8th Ave. Railroad Crossing?

8th ave train gate operator

Above Photo by Neal Ranauro • Click Photos to Enlarge

So something interesting happened to me this morning. I was sorting through some photos and came across this one I’ve been ignoring. It was really crazy because I had this labeled as 13th ave crossing, but when I took a good look at it, it didn’t make any sense at all! The water tower is on the wrong side of the photo, and is facing the wrong way. In fact… after some careful examination I came upon a new Manville mystery. The 8th Ave railroad crossing.

The old water tower you see in the photo there was formerly located on the north side between 9th and 10th aves, which would seem to put this crossing on South 8th. This was all pretty crazy to me, since I was completely unaware that this existed so I popped open a google maps street view to investigate…

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.38.58 AMThat is a shot of the end of South 8th next to the tracks looking from South Street (behind the VFW) Sure as hell looks like there used to be a crossing there huh?

UPDATE: According to some Manville folk testimony this crossing did exist on 8th Ave.

“Fred Sopko confirmed that there was indeed a temporary railroad crossing at 8th Ave in the late 1940s. It was a detour for traffic traveling through Manville while the underpass on Main St. was being built.”

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John Royce, Manville’s first landlord was a crook.

1685 Landowners Map • Click to Enlarge

I was doing a little more digging on the Library of Congress website and I found a great link to a digital book entitled Historical discourse on occasion of the centennial anniversary of the Reformed Dutch church of Millstone. If you are doing any research on the Hillsborough / Manville / Millstone area this is an excellent & detailed record on the earlier settlers of the area. It also includes this great map from 1685, which I have seen in poor photocopied form before… the quality on this copy is great. You can read or download the complete book for free HERE. But for Manvillian purposes we need mostly be concerned with the dealings of John Royce.

Some of you might recognize the name Royce, since the Royce brook is still so called in Manville. The truth is that John Royce was the first official landlord of Manville. Famous for his shady real estate dealings and infringing on (and leasing out) portions of other peoples lands that lay next to his borders. He also leased said lands that he didn’t even legally fully own out to a gentleman name Charles Winder for a period of a thousand years… and then proceeded to sell parts of this leased lands to other parties. It was a nightmare that took the executors of his estate years to get sorted back out. SO you can fairly say that the first Manville landlord, like many more to come… was a crook.

On the receiving end of the shady dealings were Van Vechty & Co., which actually had to shell out money for the disputed areas twice to satisfy the discrepancy in ownership. The deal opened the floodgates 1703 for the Dutch to settle the new lands formerly known as Roycefield & Royceton so named for the former owner. They promptly renamed the area Harmony Plains, which would many years later become part of Manville.

For what its worth it’s a great story and the great story is told in more detail in the book… I extracted the relevant pages and posted them below. The map above opens in a new window, and in my opinion it’s a tremendous help to look at the map while reading to keep your bearings, as most of the property owners lands told in the tale are listed on the map. Anyway here you go… all of these pages will enlarge if you click on them…

Harmony Plains (Gravel Hill) School. Circa 1900

Harmon Plains School • Click to Enlarge

For years I have been hearing of an old school on Main St. in Manville that predated the old Main Street School that sat at the current site of the Main St. parking lot. I heard of it referred to as “the old red schoolhouse” and it wasn’t until I starting turning up maps from the 1800’s that I started to really see the proof. Thanks to Kathryn Quicks great book Manville: A History Enduring, I finally recognized this mystery school by it’s real name Harmony Plains School. It wasn’t until I visited Gary Carmons great website until I turned up an actual photo of the school. This photo originally came out of a book published by The Courier News entitled “Somerset County Memories – the Easrly Years. Here was the original caption from the book

“The original Main Street School, Manville, cica 1900. Bernhard Meyer, Jr. is in front holding the bat.” Courtesy Marian Meyer

The original location of The Harmony Plains school was the Main Street parking lot site right next to the intersection of Camplain, where the Main Street school was later built. As marked on the following 1850 map with the white arrow… I also labeled the streets just to clarify the location. I’m assuming the initials S.H. stands for school house, but you can see the neat little illustration of the school. The map will enlarge if you click on it.

Here is an except from Kathryn’s book regarding the school…

“Called Harmony Plains school in 1915, students from first through eighth grade attended school in a two-room building on the same site with two faculty members. A visiting country teacher would stop in from time to time and teach art. At that time the school was owned by Hillsborough Township. The school had no running water or sanitary facilities. There were no playgrounds, only farmhouses with haylofts.

The school was enlarged with an additional classroom by GB Staats and John W Hamilton of Dukes Parkway. When Manville became a borough, the teachers lost all their seniority and had to start as new.

A fire destroyed the original school shortly after the Borough acquired it. Since the town did not have a fire department at the time, a bucket brigade tried to extinguish the fire. Students were transferred to Camplain Road School until the school was rebuilt with four classrooms. Four more were added in the ‘20s for a total of eight.

The school was first referred to as “Gravel Hill School” because of the soil formation, but the official name was Harmony Plains School.”

 I cannot confirm that the fabled “old red school house” was in fact Harmony Plains school, because frankly I do not know what color it was. There is a rumor of another small school in Manville in the late 1800s, but it’s a loose rumor, and that’s a mystery for another day. Thanks again to Gary Carmon for his great contributions. Please visit his website carmonsandusky for some more great old Manville photos.


Manville 1850 Landowners

1850 Hillsborough Map (Manville) • Click to Enlarge

I worked the Journey Through the Past tour this weekend at the Somerset Historical Society, where I got to do a little photo essay of the history of Manville. It was pretty fun, and for the short time I had to get it together I think it came out pretty decent. The best thing that probably happened though is I uncovered this 1950 Hillsborough landowner map and immediately snapped some photos of the section that would become Manville a little less than 70 years later. This map is important since the earliest map I have up here is 1860, and frankly it isn’t quite as detailed. I do have a low res photo of this one, but you could barely read it. This map is great because it includes the schools, mills, and a few stores. It also physically marks the locations of buildings, at least by 1850 mapmaking standards. Anyway this should be a great tool for people seeking pre Manville historical clues.

Manville 50th Anniversary 1910 Map

Click Map to Enlarge • It Will Expand Twice

I got this old reprint of a 1910 map of Manville out of a 50th anniversary special newspaper insert that came with The Manville News, The Hillsborough Beacon, and The Franklin News Record on April 26, 1979. Thanks again to the Folks at the Somerset County Historical Society for letting me snap digital photos of this. The street you see with all the cars on it is Main Street. If you look WAY in the back between where the train tracks meet you can see the Federal Creosote Factory. All three train stations appear on the map. Also, for some reason on the left side of the map there is a giant rooster. I have no idea what the hell that means. Apparently this map was drawn crudely and not to scale, although it looks pretty awesome to me. It was used as a sort of handout to lure residents into town. Some of the farms on the map are “hypothetical farms” but there are a few houses I recognize from other old maps. I’m going to try and sort out the residences for a possible future post. Until then though… if you want to download a bigger PDF version of the map, where you can zoom in on more detail just click HERE. Enjoy.

The Old Weston Underpass

Photo from the collection of Art Shandor • Click to enlarge

At some point in the 1970’s, the need arose to widen the underpass at Kennedy Blvd & Main St. This is a point of mystery and a fact of life for  Manville folk, especially since the original bridge was just filled up with dirt, and is literally still there. You can see the new construction in the background of this photo or just off to the left of the current bridge when entering Manville from the south. The original underpass was really similar to the one on Kyle St. that goes into “Lost Valley”. I love that Lost Valley bridge, but it’s dangerous as all hell. Two cars cannot fit through it at once, it’s also built at a weird angle. You have to veer into the oncoming lane to see into it. I’m assuming a lot of the same problems existed with the old Main St. underpass. Take a look at this 1953 Historic Areal map… If you click on it, it will expand in a new window.

So, you can see compared to what we have now, this setup was not optimal. If you wanted to make a left onto Main, you couldn’t see through the bridge on your right to find out if there were any cars coming. Plus if you were leaving town, you were basically doing a u turn, merging, and going through a bridge all at the same time. The bridge was set up at an angle that was impossible to navigate safely, and with the growing population, it was becoming a real problem. So they totally reconstructed it. Take a look at this photo from 1979…

In this photo you can see that they actually took Main St. and kind of moved further away from Kennedy Blvd. to straighten it out. They also made the jug handle to get rid of people making left hand turns off of Main St. onto Kennedy. If you look closely at this photo you can see a black curve right where Kennedy starts to bend… that’s literally the old road, so you can see how dramatic the landscape changed. They sort of bent Kennedy out away from the tracks and extended it to meet up with Main St way before the bridge. All of these changes were made just a few years before I was born, so I do not remember the old set up, but my family tells me it was really dangerous. I’d love to hear some comments or horror stories on this bridge, as most of what I know is just hear say or speculation. Also, I noticed on the ’53 map that a pretty big building was removed when Main St. was moved over. Anyone know what it was? It would’ve been right in front of where the modern underpass now stands.

Larry thanks again for getting me these great photos!

Manville Gardens (Weston) & The Veghte Farm

MANVILLE GARDENS LAND PLOT ORIGINAL PLAN  (1917) • CLICK TO ENLARGE

I have such a soft spot for maps. When historical Manville ones show up I really get siked. A good friend of mine named Jessica Bodo recently bought a house in town. Being a fellow Manville history buff, she started to obsessively explore the history of her property. Her searches have turned up many VERY interesting pieces of info. She discovered that when she got back far enough in time, most of the property in Manville’s “Weston” section was actually owned by one family… The Veghte family. She also found the above map, drafted in 1917 and filed in 1919, it maps out the newly established plots of land to be developed.  These two pieces of information coupled with the Hillsborough 1860 farm map was a real slam dunk  in terms of concrete information. After viewing the 1860 farm map, combined with this Manville Gardens map we could see that the property line of the Veghtes exactly matched the shape of this newly envisioned Manville Gardens section

CLICK TO ENLARGE

I did slightly rotate the Manville Gradens map, but you can see right down to Abraham Veghte’s house (the red arrow)… it’s a perfect match geographically., with Royce Brook backing the property. This was quite an entertaining realization, and proof that Manville Gardens (or Weston) IS Abraham Veghtes farm (and another smaller piece of property in the bottom left , to which I could not read the name of the original owner). As far as my friend Jess has discovered Abraham Veghte died in 1886, and his Wife Anne (formerly a Vannnest) in 1897. The land was handed down to the Veghte’s children… it’s a bit of a mystery on why they decided to sell it.

If you look at the Manville Gardens map (at the top) between the streets then known as Jackson and Schwartz Terrace, between First Street and Raritan, you will see what appears to be the farm plot, which was eventually chopped in half when they extended Harrison Street all the way through to Raritan Ave. Just for kicks I decided to superimpose a modern street map over the old map.

MODERN STREET MAP SUPERIMPOSED OVER THE OLD MAP • CLICK TO ENLARGE

Even though not TOO much has changed in terms of the layout of the streets, I did notice a lot of the street names have since been changed to commemorate some of the great folks that helped perpetuate Manville’s existence as a town. For instance Jasinski Ave, named for our great first police chief was formerly called Beekman Ave. Persinko Ave, named after the family of another man on the police force Lt. Andrew Persinko was formerly named Fourth Ave. Sidorski Ave was formerly known as Schwartz Terrace. Ruth place however, was just always called Ruth place. Weird. Another interesting thing about this map, is that it has a road crossing over the railroad tracks that’s called “Road from Roycefield to Millstone Road.” I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I believe that an old road called Weston Road ran further east of JFK Blvd., which clearly did not exist during that time of this map. You can see a little kink in Kennedy on the modern map where they eventually rerouted the old road. There are 3 streets on the old map called Fifth Ave,  Sixth Ave. and Forest that apparently never came to fruition. Nowadays the area where Forest Ave should be is literally just… forrest. It looks like the Reading Railroad owned the area which now houses the end of Dominic St. and Richard Ave. This property was formerly owned by another farmer named Joseph Christopher.

Along her historical searches my friend Jess also noted that at some point on The Veghte farm a young man accidentally shot his sister to death with a shotgun… anyone out there have any insight on this?

This was a pretty heavy post so thanks for hanging on… as always if anyone has additional information please let me know or leave some comments!.