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Meet the Historians

Bernards Twp SignSomerset Hills Area:
Bernards Township

(Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, Lyons, & W. Millington)

 

June Kennedy

Resident
and
Official Township Historian

Biography

A Basking Ridge resident for 31 years, June Kennedy has been Bernards Township Historian since 1990. She lectures and gives tours to school and civic groups on local history, researches houses and genealogy and is a member/trustee of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.

She is author of:

  • Around and About Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner and Lyons, a pictorial history of the area;
  • A History of the Library in Basking Ridge, both written in 1995.

She has written detailed histories of:

  • Bernards Township
  • the Maple Avenue School
  • the Municipal Building
  • The Washington House/Store Restaurant
  • The Bonafides of Somerset Hills
  • the Bernards Township Police Department
  • The Stained Glass Windows 'of St. James Chapel and Church.

June Kennedy has conducted a summer history camp for fourth through sixth grade students at the Brick Academy for nine years. She was a contributing writer of Past and Promise, the 1990 Women's Project of NJ, her subject Mary Alexander, mother of Lord Stirling. She was a staff member of the Bergen Evening Record, now The Record of Hackensack, a daily newspaper. She also contributed to the Encyclopedia of New Jersey, 2004, with an article about Basking Ridge

Kennedy resided in Little Silver, NJ for 14 years and was its first Borough Historian, writing A Sketchbook of Little Silver History, now a fourth grade textbook. She was editor of the Little Silver Newsletter, public information officer for Red Bank Regional High School, and a teachers' aide.

Active in the community, she is secretary/treasurer of the Somerset Hills Fellowship of Christian Churches; past president and active member of The Bonafides of Somerset Hills; and a lector at Church of St. James Church. She taught creative writing at the U.S. Veterans Hospital at Lyons and business writing at the Somerset Hills Adult Education School in Bernardsville.

A graduate of Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, with a degree in Journalism, she earned a second degree in Humanities from Thomas Edison State College, Trenton. She and her husband, Robert B. Kennedy, are parents of two married daughters and grandparents of four grandsons. A lifelong New Jersey resident, she has been featured in several local cable (TKR) productions focusing on Bernards Township history.

Local Perspective

Bernards Township Historical Tidbits

    1. The 1880 Federal Census listed Bernards Township with a population of 2,622 which included 218 farms. The area consisted of Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, Lyons, Far Hills and Bernardsville. When Far Hills withdrew, it took 1/8 of the area of Bernards, with Bernardsville taking 113 of the remaining area and leaving Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner and Lyons and their environs the Township of Bernards.
    2. In 1898, Colonel John Jacob Astor IV donated stones from his property adjacent to the Great Swamp to the Rev. Joseph Appley, pastor of the Basking Ridge Methodist Church, now called Bishop Janes Methodist Church. Fourteen years later, Colonel Astor perished in the sinking of the Titanic in April, 1912. His expectant wife delivered a son in August, 1912. In 1968 that son, born posthumously, John Jacob Astor VI, sold his English Tudor mansion, the present Municipal Building, to Bernards Township.
    3. Basking Ridge Post Office began operations September 18, 1802. Previously, mail was carried from Philadelphia to Morristown via Princeton and Basking Ridge on horseback, sulky or stage and was called "The Post". With the arrival of the railroad from Summit to Basking Ridge in 1872, mail service over the road went into effect. Rural delivery service was launched at Basking Ridge on December 1, 1905.
    4. Four U.S. Senators representing New Jersey were College of New Jersey (Princeton University) graduates, and received their earlier education at the Basking Ridge Classical School. They were: Samuel Lewis Southard (1787 1842) Theodore Frelinghuysen (1787 1961), William Lewis Dayton, (1807-1864) and Robert Field Stockton (1795 1865).
    5. At the June 1941 dedication service of the new Liberty Corner flag pole an the village green, the soloist was a former Metropolitan Opera soprano, Anna Case Mackay, whose daughter, Ellen, was the wife of Irving Berlin, America's beloved songwriter.
    6. Where does Bernards Township rank in age, with respect to its sister communities in Somerset County? Research found during the Township's 200th Bicentennial in 1960 revealed that Bernards ranks fourth oldest. Franklin Township broke away from Piscataway in 1735; Bedminster and Bridgewater Townships were chartered by King George II in 1749. Bernards was chartered by King George II on May 24, 1760 and is the second oldest government in the Somerset Hills. The Township was much larger in 1760 than it is today. In 1806 Warren became an independent government. Others that followed were Far Hills in 1921 and Bernardsville in 1924.
    7. About the handsome black iron pump located in the flower garden of the Brick Academy: On April 25, 1948, this pump served as an emergency source of water for many Bedminster residents because an excavating shovel cleaning debris from the North Branch of the Raritan River broke the town's only water main, causing 115 families to be without water in their homes. The pump was in the backyard of Bensley Field's grandfather, Dr. Frank L. Field, whose house still stands at 454 Route 202 in Bedminster. Dr. Field has his residence and medical office there. The pump was installed when the house was built in 1910.
    8. 1779 - Jockey Hollow - this area was where jockeys tested their racing horses! In 1779-1780, there were 10,000 troops who built 1,200 log cabins on 900 acres. When the men were at Jockey Hollow, the nearest tavern (for news, a warm bed, good food, drink. etc ) was the Vealtown Tavern, known as John Parker's Tavern, and known today as the former Bernardsville Library building in Bernardsville. The colonial troops cut a footpath through the mountains. That is why the road is called Old Army Road in Bernardsville and also in Bernards Township!
    9. The Friends of the Oak Tree was organized in 1923 to save the 600 year old oak tree in the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Churchyard. The tree trunk was cleaned of its disease, leaving space for four men to stand in its trunk. Three tons of Concrete were poured into the cavity. The tree, a landmark for centuries, is Bernards Township's logo two oak leaves, representing the villages of Basking Ridge and Liberty Corner.
    10. On April 6, 1917, the United States formally entered World War I. June 5, 1917 was Registration Day in Bernards for men ages 21 31 There were many parades and demonstrations with special services held in all the churches. Young men left for training camps, By November, 1917, Bernards had oversubscribed by 80% its quota of the Second Liberty Loan, and the government raised letter postage from 2 Cents to 3 Cents!
    11. Transportation caused the development in the Somerset Hills. The railroad arrived in 1872, creating development. Almost 100 years later, completion of Routes 287 and 78 caused further population increase and a housing boom. Transportation can be called the cause and/also the culprit.
    12. Among the many artifacts owned by The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills is a V E R Y long bobsled, built and used in Basking Ridge by Countless children in the early 1900s. Presently stored in the Township's Public Works garage where it is suspended, it was a gift of the Scheurman family and could accommodate many passengers. It is reported to have been guided through heavy snow from the top of Dykeman's Hill (in the area off Cedar Street) to the bottom of Rankin Avenue, all in a matter of seconds!
    13. The Indian display of more than 200 arrowheads, tools and artifacts in the Brick Academy were obtained from the Indian grounds in the Madisonville Road area (formerly AT&T building location, now the site of Verizon). The custom made exhibit case was built by Samuel Corbett, a cabinetmaker; all Lenni Lenape memorabilia was donated by Ruth Corbett Dennison, his granddaughter.
    14. The Dead River was so named because of its slow current.
    15. Alfred Vail, who collaborated with Samuel F.G. Morse on inventing the telegraph in 1838 was related to the Basking Ridge family of Vails. He was a city cousin. Vail and Morse sent messages to each other at Historic Speedwell over two miles of wire. The factory on Route 202 North is a national landmark. Country cousin Israel Vail lived in Basking Ridge; a small Vail family cemetery is on Tilcon quarry land, Stonehouse Road. Theodore Vail, former president of American Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, also is related.
    16. Lord Stirling's estate, Stirling Manor, was built in Basking Ridge in 1761. Local people called it The Buildings, because of its size; the road was called Building Lane. and the name was changed in the early 1940s to Lord Stirling Road. Stirling's other name was William Alexander. The estate was General Nathaniel Greene's headquarters in 1777.
    17. Do you know what were two of New Jersey's pre historic lakes? They were Lake Passaic (The Great Swamp) and Lake Hackensack (The Jersey Meadowlands).
    18. September 23, 2006 marks the 78th anniversary of the founding of the Basking Ridge Historical Society, forerunner of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills. In 1928 a group of Bernards Township residents met and decided to organize and foster local history. The Society leases the former municipal offices (The Brick Academy) from Bernards Township and preserves its history, provides factual information and offers programs an history to all. In 1998, in an effort to broaden its horizon, the name of the organization was changed to The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.
    19. In 1990, a new 50 year lease was written, for the continuous use of the Brick Academy, from the local government, The Society "shall have exclusive use of the premises and shall endeavor to restore, renovate and preserve the building, in view of its historical significance." The public is invited to become members of the Society.
    20. Did you know that Elias Boudinot, president of the First Continental Congress was a Basking Ridge resident? Boudinot's daughter, Suzanne, became the bride of George Washington's attorney general, William Bradford. Boudinot married Hannah Stockton, sister of his friend Richard Stockton, signer of the Declaration of Independence for New Jersey. Stockton, in turn, married Boudinot's sister, Annis, a noted poetess, their residence in Princeton called Morven, the former New Jersey Governor’s Mansion. His wife, Annis Boudinot Stockton, was a prolific poet who named their house "Morven" after a mythical Gaelic kingdom in the epic poems of Ossian.

Recommended Readings

Images of AmericaImages of America
Basking Ridge, Liberty Corner, and Lyons

 

 

 

 

Photography Collections

Other documents

(Available at the Brick Academy)

  • Bernards Township
  • The Maple Avenue School
  • The Municipal Building
  • The Washington House/Store Restaurant
  • The Bonafides of Somerset Hills
  • The Bernards Township Police Department


The best tidbits...
The Best stories...
See their recollections and recommendations.
Bernardsville
Bernards Twp
Peapack Gladstone
Far Hills
Bedminster

 

 

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