Saturday, September 10, 2011

Revisiting Somerville, NJ

On our NJ road trip last weekend, we spent an afternoon in downtown Somerville, NJ, where I once lived – and also where Grenville and I had our first date.

Somerville was settled in colonial times primarily by the Dutch. The early village grew up around a church, courthouse and a tavern built at a crossroads shortly after the American Revolution. There is no known information on how Somerville was named, except that it was known by this name around 1800.

Today, what is called the Somerville Courthouse Green includes 3 historic structures: The First Reformed Church, Somerville Courthouse, and the Lord Memorial Fountain. church Somervilledutch church collage
At first, a sparsely populated farming community, Somerville grew after the completion of the railroad in the 1840s and development of water power along the Raritan River in the 1850s. It marked its 100th Centennial Anniversary in 2009. 

The white marble, domed Somerville courthouse was originally builtSomerville courthouse0811 (6) in 1909 in the neo-classical style.  It underwent major restoration in the 1990s. The courthouse has been the scene of several famous trials, including the 1922 Hall-Mills murder trial. In spite of its monumental size, it was once considered for demolition. It was saved by a citizens group and is now on the National Register of Historic Buildings. 
Somerville NJ courthouseThe Lord Memorial Fountain was erected in 1909 to honor John Haynes Lord, a well known resident and president of the Second National Bank of Somerville. His sister asked that in memory of her brother the monument be a drinking fountain for “man and beast.” The fountain was designed to resemble a Roman monument; a large basin with bronze chains was placed in the front for horses, while the backside of the fountain had a water fountain for people. Once designed, the fountain was placed in front of the Somerset County Courthouse where it currently remains.
Lord Fountain collage
After years of use, the fountain become non-operational for decades. Because of its prominent location, Somerville residents wanted it repaired, a renovation project that took over 8 months.

Somerville’s Main Street (the actual name) includes numerous historical buildings, many of which have housing on the upper floors and retail space along the street level. There are more than 2 dozen specialty and ethnic restaurants offering everything from bagels and pizza to gourmet dining.
Somerville views0811 (8)Somerville views0811 (9)
A Woolworth’s was located in downtown Somerville. It’s now an antiques store and the original store letters are on display inside.
woolworths0811 (3)woolworths0811 (4)
A Somerville native was Clarence Leroy Van Cleef Jr., better known as actor Lee Van Cleef. NJ native, Ruth Denis, a founder of American dance, made her professional debut at Somerset Hall, a former vaudeville hall on Main Street that’s now a popular Italian eatery.


Anvilcloud said...

Thanks for the tour.

Country Mouse Studio said...

such beautiful architecture

Sandra said...

i am so glad they chose to restore that old building, it is magnificent. and the woolworth sign bring back fond memories of us driving into town and mother and I wandering the store. that is where we did our Christmas shopping back in the 40's and 50's and the basement was full of toys

(GBS) NewsFromTheHill said...

I enjoyed the post!! Somerville looks like a lovely town. Your photo collages are always so wonderful. Makes me want to switch from iphoto because I can't seem to do them there.

Daisy said...

Looks like a pretty place. It must have brought back a lot of fun memories for you to go back there again. :)

Elaine said...

I enjoyed the tour. The courthouse is beautiful. Thank goodness it didn't get demolished.

Sara said...

Youl did a GREAT job of conveying what a WONDERFUL little (only 2 miles square)town we have in Somerville. Yet we are in the heart of everything: major highways, railroad, major hospitals,huge mall, Rutgers University and Raritan Valley College, parks, etc all so close. And right in between New York City and Philadelphia--both about an hour away. Yes--it is a super place to live. Thanks Beatrice.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

AC, you're welcome, anytime.

Carole, Somerville has a unique charm. After living there for 10 years, then leaving and returning again, I rediscover its uniqueness.

Sandra, it is to the town's credit that the courthouse was saved and restored as its the centerpiece you see when entering the town. The Woolworth store that is now an antiques marketplace is enjoying a rebirth. But, the old lunch counter is no longer there. Grenville said he remembers the toy section being on the lower level too.

Grace, yes Somerville is charming. Thanks for the compliment on the photo collages which are so simple in Picasa with little forethought needed.

Daisy, yes and yes.

Thanks Elaine, it's a great thing that it's still there to be seen and admired.

Hey Sara, and YOU did a great job of adding more information about Somerville by your comments. It was great to see you and David when we were back in town.

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