My previous article served as an introduction to the subject of the interesting buildings on Flemington’s Main Street that all feature an arch in the middle of their front roofline. Now let’s focus on each of them individually, starting with:
The Rea Building, 50 Main Street
This building on the east side of Main Street at the corner with Bloomfield Avenue has long been known as the Rea Building because it was built by George A. Rea. It has also been known as the Clock Tower Building, and for good reason. You can see the clock tower in the photo above. Fortunately, the building’s current tenant, Dave Norton, who took that photograph, was inspired to get up on the roof, producing this stunning view of the clock tower as well as Flemington’s Main Street.
What is especially valuable about this picture is that it shows how the roof arches blend into the rest of the roof. Unfortunately, the clock itself is not operating. Dave tells me the parts have been saved, so all that is needed now is an expert clockmaker.
Construction of Roof Arches
Being neither a carpenter nor an architect, just a lover of old buildings, I was clueless about how builders went about creating those arches. So, I got in touch with builder, Dan Apgar, and architect, Chris Pickell. They both informed me that to get wood to bend in such a graceful way one used a steam machine. I thought this would involve some kind of factory, but no, the machine was probably brought onto the building site. Dan wrote:
Most likely the main roof was framed first and then the arch front was framed with some wood that they steamed and bent. After they got the arch done, they could frame back to the main roof with shorter rafter pieces. I’m sure it was very time consuming to lay out but once the wood is wet/steamed and bent on a jig that forms it the rest isn’t too bad.
Chris Pickell agreed and noted that “Today, [the steaming] is sometimes done in a long plywood box, built on the jobsite. After an hour or two in a steambath, the soft & hot wood is quickly hoisted into place and well nailed into position, where it dries. So, no factory, its best done on site.”
Given the number of buildings with this feature, the builder must have gotten quite efficient at it.
Speaking of Builders
A research project I have been meaning to pursue for some time is a survey of Hunterdon occupations in the 19th century. The question of who built those arched roofs gave me a good reason to make a start on it. I pulled up the 1870 census records for Raritan Township and looked through the occupations of those people who showed up on the pages for Flemington residents. (In 1870, Flemington was not a separate municipality.) From this I learned that there was no shortage of carpenters. (No one identified as a builder; that designation must have come later. Keep in mind that these occupations were provided by the residents themselves.) There were 28 carpenters in the Flemington area, along with one apprentice (Horatio Case), and two who “works for carpenter.” In addition, George Forker identified as a “retired carpenter.” Here are the names of the Flemington-area carpenters in 1870:
John Applegate ‘works for carpenter,’ William Applegate, Alexander Arrison, Wm S. Buchanan ‘works for carpenter,’ Horatio Case ‘apprentice to carpenter,’ John B. Case, Richard Choyce, Peter W Cole, George Forker ‘retired carpenter,’ John Forker, Wilson Forker, Charles F. Hart, G. Barton Higgins, James Holcombe, Peter T. Lane, Wm S. Large, Garret Mathis, John Painter, William Percival, Ransalear D. Runkle, John Sergeant, William Sergeant, William E. Sheppard, William B. Swallow, William VanDeventer, Ferdinand VanFleet, Hiram G. Voorhees, George Webster, John Webster, and Garret Wyckoff.
In addition to carpenters, other occupations related to building construction were hod carriers (3 in Flemington), three who worked in brickyards, three lumber dealers plus one who “works in lumber yard,” twelve masons plus one mason’s apprentice, one who worked in a marble yard, and three who worked for stone cutters.
One occupation that did not show up on the 1870 Flemington section of the Raritan census was that of clockmaker. There were two Flemington clockmakers I knew of, but they had died before Rea’s building got built, Richard Hooley c.1775 – 1842 and James Callis c.1802-1863 in particular. As it happens, both of them owned the same lot very near the Rea property.
And then there was George A. Rea’s father, George Rea, Sr. As James P. Snell wrote in his history of Hunterdon County (p. 341), George Rea, Sr. of Pittstown was “a clock- and watch-maker by trade, carrying on that occupation at Princeton, Trenton, and later, at Flemington, after his removal to the latter place. He finally gave up the business, and in the latter part of his life devoted himself to farming and milling, having erected a grist-mill on Sand Brook, where he lived and died.” And that’s the problem. He died in 1838, long before his son built his clock tower.
Perhaps a close examination of those clock parts will reveal the name of the clockmaker.
Owners of the Rea Lot
William R. Moore
The lot on which the Rea building stands was purchased by George A. Rea for $2,575 on March 30, 1857 from the executors of the estate of William R. Moore.1
William Runkle Moore (1810-1856) was the son of Flemington tavernkeeper, Elnathan Moore, and Mary Runkle. (Elnathan Moore’s tavern was not the Union Hotel. It was located on the future site of today’s Flemington Presbyterian Church.) Not only was the Runkle family connected with the Moores, but also with the Rea family. I hope to publish both family trees soon, but there is always a little more research to be done.
In 1839, William R. Moore married Mary Ann Mattison (1815-1847), daughter of John Bodine Mattison and Mary Godley. After having four children, Mary Ann died at the young age of 31. About a year later, William R. Moore married Mary Ann’s sister, Catharine Elizabeth Mattison (1819-1852). She had one child, who died an infant in 1851, and Catharine died the next year, only 33 years old. Altogether, a tragic family.
William R. Moore was a “stage proprietor.” He was owner of the White House Stage Line which daily ran south to Philadelphia and north to New York by way of White House in Readington Twp. His lot on Flemington’s Main Street was the location for passengers and freight to get aboard. My copy is not very good, but this detail from the Cornell map of 1851 shows “Weigh” next to Wm R. Moore, just north of the property owned by James Blackwell. Presumably this meant a weigh station for goods being transported on Moore’s stages.
In the 1850 census, Moore’s family included his wife Catherine and children Edwin, Mary, Joseph and George. Also living with him were Richard Keiff, “stage driver,” and Bridget Conway, both immigrants from Ireland. And next door was Richard E. Hope (c.1805-1880), also a stage proprietor. Richard Hope’s wife was Adaline Runkle, daughter of Henry R. Runkle & Elizabeth Rea, and, as it turns out, first cousin of William Runkle Moore.
Hope had purchased a property in Flemington owned by newspaper editor George C. Seymour in 1847, on the west side of Main Street.2 In 1859, he ran for Sheriff in a field of six Democratic candidates. He came in a close second to Robert Thatcher. Perhaps that was enough to decide the Hopes to leave Flemington. By the time of the 1860 census, they were living in New Brunswick, where Hope operated a hotel.
Prior to taking on the stage coach business, William R. Moore was also a tavernkeeper, miller and storekeeper. An advertisement in the Hunterdon Gazette dated April 20, 1842 declared: “Flour, Feed, and Leather STORE. THE subscriber [Moore], having discontinued the Tavern business, and having converted his house into a Flour, Feed, and Leather Store, . . .”
These occupations put him in touch with a lot of people and consequently, made him a good candidate for political office. In 1855, he ran for the Assembly as a candidate for the American Party which organized in Hunterdon County that year. Its members were primarily old Whigs and others who opposed the Democratic Party. It was generally anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic; it was also anti-slavery, or at least opposed to Congressional domination by slave-holding states. At an organizing meeting a central committee was created, with William R. Moore one of its members. On October 31, he was named the party’s candidate for Assembly. The Newark Mercury approved of this nomination. On October 31st it published this endorsement:
“The Americans of the Fourth Assembly District of Hunterdon have nominated William R. Moore for the Legislature. Mr. M. was formerly a Democrat, but of late years has acted independently. He is a man of worth and influence, and if elected, as we think he will be, and as we are certain, he ought to be, will confer more than ordinary credit upon his constituents.”
Moore was defeated by the Democratic candidate, John P. Rittenhouse, as described in my article on the politics of the 1850s, “Political Turmoil.”
Moore did not get discouraged. He ran again on the American Party ticket in the spring of 1856 for Raritan Township Committee, and like all the other candidates of that party, won his seat. The Hunterdon Gazette was ecstatic. Unfortunately, one month later, on May 21, 1856, Wm R. Moore dropped dead. His obituary in the Gazette noted that his illness was sudden, that “he contracted a violent cold, which soon settled upon his lungs, and affected them to such a degree as to defy all the efforts of medical skill.” But during his life he was highly regarded, as is shown by the rest of his obituary:
Mr. Moore resided in Flemington from the period of his birth and was for many years previous to his death regarded as one of the most useful and enterprising citizens of the village. In his business relations, promptness, probity, and decision characterized him; while his social qualities were such as to gain for him the esteem and respect of all with whom he came in contact. His demise has left a void which will not easily be filled. The funeral, which took place on Friday, was attended by a large number of our citizens.
Moore’s executors, Jonas Moore and Abraham N. VanFleet, were directed to sell his property. On June 25, 1856, the Hunterdon Gazette announced:
Our friend G. [George] F. Crater, of the “Union House,” has purchased the “White House Stage Line,” owned by the late Wm. R. Moore, and will hereafter have charge of all the business connected therewith. It is unnecessary for us to add, that with good horses and stages, a prompt and experienced manager, and a careful and accommodating driver, this will be found a safe, expeditious, and agreeable mode of conveyance for travelers by the White House route.
On March 30, 1857, Moore’s executors sold his Main Street lot to George A. Rea at a public sale for $2,575.3
William R. Moore had acquired that quarter-acre lot on Main Street in 1845 from Thomas Cherry for $1500, which shows how much Moore had improved the lot. (I have underlined the names of each of the owners in the chain of title, working my way backwords.)
Thomas Cherry (1801-1861), son of James Cherry & Mary Kyple, married Catharine Haver about 1840. He had purchased the Flemington property before his marriage, in 1837, from Samuel Nailor for $1200.4 Nailor had to sell because he had become a bankrupt, which is not surprising considering this was the year of the great Panic of 1837.
Samuel Naylor/Nailor (c.1800 – ?) was a Flemington tailor, who married Anne Sutphin in 1824. Anne (1803-1833) was the daughter of Derrick Sutphin, Jr. and Deborah Low. In 1831, Samuel and Ann, living in Hillsborough Township, sold their quarter-acre lot in Flemington to Abraham Gray of Flemington for $1300. The property was described as a “house and lot” that Naylor had bought from John H. Anderson in 1830. But two months later, Abraham and Mary Gray sold the lot to Peter Swick for the same $1300.5 In 1833, Peter Swick sold the lot to Nathaniel G. Mattison.6
The problem is that back in 1830, Samuel Naylor gave a mortgage on the Flemington lot to Simeon Pownall. The mortgage went unpaid and Pownall’s heirs went to court. The court ordered that the property be sold at a public sale to benefit the creditors, and the highest bidder was Thomas Cherry (above). This sale apparently voided the previous sales to Gray, Swick and Mattison.
As mentioned above, Samuel Nailor had purchased the quarter-acre lot on May 4, 1830 from John H. and Mary Anderson for $1300. The deed7 described the lot as located on “the great road or street leading through Flemington on the old line,” and bordering properties of Richard Hooley, the clockmaker, and John T. Blackwell. (That “old line” was the western boundary of a tract of 147 acres sold to David Eveland in the early 18th century by heirs of William Penn.)
The deed to Naylor also explained that John H. Anderson had purchased the lot only two months previously, on March 24, 1830, from Gershom and Ellen Lambert of Philadelphia. Lambert had purchased the quarter-acre lot back on Sept. 18, 1812, from Matthew Thompson for a negligible $8.50. Like Samuel Naylor, Matthew Thompson had gotten himself into debt and under court order, the Sheriff seized the property and offered it at public sale. Believe it or not, Lambert was the highest bidder!8 The sale was held at “Thompson’s Tavern,” but whether the tavern was located on the future Rea lot or elsewhere I have not determined.
Matthew Thomson had purchased a lot of half an acre from Dr. William Geary and wife Jane on Dec. 22, 1808 for $182.50.9 This deed identified its previous owner as Pierson Reading and wife Mary, with the lot located on the east side of “the main street through Flemington,” and bordering other land of Geary’s and of Robert Hooley. Hooley had also purchased his lot from Pierson & Mary Reading, on July 5, 1808, the same day that Dr. Geary bought his lot from the Readings.
Pierson Reading, who was living in Bloomsbury, Burlington County at the time of these sales, inherited his Flemington property from his father Joseph Reading, who died in 1806. I will stop there, hoping sometime in the future to write about the 18th century owners of Main Street Flemington’s properties.
It is time to return to George A. Rea and his family.
George Rea, Sr.
George A. Rea was the son of George Rea, Esq. and Elizabeth Runkle. This made him the younger brother of Runkle Rea (1804-1882), who was also prominent in the Flemington community.
There is a lot to say about George Rea, Sr. but none of it is relevant to the ownership of the Clock Tower lot. I will note, however, that at the time of George A. Rea’s birth in 1820, the Rea family was living on Main Street, Flemington near the tavern lot owned by Elnathan Moore. George Rea had purchased this jointly with Thomas Capner in 1818 and sold his share in 1834. In the meantime, the family had moved to a farm near Sand Brook. After Rea died in 1838 at the age of 64, his widow Elizabeth sold the mill and farm properties in Delaware Township. I have not found her in the 1840 census, but by 1850, she had moved to Readington Township to live with youngest child George A. Rea who was then 27 and operating a store there.
George Augustus Rea (1820-1892)
By 1856, George A. Rea had moved to Flemington. In that year he and Miller Kline, both residents of Raritan Township, purchased property in Flemington from Jacob and Jane Carkhuff.10 At the same time, “he purchased the shoe and leather business in which he was engaged until his last illness,” according to his obituary in the Hunterdon Republican of June 8, 1892. The paper did not say who sold it to him. But he wanted a good location for it, and in 1857 bought the Main Street lot from William R. Moore’s estate. This was the first of many many properties purchased by Rea, with the exception of two woodlots in Bethlehem Twp. that Rea had bought previously.
In addition to his active pursuit of real estate, Rea also got actively involved in local government. He was elected to the Raritan Township Committee in 1857, 58 and 59, serving with Atkinson J. Holcombe, among others, as a member of the Opposition Party.
By the time of the 1860 census, he was identified as a shoe and leather dealer, with property valued at $10,000. During the Civil War, he only bought one property but managed to sell four of them. After the war, he actively dealt in real estate, both within the village of Flemington and in surrounding townships.
In 1864, when he was 44 years old, George A. Rea married Lucretia F. Higgins (1833-1866), daughter of Judiah Higgins, Jr. and Charity Fisher of Flemington. The marriage only lasted two years; Lucretia was only 33 when she died. (Neither the Hunterdon Co. Democrat nor the Hunterdon Republican identified the cause of death in the obituaries they published.) This must have been a great tragedy for Rea because he never remarried, and thus remained childless.11
The Rea Building Gets Built
The Beers Atlas of 1873 shows Main Street and the property of “G. Rea” directly across from the County Hotel, bordered on the north by the harness shop & bakery belonging to Nathaniel G. Smith (what a combination!) and on the south the small office of Dr. W. H. Schenk. Just south of that is the building owned by John P. Blackwell which came to be known as Blackwell’s Row. Bloomfield Avenue, as we know it, does not yet exist.
On June 4, 1874, the Hunterdon Republican reported that
“George A. Rea has started to improve his property opposite the County House, in Flemington. The building he now occupies will be moved to the rear of the lot and a large brick building to be used as a residence and for various business purposes will be erected on the corner of Main Street and the new street just opened.”
That “new street” was Bloomfield Avenue. That new building was included in the Hunterdon Co. Cultural & Heritage Survey of 197912 with this description:
A 3-story, brick, Italianate structure dating from the mid-nineteenth century. The building has a squarish proportion with a flat roof accented by brackets and topped by an ornamented, wood cupola that has a clock on each of its 4 sides. The central bays of each side of the structure have segmentally arched pediments [my emphasis] with an oval window on the front façade. The 2nd and 3rd floor windows have segmentally arched brick hoods with stone keystones and sills. The ground floor has been altered with stucco panels and commercial storefronts.
It is interesting that the new street was created just when Rea was making major improvements to his property. No doubt Rea had something to do with it. One of the buildings that Rea moved back from Main St. is probably the one occupied today by Stryker’s Paint Store.
A Bank Moves In
It was not long after the Rea building was completed that a tenant took occupancy. It was the new bank in town—the Flemington National Bank. The Hunterdon Republican reported on March 23, 1876:
A new bank, “The Flemington National Bank,” will be located in the Rea’s building in a room formerly a shoe store. The officers are – President & Teller: Peter E. Emery; Vice President: John L. Jones and Cashier: Clarkson C. Dunham, who will resign as Cashier of the Hunterdon County Bank and be replaced by John B. Hopewell.
The Republican mentioned that the Flemington National Bank would occupy a space previously used as a shoe store. That was no doubt George A. Rea’s own shoe store. But even though he had to relocate his business to another part of his building, he carried on selling shoes and boots, as you can see from this advertisement in the Republican on June 6, 1878:
George A. Rea gives notice that he is a Dealer in Boots, Shoes and Leather. Wool, Hides, Calf and Sheep Skins bought for Cash or exchanged for Goods. Call at the new building under the Town Clock, opposite Force’s Hotel in Flemington.
Rea advertised regularly in the Hunterdon Republican, but he did not bother to update his ads. He always invited customers to “the new building under the Town Clock, opposite Force’s Hotel, Flemington.” Every January, the same ad, from 1882 up through 1893, when the building was no longer quite so new.
Rea seems to have had a yen for building. In November 1890, when he was 70 years old, he put up a residential structure on Broad Street. The Hunterdon Republican (Nov. 12, 1899) reported that carpenter John Webster had the contract. Actually, Rea had several houses built on Broad Street in the 1880s & 90s, and Webster probably built them all. It seems quite possible that Webster also put up the Clock Tower Building in 1874. He was counted as a Raritan Township carpenter in the 1870 census, age 46, with wife Mary and four sons.
When George A. Rea died on June 6, 1892, at the age of 71, his more remote heirs contested his will. It was worth fighting over as Rea, like many prosperous men in 19th century Hunterdon, had acquired a lot of real estate. On Dec. 19, 1894, the Republican carried an ad by Rea’s executors (Jacob R. Wert and Henry A. Fluck) listing twelve separate properties for sale.
On Jan. 2, 1895, The Republican reported that Rea’s executors had sold the Rea building on Main St., Flemington with the building on the rear of the property fronting on Bloomfield Ave., to Capt. John Shields, for $15,650.00. The deed was recorded on April 3, 1895.13
Capt. John Shields
I realize that 1895 is long after the fad for arched rooflines took hold in Flemington, but Capt. John Shields is far too interesting to ignore. He is, after all, the reason for the name Shields Avenue. (It runs north from Mine Street and ends at Capner Street. Bonnell Street starts at Park Ave. and ends in Shields Avenue.)
Shields was born in Clayton, Ireland to Patrick and Ann Shields in 1839. We know that sometime before 1846, the family emigrated to Mauch Chunk, in Carbon County, PA, for in that year they were naturalized—John, his parents, and his sister Anna Shields.14
When the Civil War began, Shields enlisted with the 53d Pennsylvania Volunteers. He was present at the battles of Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, the latter being the place where he was shot in the windpipe. According to his obituary, he was forced to wear a silver tube in his windpipe for many years. Despite that, he managed to return home, recover, and get married to Annie Curren.
Anna M. Curran was born in Mauch Chunck in 1845, not long after her parents, Cristy and Ann Curran, arrived from Ireland. It is quite possible that the parents of John Shields and of Anna Curren arrived in Mauch Chunck at the same time.
As for that bullet in the windpipe, it did not exit Shields’ body. Many years later, in 1898 when he complained of a sore shoulder, the bullet was found there, thanks to the new technology of X-rays. The bullet was removed, but the X-ray dose was a little too high, because subsequently Shields’ beard fell out.15
Success Building Railroads
After recovering from his war wound, John Shields got employment as a contractor for building railroads. This became a life-long career for him. By 1874, he concluded that Hunterdon County was a better place to carry on his business. Based on the location of his children’s births, the Shields were living in New Jersey by 1875. (His obituary stated he arrived in 1874.)
Shields worked at growing his business and the Hunterdon Republican regularly reported on the various contracts he received. By 1879 he was already being described as “the well-known railroad contractor of Flemington.” That year he got a contract to build the “Georgia Bay Branch of the Canadian Pacific Railroad,” through what the Republican called “a wild country, almost uninhabited.”
In 1885 Shields was building a 15-mile line near the Mississippi River. The next year he was building 18 miles of railroad in Illinois. In 1889 the Lehigh Valley R.R. hired him to build an extension from New York to Roselle, NJ. The Republican reported on three separate contracts in 1891, and another in 1896. The cap to his work was the contract awarded to his company in 1900 to do part of the work on the $36,000,000 “underground railway system in New York City. He also was working on “the great New York tunnel.”16 William G. Callis, editor of the Hunterdon Republican had nothing but praise for Shields’ work. On June 20, 1900, he wrote:
A Great Contractor. Our fellow townsman, Capt. John Shields, is one of the most extensive contractors in the country and his plant enables him to take hold of and accomplish work which few others can do. His present contract in the building of the New York underground railroad, has brought him prominently before the country in connection with that work, one of the most important ever undertaken in the United States. The Commercial and Financial World, of New York, in a recent article speaks of him as follows:
“. . . It is proper to say that Mr. Shields ranks as one of the leading and most responsible contractor for heavy and important work in this country and his operations have been of such a difficult and varied character as to fit him for anything in his line that may come along. He had done considerable work for the Lehigh Valley R. R.; the Pennsylvania West Shore; Delaware, Lackawanna & Western; Baltimore & Ohio; Illinois Central; Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburg; Philadelphia & Reading Railroads, etc. In these contracts there was included the construction of road beds, tunnels, bridges, viaducts, etc. Mr. Shields built a steel viaduct for the New York, Susquehanna & Western R. R., near Moosic, Lackawanna Co., PA, 1800 feet long and 50 feet in height. He also has done a large amount of work in Canada and throughout the West.”
What surprised me was that in all the entries for Shields in the Republican, not a one gave the name of Shields’ construction company.
Shields Real Estate
Shields began buying up properties as soon as he could afford to. Many of them were farms, like the 145-acre farm of Amos V. Hunt, two miles north of Flemington purchased in 1884 and the 218-acre farm of Philip Hoff near Baptistown bought in 1888. In 1899 the Republican reported that “Frederick Bohren, the milkman,” had rented a farm west of Flemington belonging to Capt. John Shields.
In addition to farmland, John Shields acquired lots in Flemington, especially along Mine Street. In 1889 he bought the lot that had been owned by Asa P. Hoagland located between the Rea lot and the Nathaniel G. Smith bakery & harness shop.17 It had once been owned by the clockmaker, James Callis, who with his brother John purchased it from Richard Hooley in 1843, when Thomas Cherry owned the adjacent Rea lot. It was part of the property owned by Pierson Reading back in 1808 when Reading sold the lot to Hooley.
Shields paid $4,775 for the lot, which made me wonder if he intended to use it for an office for his construction company. Unfortunately, I did not find a good early photograph of that stretch of Main Street, and today the buildings there are unremarkable. Back in 1845, the Hunterdon Gazette opined:
We observe with pleasure, that Mr. [James] Callis, our newly appointed Postmaster, has erected a new building, adjoining his Jewelry establishment, into which, we understand he intends removing the Post Office. This is a decided improvement, and will be a source of gratification, we know to a number of our citizens— particularly to the female portion thereof.
In 1892, the Hunterdon Republican noted that “The SHIELDS building, opposite the County Hotel, has been painted.”
Community and Politics
I was also surprised to see that despite his busy work life, Shields was an active participant in local affairs. In 1876, while the Flemington National Bank was still housed in the Rea building, Shields was named one of the Bank Directors. Apparently, he lost faith in that bank, for by 1884 he had left the board and become a director of the Hunterdon County National Bank, where he continued as a Director for many years.
Meanwhile, in 1885 he was elected to the Flemington Board of Commissioners and chosen to be board president. He was re-elected in 1886. In 1888, he was named a delegate to the State Republican Convention, and in 1889 named to the County’s Republican executive committee, and again in 1890. (This active involvement with the local Republican party explains why the Hunterdon Republican was so impressed by him.)
In 1891, the Republican Party nominated Shields for State Senator, but he lost to the Democrat, William H. Martin. The Republican commented: “Capt. John Shields made a fine run, cutting the usual Democratic majority down by one-half.” Shields was nominated again for State Senator in 1894, but again lost to the Democrat.18
In addition to supporting the Republican party, John Shields also supported efforts to improve life in Flemington. Something called “The Hunterdon Club of Flemington” was organized in December 1889 with Shields on the Board of Directors. Unfortunately, the newspaper neglected to explain what the purpose of the club was, but I suspect it became the “Improvement Association,” which held an organizational meeting on January 15, 1891, at the office of Abraham C. Hulsizer in Flemington, at which Lambert Humphrey, owner of the Union Hotel, and Capt. John Shields were added to the committee.
In May 1893, there was an interesting political contest in Flemington for “Commissioner,” which was the equivalent of a township committee member. The race was between those in favor of sewers and those opposed. The sewer party won, which included John Shields. Shields was also among those petitioning for a franchise to create a new water works in Flemington, to compete with the original one created by John C. Hopewell; other applicants were George H. Large, Edward B. Allen, and Firman R. Williamson.
Support for municipal improvements in Flemington did not prevent Shields from also participating in Hunterdon’s rural activities. In particular was his membership on the board of the Hunterdon County Agricultural Society in 1890 and 1891.
John Shields, Civil War Veteran
In 1889, John Shields, as a member of the Lambert Boeman Post of the G. A. R., became a delegate to the G.A.R.’s National Encampment. Andrew T. Connet, another Civil War Veteran and later Flemington merchant, often accompanied Shields to the various veterans’ events. In 1894, Shields was reelected to the office of Department Commander and Andrew T. Connet was appointed Assistant Adjutant General.
Perhaps the high point in his G.A.R. activities came in May 1899, when Shields and Connet attended the unveiling of the President Grant monument in Philadelphia and at the dedication ceremony Shields was given a seat on the platform with President McKinley.
That year, Shields was appointed to the Board of Managers of the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home at Vineland, NJ, and was later made Commandant.
The Clock Tower Building
After purchasing the Clock Tower Building from George A. Rea’s executors, Shields had the building repainted, as reported in the Hunterdon Republican on Oct. 16, 1895. Two years later the paper took note of Samuel P. Kinney renting one of the buildings on the Shields lot where he intended to open a restaurant. In 1898, Shields got serious about improvements. First, he had a “granolithic walk” laid in front of the building, and then in December he had “a steam heating plant” installed.
Back in 1891, the Flemington National Bank moved out of the Rea building and into a brand-new building across the street built by William Richards.19 This left a vacant space and in 1899, Shields found a way to fill it and get a reliable income for the property—he leased a part of it to the U. S. Postal Service.
Usually, tenants and landlords do not record their agreements with the county clerk. But when you’re an arm of the federal government, I suppose things are different. On Feb. 1, 1899, a deed was recorded between John Shields of Flemington and Charles Emory Smith, Postmaster General, for
a room of 16 x 46 feet on the first floor of the three-story brick premises known as the Shields Building on the northeast corner of Main Street & Bloomfield Ave. in Flemington, the said room fitted and supplied by the sd John Shields with a complete equipment of boxes, fixtures and furniture (including free delivery furniture when necessary) plus heat, light, a large fire, and burglar proof (Bank) vault, water-closets, water, etc. for the use of the United States as and for a Post Office at Flemington NJ, for a term of five years starting 1 Feb. 1899.20
Shields’ Later Years
On June 10, 1885, John Shields purchased the Mansion House on Mine Street and a lot of 11.57 acres from its Philadelphia owners for $8,750.21 This was what later became known as the Foran Mansion and today is owned by the parish of St. Magdalen de Pazzi Catholic Church. This building has quite a history, one that will have to wait for another time.
In 1887, the Hunterdon Republican published a history of copper mines in the Flemington area, which included property surrounding the mansion. It noted that the brick mansion “is now the property of Capt. John Shields and is more nearly a mansion than ever before.”
Shields did some major remodeling in the 1890s, which probably included the notable porch with pillars, but he was not able to enjoy them for long. His wife Annie died in 1904 at the age of 58 and was buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery. Then on August 15, 1906, while he was still living in Flemington and was then 61 years old, Shields transferred ownership of his properties to three trustees: William Scherrer, John B. Case and George H. Large. Among those properties was “the Post Office Building lot” of a quarter acre, that Shields had purchased from the estate of George A. Rea back in 1895.
In 1906, after naming his trustees, Shields left Flemington and never returned. He had been made a permanent member of the Board of Managers of the Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Home at Vineland, Cumberland Co., NJ in January 1900, and moved south to take up the position of Commandant.
Capt. John Shields died on August 30, 1923, at Clayton, Gloucester Co., NJ, at the age of 84.22
His Flemington trustees conveyed several properties to various buyers in 1911. The next to last deed from the Shields trustees was dated June 26th of that year. It was for the Rea property which was sold for $13,000 to Bessie A. Berkaw of Flemington.23
Elizabeth Abel (1864-1941), daughter of George W. Abel and Anna Jane Forker, married Bergen Horace Berkaw on Feb. 3, 1886. Elizabeth was commonly known as Bessie, even in the deeds she recorded with the County Clerk. I was quite surprised when I checked the deed index to see that Bessie A. Berkaw bought and sold quite a lot of property, some with husband Bergen and some more on her own, while Bergen was still alive. In fact, the first deed in the deed index was a property that Bessie purchased in her own name in 1888.
The deed I would most like to see is the one in 1915 when Bessie sold property to Frank E. Green. Most likely it was the old Rea building which became the location of the Green drugstore that people still remember today.24
- H.C. Deed Book 115 p.359. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 89 p.140. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 115 p.359. ↩
- H.C. Deed Books 66 p.80 and 84 p.353. ↩
- H.C. Deeds Books 50-278 and 50-455. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 58 p.155. N. G. Mattison may well have been related to the two wives of William R. Moore, Mary Ann and Catharine Mattison, but I have yet to prove it. ↩
- H. C. Deed Book 48 p.246. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 20 p.291. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 15 p.323. ↩
- H.C. Deed 114-403. ↩
- Surprisingly, Find-a-Grave has no entry for Elizabeth or for George A. Rea, so the location of their graves is not known. ↩
- Deed Book 50, p.241, Flemington Block 18 lot 12. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 241 p.545. ↩
- His obituary in the Camden Morning Post stated that his family settled in Manayunk, which is a completely different location that sounds a little like Mauch Chunk, which later in 1954 was named Jim Thorpe. I suspect Shields’ second wife provided that incorrect information to the person writing the obituary in 1923. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, Nov. 16, 1898, and Jan. 4, 1899. Regrettably I cannot provide a portrait of Shield. Snell’s History of Hunterdon County should have included one but did not. In fact, there was only one mention of him, and that was in his capacity as a member of the board of directors of the Flemington National Bank (p.335). ↩
- William Hartman, who compiled abstracts of the Hunterdon Republican suggested that this tunnel was built for the Pennsylvania Railroad, since both the Holland and Lincoln tunnels were not built until after 1920. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 223 p.214. ↩
- It was disconcerting to see that the Hunterdon Republican made no mention of the Democrats who won elections in 1894. ↩
- This building will get included in my next article in this series. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 253 p.83. ↩
- Deed Book 210, p.11. ↩
- His obituary stated that he was survived by his widow and four children. The widow was named Lydia and was only 49 years old in 1920 when the Shields were counted in Clayton Borough, while Shields was age 80. No children were living with them then. ↩
- Deed Book 300 p.280. ↩
- Confession: The deeds up through Book 300 are available online at the Family Search website. To examine deeds on later books, one must visit the Hall of Records in the County Clerk’s Office in Flemington, something I have not done. ↩