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Showing posts with label Bethlehem Township.
Showing posts with label Bethlehem Township.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The star of Bethlehem? An Edison mystery in Hunterdon.

Once again, it was proven to us: travel around North Jersey and you're bound to find something related to Thomas Edison.

This time, it came when we made a left turn off Route 57 West, passing Earle Eckel's Autogiro Port on our way southward to points unknown. After an enlightening stop in Asbury (more to come on that soon), we found ourselves driving on an undulating road through beautiful farmland. We weren't quite sure where we were, except that we'd left Warren County.

The unusual two-story springhouse next to the sign
that started our mystery.
And then, there it was: a Hunterdon County historic marker. Titled "TOWER HILL FARM," it continued, "Dating back to the 1840s, this farm was purchased for Thomas Edison's storekeeper, Frederick Devonald, in 1932 and remained in the family until 1983. Unusual springhouse consists of two levels."

Devonald was a name I hadn't come across in my reading on Edison's life and career, leading me to believe that he wasn't one of the Muckers, the tight-knit group who worked closely with the Old Man on his experiments. He's not referenced in two of the latest and most comprehensive Edison biographies, nor does Mucker Francis Jehl mention him in his Menlo Park Reminiscences. Who was this mystery man?

Considering that Edison's Stewartsville Portland cement plant is a 12 mile drive away from Tower Hill, I wondered if he'd been one of the many employees who'd never worked in either Menlo Park or West Orange. And who had purchased the land for Devonald a year after Edison's death? Was the gift connected to his work service at all, or was I just reading too much into a sign author's attempt at economical writing?

Back at Hidden New Jersey HQ, we set ourselves to finding out. Checking first with Hunterdon County Parks and Recreation, we discovered that in addition to the stone springhouse we'd seen, the property hosted a farmhouse that had been built in 1848. Interestingly, the Parks and Rec website said that other Devonalds than Fred -- Ira and Margaret -- bought the farm in 1932 as a family weekend retreat, with three of them eventually making it their full time 七乐彩彩票app下载. Records of the 1920 census list Ira and Margaret as two of the eight children being raised by Fred and his wife Julia in Orange.

There went my supposition that Edison had bought the property for Devonald, but what about Fred's job? His family being from Orange made it doubtful that he worked at the Stewartsville cement plant. Was he, in fact, one of the keepers of the famous storeroom in the Building 5 machine shop at the West Orange lab? The wondrous room that Edison famously claimed to have everything from the hide of a rhinoceros to the eye of a United States Senator, all in order to speed the process of invention?

As it turns out, it's entirely possible. A search of the online archives of Rutgers'  project reveals more than 70 documents referencing or signed by Devonald, mostly related to the procurement of supplies for the storeroom. One even went directly to Edison at his Ogdensburg iron mines, asking for approval to purchase chemicals. (Edison asked for prices and said he'd see Devonald to discuss.) Another source noted that Fred once turned to Julia, herself an Edison employee, to make a motion picture screen.

And that leads us to Fred's brief star turn. While not a key employee, he was accorded a role in the development of one of Edison's most noteworthy inventions -- literally. A small room on the second floor of the West Orange labs was, in effect, the world's first motion picture studio, and the Edison movie making team needed animated subjects to test the kinetoscope technology. Hams like Mucker Fred Ott were more than happy to fake a for the cameras, and it seems that Devonald was open to participating, too. You have to wonder if he's one of the men in the brief dance scene in film. We may never know which one of the subjects he was, and he certainly didn't go on to screen stardom. But it does go to show: in the right work environment, you can have a lot of fun if you show a little personality.



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Highway history, made in Hunterdon County

You know Jersey barriers, right? Those concrete dividers in the middle of major highways? The ones that are designed to keep drivers from swerving into oncoming traffic?

I always assumed that they were invented by the folks who brought us the New Jersey Turnpike. Given how many innovations its designers contributed to highway engineering, it only seemed natural, so imagine my surprise when Ivan and I passed this historical marker on Route 173 in Hunterdon County.


The Encyclopedia of New Jersey tells us that the Jersey barrier was "developed ... to minimize the number of out-of-control trucks penetrating the median and eliminate the need for costly and dangerous steel guardrail median barrier maintenance in high-accident locations with narrow medians." Sounds like a problem for a major highway, right? Who'd have thought that the first place it would be installed would be cow country七乐彩彩票登录?

On second thought, it makes a lot of sense. I can see where western New Jersey would be a good test area, with lots of two-lane roads where opposing traffic could easily stray in darkness or bad weather, or drunkenness on the part of the driver. As the sign in Bethlehem Township infers, there were plenty of bad accidents right on 173 that likely could have been prevented with a partition separating traffic.

Further research reveals that the original 32-inch barrier was developed at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, under the direction of the state Department of Transportation. The Turnpike Authority later used that design and an Ontario variant to create a highly-reinforced model that effectively shunts errant semi trucks back into the proper lane of traffic.

The irony is that while we saw Jersey barriers all along Route 78 on our trip toward the historical marker, there are no barriers at all on 173. Instead, there's a turning lane in the center of the road, shared by both directions of traffic. It's kind of a shame there's not at least a little bit of the original barrier left in the road, sort of our own New Jersey version of the Berlin Wall. Wouldn't it be cool if there's a remnant of it being preserved somewhere?