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Showing posts with label Flemington.
Showing posts with label Flemington.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Black Gold, Texas Tea: the hidden corporate headquarters in Flemington

For many years, New Jersey had the reputation of being the 七乐彩彩票app下载 for corporate headquarters. It seemed that if you were a Fortune 500 company, you either located your CEO here or had a major installation somewhere in the state. Some of them moved here from more expensive digs in New York City, finding good transportation routes and pleasant suburbs to attract employees. In any case, it wasn't hard to pick out the corporate HQs dotted along our highways, with their sprawling lawns and low-slung buildings. 

Curiously, as I discovered recently, one of the largest and most famous among them had much more modest digs on a small lot in Flemington. You might know that corporation as ExxonMobil. Back then, it was Standard Oil of New Jersey.

To say that the history of Standard Oil is complicated is a vast understatement, and I couldn't hope to explain it all in a readable blog post. For the purposes of today's story, what you really need to know is that at one point in the 1930s, the corporation's headquarters technically was a lawyer七乐彩彩票app下载's safe on Main Street in the Hunterdon County seat. John D. Rockefeller's oil behemoth was broken up in a 1911 Supreme Court antitrust ruling, with Standard Oil of New Jersey (or Jersey Standard) being the largest of the resulting "baby Standards." Operating refineries at Bayonne and Linden, it continued to evolve after the mandated breakup, making several acquisitions and eventually becoming the world's largest oil producer.     

Flemington has never been known to be a big oil town, nor has there ever seemed to be a potential for anyone to strike black gold somewhere off Route 31. And, in fact, there doesn't seem to have ever been a Standard Oil office anywhere in town, except maybe for a desk and chair at a filling station. This was not a traditional arrangement by any means.

As you might have already guessed, the company's reasons were purely economic. In one word, taxes. New Jersey law at the time stated that a company was headquartered where its incorporation papers were housed. By moving its headquarters from Linden to Flemington in 1937, Standard Oil was able to shave its tax bill by 80 percent. The company's operations continued without missing a beat.

Exxon corporate histories say nothing about this move to the heart of New Jersey's farm country七乐彩彩票登录, though I guess it's not surprising. The fact that the company had previously moved its headquarters to Linden from Newark to save a half-million dollar tax payment leads me to believe that the stay in Flemington was a relatively brief one, lasting only until a more attractive tax haven could be identified.

Despite Standard Oil's penchant for bending the rules, it's likely that its new neighbors in Hunterdon County wouldn't have minded a bit that the company had done this bit of corporate legerdemain, if they even knew the move had occurred. The boost in revenue to the county meant their own tax bills would decrease. While no new jobs were created, nor was there any additional burden placed on local roads and utilities. Maybe they hadn't struck oil, but who ever complained about lower taxes?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Eggs came first in Flemington (at least that's what we figure)

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher gave me a project that opened my eyes to the diversity of our state. Everyone in our class had to write a report about a randomly-assigned county in New Jersey and present it to our fellow students. With 21 kids in the class, we were all guaranteed to learn about areas of the state we knew little of.

I got Hunterdon. Hunter-who? Clear across the state from my Union County 七乐彩彩票app下载, I'd never heard of it. Dutifully, I sent a letter to the courthouse in Flemington, wondering what this far-off place had in store for me.

A few weeks later, I got a big manila envelope from the Hunterdon County clerk, loaded with pamphlets chock-full of facts and figures. While some of my classmates had gotten pretty tourist brochures featuring shore locations or historic sites in their assigned counties, the data-laden Hunterdon literature made one thing very clear: the county was where food comes from. And it was big business.

I was reminded of this recently as Ivan and I wandered just a block off Main Street in Flemington and came upon an office building labeled "Old Egg Auction Prestigious Offices." With a liberal number of rooster statues strewn about, the building clearly had been repurposed after an industrial past.

A county historic marker told the tale: "FLEMINGTON EGG AUCTION. The country七乐彩彩票登录's first, and, at one time, the largest cooperative egg auction operated here from 1932 until the death of the egg business in the 1960s."

The "first and largest" fit perfectly with my childhood impression of Hunterdon County, but what was this about the death of the egg business? Isn't that just a little dramatic? I mean, I'd had a Taylor ham, egg and cheese that morning for breakfast. Obviously, this warranted a bit more research once we got back to Hidden New Jersey headquarters.

Our usual sources gave but a hint of information. Published a few years after the auction's founding, the Flemington chapter of The WPA Guide to 1930s New Jersey noted that the auction had started in 1930 to ensure the county's poultry farmers could attract better prices for their wares than they presumably could by seeking buyers independently. More research revealed that the auction had operated from the basement of one of the downtown stores before moving to a Park Avenue factory that had once housed the Empire Glass 七乐彩彩票app下载. Not long afterward, the Flemington Egg Auction expanded to live chickens and other livestock, eventually becoming a model for other agricultural cooperative auctions around the country七乐彩彩票登录.

That was just the start. These days, the big Mid-Atlantic chicken states are Delaware and Maryland, but poultry was big business for New Jersey in the early- and mid-20th century. More than 1200 egg and livestock producers participated in the Flemington Auction in the late 1940s, and Hunterdon County wasn't even the largest poultry producer in the state. By 1956, sales of meat chickens and eggs accounted for nearly a third of all farm cash receipts, and we were fifth among all states in egg production. The Egg Auction alone was pulling in about $2 million a year.

Not long afterward, the tide turned, as oversupply and grain prices led egg producers out of the marketplace. Undoubtedly, improved transportation systems made it easier for lower-cost southern factory farms to ship fresh product to New Jersey at competitive prices, too. Maybe the egg business didn't die, but its New Jersey division wasn't doing very well. Farmers around the state, Hunterdon included, were discovering their land was worth more to developers than it would ever be if they continued producing eggs. Starved by a lack of suppliers, the Flemington Auction closed in 1976.

Its property festooned with painted rooster statues, the Old Egg Auction building got us thinking about evolution -- not just the fate of the egg industry, but the old chicken-and-egg question. In Flemington, the egg was clearly sold at the auction before chickens ever came before the gavel. Will it ever come back to roost? That's a debate for another day.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Striker to the line! Base ball with the Elizabeth Resolutes

Visit any good-sized county park on a summer Saturday, and you're bound to see a game or two of baseball on the sandlot diamonds. If you're really lucky, you'll run into one that makes you wonder if you've just stepped onto the Field of Dreams.

Well... maybe your thoughts will land a little earlier in history than that, to about 150 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped by Rahway River Park in Rahway to watch a game between the 七乐彩彩票app下载 team and the visiting Brooklyn Atlantics. Unlike the other teams playing nearby, these gentlemen were dressed in baggy uniforms and high-legged stirrups. They play a game called 'base ball' (that space between the syllables makes all the difference), following rules that differ from those most of us grew up with.

The first thing that struck me a little odd was the lineup. I got there in time to hear the Resolutes' manager reel off the batting order to his team.  "Batting fourth... batting fifth..." Okay, nothing unusual there. "Batting eighth... batting ninth... batting tenth... batting eleventh..." Huh? No designated hitter here, but apparently more players approach the plate than actually play defense at any given time.

Second, equipment is very basic: a bat, a ball, 七乐彩彩票app下载 plate and three bases. Players don't use gloves for batting or fielding, and the catcher wears no protective mask or chest padding. The top hat and vest-wearing umpire had a cane, but I never figured out why.

Third, the game is fast paced, especially when judged against today's professional matches. Pitchers throw to the plate virtually as soon as they receive the ball from the catcher, and there's no delay in returning the ball to the pitcher after a strike is called. If the umpire detects any excess time being taken, he'll hurry the game along with a call of "play ball!" This definitely is not the kind of sport where you can look away and expect not to miss anything.

Oh, and the batter? He's a striker, and he's called to bat with the exhortation, "Striker to the line!"

So what's the deal with these guys, and why the unusual club name?

The 21st century Elizabeth Resolutes are members of the Vintage Base Ball Association and honor a team of the same name that played in New Jersey between 1866 and 1878. Starting as amateurs, the 19th century team won the state championship in 1870 and decided to turn pro in 1872, becoming New Jersey's only participant in the national Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Apparently, though, the team's amateur days were their most successful, and they disbanded after just a few years of professional play.

Today's Resolutes are just one of many base ball teams competing on the East Coast, joining the  as New Jersey's two vintage clubs. Besides playing matches in local parks, they add sporting flavor to events that commemorate America's past, like Civil War reenactments and history festivals around the region. Check the Resolutes  for upcoming games -- they're definitely worth checking out.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Need true north? You might find it at your county seat.

In front of the old Hunterdon County Courthouse in Flemington, two curious granite obelisks stand, with thick oxidized metallic disks atop them. They're about 100 feet apart, and the one closer to the street corner bears a shield with the words "True Meridian 1883."

Ivan and I came upon these curious markers last month. They bear no explanation, no historical markers, and until we found the shield, we thought they might be fancy hitching posts for wagons. On further examination, and noticing the arrow etched on the top of one of the metallic discs, we knew these were utilitarian objects of a different sort.

Put together the location (the county seat) and the geographic term (meridian), and you could surmise that the obelisks have something to do with surveying, measurement or standards setting. You'd be absolutely right. After I got 七乐彩彩票app下载, I did a little research and luckily found the of how and why these markers came to be.

Before the days of global positioning satellites, surveyors counted on a number of mechanical instruments to find true north, and, by extension, property boundaries and mapped points. Trouble was, true north by their instruments wasn't always true north. Compasses can be compromised by other magnetic points in the Earth, and they're not all calibrated properly. Thus, measurements could vary from surveyor to surveyor, and they could even change from year to year. Coming to a commonly agreed-upon perpetual calibration standard for true north would go a long way toward clearing any confusion among land owners.

Inconsistencies like these were apparently frequent and troubling enough for the New Jersey State Legislature to act on a solution. In 1863 they deemed that a pair of true meridian markers be set at each county courthouse in the state, providing an easily-found tool for surveyors to regularly check the accuracy of their compasses. By law, every surveyor was required to set up his equipment on the meridian obelisk and record the magnetic declination readings at the county courthouse. (For those of us who didn't major in geography, magnetic declination is the difference between true north ("top" of the earth's axis) and magnetic north (the direction a compass needle points). I'd figure that having the measurement standard right there would prevent any monkeying around, as the heavy, immovably-placed markers were impervious to theft and vandalism.

The thing I find amazing is that they got the standard setting right. Back in the day, surveyors used celestial observation to set 'north,' which apparently took some time and calculation. The law required the county meridians to be set within one minute -- a sixtieth of a degree -- of true north. My GPS is on the blink and I don't have any other navigational devices, so I wasn't able to test the accuracy of the Flemington markers, but I have to believe they're true.

March 18 starts National Surveyors Week, so it's possible you might find some interesting events at or near any of the county true meridians. Stop by an old county courthouse to find out, and even if you don't find a surveyor, take a moment to face true north.