Wednesday, December 12, 2018
Who can ever forget the song "Forever Chasing Skeeters"? It was first sung at the tenth annual New Jersey Mosquito Extermination Association's meeting. The lyrics went something like this: "Doc's forever chasing skeeters/chasing skeeters in the air/They fly so high, up up in the sky/but Headlee will catch 'em bye and bye/He traps them by the millions/night collections here and there/He then predicts the date/when they'll die off in such despair". The Doc Headlee referred to in this classic tune was none other than our own Doctor Thomas J. Headlee, once the leading New Jersey State entomologist. He came from Kansas, where he had been head of the entomology department at the Kansas Agricultural College. He assumed his new duties in New Jersey on October 1, 1912. Headlee actually took over four positions at that time--professor of entomology at Rutgers; chief entomologist at the college's agricultural experiment station; entomologist at the State experiment station; and State entomologist under the State Board of Agriculture. His forte was research on ways to prevent the invasion of dangerous insects at New Jersey's farms and orchards. One of his main goals was to exterminate all mosquitos in New Jersey. He had been victorious against the Hessian fly in Kansas, but battling the Jersey mosquito was another matter. Headlee unveiled a plan to eradicate the pest at a cost of $750,000, on February 7, 1919. He called for "ditching" to be employed throughout the State in order to drain and contain mosquito breeding areas. Dr. Headlee lived for many years in South Brunswick Township where mosquitos thrived in abundance. In case you haven't noticed, the good Doctor was not too successful here against "them skeeters" . . . nor was he successful anywhere in the State. However, he must be given credit for starting a war that still rages on. The date of the end of Headlee's war remains undetermined. But please remember Doc Headlee the next time you fire up that patio bug lite of yours.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
The prestigious New Jersey Historical Society was founded in 1845 in Trenton, New Jersey. The founders were Joseph C. Hornblower, Robert Gibbon Johnson, Peter D. Vroom, and William Whitehead. A year later, the Historical Society moved to Newark, New Jersey. It is still located in this city. The present location is 52 Park Place--the former Essex Club. Besides the Society's offices, a museum, gift shop, and lecture hall can be found. The New Jersey Historical Society continues to publish an academic journal--NEW JERSEY HISTORY. Back on February 6, 1933, the first person having a connection with South Brunswick Township joined the state's Historical Society. This was Aaron Dean, a direct descendant of the first Aaron Dean to settle in the area that became known as Deans. This Aaron Dean was the son of Aaron and Ruth Britton Dean. He was born in Deans, but he did not stick around for long. He spent more than forty years of his life in Rahway, New Jersey. This Aaron Dean was an engineer for the Union Switch and Signal Company in New York. He was recognized as an expert railroad signal engineer and contributed to the development of better signals for the rail lines in the twentieth century. He was married to Malvena Dean. They had one son, Dion K. Dean of Rahway. Dion was the last Dean to own land in South Brunswick Township. His father must have started his interest in Jersey history when he was a lad growing up in Deans. He kept up this interest by becoming a member of the Historical Society. He never contributed an article to NEW JERSEY HISTORY, but he must have inspired others to delve into various aspects of New Jersey history. He was involved in the Society right up to the time he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of seventy-four at his retirement home in Sea Girt, New Jersey. It may be a stretch, but one may consider this Aaron Dean the Township's first "Dean of History"--after all, he was a Dean!
The first Post Office in Monmouth Junction was located in a small house on Hillside Avenue near the train tracks. It opened on February 5, 1869. Its first Postmaster was Charles A. Griggs. He lasted a bit more than a year before Stryker Rowland took charge on May 5, 1870. The Post Office relocated to the Emens Seed and General Store, located on the corner of Railroad Avenue and Walnut Street. The store was in operation into the 1920's, and was managed by three generations of the Emens family. Thereafter, most of the other space around the Post Office was turned into apartments. Clifford C. Emens served as Postmaster, starting in 1951. Under his leadership, the Monmouth Junction Post Office came to serve more South Brunswick residents than any other post office serving the 40-square mile Township. This aging facility was proving inadequate for the volume of mail and number of patrons it served. The Township Planning Board recognized this and made plans in the early 1970's to give the township a new post office in Monmouth Junction. However, Planning Board members wanted to call the new one, "South Brunswick P.O." In the end, the planners got the new post office built, but the Monmouth Junction name remained. The old Emens place was not forgotten, however. Locals had always joked about how the structure looked like it might have been in an old western movie. That idea came to fruition in 1967, when a brace of Columbia University students visited Monmouth Junction a half-dozen times as part of a film-making seminar. Old Monmouth Junction had been chosen for one reason only--from across the railroad tracks, the old Emens building, which had housed the Post Office, closely resembled a vintage western-style saloon. During all the action scenes that were shot, there was one aging, past-her-prime actress that really stood out--the building which had once housed the Monmouth Junction Post Office. Perhaps, one day, the South Brunswick Public Library will be able to round up a copy of the film from Columbia University. We may have to form a Monmouth Junction posse to track it down or hire a bounty hunter from Ringoes!
A canal across central Jersey was an inevitable phenomenon. William Penn, back in the 1670's, thought of the idea first. He sent out surveyors to explore the possibility of constructing a canal across the Jerseys, from the Delaware River to New York Bay--in other words, find an easier avenue of commerce between New York and Philadelphia. It took a long time for Penn's idea to become a reality--February 4, 1830, to be exact. That is when the State of New Jersey granted a charter to the Delaware & Raritan Canal and Banking Company to construct an artificial waterway between the Delaware River and the Raritan River. The stage was set for a canal route that would cut through old South Brunswick and skirt by the staid village of Kingston. The canal was to become an integral extension of the South Brunswick transportation system--but only for ten decades. Also in 1830, a charter was granted to the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company to construct a line in direct competition with the canal. Soon thereafter, the railroad started winning out as there new major form of transportation across New Jersey. By mid-November of 1830, construction of the canal began. Steady progress was made along several sections, including the ones around Kingston. In the summer of 1832, the first major setback occurred when many laborers, most of them Irish immigrants, succumbed to an outbreak of Asiatic cholera. In the fall of 1833, the canal was opened from Trenton to Kingston. The entire length was opened by May of 1834. Canal traffic thrived until the early 1870's when the Pennsylvania Railroad expanded to a four-line track. As railroad profits increased, canal profits decreased. After 1900, the canal system was operating at a loss. Yacht passage kept the canal going in the 1920's, but by 1932 the canal had to close and ceased to function as a transportation link. William Penn's idea proved to be a good one--but delayed too long and doomed when it finally started. The problem was not location, location, location. The problem was luck and timing. The railroad proved to be a better idea.
First Lt. Seth Dvorin, who graduated from South Brunswick High School in 1998, died near Iskandariyah, Iraq, after a roadside bomb exploded while he was conducting a counter explosive mission. Seth was an officer in the 10th Mountain Division, Battery B, 3rd. Battalion, 62nd. Air Defense Artillery Regiment of the United States Army. For his bravery in the line of duty, Dvorin was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. He was posthumously promoted from Second to First Lieutenant. Eye-witnesses to the explosion described Lieutenant Dvorin as a true hero who warned others to get back from the bomb he had spotted. That day, he gave up his life to save many others. Throughout his life there were many examples of his helping others, showing courage, and practicing compassion. After Seth graduated from South Brunswick High School, he wanted to join the Army; however, his parents insisted he go to college first, then go into the military. After the military experience, Seth planned to work for the FBI or the CIA. At Rutgers, Dvorin received a Bachelor's Degree in Criminology in 2002. He enlisted right after graduating and attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then, it was on to the Air Defense Artillery School at El Paso, Texas. After finishing his training, he found out that he was going to be sent to Iraq. Before going overseas, Seth married his college sweetheart, Kelly Harris. Five days after getting married he left for Iraq. In June of 2004, the South Brunswick Township Council honored this brave soldier's ultimate sacrifice. Dvorin's mother was presented with two plaques--one held an inscription that described how the community felt about her son. The other plaque featured a picture of Lt. Dvorin posing in front of a large American flag. The mother, in turn, announced a scholarship to be set up in her son's name to recognize students who study the humanities. Seth Dvorin gave it his all each day of a life cut short by the tragedy of war. May his memory live on.
Monday, December 10, 2018
"Innisfree" Dean House 739 Georges Road
Aaron Dean, Sr., was one of the "founding fathers" of South Brunswick (previously part of the South Ward of Middlesex County). He owned several acres of land and he owned several slaves. The fate of these slaves was sealed in Dean's will, dated February 2, 1779. Aaron Dean, Jr., received a young slave, named Frank. The deceased's wife, Charity, received two female slaves, Pat and Dine. His daughters, Margaret and Ruth, were to receive Pat and Dine after Charity's passing. John Dean was to receive a young slave whose name was unknown. Daniel Dean acquired a servant, named Robert. In Daniel's will, Robert was to be manumitted and given thirty dollars upon the death of Daniel's wife, Ruth. Abraham Dean acquired an indented young female, named Abigail, who went to Abraham's wife, Isabel, at his passing. Finally a female servant, named Dinah, was manumitted at the age of twenty. This information, though incomplete and sparse, indicates that almost all those who descended from the original Aaron Dean (whom the Deans part of South Brunswick Township is named after) possessed servants--be they slaves, indentures, or black freemen--for generations. The last Dean servant was Peter Baker, who lived in a cottage adjacent to the Dean homestead. He had outlived the last of the local Dean family members and was left on his own. In his final years, when Peter could no longer work, he became a charge of the Township. "Old Pete", as he was known by locals, passed away after living a long, full life. It was discovered that he had used much less than what the Township had allotted him (close to $700 remained unused). Before he died, Pete Baker requested that these monies be returned to the Township and given to someone who needed it more than he did. Sometimes the true heroes hide in the history. Most times we never bother to find them. Such is not the case in this blog--hats off to "Old Pete."
Thursday, November 15, 2018
|Parker Poultry Farm
Practical poultryman, George R. Parker of Monmouth Junction, did not lay an egg on February 1, 1951. Far from it. His accomplishment was more of the "golden egg" variety during the 1951 Farmer's Week, held by the New Jersey State Poultry Association. At the 60th annual meeting of the Association at the Hotel Hidebrecht in Trenton, New Jersey, the winners in various categories of competition were announced . . . and you guessed it--our own George R. Parker received the coveted Poultry Green Pastures Trophy for best poultry range in the State of New Jersey during 1950. Back in the day, there were fewer ways to bring glory to your community, but Mister Parker found a way to put Monmouth Junction "on the map." Parker was no spring chicken when it came to receiving accolades for his accomplishments in the poultry business. He has been called upon at various occasions to speak on panels at the Black Farmers' Annual Conference. We felt all along that George R. Parker knew his chickens--but in 1951, he had a trophy to prove it. When asked by a local reporter in New Brunswick, which came first "the chicken or the egg?" Mister Parker replied "It all depends how wide the road is."