General Philemon Dickinson’s Hermitage and Washington’s Crossing

The Hermitage, Trenton, in 2018. Source: TCM

Philemon Dickinson,  called “one of the truest patriots of the revolution” by historian William Stryker, was from a wealthy family that owned land in several states, but he chose to establish a country estate, which he called the Hermitage, at a site outside the town of Trenton, New Jersey.  He bought the property, which included a house and barns, in July of 1776.

Not long after he bought the property, Hessian troops seized the building and established a picket there, which guarded the approach to Trenton from the north. Dickinson, who was a general in the New Jersey militia, was stationed across the river in Yardley, where he could observe the Hessians occupying his home. After crossing the Delaware on Christmas night, American troops marched past the Hermitage on their way to Trenton, driving the Hessians before them. General Dickinson, still stationed in Yardley, contributed to the effort by ordering the artillery to shell his own home; fortunately for his real estate, the effect was mostly symbolic.

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The c. 1721 Trent House, Trenton, New Jersey

Trent House. View of South elevation. Source: TCM

The Trent House was built around 1721 (although a plaque on its wall puts the date at 1719) by William Trent, after whom New Jersey’s state capital is named.  It replaced an earlier house built by Mahlon Stacy.

The house was modified and expanded over the next 200 years. In the 1930s, a WPA project removed the later additions, uncovering the brick well and  restoring the house to its original appearance.

The Trent House prior to the removal of the eastern wing and greenhouse. The well was located beneath this addition. Source: Library of Congress/Historic American Buildings Survey

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“Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy

Life Magazine cover from 1926, by John Held, Jr. Source: Washington University in St. Louis.

In the 1920s, John Held, Jr., became famous for his drawings in Life, Vanity Fair, and other magazines that enshrined the iconic flapper image: lean and leggy, with beaded necklace swinging as she danced the Charleston with her companion, the round-headed, pencil-necked, Joe College.

The “tall, dark and tweedy” (Shuttleworth 1965) artist had come to New York City from Utah in 1912, where he found work as a commercial artist. As America entered World War I, John Held would take on another, clandestine, responsibility. Continue reading ““Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy”

Radiotelephone Service to Europe and Beyond: The Pole Farm in Lawrence, New Jersey

Paramaribo, Willemstad: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.
Last Pole Standing, viewed from the Reed/Bryan farm.

The original telephone system connected phones by copper wire strung up on poles. These “land-lines” faced a problem when confronted with obstacles like the Atlantic ocean, so it was not possible to connect the phone systems of distant countries. In the 1920s, AT&T developed a way of using short wave radio to transmit telephone signals over long distances without wires. In 1928, AT&T bought several farms in Lawrence, New Jersey, cleared the land, and began building a vast antenna array for trans-Atlantic telephone calls. The facility, officially called the American Telegraph & Telephone International Radio Telephone Transmission Station, was only responsible for calls originating in the United States. A separate facility in Netcong, New Jersey, received incoming calls from overseas.

The Lawrence station became known as the Pole Farm because the rhombic antennas that AT&T installed at the site were arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern on wooden poles up to ten stories tall. Each antenna covered 10 acres and connected New Jersey and the rest of the U.S.A. with a single city in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, or South America. Hundreds of these poles were arranged over the 800 acre facility. Open areas between the poles were leased to farmers, who had to plow around the many antennas.

Fewer than 50 calls were made on an average day in 1929, in part because a three-minute call to England cost over thirty dollars. The station, however, allowed almost instantaneous communication across the Atlantic Ocean (once trained telephone operators had arranged the connection). By the 1960s, however, international calls were more affordable and over 16,000 telephone calls were transmitted daily through the Pole Farm.

The Pole Farm shut down in 1975, replaced by undersea cables and satellites. Where once there were hundreds of wooden poles, there is now only one. That pole, which once transmitted phone calls to Israel, survived because the farmhouse next to it used it as a lightning rod.

The last pole.

Two buildings, imaginatively named Building One and Building Two, bracketed the antenna field. Both buildings have been demolished, but a memorial to the facility, built over Building One, includes a large concrete and stone map set into the ground, showing the layout of the antennas around the time of World War II. Each antenna is labeled with the city to which it transmitted phone calls.

Berlin, Reykjavik, Moscow, London: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.

The Pole Farm is now part of the Mercer Meadows county park and features restored grasslands, nature trails, and interpretive signs.

Reference:

Yearley, Alexandra
2013 “Pole Farm” remembered in Mercer Meadows plans. https://communitynews.org/2013/02/01/pole-farm-remembered-in-mercer-meadows-plans/

The Kaleva Incident and the Death of Henry Antheil, Jr.


Antheil Family Tombstone, Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, NJ

The name Henry Antheil, Jr, is on a tombstone in Riverview Cemetery, but he is not buried there. Henry, the younger brother of avant-garde composer George Antheil, was a Trenton, New Jersey native who joined the U.S. Foreign service as a cipher clerk and was posted in Helsinki, Finland, at the beginning of World War II. Henry Antheil, Jr., could be considered an early American casualty of both World War II and the Cold War.

Henry Antheil, Jr. Source: Killed in Finland. Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/2006680357/

As the Nazis advanced on Paris, the Soviet Union moved towards taking over the Baltic country of Estonia. On June 14, 1940, the 27 year old Antheil was sent to pick up several diplomatic pouches from the American legation in Estonia’s capital. He then board a Finnish commercial airplane, the Kaleva, to return to Finland. Less than ten minutes after the Kaleva took off from Estonia, two Soviet bombers intercepted it and shot it out of the sky. Almost immediately, a Soviet submarine arrived at the crash location and seized the diplomatic pouches. There were no survivors. The plane has never been recovered. Continue reading “The Kaleva Incident and the Death of Henry Antheil, Jr.”

Touring Riverview Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey

Trenton’s Riverview Cemetery has its origins in a Quaker Burying Ground established overlooking the Delaware River in 1685. This was later incorporated into the Riverview Cemetery when it was created in 1858.

Mysterious door references Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven”
Her Last Words. “O Lord Help my Spirit Heavenward.”

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Site of the First (Mostly) Complete Dinosaur Skeleton: Haddonfield, New Jersey

In 1858, William Parker Foulke was shown some large bones that had been dug out of a marl pit in Haddonfield, New Jersey, two decades earlier. Foulke and Joseph Leidy then dug up more bones from the site and named the dinosaur Hadrosaurus foulkii. Some earlier, more fragmented dinosaur remains had been found earlier in the nineteenth century, but Hadrosaurus was the first more or less complete dinosaur skeleton.

The original dig site is now in a park in Haddonfield. A plaque, interpretive sign, and a picnic table with toy dinosaurs you can play with commemorate the find. A statue of Hadrosaurus can be found a few minutes away in downtown Haddonfield.

Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research

An eyewitness account of trapping passenger pigeons in New Jersey in the early 1800s is one of only two publications by the woman who founded one of the premier paleontological museums in America.

In 1927, a short communication was published in the journal The Condor that quoted a letter from John Thomas Waterhouse to his parents back in England. Waterhouse described how the New Jerseyans hunted passenger pigeons using nets and guns. Continue reading “Annie Alexander’s Contribution to Passenger Pigeon Research”