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.