28 February 2020

Hillsborough's World War II Airplane Spotters' Posts

Aircraft observation posts, also known as spotters' posts, were key elements of local civil defense beginning during World War II and continuing throughout the cold war of the 1950s. There were at least three such posts in Hillsborough Township.

31 October 1942 Courier News
In the summer of 1941, Professor C. Elliott Smith, who headed defense initiatives in the township, offered his farm on East Mountain Road as the site for Hillsborough's first observation post. William Funkhouser was the chief observer at the post which typically required between 30 and 60 volunteers working in two-hour shifts to facilitate the necessary 24-hour, 7-day-a-week operation.

9 August 1941 Courier News

Volunteers were required to complete a course where they were taught to identify aircraft by sight as well as the sound of the engine. Nearly everyone was eligible to serve except men of draft age who would necessarily leave a hole in the duty roster when they were called up - teenaged boys and Boy Scouts were especially encouraged. The buildings themselves were basic affairs - 10 or 12 feet square, insulated against the cold, and sometimes with electricity. Most important was a direct telephone line so that sightings of unidentified or enemy aircraft could be passed along to civil defense authorities.

9 November 1942 Courier News
Hillsborough's second observation post was on the Hamilton Dairy Farm which today is the site of the Courtland development off of Duke's Parkway East. This post actually belonged to Somerville whose volunteers initially operated out of a milkhouse on the farm and stood watch in an open field. More than 20 Somerville merchants donated materials to eventually build a proper shelter which included a rooftop observation deck with a chest-high windbreak.

30 January 1955 Home News

Much like the Somerville Post, the third facility in Hillsborough, located in Blackwell's Mills on the Van Cleef estate, was operated as Bound Brook's official post.

After the end of World War II, Hillsborough's post was moved from the  Smith farm to the old municipal building (now the Department of Public Works). Spotters' posts continued in operation throughout the 1950s, although encouraging volunteers to join became increasingly difficult as evidenced by the ad above from 1955.

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