30 October 2019

Blawenburg School

On May 8, 1961, with the addition to the Hillsborough Consolidated School less than 5 years old, Sunnymead School less than two years old, and two new buildings - Triangle and Woodfern - under construction, the Hillsborough Township Board of Education was still so short of space that they voted to ask the County Superintendent of Schools permission to use substandard classrooms in older buildings around the district - and elsewhere.

The 1925 Blawenburg School, photographed in 2019

One of the school buildings Hillsborough students were transported to in September of 1961 was Blawenburg School in Montgomery Township. This two-room school on Route 518 near the intersection of Great Road was built in 1925 to replace an earlier two-room school a couple of lots to the east. It was built in a similar style to other Hillsborough and Montgomery schools of the period and served its function until 1966 when it was taken over for school board offices. The building was later sold and is currently being used as a warehouse for the home furniture and gifts retailer Homestead Princeton.

The original 1853 Blawenburg School. postcard circa 1906

The school it replaced was a little two-room village schoolhouse on a two-tenths on an acre lot next to the Blawenburg Dutch Reformed Church. It was built in 1853 as a replacement for an earlier school on Burnt Hill Road. The school is actually two stories, with the upper floor being reserved in the 19th-century as a community lecture hall.

1860 map of the village of Blawenburg

The main part of the school is of brick construction which was later covered by stucco, and eventually other types of siding. There is also a one-story front entryway clad in board and batten. After 1925 the church reacquired the lot and the school and added the addition on the west side in the next year. In 1950 another addition was constructed at the rear of the school. They used the school for church and community activities up until 1960.

the 1853 Blawenburg School, photographed in 1984

Between 1974 and 1998 the 1853 Blawenburg School was home to Rock Brook School - a private school for children with special needs. In 1999, the Blawenburg Reformed Church rechristened the building as Blawenburg Village School and have been running a pre-school for children ages 2 1/2 to 6.

The 1853 Blawenburg School photographed in 2019

25 October 2019

Raritan Valley Bus Line (1930 - 1939)

In November of 1928, Hillsborough farmer William Favier applied to the Somerville Council for permission to operate a bus line from Neshanic to Manville passing through the borough. The ability to pick up and discharge passengers in Somerset's county seat would be crucial for the viability of the line. Over the next year, as he waited for final approval from the New Jersey Public Utilities Commission, Favier picked up additional "municipal consents" from Hillsborough, Branchburg, Readington, Raritan, and East Amwell Townships, as well as Raritan and Manville Boroughs, and decided to expand the bus route all the way to the border of Flemington Borough.

6 January 1930 Courier News
When the final State approval finally arrived, it was not without some restrictions. In an effort to avoid stealing business from other public transport companies, Favier agreed to not pick up passengers who were only traveling between Ringoes and Flemington, and likewise to not pick up passengers who were only traveling between Manville, Somerville, and Raritan.

1930s Postcard showing typical 1930s bus in Somerville.
Contrarily, the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which operated the South Branch Railroad between Somerville and Flemington, offered no objection at all to the proposed bus route as by 1929 they were already contemplating curtailing passenger service on this moderately used branch road.

The Courier News described the route as follows:

"Leaving Manville, at the railroad station, thence on River Street to the Borough of Somerville, then on South Street, then on Doughty Avenue to Raritan, then Frelinghuysen Avenue to Thompson Street, then on Canal Street, South Branch Road to South Branch, then continuing over this road to Neshanic, then to Centerville, then continuing on the county road to the boundary line of Flemington and Raritan Townships, returning by the same route."

On the day the service on the Raritan Valley Bus Line finally began, January 6, 1930  - with just one bus running - The Courier News printed the schedule:

"Westbound buses will leave Manville at 7 and 10:30 a.m. and 2 and 5:35 p.m. The last run will be only to Ringoes. On Saturday night, a special run will be made, leaving Somerville at 11 o'clock and reaching Ringoes at 12:10 a.m. 
Eastbound runs will leave Flemington Boundary at 9 a.m., 12:30 and 4 p.m. A special run is arranged to leave Neshanic at 6:15 a.m., reaching Manville at 7 o'clock, this being for the benefit of factory workers and store clerks. A special Saturday night run leaves at 6:51 o'clock, reaching Somerville at 8:01 o'clock." 

The one-way trip from Manville to the border of Flemington took about 100 minutes!

In short order, Favier, encouraged by the CNJ railroad, obtained permission to operate within the borough of Flemington. By April, rail commuters were protesting the railroad's plan to cut service from five trains per day in each direction to just one commuter train eastbound in the morning and westbound in the evening. When it was suggested that rail riders take the bus instead, they pointed out that the bus traveled 30 miles in 100 minutes, while the train connected the two boroughs with a much straighter 16-mile route, with significant savings of time. Not reported at the time was the fact that Favier was promised a subsidy by the railroad for operating the bus service which allowed them to downsize their own costly operations.

25 August 1930 Courier News

Despite the fact that the railroad didn't always make its subsidy payments, Favier continued on - 
adding a second bus before the first year was out. In 1935 he purchased a franchise to operate another bus line between Somerville and Flemington on the newly constructed Route 29 (now Route 202) but stated that he couldn't do it profitably without another subsidy.

Neshanic Hotel Garage
At the close of 1938, after starting a farm equipment supply business in Somerville with his sons, Favier abruptly discontinued the Raritan Valley Bus Line. At the start of 1939, he stated that bus service would soon return, and it briefly did - but operated by the Royal Blue company of Whitehouse. In June 1939, the Board of Public Utilities revoked Favier's franchise and that was the end of bus service through our community.

Interestingly, there still exists one odd remnant of the Raritan Valley Bus Line in Hillsborough. To the right of the Neshanic Hotel, you will see a two-door garage dating from around 1930. The garage was built by the owner of the hotel, Mrs. Minnie Titman Connor, at the request of William Favier who agreed to rent the space to keep his two busses overnight. In 1931 Mrs. Connor sued William Favier because he never, in fact, used the garage or paid any rent. She was awarded $225!

11 October 2019

Hillsborough's Poor Farm (1837 - 1947)

How will a community care for its poor? This is a question Hillsborough Township has contemplated since before the municipality was Hillsborough Township. Meeting minutes of the Westering Precinct of Somerset County - the name for the combined future townships of Hillsborough and Montgomery - regularly include notations of funds to be raised for indigent residents. 

The Hillsborough Township Poor Farm, circa 1947

On at least a couple of occasions after Hillsborough and Montgomery split in 1771, attempts were made to establish permanent housing for the poor both locally and at the county level. Apparently, these attempts did not receive any support, as the Overseers of the Poor were directed in 1824 to purchase a poor farm jointly with Montgomery. Some sources say that this was the Van Pelt Farm on the southbound side of Great Road/Belle Mead-Blawenburg Road/Rt. 601 before the intersection with Grandview Road.

A portion of the minutes of the April 1824 Hillsborough Township Committee Meeting
 directing the Overseers of the Poor to purchase a farm jointly with Montgomery Township.
The enterprise lasted until 1836 when the Poor Farm was folded and the property sold. The next year, the township purchased a 120-acre tract on Amwell Road west of Neshanic known as the Indian Farm from J.S. Young and wife for $5,000 - about $130,000 today. The original farmhouse on the property was used to house the inmates (the term for those persons without income or any means of support who were committed to the farm) until about 1858 when a new, large, two-story house was erected.

"Poor House", "Alms House", "Township Farm" -
all the names over the years for Hillsborough's Poor Farm.
Maps are - clockwise from upper left - 1850, 1860, 1873, and 1945.

The last custodian of the Poor Farm, Mrs. Florence Brown, was interviewed in her later years and was able to describe the building's original layout. A center hall with staircase to the second floor separated the custodians' quarters on the west - front and rear living rooms with bedrooms above - and inmates' quarters on the east - front common living room with three bedrooms in the rear along with a bathroom and the kitchen, and six bedrooms and a bath above on the second floor.

The 1840 annual report of the "Poor-House Establishment"
 made by the Overseers of the Poor to the Hillsborough Township Committee.
In 1840, the Poor Farm living quarters was the original Indian Farm farmhouse.
Inmates - men, women, and sometimes children - lived and worked on the farm. They grew some of what they needed to eat and sold enough produce to have funds to acquire other staples and household goods. Still, when the custodian's salary was figured in, it was unlikely that the farm would break even.

The Farm in 1978

The Courier News reprinted the original resolutions for the "conduct of the paupers" from April 1837:
"No. 1 - Any pauper that brings spiritous liquors about the place to be punished therefore. No. 2 - Any pauper that comes drunk or gets intoxicated on the premises to be punished therefor. No. 3 - Any pauper that refuses to do labor that the steward thinks him capable of performing or abuses the steward while he is in conduct of his duties, to be punished therefor. Punishment to consist in not allowing any food until the steward is satisfied that he will comply with the rules."
A separate smaller building on the property known as the "tramp house" was used for those unsavory wayfarers merely "passing through" town. Here they could be locked up overnight and sent off in the morning with a good breakfast to fuel their passage beyond the city limits.

The Farmhouse in 2008
The Browns were the final custodians of the Poor Farm between about 1926 and 1947. Under their management, the farm established a large dairy herd with all modern facilities, as well as a modern poultry operation. In the 20th century, the number of poor working on the farm varied - from a high of 16 during the Depression down to just two men when Hillsborough voters approved the discontinuance of the farm by a vote of 354 to 272 on November 6, 1946. The property was sold at auction on January 18, 1947.