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Goodspeed Histories: September 2021

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Old Hunterdon Taverns
**September 18, 2021
It is my usual practice to include in my newsletters a link to my most recent article (I usually send the newsletter out shortly after publishing.) That is not the case today. And here’s the reason:

I have been working on a project to describe the buildings along Flemington’s Main Street that feature an arch along their front rooflines. I first noticed them while writing about the old Hunterdon County Bank Building. See Flemington’s First Bank, part two. (https://goodspeedhistories.com/flemingtons-first-bank-part-two/)

So far, I have written about the handsome building at the corner of Main and Bloomfield, “The Clock Tower Building (https://goodspeedhistories.com/the-clock-tower-building/) ,” and the not so handsome anymore building where Higgins News Agency is located: “Oysters Every Style. (https://goodspeedhistories.com/oysters-every-style/) ” Proceeding down Main Street, the next building on the list is none other than the Union Hotel.

Like the other buildings with arches in their rooflines, this one was built in the 1870s. But I got interested in the tavern owners who started out there, in a far more modest building. That led me to tavern licenses, and that is where I got sidetracked.

Learning from License Petitions:
Family Search has photographed the license petitions on file at the NJ State Archives and made them available on microfilm. What a gift! Not only do we get the names of the tavern owners in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but original signatures of them and their neighbors. Most petitions were signed by about a dozen men. And these petitions had to be filed once a year!

Imagine what a ritual that must have been. People no doubt came to expect it; one finds many people who signed petitions for several different taverns. It appears that drinking habits were a little different back then. There is a wonderful book by Charles S. Boyer titled Old Inns & Tavern in West Jersey, that is invaluable for researching old taverns. He points out that drinking was so common back then that people would often gather at the tavern after church services. In fact, at least a couple local ministers signed petitions.
What makes taverns so interesting is their central importance to the community where they were located. After all, most villages consisted of a church & cemetery, a store and a tavern–period. Where did one go for civic or private meetings? Certainly not the store.

Names & Family Togetherness:
Another thought that emerges from looking at all those signatures: The family that drinks together stays together; there are lots of Sr’s & Jr’s signing the same petitions, as well as other family members. For instance, in an 1813 petition for John Cherry of Kingwood Twp., John, William and Christopher Cool signed their names consecutively, suggesting they went to the tavern together.

The signatures can also tell us something about how names were pronounced. In a petition for John Farley of Tewksbury, all four of these signatures appeared: Jacob Apgaurd, Conrod Apgaurd, Paul Apgar, and Conrad Apger.

Back to the Union Hotel:
Some good news was shared on Facebook this past week from Mayor Betsey Driver. She wrote (on Sept 13th):
“This evening, Borough Council approved a settlement agreement with the Friends of Historic Flemington that brings to an end of the years of litigation around the Courthouse Square project. These last two lawsuits settled with this agreement pertain to the original 2018 Planning Board approval. Tomorrow, the Planning Board will consider a similar resolution to approve the same settlement agreement that is being signed by all parties to put these years of litigation behind us and allow the scaled down project to move forward.
“As part of the settlement agreement, Council will consider, at its next meeting, the introduction of an amended Redevelopment Plan ordinance that addresses the terms of the settlement. This amended plan is to incorporate language that reaffirms the scaled down redevelopment project approved by the Planning Board earlier this year.”

So it seems to be very timely for me to be looking into the Hotel’s history. There certainly is lots to write about.

The Ice House
One item left over from my article “Oysters Every Style (http://https//goodspeedhistories.com/oysters-every-style/) :” After it was published, Dennis Bertland shared with me a photograph that had been shared with him by Chris Pickel. It was of the ice house located behind the restaurant. Dennis wrote to me that it had been separated from the Higgins lot and added to the Union Hotel property. (The photograph has been added to the end of the article.) It is a question whether it is still standing, and I confess I have not made the trip to find out. It would be a shame if it was lost.

Okay, back to work! Regards to all,

The Oyster Craze in Flemington
** September 2, 2021
If you had told me I would end up writing 20 pages of Flemington history based on that tiny, nondescript building used by the Higgins News Agency, I would have found it hard to believe. But that is just what has happened, which goes to show, there is a load of history hiding behind the most ordinary places.

When I started working on the story, I got this great idea, to write the history of this place by starting with the 1930s and working backwards, the way one discovers the history when researching, but I kept running into narrative problems. So, I tried it the other way, and discovered a fascinating aspect of Flemington life–the enthusiastic consumption of oysters!

Oysters Every Style (https://goodspeedhistories.com/oysters-every-style/)
This piece is much longer than my usual ones, but I was determined to tell the whole story in one article. Of course, there are still some unanswered questions–perhaps that’s what makes history so addictive. No doubt a hard-headed editor would have cut out a lot of material, but it would have had to be an editor who wasn’t interested in Flemington history. Still, if any of you feel that it is just too long a read, please let me know.

Accidental Poisoning
It is distressing to read about people poisoning themselves in the belief that the poison will do them good. But that is what happens when people take Ivermectin to treat the Covid virus. In the 19th century, people accidentally poisoned themselves surprisingly often. Here are two hair-raising examples, both involving people connected with the oyster restaurant:

Almost Poisoned. On Tuesday last, John P. Rittenhouse of Flemington came near dying. He had recently relinquished hotel keeping, and had a quantity of liquor which he wished to dispose of. One day he took a person to test the liquor, with a view to purchase. He offered a drink to his companion, who politely told him to taste it first, which he did. He immediately discovered that it was “bed bug Poison”. A physician was immediately summoned, who succeeded in relieving Mr. Rittenhouse of the deadly poison before any serious consequences resulted. [Hunterdon Republican, May 24, 1867.]

On Saturday morning last, Mrs. Lewis F. Reinert, daughter of Nathaniel G. Smith of Flemington, was suffering from a cold and in arising, took a bottle which she supposed contained a cough mixture and swallowed a portion before she discovered that she had the wrong bottle and had taken laudanum. A physician was immediately summoned and measures were taken to counteract the poison. She recovered after about five or six hours. [Hunterdon Republican, Sept 13, 1877]

19th-century Advertising
Reading advertisements in the 19th century papers can be pretty entertaining, given the colorful language used. Here’s one from Hiram G. Voorhees in the Hunterdon Gazette of Sept. 7, 1853:
THE FLEMINGTON RAILROAD, Being under contract, and about to be built, will necessarily largely increase the number of people hereabouts, and the subscriber being anxious that the inner man shall be kept in trim, and that both citizens and strangers shall be fed, and well fed, has re-opened his Oyster Saloon, nearly opposite Farlee’s store, where he has now on hand, and will continue to keep, the best quality of AMBOY OYSTERS. The patronage of the public is respectfully solicited. Parties and families supplied on reasonable terms.

Hurricane Ida had quite an impact as it passed over us. It’s going to take awhile to dry out. Best wishes to all,