About fifty years ago, in the 1960s, my brothers and I attended the Bedminster Township School in Bedminster, New Jersey, seen above in the 1950s. Recently I wrote a series of articles about the school on my blog, which begin HERE. During the research and writing process, my long-time friend and Bedminster schoolmate Tim and I were able to contact a few members of our grade-school class, and at some point the idea of a reunion was suggested. Among the group of us that were corresponding regularly now by email or on Facebook, many either still lived in the central New Jersey area, or had family who did. A plan was made, and last Saturday, July 12th, some of us got together.
We gathered at the Clarence Dillon Library’s Local History Room in Bedminster, where Tim and I had done some of our research. Attending were myself, Brent Franklin, Catherine (Cathy) Downey, Pru (Hobbie) Cuper, Tim W, and Curtis Vreeland. Several others had planned to attend but were unable to because of last-minute situations: Roxie Blazure, Bruce DeBacco and Robert (Bob) Schork. But, with my wife Ellen and Brent’s wife Sharon, we made a group of eight, and we had a fine time. We spent an hour and more in the library first, getting to know each other again, looking at old photos, and reviving old school memories. Tim and I have stayed in touch, and the two of us had dinner with Curtis a few months ago, but the rest of the group had not seen each other in decades. I was happy to learn that we all have some good memories of our grade school days and each other. From the library we continued on through an eventful day that had been planned largely by Curtis and myself, with help from the rest.
The school as we knew it back when consisted of an Old Building (the one in the first photo above) and a New Building, erected in 1958. The New Building is gone, but the Old Building survives today as part of an office complex, Schoolhouse Village. It’s the larger building shown here, the smaller one in front is new. Inside it’s all different, but the outside of our former school looks much the same, especially in the front.
Here we are at the front entrance, very much as we remember it, though with new landscaping and windows. We walked through the lower floor, but only the hallway brought back a glimmer of memory, it’s all new and shiny inside. Some other landmarks remain outside: part of the recreation field, a few of the houses next door, and the war memorials, now moved to a corner of the property and on new brick walls.
From there we walked a few blocks west on Main Street to Country Picnic to get take-out lunch sandwiches. I had actually placed a lunch order with them a week earlier, but when we arrived, they had no evidence of it. Just as well, as if they’d made up the order, there would have been extra sandwiches. Instead, we each just got what we wanted, and they were very fast making them, we didn’t wait long at all. Next we regrouped at the parking lot behind Schoolhouse Village and carpooled to our next tour location in the nearby town of Pluckemin.
This building was once the Pluckemin School, housing the Kindergarten, First and Second Grades for all Bedminster students until 1958 when those classes moved to the New Building in Bedminster. When my family and I arrived in Pluckemin in 1960, it was already closed, so I never went to school here.
The school is now The Center for Contemporary Art, with a gallery and workshops. Curtis and I had arranged a tour with Elie Porter Trubert, the Executive Director, who took this photo of the four former students of the school: Curtis Vreeland, Brent Franklin, Cathy Downey and Pru Cuper with myself.
Inside, Elie (in the green top) talks to Cathy and Pru while my wife Ellen looks on. Much has changed since it was a school, of course, but some things were familiar to the former students, including this floor upstairs, the pressed tin ceilings, and the old staircase in the front leading down to the basement. This upstairs room was part of the Kindergarten back when. Stories were told about having to go down alone to the bathrooms in the basement, a dark, spooky place.
Among the photos brought to the reunion was one of the 1956 Pluckemin School Kindergarten class, saved by Pru’s mom, who even listed most of the students on the back! A larger version is HERE. The teacher was Miss DeVoe, who Cathy and Pru remember as large and strict. Here are the student names we have. In the front row: Pru Hobbie, Brent Franklin, Bobby Sue Marsh, David Humphreys, Joann Graf, Owen Jackson, Susan Gary, Harlan Frost. Second row: Patty Haulenbeek, Tommy ___, Julie Cimosz, Roxie Blazure, Frank Robertson, Richard Rodenbach, Cathy Downey, George Ashmun and Donna Timpson. Third row: Anne Yeager, Alfred Herzog, Curtis Vreeland, Romie Hoyt, Dana Christian, Bruce DeBacco, Steve Jackson, Claytona ___, and Glen Hough.
So, not only are four of our group in the photo, but twelve more were still in the class when I joined it in third grade. A wonderful and historic find that I’m sure our classmates will enjoy seeing.
After our school tour, we had a picnic lunch in the covered pavilion in back of the Art Center. Our sandwiches from Country Picnic were great, and we had other things to eat and drink brought by the group. Tim provided the tablecloth, picnic tableware, and music: a boom box playing Top 40 hits from our school years. Go, Tim! More stories were told and an enjoyable time was had by all. Brent mentioned an incident I have no memory of where he defended me from some bullies in the school gym and got into a fight with them for it. Thanks for that, Brent! Another topic was, “What was your first live music concert?” Several people liked my own story of seeing The Mothers of Invention (with Frank Zappa) at the Fillmore East in New York City with classmate Maxine Dixon, where I was mocked for my poor choice of wardrobe, a very out-of-date Nehru jacket and large gold medallion. Maxine and I were embarrassed, but the concert was great. Personally I think that tale was well trumped by Curtis’ stories of attending Woodstock, the only one in the group who did.
Curtis’ friend Julie Henderson joined us for lunch. Here she and Curtis look at some of the documents I brought, like the autograph sheet from 6th grade seen below.
Collecting autographs from schoolmates was a fad at the time, and many of us cultivated signatures with fancy swirls and loops. Our music teacher, Mr. Ragno’s signature is also here, so perhaps this phone list was his idea. I know he was encouraging us to take up a musical instrument at the time. I tried clarinet and hated it.
After lunch, Brent and Sharon Franklin had to leave, so we said our goodbyes to them and headed on to the next part of our tour.
From the northern edge of Pluckemin, on Schley Mountain Road in The Hills housing development, a two-mile walking/biking trail runs north to Bedminster, and we had decided to walk it. We left our cars at a day care center nearby and headed out on a hot and muggy day, but with temperatures in the mid 80s, so not too bad. It was partly cloudy, so we had some shade at times from that, and from trees. Curtis knows the path well, and here he’s showing us the trail map. At this end, much of the trail is on elevated walkways that wind up and over all the busy roads here where Route 202-206 meets Route 287. At first all we heard was lots of traffic…
…but later the path moved away from the highways and into the woods, along the North Branch of the Raritan River, through areas we’d not seen in a very long time, if ever. It was a fine chance for more conversation. Cathy is a naturopath specializing in herbal medicines, so she kept finding and telling us about plants she’d worked with. I put names to some of the birds we saw and heard. Everyone told stories.
Halfway we took a side trail up and over the highways again to River Road Park on the west side of Route 202-206, where we had a look at the historic Jacobus Vanderveer House. It wasn’t open to visitors, but it was still fun to see, and we looked in the windows. Home to General Knox, artillery commander of the American Army in the Revolutionary War when that division was quartered in Pluckemin in the winter of 1778-79, the house has been restored in recent years. Curtis lived nearby growing up, and he remembers it as a run-down wreck being lived in by the master of the Essex Foxhounds, with all the hounds in residence.
We rested there a while in the shade, and told more stories. One of the topics became, “What were you doing during the Vietnam War protests in our college years?” Tim had the best story. He was attending Harvard at the time, and his dorm room looked down on the scene of a large protest gathering. His room was used by the school radio station to do on-the-spot reports. Cathy also had a good story about her participation in a Greenpeace protest in New York City.
Soon we continued back over the highway and north on the main trail toward Bedminster. We were interested to see that part of the trail is named for our former school principal Jacob Snyder! Not sure how that happened, but nice to see him remembered there.
The path emerges from the woods at the NEW Bedminster School, just south of the one we attended, but much larger. Then it goes into the woods again briefly before rejoining Elm Street next to where we had left our cars.
One topic that often comes up when remembering playing in our schoolyard are some large concrete drainage pipes someone thought were appropriate for kids then to play on. And going through that last bit of woods just south of our old school, we came across this one! We don’t know if it’s from our school playground, but it could be. Today you have to wonder, what were they thinking?
We rested for a few minutes by our cars, quite hot now, and then headed up Elm Street to Main Street, and east. We walked past this house, where our classmate Robert (Bob) Schork lived, the only classmate who lived that close to the school. Bob had hoped to join us, so I took a picture of his old house and emailed it to him. Bob wrote, “Yes it is our house. It looks like there were two additions to it. The big evergreen tree by the porch is gone. When I was sent to my room for punishment, I would climb out the window onto the porch roof and down the tree to escape.” Thanks, Bob, good story!
Finally we ended our hike at the Far Hills Pharmacy, which has a small soda fountain counter selling delicious Giffords Ice Cream from Maine. The root beer floats were excellent!
Back at our cars behind the school, we said farewell to Pru, who had to leave to spend time with her mom. It was wonderful to reconnect with Pru, one of my best friends from grades 4 to 6. Then we all got into Curtis’s car, and he gave us a tour of the back roads of Bedminster, pointing out the former homes of some of our classmates, as well as much grander ones owned by people like Donald Trump these days.
We stopped to look around the Lamington Black Cemetery on Cowperthwaite Road, where in early days slaves were buried, and later black servants at the big estates. This is something I’d heard of but never visited. Lately local Boy Scouts have put a lot of work into the Cemetery, clearing and cleaning it up. It’s a sobering place to visit. Of the 97 graves, only 36 have names identified for them, including some Civil War casualties.
One of our last stops was the house Cathy grew up in. Here she’s taking a picture. The current owner of the house came over, and he and Cathy had a long talk, which they both enjoyed. The house had been moved during the construction of Route 287, but seems to have survived well. We also drove by the former homes of myself and Curtis.
It had been a full day, and after returning to where we’d left our cars, we all parted after hugs and smiles and assurances we’d all stay in touch, and perhaps visit each other in the future. A terrific experience, one I’ll remember always.
Other posts that might interest you are on the REMEMBERED page of my blog.