29 April 2021

Chris Lovering, Sourland Mountain Outlaw

It was the morning of Friday, August 21, 1896, and Somerset County Detective George Totten had just spent his second sleepless night alone in a snake-infested cave on the Sourland Mountain in Hillsborough, New Jersey. He had set out from Somerville on Wednesday morning in a small wagon loaded with enough provisions to camp for several days. As he approached the mountain, he stopped at a farmhouse near Rock Mills to put up his horse and take what he needed from the wagon - making sure that one pocket contained his revolver and the other a warrant for the arrest of Chris Lovering.

Illustrations from the 23 August 1896 New York World

Lovering was known as a "mountain man" - a desperado with no fixed address and no means of support other than thievery. Among these outlaws, Lovering was the best - and the worst. Horses, pigs, goats, chickens - whenever one was found to be missing, the farmers would murmur about Lovering. He was also known to waylay the upstanding inhabitants of the region along the roads in brazen holdups - and he had been at it for fifteen years! Spending his nights in caves during the summer and in some unsuspecting farmer's barn in the winter, Lovering spent his days terrorizing the residents of Somerset and Hunterdon Counties.

Illustration from the 23 August 1896 New York Herald

He had only been captured once. A year earlier in the summer of 1895, he was suspected of assaulting a thirteen-year-old girl. It took twelve nervous deputies surrounding him in a barn to get him to surrender. But his incarceration at the county jail was brief as the actual evidence was scant. And so he was released a week later.

23 August 1896 New York Herald

The event which aroused the ire of the farmers and brought Detective Totten to the mountain occurred on August 12. William Blowers was one of the most prosperous farmers who made their living in the shadow of the mountain. His pretty wife Josephine, thirty-five years old, was out picking blueberries when she was violently accosted by Lovering who held a knife over her head and threatened to "cut her heart out if she cried out." She tried to scream but wound up fainting. When she was found hours later there were indications that she had been assaulted. 

23 August 1896 New York World

This was too much to bear and the farmers immediately formed a posse. This time the attack was so cruel and the posse so fierce-looking that the other mountain men formed no resistance. They searched the Sourlands for days - inspecting every cave and turning over every rock. On the sixth day - worn out to a man - they finally encountered Lovering in the distance near the entrance to a cave. In fact, he saw the posse first and fired off a shot which was returned by a hail of ineffective bullets from the farmers as Lovering retreated into the cave. A day earlier, the men would have stormed the cave - even though the narrow opening would have meant that each of them would have been shot until Lovering needed to reload. But now, as weary as they were, they limped back down the mountain in defeat. 

Illustration from the 23 August 1896 New York World

Mrs. Blowers, upon hearing of the outcome, decided that she must go to Deputy Sheriff Barkalow in Somerville and swear out a warrant against Lovering. Barkalow handed the warrant to Totten saying, "Better take some help along." But Totten wouldn't hear of it. "There's only one of him and it'll only take one to fetch him back."

23 August 1896 New York World

The cave where Totten spent the two nights killing snakes that came too close was the same one where the Farmers' posse had encountered Lovering a few days before. Totten knew that the outlaw would be back. And when he peered out of the cave on that Friday morning Lovering was standing right there with his back to the entrance, almost within arm's length. He recognized him immediately - a blue shirt and gray trousers tucked into his boots, a gunbelt around his waist holding a heavy revolver. 

23 August 1896 New York World

Lovering whirled around at the sound of Totten emerging from the cave, his hand already on his gun. Totten leaped and got his arms around Lovering's neck. Here's how the writer for The New York World described the scene:

"Swerving to and fro, tipping, tumbling, cursing, panting, they pitched here and there among the rocks far from the rest of the world. For one of them defeat meant a long imprisonment, for the other it meant instant death."
The men were about evenly matched in strength and when Lovering was able to turn his revolver towards Totten the outcome for the detective looked bleak. But just as Lovering fired Totten spun around, flipped his man to the ground. pinned him, and slapped a pair of handcuffs on his wrists. Then he hustled his prisoner quickly done the mountain and into his wagon before any of the locals could think about "mountain justice". 

23 August 1896 New York Herald

Detective Totten turned Lovering over to Deputy Sheriff Barkalow at the county jail with a two-word explanation - "Got him".

23 April 2021

The Somerville Quartermaster Sub-Depot (1942 - 1947)

A few weeks after the Belle Mead Army Service Forces Depot opened in August 1942, the Army officially announced that a second depot in Hillsborough was "rapidly nearing completion". This facility was located in the South Somerville section of the township and was officially known as the Somerville Quartermaster Sub Depot. 

1 October 1942 Home News

The depot was not an adjunct of the Belle Mead depot but rather was connected with the Jersey City Quartermaster Depot. The depot was located west of Route 206 just south of the Doris Duke estate.

Unlike the Belle Mead Depot which dealt with heavy machinery, petroleum, cables, trucks, etc., the Somerville Depot was the transit point for other types of items needed by Army posts stateside or destined for the war in Europe. In 1943 alone, $500 million of food, canned fruit, stationery, furniture, chemicals, laundry supplies, and other miscellaneous items arrived by railcar and were sorted, stored, and eventually sent to the New Jersey ports.

Aerial view of the Somerville Quartermaster Sub-Depot circa 1953

Colonel George F. Spann - the commanding officer of the Jersey City Quartermaster Depot in 1943 - described what made the sub depot a success: "Systematic warehousing and shipping here at Somerville is possible only through the cooperation of the civilian men and women workers and the small group of officers at the station."

8 April 1943 Courier News

As the war in Europe and the Pacific raged on, able-bodied men were continually being called up for service putting a tremendous strain on the depot's workforce. Bankers, merchants, lawyers, and others not directly employed in the war effort all put in a few hours of work each evening after their day jobs. Somerville High School students - including many boys from Hillsborough - worked on weekends and school holidays with teachers as their foremen. 

30 October 1944 Courier News

The depot made the national news in October 1944 when it was discovered that area locals had been scavenging the refuse pits at the depot and had reclaimed hundreds if not thousands of tins of canned food that the army had disposed of because it was "unfit for human consumption". The scavengers proclaimed the cans of meat and vegetable hash, grapefruit juice, tomatoes, cherries, pumpkin, corned beef, and Vienna sausage to be just fine. One woman who lived near the depot said that she had four children to feed, and had been visiting the pits for four months!

In 1947, with the war over, the 325-acre depot was conveyed to the Veterans Administration. Since then, the property has been divided many times and used for many purposes: the US Postal Service, Somerset County, an industrial park, and even Hillsborough Township Parks and Recreation have each inhabited a portion of the depot.

22 April 2021

Woods Tavern (circa 1738 - 1932)

Let's begin by lamenting that the one singular iconic structure that identified historic Hillsborough Township, New Jersey was lost in a fire 89 years ago. Variously renamed by owners-of-the-moment as the Union House Tavern, or Hall's Hotel, it was best known by its first and last moniker, Woods Tavern.

Illustration of W. W. Hall's Hotel
from the 1860 Farm Map of Hillsboro'

After a bridge was built across the Millstone River in 1720, the Amwell Road became an important thoroughfare between the port city of New Brunswick and the Delaware River. While not primarily a stagecoach route - that privilege went to the Old York Road - Amwell Road was used by farmers and drovers to bring their grain, produce, and livestock to the markets in New Brunswick. There they would fill their wagons with "city goods" for the return trip.

The rutted dirt road and the heavy loads conveyed generally made these trips a multi-day affair. The first inns were built along the route in 1738 at Millstone, Flaggtown, Neshanic, Clover Hill, and "in the woods" midway between the first two. The location for Woods Tavern was somewhat of an odd choice as it was not at a major crossroads. Today, of course, the site is THE major intersection in Hillsborough - Amwell and 206 - but in the 18th century, there was no north-south road at that spot. Travelers coming north from Princeton made a left on Homestead Road and then a right at Amwell Road and then a few twists and turns to get back on the road to Somerville.

Clockwise from top left:
1850 Somerset County, 1860 Philadelphia and Vicinity,
 1873 Atlas, and 1860 Farm Map

Nevertheless, Woods Tavern proved to be one of the best hostelries along the route. With stables for the horses, acres of fenced pasture for cattle, and a comfortable room for the weary driver, the inn on Amwell Road was a popular choice. So popular that even the dining room and kitchen might be made up for overnight guests on busy days. Woods Tavern was also a popular meeting place for groups, and a provider of food - and especially drink - for special occasions. No social event, from a church raising to a funeral, could take place without the proper libation - especially rum - and the local inn was the place to get it.

Music, dancing, boxing matches, even cockfights, were some of the early entertainments offered to guests as Woods Tavern remained popular for well over a century.  By the time William W. Hall bought the tavern from Isaac Bennet in 1860, railroads were already beginning to make the traditional roadside tavern obsolete.  Indeed, by the end of the decade, Woods Tavern had given up its liquor license and was sold and resold many times over the next six decades. 

Horace Greeley

The most famous visitor in the nearly 200-year history of Woods Tavern was undoubtedly newspaper publisher Horace Greeley. One of the founders of the Republican party in the 1850s, Greeley was running for president in 1872 as a "Liberal Republican" against incumbent Republican president Ulysses S. Grant. Greeley made a campaign stop at Woods Tavern that year on his way from Jersey City to Lambertville.

One last bit of excitement occurred in 1927 during prohibition when the Somerset County Detective and the State Police raided the tavern and charged the owner with selling intoxicating liquor. An additional charge of "conducting a disorderly house" and the fact that a woman from New Brunswick was taken into custody and a young man was held as a material witness begs the question as to what else was taking place at the old inn. 

16 January 1932 Courier News

On the evening of January 15, 1932, firemen from Millstone, Somerville, and Neshanic responding to a call found Woods Tavern engulfed in flames. With a strong wind blowing, they concentrated on saving the buildings on the opposite corner of the highway. At that time the inn was operating as a general store, and the caretaker, Mrs. Matilda Kleyling, was able to save herself, her son, and the cash register. Everything else was completely destroyed.

Plaque at the "Shoppes at Woods Tavern"

In 2011 an interpretive panel was installed at the site during the renovation of the Shoppes at Woods Tavern. 

17 April 2021

The Lovers' Tower, Then and Now

Located at the southern end of the historic core of Duke Farms, the stone structure known a century ago as The Lovers' Tower is still a popular photo spot for 21st-century tourists.

Postcard circa 1910

It's really not much of a tower - only about half a flight up - but it was much remarked upon in the days of Duke's Park.

Postcard circa 1915

In those days, before the trees on the estate grew to such a height and density as to block many of the views, the tower could be easily viewed from the hill where James B. Duke was beginning to build his never completed manor house. In those early bachelor days before his first marriage in 1904, newspapers joked that female visitors to the park might try to "capture" Mr. Duke alone in the tower!

The Lovers' Tower, 2017

10 April 2021

The Hotel Asbestos (1919 - 1929)

Hear the phrase "asbestos hotel" in 2021 and you might be inclined to shout, "Yikes!" But to Hillsborough Township, New Jersey residents of the 1920s, those words provoked an entirely different reaction. 

The Hotel Asbestos in the 1940s

It was in 1917 that the Johns-Manville corporation - who had relocated their asbestos manufacturing plant from Brooklyn, New York to the northeast corner of Hillsborough in 1912 - decided to build a hotel near the site of their factory complex. At that time the only other hostelries in town were the Weston Hotel (the converted Captain Davey mansion) which had a small number of guest rooms and the Neshanic Hotel which had even fewer.

The rear of the Hotel Asbestos, under construction in 1917.

The excavation work and foundation were completed between October and December 1917 at a site on the east side of Main Street - still called Millstone Road in those days - right at the intersection of Brooks Boulevard and conveniently near the Lehigh Valley Railroad station. Construction continued throughout 1918. The $75,000 hotel - $1.7 million today - included seventy guest rooms with private baths, two dining rooms, a large lobby, a ballroom/auditorium which could accommodate 500 people for dinner (350 couples for dancing!) a barbershop, a club room, recreation rooms, and the Manville Post Office. The grand opening of the two-story brick building formally named The Hotel Asbestos, took place on February 1, 1919.

19 June 1919 Courier News

The guest rooms were primarily reserved for the use of Johns-Manville traveling employees and those visiting the factory on business. The first-floor ballroom and dining rooms, however, were occupied by all manner of charitable and civic organizations - from the local political parties to the Elks to the nurses of the Somerset Hospital - to hold their annual dinners, fundraisers, conventions, and the like. 

The Vincent Lopez Orchestra circa 1924

An invitation to one of these events might include dancing to the Dixieland clarinet of the Louis Nelson DeLisle Band or the proto-Big Band stylings of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra and dinner provided by the award-winning chefs. Another popular entertainment was motion pictures. Silent movies were shown in the ballroom and the public was often welcomed at no charge.

26 November 1926 Home News

The Hotel Asbestos was a "big-city" hotel in nearly every way except that private events were severely discouraged. While the big local organizations had the inside track on booking their banquets, it was nearly impossible to reserve the Hotel Asbestos for a wedding reception or anniversary party. Consequently, the hotel constantly operated at a loss. This changed in 1927 when new management changed the policy and actively encouraged public use of the hotel.

The hotel closed in 1929, reportedly for renovations. It was soon learned that all of the first-floor rooms were converted to Johns-Manville office space and the Post Office was relocated to Washington Avenue. The Hotel Asbestos never reopened to the public and the building was razed in the late 1990s a few years after the plant was closed.

07 April 2021

The Unsolved Murder of Philip Jankowitz, 1978

Two years before America was asking "who shot JR?" - the fictional millionaire oilman of TV's Dallas - Somerset County was asking "who bludgeoned PJ?" - Hillsborough's real-life millionaire recluse Philip Jankowitz. Television viewers waited 8 months for their answer. Hillsboroughians are still waiting nearly 43 years later. 

10 August 1978 Courier News

Philip Yankelewitz came to America from Russia in 1908 with his mother Esther, brother Jacob, and sisters Sarah, Lottie, Rebecca, and Annie. The seven-year-old - who was apparently the only family member to change his surname - was the youngest of the clan. They landed first in Brooklyn and then came to Hillsborough in the 1920s. 

Ads from The Rural New Yorker - 
1934, 1939, 1941

They settled on a 96-acre farm on South Branch Road near where the Norz Hill farm is today. In the previous century it was known as the Hoagland Farm but was now called Maple Lane Farm (not to be confused with the Maple Lane Farm in Belle Mead). On the 1930 census Philip listed his occupation as electrician. His brother Jacob - ten years his senior - had been a baker in Brooklyn. Now they were both farmers.

27 February 1931 Home News

The first mention of the Yankelewitz family in a local newspaper was in 1931 when an untended oil stove in Jacob's bedroom caused a fire that burned down the 100-year-old ten room house. At the time, Jacob and Philip - both unmarried - lived on the farm with their mother. At some point after this - and certainly by the time of Jacob's death in 1969 - Jankowitz found himself living alone in a converted chicken coop on the property. The building had electricity and phone service but no running water. He put bathroom waste out to be picked up with his garbage.

25 August 1978 Courier News

When a cousin failed to reach Jankowitz by telephone on August 9, 1978, she called the police. They found his body outside the home. He had been beaten on the head. He had been dead about 24 hours. Despite his living conditions, Jankowitz was actually wealthy. He had a few hundred thousand dollars in the bank and the farm had recently been appraised at more than $600,000. His wealth was not entirely a secret leading police to suspect robbery as a motive.

25 August 1979 Home News

Police had two suspects within a couple of weeks and there was a swift indictment by a grand jury. But it turned out that the only evidence the prosecutor had was the testimony of two people who reported that the suspects had told them that they committed the murder. Those witnesses later admitted they lied and the prosecutor was forced to drop the case. It remains unsolved to this day.

06 April 2021

The Raritan Gate Fountain, Then and Now

While many features of Duke's Park - the early 20th century Hillsborough, New Jersey estate of tobacco magnate James B. Duke - are still present and available to be discovered by visitors almost a century after Duke's death in 1925, there are a few that are gone forever.

Postcard circa 1906
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The most spectacular of these was the Raritan Gate Fountain. Remarkable equally for its majesty and for the fact that Duke located the fountain not on his property but at the intersection of a public thoroughfare, the magnificent structure was removed by Duke's heir Doris in the 1930s.

Postcard circa 1905
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

During Duke's lifetime and beyond until 1931, River Road continued past the turn for the Nevius Street Bridge and ran right past the estate residence all the way to today's Route 206. It was after Doris Duke reached an agreement with Somerset County to close the ancient road in 1931 that she removed the fountain which stood at the intersection of the road to Raritan.

1931 aerial view of part of the Duke estate,
showing the location of the fountain and River Road.

The fountain was purchased along with many other bronze sculptures during Duke's trip to Europe in 1902. Here is how Town & Country magazine described the fountain in 1903:

"One of the most conspicuous features of the grounds is the fountain, which stands at the head of the public avenue, lined with trees, leading to the estate. From the center of the basin of white sandstone rising to the height of twenty feet is a massive Romanesque porch of white sandstone, supported by pillars of elaborately carved, protecting and framing two female figures of heroic proportions and on either end of the basin are graceful Bacchantes that balance the central design."  

This postcard view looks east towards the entrance to Duke's Park.
There is a gate there today.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Below, please enjoy some postcard views from my collection - and try to imagine what this looked like the next time you cross the Raritan River coming back into Hillsborough.

From inside the Duke Estate looking west towards the fountain - 
before gates were installed.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Looking northwest towards Raritan.
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)




05 April 2021

Easton and Amboy - Lehigh Valley Railroad

Our story begins in 1851 when railroad entrepreneur Asa Packer became the majority stockholder in the stalled Delaware, Lehigh, Schuylkill, and Susquehanna Railroad (DLS&S) and changed the name to Lehigh Valley Railroad. The DLS&S had been chartered in 1847 to move coal from Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley to Easton but had done little in four years besides some route surveying and grading. Packer brought financing and a bolder plan - to reach the lucrative metropolitan market of New York.

1908 LVRR Timetable
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

In the 1860s the LVRR used the Central Railroad of New Jersey's mainline through Hunterdon and Somerset Counties to reach the New Jersey ports. In 1871 the LVRR leased the Morris Canal in the hopes that a railroad line could be built along its right-of-way but the project proved unworkable. In 1872 the company purchased the charter of the unbuilt Perth Amboy and Bound Brook Railroad and added to that a charter for a new railroad from Easton to Bound Brook. They then combined the two roads into one company called the Easton and Amboy Railroad.

1908 LVRR System Map

It took three years to build the railroad - most of that time spent on a troublesome one-mile tunnel through the Musonetcong Mountain near Pattenburg. The construction itself was a boon to businesses along the line, including in Hillsborough where Andrew Lane's general store at the end of Mill Lane in Neshanic Mills took a contract with the railroad to supply the workmen with food, clothing, and other necessities.

Clockwise from top left,
Flemington Junction, Flemington Station,
Tracks into Three Bridges, Three Bridges Depot

After the Pattenburg tunnel, there were a half dozen stations to Flemington Junction. There a transfer could be made to go south into town. Part of Walter E. Foran Boulevard is built on the right-of-way of this short branch. After crossing the South Branch of the Raritan River, the train would pull into Three Bridges.

Scenes around Neshanic Station, top to bottom:
The creamery, approaching the station from the east, and the station.

From there it was just a short hop to Neshanic Station. For decades coal remained the LVRR's chief moneymaker, but they also served other businesses along the line such as the Neshanic Station Creamery and stockyards. Later, as we will see, passenger traffic became an important source of revenue. The station building was razed by the railroad in 1944 - long after passenger service was suspended at the station.

The old (top) and new (bottom) LVRR bridges
over the South Branch at Neshanic Station.
(Photographs courtesy of Carlene Kuhl)

The original bridge over the South Branch of the Raritan River was completed in time for the Easton and Amboy Railroad to commence service on June 28, 1875. The first station in Neshanic was actually on the Hillsborough side of the river on the hill behind Andrew Lane's Mill Lane store. 

LVRR Flagtown Station
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The Lehigh Valley Railroad used a number of different designs for their stations, The one in Flagtown included an apartment on the second floor for the station agent. Today the old LVRR through Hunterdon and Somerset County is single-tracked - but when it opened in the 1870s it was double-tracked. In 1912 the railroad added a third and fourth track to most of the route and in Flagtown, with sidings, there were actually six sets of tracks!

Scene along the LVRR in Hillsborough circa 1900
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

The railroad had a way of influencing the names of localities - and sometimes even Post Offices - along their path. In 1942, the LVRR changed the name of their freight station at Flagtown to Read Valley and lobbied the US Post Office to change the name of the Post Office - and thereby the village - to Read Valley. The Flagtown Board of Trade, led by George Farley, vigorously opposed the change.

The Royce Valley - South Somerville Station
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Hillsborough residents usually referred to the section of the township along what is now Route 206 as South Somerville. When the railroad built their station there in the 1870s they consequently called it South Somerville. Later in the last century, they renamed it Royce Valley as can be seen in the photo above.

Scene along the LVRR tracks near present-day Manville
(Collection of Gillette on Hillsborough)

Railroads of a century ago needed constant maintenance and regularly employed work crews who lived in designated "camps" along the line. One such camp in Hillsborough was near Camplain Road (originally Camp Lane - a name that derived from its purpose). Residents tolerated the camps pretty well until 1944 when overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and general rowdiness - including criminal behavior - were brought to the attention of the township committee who began a legal battle to have the camp either cleaned up or moved.

The old (top) and new (bottom)
Hillsboro - Manville Stations
(Borrowed from ManvilleHistory.com)

Before there was a Manville, New Jersey, the station stop in that part of Hillsborough was called "Hillsboro". In 1912 - after the Johns-Manville company relocated their plant to the township, Hillsboro Station became the destination for hundreds of families from the Pennsylvania "coal country" recruited to work and live in the new town of Manville.

The LVRR Bound Brook Station

Although hauling coal from Pennsylvania to the coal docks in Perth Amboy was a lucrative business, what was really needed was a terminal closer to New York. In 1887 the LVRR began construction of a terminal in Jersey City on land acquired in the Morris Canal deal and on a classification yard at Oak Island. To reach the terminal, they built the Roselle and South Plainfield Railroad which could connect with the Central Railroad of New Jersey tracks at Roselle.

The LVRR New Market Station

Eventually, the LVRR completed its own route from Roselle to Jersey City by constructing five separate railroads. The complete line from Easton to the Jersey City waterfront was finally completed in 1895.

The John Wilkes at South Plainfield

With the line finished, the LVRR was ready to compete in the high-speed passenger business. On May 18, 1896, the Black Diamond Express passenger train left Jersey City at 12:14 pm and arrived in Buffalo, New York at 10 pm reaching speeds as high as 70mph. 

Although neither the Black Diamond Express nor the John Wilkes stopped at any of the local stations, they must have been a sight for residents! 

Few railroads survived the bankruptcies, failures, and mergers of the 1960s and 1970s. Today, Norfolk Southern operates the freight line from Easton to Manville while Conrail Shared Assets controls the Manville to Newark route.