Hillsborough, NJ 08844
379 South Branch Road
Hillsborough, NJ 08844
Up until about 1875, Belle Mead was part of Harlingen. It was a quiet farming region when about that time a New York contractor named Vanaken bought up all the local farms and set out to develop a city. He had the farms laid out into lots, some streets put through and named after the style of New York. He donated land for the railroad station that had a dining room underneath (the station was torn down in February, 1940). When Vanaken went broke the property was sold to a US Senator, John McPherson, who changed the name from Vanaken to Belle Mead in honor of his daughter, Edna Belle Mead McPherson.
Woods Tavern in Belle Mead was a popular stop for travelers for more than 100 years and played an important social and political role. Horace Greeley spoke there in 1872 when he campaigned for the presidency. The tavern burned down in 1932.
Blackwells Mills is situated on the West Bank of the Millstone River about two miles south of Millstone. A mill was first built there in 1746 by Peter Schenk. Through his daughter, the mill passed to the Mercer family, and later sold to Blackwell, who built a house on the land. The mill burned and was rebuilt in 1885 and further restored in 1943. The canal along the river from Millstone to Blackwells Mills was once a major force in the commercial development of the entire State of New Jersey. It was built to complete connections in a series of inland waterways from New York to Florida.
Perhaps the single most important boost to the identity of the Township as we now know it occurred on May 31, 1771. On that date, Hillsborough was officially granted a Charter incorporating it as a Township. The records of Hillsborough Township are complete from their inception in 1746 and there are ten volume, each some several hundred pages, kept in the Special Collections Department of Rutgers University Library along with the Charter.
Hillsborough Township quickly took its place in history as the path General Washington and his troops traveled from the Battle of Princeton to winter quarters in Morristown. While the British were encamped in the valley below awaiting an opportunity to attack, it is said that Washington drilled his troops on the Sourland Mountain around a spring near the top using different formations and corn stalks for guns. As the sun caught the stalks, the British thought Washington had received reinforcements and fresh supplies and the British troops, thinking that they were outnumbered, slipped off to New Brunswick leaving Washington to continue to Morristown.
Flagtown was probably named for Jacob Flagg, who purchased a tract in 1700. Some years later, J. Flagg, a descendent and proprietor of a local tavern had it used as headquarters for the Hillsborough Company in the Revolution. At election time the tavern served as a voting place.
The first school was built there about 1725 on a knoll near the railroad station and it is said that William Parrish taught there. The building was replaced in 1795, painted red and white casings to the doors and windows and called, “The Old Red School House.”
Neshanic is located near the South Branch of the Raritan River. The name comes from a tribe of the Raritan Indians who lived along the river. Community life for the Dutch farmers who settled there began around 1750 and centered around a church, a school, a grist mill and a tavern owned by John Bennett, which historians say was most instrumental in forming the village. The first mill was built by Burguon Woff around 1770 and there was also a tannery which supplied leather to the people of the village as well as to the nearby town of New Brunswick. At one time the area surrounding the Shirk farm and extending along the Sourland Mountains was the greatest peach producing region in the State.
The Village of South Branch goes back to 1750 and was also known as Branchville. It is situated on the South Branch River near its junction with the Raritan. The Narticong Tribe of the Lenni-Lanape lived there and called it “Tucca-Ramma Hocking.” It was here that the Dutch who made their way up the Raritan to bargain for land made their deal in exchange for beads, guns, blankets, powder and jugs of rum.
The only governor in New Jersey history from Somerset County was born in South Branch, Peter D. Vroom. Diamond Jim Brady once lived in the house known as the South Branch Hotel, which he purchased for his mistress, Edna Maculey in 1903 paying $68,000 for it and altering it to suit his taste, “Going down to Bradys Farm” became the fashionable thing to do and Anna Held, Flo Ziegfeld, Lillian Russell and other famous personalities of the days were frequent guests.
In stagecoach days, young sports from New York stopping at nearby inns would challenge the country boys. A young man from South Branch named Van Middlesworth was often hauled out of bed on cold winter nights to fight in the middle of the road, with high powered betting on the outcome. At the conclusion, the whole crowd would retire to the nearest bar where the winner paid for the drinks.