28 November 2020

Scrumpy Cider Mill (1973 - 1996)

"Please don't call it juice!" That's the first thing apple cider entrepreneur Jerry Sundheimer would tell you if you asked him to describe the delicious output of the Scrumpy Cider Mill. Apple juice is that overly sweet pasteurized "stuff you buy in supermarkets." He began the business  - officially the Belle Mead Beverage Company, and known to locals as Scrumpy's - in his barn in 1973 and moved to the site of the old Belle Mead Creamery in Montgomery Township in 1977.


1977 Newspaper Ad

From there he built a regional apple cider empire. In a few short years, Sundheimer was the largest producer of apple cider in the tri-state area - churning out hundreds of thousands of gallons each season.

November 1981 Home News

It takes twelve pounds of apples to make one gallon of cider. Typical varieties used at the Scrumpy Cider Mill included Winesap, Golden Delicious, Delicious, Macintosh, Rome, and Cortland. Apples were sourced from all over New Jersey and New York and were delivered in half-ton crates.

November 1979 Courier News

Apples were moved to a conveyor where they could be inspected and stray leaves and twigs could be removed, brown spots cut away, and rotten apples tossed. Scrumpy is a word for cider originating in the west of England and typically refers to a hard cider made from apples that were not exactly choice.

November 1981 HomeNews

Before pressing, apples had a final cleaning in a water bath.

November 1981 Home News

The next stop for the apples is the grinder where they are turned into a mixture with the consistency of apple sauce.

November 1981 Home News

The ground apples are then delivered to the press through a hose.

November 1979 Courier News

Three thousand pounds of pressure is applied to produce the liquid cider.

November 1979 Courier News

After the cider is strained, jugs are filled and readied for shipment. Scrumpy Cider was ubiquitous in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores and supermarkets in the 1980s. The season for cider is typically between September and March.

November 1979 Courier News

For locals and daytrippers, Scrumpy Cider wasn't just a market day purchase - it was a whole experience. A trip to Scrumpy's in the fall offered an education in cider-making and a fun day out for the whole family. Just about anything and everything to do with apples could be purchased at the mill store - apple butter, apple pie, apple cake, not to mention the apples themselves!

Photograph courtesy of Vivian Makin

In June 1992 Jerry Sundheimer sold the business to a young couple - Kerstin and Francis Humann - each with graduate degrees in business and looking to become entrepreneurs. They dove headfirst into Scrumpy's - expanding the product line into juice beverages and other products while continuing to produce everything on site. Their hope was to build a business that would operate year-round instead of shutting down in April and May as Sundheimer did.

April 1993 Home News

The Christmas holiday season became a big part of Scrumpy's during this period. 

On December 19, 1996, a small blurb appeared in The Courier News stating that Scrumpy Cider Mill would close for the season on New Year's Eve. It is unknown whether or not they opened again the next year but by 1998 Francis Humann had begun a new career in the pharmaceutical industry where today he is the president and CEO of OncoVirx.

09 November 2020

The Amwell Road Bypass

For Hillsborough natives who return for a visit after moving away in the 1980s, it is utterly confounding - yet many who moved to the township during the mid-1990s housing boom do not even know it exists! The Amwell Road Bypass - officially known as the Amwell Road Realignment - was officially opened thirty years ago this month. 

28 November 1990 Courier News

The official reason for the construction of the 1.7-mile bypass between Pleasant View and East Mountain Roads was that it would allow motorists to avoid the dangerous intersection of Amwell and South Branch Roads - at the site of the Corner Store - although no accident statistics were ever provided.

19 February 1990 Courier News

The realignment of Amwell Road had been on the drawing board at Somerset County from at least the 1970s but began to pick up speed with the construction of four residential developments in the area later in the decade. A common stipulation in developers' agreements was that they include the bypass in their plans and contribute towards its cost. Because of that, the bypass was built in fits and starts - by the mid-1980s the right of way was basically cleared, and some roadbed laid down between Pleasant View Road and Ernest Drive.

21 February 1990 Courier News

Ironically the thing that helped get the project back on the front burner in the 1970s - the developments - is the thing that threatened to derail it in 1990. As homeowners in the new developments realized that the right-of-way in their backyards was not for a country lane but rather for a four-lane 45mph county highway, they protested. In their view, the fact that the bypass literally cut some developments in two outweighed any benefit for motorists. They quickly formed a group called Citizens Against Amwell Road Realignment and proposed as an alternative much less costly improvements to the old Amwell Road and the South Branch Road intersection.

28 November 1990 Courier News

Opponents were fighting an uphill battle as much of the work on the $2.2 million road had already been completed. Besides, residents in favor of the plan blamed the newcomers for contributing to the traffic woes which necessitated the bypass in the first place! The Amwell Road Bypass officially opened on November 27, 1990.

06 November 2020

The Old Flagtown Bridge (1912 - 1991)

In April of 1967, the State Board of Public Utilities Commission ordered the Lehigh Valley Railroad to submit plans for the reconstruction of the Flagtown Bridge. The Commission offered to pay 95% of the estimated $200,000 price tag and set a date of August 1, 1967, for submission of the plans. And then for the next 19 years, exactly nothing happened...

19 April 1986 Courier News

...except for the continued deterioration of the bridge. The Lehigh Valley Railroad built the 25-foot wide bridge to separate the dangerous South Branch Road grade crossing around 1912. But by the mid-1950s the railroad was in serious financial trouble, finally declaring bankruptcy in 1970. The railroad continued to operate through the bankruptcy, but repairing the bridge was out of the question.

22 August 1911 Courier News

Conrail - which acquired the assets of the LVRR in 1976  - likewise had no intention of repairing the bridge. In fact, they abandoned ownership of it altogether. A January 1985 state inspection report declared the bridge to be in "fair condition and needing only minor rehabilitation." Hillsborough residents were incredulous. Things came to a head in February 1986 when the Hillsborough Board of Education stopped allowing school busses to cross the bridge.

19 April 1986 Courier News

Rust, missing guide rails, and rotted planks - which made up the roadbed - were some of the more serious issues. Somerset County weighed in and agreed that the bridge needed immediate attention - but was unwilling to do anything about it - demanding that the state repair the bridge. At this point, Conrail suddenly decided that they owned the bridge once again, but couldn't get to it for another three years. And with that, Somerset County shut down the bridge. In the end, the state, county, and even Conrail, all contributed to repairs which took place in the summer of 1986.

26 July 1992 Courier News

Even before repairs were complete residents were agitating for a completely new bridge. A narrow 1912 bridge with wooden deck planking was just not adequate for modern Hillsborough. Plans for a new wider (32 feet) and higher bridge were approved in 1988 and work began in 1991. After multiple delays - which some say led to an automobile/train collision at the Beekman Lane crossing - the new bridge finally opened in the fall of 1992.

05 November 2020

Adams Air Park (1956 - 1967)

A search for the term "skydiving" on the newspaper archive website Newspapers.com yields just 68 hits for the year 1956 - the same year William C. Adams bought the initial 38 acres in Hillsborough and East Amwell Townships to develop a small airport to be known as Adams Air Park. By 1967 - the year Adams sold the property - that same search delivers a whopping 4,712 results!

Ad for the 1961-1963 TV series Ripcord

It is not known if the 36-year-old former fighter pilot and New York native had parachutists in mind when he laid out the runway and had an artificial lake dug at the foot of the Sourlands south of Wertsville Road - but the sporting daredevils eventually found him.

1963 aerial view of Adams Air Park - 
look carefully near the top of the image to see the airplanes.

In its first few years of operation, Adams Air Park seems to have catered to recreational fliers/airplane enthusiasts. World War II veteran Adams - who after the war was a professor at Horace Mann School for Boys - hosted Civil Air Patrol cadets at the airfield in October 1957 for an overnight campout including training and rescue missions.

20 October 1957 New York Daily News - 
William C. Adams is on the far left

International competition in the sport of skydiving had been taking place since the mid-1950s but the adrenaline-inducing sport didn't take off as a recreational activity in the United States until the early 60s. Excitement for the sport spawned a popular 1961-63 television series called Ripcord - and even led to a plotline in a Frankie and Annette "beach movie" - 1965's Beach Blanket Bingo.

West Point graduate Captain George Gividen  - a paratrooper who lost his left leg to a grenade while serving in Korea - began skydiving on the weekends after he retired from the Army in 1960. Before long he formed the Tri-State Skydivers and began operating the Tri-State Parachute Center out of Adams Air Park.

5 April 1963 Oakland Tribune

Between 1961 and 1965 skydiving competitions and exhibitions were regular features at Adams Air Park. Tri-State boasted 218 members in 1962 - eighteen of which were women. It wasn't always fun. Local newspapers regularly featured headlines such as "'Chutist Plummets 7,200 Feet, Lives", and "Chute Fails, Skydiver Hurt". During a Civil Defense exercise in 1962, a parachutist drifted off course and landed in a Hillsborough farmer's field. He was fined $10 for trespassing!

4 June 1962 Bergen Record

A June 1963 competition which attracted 200 contestants was said to be the largest US skydiving meet up to that time. An exhibition by the US women's parachute team that August featured a stunt where the women unfastened their parachutes while still airborne and dropped into the lake below.

27 June 1963 Ridgewood Herald News

The airport - including what then amounted to 352 acres of land - was sold by Adams in 1967. In the years that followed the property was used for various other purposes such as horse shows, and for a time the lakefront was a well-known illicit nude beach!

On October 26, 2020, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation purchased the property and added it to adjoining land in Somerset and Hunterdon Counties to create a 1,150-acre nature preserve.