27 September 2019

William Bradley's Ardmaer Farms

In February of 1903, as tobacco tycoon James B. Duke was gearing up for the construction projects that would transform his Hillsborough, NJ estate into the wonderland known as Duke's Park, older brother Benjamin thought he might like to have his own estate on the Raritan River. He purchased two farms on the other side of the river in Bridgewater Township west of the town of Raritan totaling several hundred acres. Over the next few years, he added to his holdings by purchasing an additional eight farms further west.

13 February 1903 Home News

While the Duke brothers were accumulating real estate in New Jersey, fifty-two-year-old contractor William Bradley was digging things up in New York - literally. For years the Bradley Contracting Company held the lucrative city snow removal contract. Favored by Tammany Hall, Bradley employed an army of up to 5,000 men armed with shovels during the winter months. Undoubtedly many of those same men helped Bradley fulfill the tunnel digging contracts he was awarded during the initial construction and expansion of the subway lines in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

26 February 1903 New York Times

Like many middle-aged millionaires of the early twentieth century (and even today) Bradley spent freely on his hobbies - the biggest being racehorses. In 1907 he also purchased a large tract - 360 acres - west of Raritan and set out to build a world-class breeding operation for trotters and pacers. When Benjamin Duke finally decided not to build on his acreage Bradley was able to acquire that also. By 1910, with the purchase of the large Long and Garretson tracts, Bradley had an estate - Ardmaer Farms - as large as J.B. Duke's Duke Farms! 

Relative Sizes of Duke and Bradley Estates.

He spent considerable sums bringing the finest studs and broodmares to the farm in those early years. Much like his neighbor across the river, Bradley was continually building - enormous barns, stables, roads, and a one-mile track. The mysterious death of two of his best horses early on did not deter Bradley - he just bought more. He even purchased an enormous Tally Ho Coach and Four to drive guests from the Raritan Station out to his farm and had one of the first privately-owned automobile fire engines in the vicinity.

A Tally Ho Coach and Four circa 1908

In 1915 European nations ravaged by war sent to the United States for horses. Hundreds of thousands of horses from America's heartland were shipped across the Atlantic to France and Italy. With its fine and commodious facilities, Ardmaer Farms became a way station for thousands of horses bound for the battlefield. They arrived by train 300, 500, even 800 at a time. Once at the farm horses were inspected for fitness and given the nourishment needed for the arduous ocean crossing.

30 March 1911 Home News

When Bradley died in 1924 it was reported that the self-made millionaire who started with a pair of horses and a wagon as a teenager in the 1870s had - through some bad business dealings and failure to collect the money owed on some large contracts  - allowed his net worth to fall to less than $500.

26 February 1930 Home News

After the sale of Ardmaer farms to settle the estate - an auction that brought in $125,000 - the Bradley property continued to operate as a farm for the rest of the decade. In 1930 new owners sold all of the livestock and equipment and within a year streets were laid out for the residential development known as Bradley Gardens.

25 September 2019

Reading Academy - Flemington High School

William S. Drake - the son of Hillsborough farmer and Democrat politician JVD Drake - was a well-known building contractor for thirty-five years from the 1930s to the 1960s. He built many buildings in Hillsborough and throughout Somerset County during his long, productive career. He was also one of the founders of the Montgomery Volunteer Fire Company and was involved with many civic activities. But for our purposes, we will remember him as the last Hillsborough student to attend Flemington High School.

The Reading Academy, Flemington, NJ.
Upon his death in 1853, Flemington resident Daniel Kennedy Reading left $10,000 in his will to build a school. The school, known as Reading Academy after its benefactor, was finally built in 1862 and began taking high school students in the 1870s. This made the Reading Academy one of the first public high schools in the area, with the first class graduating in 1880. Students came from all over central and south Hunterdon County, Branchburg Township, and even Hillsborough. Over the decades the school on Bonnell Street was expanded, but eventually was too small and outdated and needed to be replaced.

The new Flemington High School constructed in 1915.

A new high school on the same property was dedicated on December 17, 1915. According to a report in the Courier News, the two-story brick building was planned to include:

"On the first floor of the building will be stenography, typewriting, bookkeeping, history, principal's room, teachers' room, English, miscellaneous, library and auditorium with gallery. The auditorium will have a seating capacity of about 800. On the second floor of the building will be the lecture room, laboratory, mathematics, general study room, language, and two rooms unfurnished."
Which brings us back to the young Mr. Drake. In July 1925 the Hillsborough Township Board of Education voted to approve the transportation of all high school students - including those attending Bound Brook and Flemington - to Somerville High School. JVD Drake - who incidentally was on the Hillsborough School Board at that time - was able to carve out an exception for William to stay at Flemington, where he was a star left tackle on the football team, through December 1, 1925, with the Hillsborough Board of Education continuing to pay tuition to Flemington until that time.

When Mr. Drake continued to send his son to Flemington beyond December 1, a court battle ensued over who would pick up the tuition with the Hillsborough Board of Education prevailing.

Flemington High School graduated its final class in June 1956, after which students attended the new Hunterdon Central High School.

10 September 2019

The "Bridge Street" Bridges of Hillsborough

A 1923 editorial in the New Brunswick Home News concerning the movement to change the name of Somerville's Bridge Street posited, "[T]oday, there are many streets leading from the main street across a bridge over the Raritan. Today, Bridge Street has no significance whatsoever. It is merely a habit." If the writer won his point then, he would surely win it doubly now as not only are there still other Somerville roads that lead to bridges but Bridge Street - or South Bridge Street as it is now known - leads to no bridge at all! Instead, it terminates at Route 206, where a left turn brings motorists to an eight-lane highway that poses as a Raritan River Bridge. Drivers at cruising speed in either direction may not know that they are on a bridge at all.

The Old Covered Bridge at Bridge Street (1822-1887).
Painting by Davis Gray, 1971.

In the post-revolutionary period, when wagons crossed the Raritan from Hillsborough to the settlement that would become Somerville, drivers took care on the narrow chain bridge. When a loaded grain wagon caused the bridge to collapse in 1822 it was replaced by a covered bridge. In those days, Bridge Street went straight through where the D&C Electric parking lot is today [2019] and then turned slightly east to cross the river at the narrowest span. The old covered bridge was much loved for many reasons, not the least of which was because it shielded boys at their favorite swimming hole from the travelers on the bridge. Swimming costumes were practically non-existent in the wardrobe of a mid-nineteenth-century youth!

The Iron Bridge at Bridge Street (1887-1930).
Postcard circa 1915.
Eventually, progress and increased commerce dictated a new modern, wider iron bridge be built. The Somerset County Freeholders budgeted $13,000 for the 300-foot span in 1886 with the bridge opening to traffic the following year.

The Concrete Highway Bridge of Route 31/206 (1930-2002)
Photo from 1999.

The construction of Route 31 - now renamed Route 206 - in 1929 called for a modern concrete auto bridge over the Raritan River. This was a major project requiring the use of a temporary wooden bridge at the site where a gigantic concrete mixing machine moved back and forth on tracks. The architecturally significant bridge opened in August 1930 and was in use until 2002.

The Eight-Lane Route 206 Bridge under construction.
28 March 2002 Courier News

02 September 2019

Garden State Lounge (1966 - 1968)

When Garden State Lanes burned to the ground on January 21, 1963, the Wengryn brothers - George, Walter, and Daniel - not only lost the valuable bowling alley on Route 206 in Hillsborough but also their investment in a liquor license. At least temporarily.

24 December 1965 Courier News

The Wengryns had been trying for years to add a proper cocktail lounge to Garden State Lanes which opened in 1957. After finally getting township approval for a liquor license transfer from the defunct Sourland Mountain Tavern/Amwell Inn at the beginning of 1963, and quickly opening the bar, it all went up in smoke three weeks later.

8 January 1966 Courier News

While the brothers kept their options open as to whether or not to rebuild the bowling alley, they received approval in 1965 to build a cocktail lounge on the site to be named Garden State Lounge. The cocktail lounge opened on New Year's Eve 1965 with an official grand opening eight days later. Live music and dancing to the likes of Walt Wengryn's own orchestra (foxtrot, rumba, cha-cha, waltz, and polka) were the featured attractions during that first year.

16 December 1966 Courier News

In 1967 the lounge added go-go girls and rock groups to their lineup. The Treble Tones and Duff & The New Disciples were Friday night regulars. 

Newspaper ads for Garden State Lounge

Garden State Lounge might have remained in business for years if not for a "special event" held on Monday, February 12, 1968. Usually, there was no admission fee or cover charge at the lounge, but for this event, for which the entire audience consisted of 75 middle-aged men, tickets cost $10. In addition, patrons parked off-site and were transported by bus to the club.

15 February 1968 Franklin News-Record

Even though the party had been planned for about a month, local police were tipped off on the night of the event that something different was going down on Route 206. When the twelve municipal, county and state police officers arrived about an hour into the show, they found two nude women, professional strippers from New York,  on the stage.

Ultimately, charges for the proprietors and organizers of the event were reduced to disorderly conduct, and the New Jersey Alcohol Beverage Control Board revoked the liquor license. 

The Wengryns sold the property later that same year to the group that developed Hillsboro Plaza on the site.