20 May 2020

Town & Country Inn, The Jolly Ox, et. al. (1958 - 2013)

In 1915 Somerville, NJ real estate developer O.J. Brown bought a piece of land on the Somerville-Princeton Road -  today's Route 206 - just south of the Jame B. Duke estate and north of the Lehigh Valley Railroad crossing in Hillsborough Township. He built a store there and soon sold it to Joseph Scheff. Scheff sold the business to Willy Cremer in 1922. Cremer's loyal customers (what he sold at his store is lost to time, although some accounts say it was a grocery) woke up one day in 1931 and found the store closed and a new building going up in its place - The Three Towers. Thus began the long history of the ten dining/banquet establishments that followed continuing today with the off-track-wagering place Favorites.

You can read about the history of Three Towers here. Now let's put the rest of it in order with this brief survey of the other nine businesses that called the southbound side of Route 206 in "South Somerville" home.

Town & Country Inn (1958 - 1969)

After a run of bad luck and other incidents that caused Three Towers to acquire, in the words of one Hillsborough Township Committeeman, "a bad reputation" subsequent owners Joseph and Margaret Hazy closed the 27-year-old restaurant/ballroom/catering hall and sold the business to Walter B. Mooney in February 1958. Mooney renovated the ballroom and opened up as Town & Country Inn.

9 May 1958 Courier News

Contemporary newspaper advertisements inform us that Mooney attempted to repeat the early success of Three Towers. Square Dancing was out and the big bands were back including Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians for Town & Country's first anniversary in 1959 and the sweet trumpet of bandleader Charlie Spivak and his orchestra in 1961.

Remember gentlemen: "Jackets are in order".

Town & Country Ads 1958 - 1963

By cleaning up the place Mooney  - who lived in the rooms above the hall - won back the local politicians and was even appointed to Hillsborough's Industrial Commission.

28 October 1965 Courier News

In the mid-sixties, the Central Jersey Bachelors' Association sponsored two dances each week. Friday nights were more formal with "jackets and ties required" while Wednesday evenings were casual affairs - sometimes a prize would be awarded for the most casual outfit!

27 December 1963 Home News
After more than a decade in business, Mooney sold the Town & Country Inn to Rudy Esposito in 1969.

Duke's Farm Inn (1969 - 1972)

Rudolph Esposito was a Manville trucking company owner whose family also happened to be in the restaurant business. He initially bought the Town & Country Inn and changed the name to Duke's Farm Inn with the idea that he could get away from serving Italian food. However his customers had other ideas, and he was compelled to bring their favorite Italian dishes to the menu.

10 October 1969 Courier News
Esposito must have guessed that he would have trouble with the Doris Duke estate over the name of the restaurant. He responded by adding a giant burger to the menu and calling it "the Bull Durham" after the symbol of the Duke tobacco empire.

Duke's Farm Inn ads 1970-71
Duke's Farm Inn lasted just three years. At the end of 1972, the business was purchased by Manville Boro councilman Michael Mazur, Jr. and family and reopened as part of the Steak and Ale casual dining chain.

The Jolly Ox (1972 - 1983)

Steak and Ale was a restaurant chain that started in Texas in 1966. For certain jurisdictions that didn't allow an alcoholic beverage (ale) to be in the name, they operated as The Jolly Ox. Hillsborough's Jolly Ox opened on December 1, 1972.

27 November 1972 Courier News

The restaurant featured the standard Steak and Ale fare with daily specials  - Tuesday might be shrimp scampi, Wednesday, prime rib, etc. With the large banquet facilities, the Mazurs were able to do the kinds of weddings that other restaurants in the Steak and Ale family couldn't attempt.

17 July 1979 Courier News
Perhaps the oddest bit of promotion came near the end of the 11-year run of Jolly Ox when they advertised a New Year's Eve dinner with "No Entertainment".

18 December 1981 Courier News
In 1983, with much interest from prospective buyers, Michael Mazur began to look for, in his words, "the right people to take it over". On August 12, 1983, he sold to Raritan restaurant owners Charles Moore and James Richards for $625,000.

Jaspers (1983 - 1996)

Charlie Moore and Jim Richards  - who became friends when they were students at the Culinary Institute of America - opened the original Jaspers in Raritan in 1980. Located on Route 206 near Sherman Avenue the 55-seat restaurant was their first business venture together. Just 24-years-old at the time, the two said their cuisine was heavily influenced by a backpacking trip they had taken together through Europe.

26 Dec 1991 Courier News

In August 1983 they brought their European-inspired veal, chicken, and seafood dishes to the much larger Hillsborough premises. They kept the restaurant in Raritan, renaming it Donovan's.

Jaspers Ads 1995 and 1985
In 1987, in a stunt worthy of the Three Towers era, bride-to-be Dawn Saceric had herself wheeled down Route 206 in a wheelbarrow by eight bridesmaids to Jaspers parking lot, where, with the help of the Hillsborough Township Police she fulfilled an ancient Scottish wedding custom by selling kisses for $1 on the night before her wedding! She made $120 which she donated to the Neshanic Reformed Church.

June 1987 Courier News

Although maybe not as well-remembered by "old-timers" as The Jolly Ox or Town & Country, Jaspers thirteen years in business remains second only to Three Towers in the 90-year history of restaurants at that location.

Jersey Jim's Brewing Company (1996 - 2001)

After running Jaspers successfully for thirteen years, Richards and Moore began to feel increased competition from the growing number of national chain restaurants moving into Central Jersey. Instead of selling out, they thought about changing to a themed restaurant - maybe a sports bar, or a country-western place. Ultimately they hopped onto the 1990s microbrewery bandwagon and opened Jersey Jim's on April 12, 1996.

They turned one of the ballrooms into a brewery and installed a 60-foot-long wooden bar, transforming the restaurant into the largest brewpub in New Jersey. The novelty, combined with good press and relentless advertising brought in the customers and brewer Scott Hercher sealed the deal with his handcrafted porters, amber ales, and IPAs.

Jersey Jim's 1996 ads
By the end of the decade, they were featuring country-western line dancing on Tuesday nights and the occasional live music. They closed unceremoniously in 2001.

The Pavilion (2001 - never opened)

Instead of pining for the old days when they could celebrate important events at Jasper's, Janis and Marty Wolfson and their partners Karen and Bill Hendriksen decided to do something about it. In 2002 they began a renovation of Jersey Jim's to bring back the ballrooms of old as The Pavilion. Their plan was to be primarily a banquet facility while also opening as a restaurant on special occasions such as Mother's Day.

21 February 2002 Courier News
Problems with obtaining construction permits, as well as the Hillsborough construction official's finding that the building was unsafe, meant that for the first time the building was vacant for an extended period. 

Shogun (2003 - never opened)

In 2003, Richard Lee - the owner of the Shogun restaurant on Route 22 in Green Brook - bought the property with plans to turn it into another Shogun. 

21 December 2003 Courier News
The ongoing construction involving the widening of Route 206 snarled traffic and made it difficult to get to the site. And Lee dropped the project.

Coccola (2006 - 2009)

After Richard Lee declined to pursue turning the building into a Shogun restaurant the site was dormant for another three years. Then experienced area restauranteurs Nino and Janet Tamburin (Eccola in Parsippany, Eccoqui in Bernardsville) were taking a drive down Route 206 and found the property to be "eye-catching". They began another renovation of the building to turn it into an upscale Italian-American restaurant.

6 January 2006 Courier News
One of the unique features of the restaurant was the "open kitchen" which allowed diners to see the chefs in action. Instead of the ballroom concept of previous incarnations, the Tamburins created two elegant private dining rooms besides the main room.

23 June 2006 Courier News
As quickly as it came it was gone. In 2010 another restaurant had taken its place.

Maestro 206 (2010 - 2013)

There was no big renovation before Maestro 206 took over the site in 2010. It seems like they moved right in.

18 March 2014 Courier News
Much like Coccola before them, Maestro 206 was gone before many Hillsborough residents had the chance to make it one of their favorites.

Favorites (2017 - present)

And speaking of Favorites, that's the name of the restaurant that includes off-track-wagering that currently occupies the site. As their history is still being written, I will leave it for another time.

16 May 2020

Three Towers (1931 - 1958)

The opening of the Route 31 (now called Route 206) bridge across the Raritan River in August of 1930 was the final piece needed to complete the Somerville-Princeton highway. There was only one impediment left to be removed before the area of Hillsborough Township, NJ known as South Somerville could blossom as a commercial center - the dangerous grade crossing of the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

Advertising Postcard, 1937
Property owners in the vicinity - roughly the area along the highway between Valley Road and Brooks Boulevard - had been waiting for nearly seven years for a highway underpass to be completed. It took a full six years to decide the exact location! In the meantime, entrepreneurs bided their time and sat on their land.

Advertising Postcard, reverse, 1937
One of those enterprising businessmen was Willy Cremer. In 1922 he bought a piece of property opposite the highway from the railroad station that was originally developed in 1915 by real estate man O. J. Brown (hence Brown Avenue). In February 1931, Cremer announced that he would remodel the existing structure on the property and construct a new building and encompass them both within a new edifice of a "Spanish design" that he would call "The Three Towers". His plan was to have the project finished to coincide with the opening of the highway underpass later that spring.

8 May 1931 Courier News
The Three Towers - later shortened to just Three Towers - was an ambitious undertaking. It was to be a combination restaurant, catering hall, and dance hall with the largest dining capacity - 400 - in the area. The cost of the improvements would be $30,000 - $500,00 in today's dollars - with the special proscenium lighting in the ballroom costing $1,400 by itself! Also planned were facilities for a hotel and a campground - and, improbably, a landing field for airplanes (yes, it was built and operational!).

1930s Newspaper Ads
Three Towers opened with much fanfare on May 2, 1931. The 2400 square foot dance floor was a key element of what was described as "the most beautiful ballroom in New Jersey". It quickly became the place to have any type of event - from glamorous weddings to political club meetings (both Hillsborough Republicans and Democrats used it!), and everything in between. High school reunions, awards banquets, and civic events were all par for the course in the 1930s - and in between people came for the dancing.

Ernie Krickett Advertising Flyer
Local talent such as Harold Barwig, Ben Van Doren, and The Clintonians vied for stage time with popular regional acts such as bandleader Ernie Krickett's WOR radio orchestra. Three Towers also became the official "dining stop" for the Yale Club of New York - presumably on their way to Ivy League matches in Princeton.

20 September 1939 Home News
On Thanksgiving, a "Deluxe Turkey Dinner" could be had for just $1.00 - and a couple could ring in the New Year - including a turkey dinner, novelties, noisemakers, souvenirs, and dancing to the Seven Syncopated Swingsters - for only $4.00. Willy Cremer was not above the occasional wild stunt, such as when he promoted a hypnotist act where a girl would be buried alive in his parking lot for two weeks! The Alcohol Beverage Control Commission put a stop to that one.

World War II-era advertising postcard 
At the end of October 1940, Cremer sold the business to Hans Ertlscweiger. He ended up owning Three Towers for four years and only made minor changes. In this era, it was possible to pull your car right up to the front of the establishment and order lunch at a window. Ertlschweiger also introduced square dancing nights alongside the typical big band fare.

World War II-era Newspaper Ads
Between 1945 and 1946 Three Towers was owned by Somerville area restauranteurs John Primm and Joe Gos. The final twelve years of Three Towers were under the proprietorship of Joseph and Margaret Hazy.  For the first year or so after VE Day, things remained much the same - club meetings, banquets, dancing to popular orchestras. Then the reputation of Three Towers took a turn for the worse.
Post-War Newspaper Ads

It probably began early in 1947 when the ABC Commission charged Joseph Hazy with permitting "a lewd and indecent form of female entertainment" on three consecutive nights in February. Other not infrequent headlines from the period include "Youth Stabbed at Dance", "Youth Jailed After Brawl", and "Hillsboro Residents Rock Police Car" (they were trying to free three of their compatriots who were involved in three separate brawls at Three Towers that evening). In just a few short years the showplace of Hillsborough went from being the place where Hillsborough Democrats and Republicans held their monthly club meetings, to being the place that Hillsborough Township Committeeman J. Irving Stryker described as having a "bad reputation". Things came to a head, literally, when the Hazys 14-year-old son knocked 70-year-old former Amwell Farms Inn owner Willard Hafner on the noggin with a baseball bat to prevent him from choking Margaret Hazy after a dispute over the Venetian blinds. The Hazys sold the place shortly thereafter.

11 July 1955 Courier News

Fortunately, thanks to Manville resident and business owner Petey Semenick, we have this rare film of Three Towers during a happier time in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

07 May 2020

Suburban Somerville, New Jersey (1891 - 1909)

Somerville is one of Central New Jersey's great original suburban towns. Beginning in the last quarter of the 19th century right up through the middle of the 20th, the Somerset County boro was promoted as ideal for the New York commuter.

Besides feature stories in the daily and weekly newspapers, four publications sought to increase the migration of  "city folk" to Somerville. These were the booklets "The Towns of Somerville and Raritan, Illustrated" (1891) and "Somerville As It Really Is" (1909); the newspaper supplement "Illustrated Somerville" (1907), and the monthly publication "The Suburbanite" (1903-1913).

Altamont Place Looking West -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

Articles extolling the virtues of suburban living featured alongside photos of the streets and homes (and churches, schools, and businesses) that one could expect to find in Somerville. Please enjoy this look at residential Somerville from more than a century ago, first from the booklet "Towns of Somerville and Raritan" which focused on the newly opened Altamont Place.

The Captain G S Cook Residence, Altamont Place -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

The Colonel John T Van Cleef Residence, Altamont Place -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

The Edwin Scott, Esq. Residence, Altamont Place -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

The J H Mattison, Esq. Residence, Altamont Place -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

The J Harper Smith Residence, Altamont Place -
Towns of Somerville and Raritan (1891)

In 1907 the Unionist Gazette published a "Business Souvenir Supplement" titled "Illustrated Somerville". Some of the photos therein were reprints of houses pictured in the 1891 "Towns of Somerville and Raritan", but many appeared for the first time.

The Clara Lindsley Residence, West End Avenue -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

The H N Hartwell Residence, location unknown -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

The Joseph W Ballantine Residence, location unknown -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

The Mrs. D K Craig Residence, North Bridge Street -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

The W H Long Residence, possibly Mountain Avenue -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

The Alvah A Clark Residence, Mountain Avenue -
Illustrated Somerville (1907)

"Somerville As It Really Is" contributes two photos of suburban Somerville to our collection. We wonder what influence W J Kirby had with the publishers for his house to be the only private residence featured!

Mountain Avenue Looking South from High Street -
Somerville As It Really Is (1909)

The W J Kirby Residence, East Main Street -
Somerville As It Really Is (1909)

High Street -
Somerville As It Really Is (1909)

"The Suburbanite" was published monthly from 1903 to 1913 by the Central Railroad of New Jersey. One of their obvious goals was to encourage development in the towns along their main and branch lines by featuring the joys of suburban living in Westfield, Plainfield, Bound Brook, and Somerville, among others. The country along the Flemington Branch (South Branch) through Hillsborough and Branchburg even got a few mentions over the years. Here are the streets and homes photographed for "The Suburbanite".

Unknown Location -
The Suburbanite (July 1904)

Altamont Place -
The Suburbanite (October 1905)

A Typical Country Home, West Summit Street  -
The Suburbanite (April 1907)

Unknown Location -
The Suburbanite (April 1907)

A Typical Somerville Residence, West Summit Street -
The Suburbanite (September 1909)