - and Pine Terrace was soon demolished to make way for the building that adjoins the church today.

25 May 2019

Olympic Cyclists Summer in South Branch, 1972

In recent years, Hillsborough's weekend motorists have become used to navigating around bicyclists on the backroads of the "boro", but back in the summer of '72 cyclists had the upper hand. It was in July and August of that year that the US Olympic Cycling Team made their home base at the South Branch Hotel on River Road.

15 July 1972 Courier News
Coming out of the Olympic Trials at Lake Luzerne, NY in early July, coach Ernie Seubert took the top twelve road racers with him back to his native New Jersey, where they could train over the sleepy backroads of Hillsborough Township - and compete for the final eight spots that would comprise the Olympic team. 

The South Branch Hotel, photo circa 1970
The sprawling 19th-century mansion that became their home for four weeks that summer was once the summer residence of the flamboyant Diamond Jim Brady and was lately owned by Mr. and Mrs. David Weiss. The hotel catered mostly to Jewish youth groups for summer retreats and the like. 

27 July 1972 Courier News
A typical workout that summer consisted of a 50 or 60-mile ride before breakfast, then another three or four-hour session in the afternoon. The sleepy back roads of Somerset County were specifically chosen because, according to Coach Seubert, "There are no outside distractions here." To stay sharp, the team competed in a 50-mile race in Nutley and made a trip out to Milwaukee for the National Championship. The standouts that summer were future bicycling Hall-of-Famers John Howard and Ron Skarin. Howard had already competed in the 1968 Olympic Games, and he and Skarin would each go on to be members of the cycling teams in Munich in 1972 and Montreal in 1976.

28 May 1974 Courier News
Skarin returned to the area less than a year later to win the first of his two consecutive titles at the Tour Of Somerville. No word on whether or not he stayed at the South Branch Hotel!

27 May 1974 Home News

11 May 2019

Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterian Church has a long, and more than a little disjointed, history in Hillsborough stretching all the way back to 1759. It was in that year that congregants borrowed a pastor from Bound Brook and met for the first time at the home of one of their members in Millstone. The next year they built their own church, sharing it with members of the Dutch Reformed Church until they built their own church in 1767.

18 November 1961 Courier News

In 1777, during the British encampment at Millstone, the English set fire to the Presbyterian Church, damaging it beyond repair. After the Revolution, the Reformed Church in New Brunswick and the Presbyterian Church in Princeton agreed that no new Presbyterian Church would be formed between Princeton and Pluckemin. Aside from a foray into Presbyterianism by the Clover Hill Church between 1840 and 1862, this agreement held into the middle of the 20th century.

Headline from the Courier News, 20 September 1961

In 1961 Rev. Dr. Orion Hopper got permission from the New Brunswick Presbytery to survey Hillsborough residents about a new church. Of approximately 450 households surveyed, nearly 200 expressed interest in joining a Presbyterian Church if there was one in the township. With this good result, a church was unofficially organized and the first Sunday service was held at the Hillsborough Consolidated School (now Hillsborough Elementary School) on September 24, 1961.

24 September 1962 Home News

The Consolidated School made a good initial home for the church - especially after they were able to negotiate the Sunday rental fee down from $240 to $148 a month - but what was needed was a site for a church building. Longtime Hillsborough resident Clifford Cunningham owned 8 1/2 acres at the northwest corner of Route 206 and Homestead Road. For years he had been trying to get suitable zoning to operate a number of small businesses on the property but was continually stymied by the Planning Board. He did have one business there - selling log cabins to Boy Scouts and other outdoor recreation concerns - and to further that enterprise he built a model cabin on the site that also served as his office. By the end of 1961, Cunningham agreed to sell the property to the church, thereby providing them not only with the space to construct a new building but also, with the addition in 1962 of a proper steeple, a building to hold their Sunday service and other activities. This became known as the Log Cabin Chapel.

3 April 1967 Home News

The church was officially organized with a service at the Log Cabin Chapel on May 12, 1963. Groundbreaking for the current familiar church building took place in April 1967.

The Hillsborough Presbyterian Church celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013, becoming one of the longest enduring congregations in Hillsborough, whichever way you count it!