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Somerset Hills Area: Peapack Gladstone

Ruth Thomson
Resident and Historian

 

 

 

 

Biography

(Bio courtesy of the Save Ellis Island Foundation, Gladstone, NJ)

Ruth is an octogenarian who lives in historic Gladstone, New Jersey, just down the street from the Save Ellis Island office. In late 2003 Save Ellis Island's Charter Membership drive was in full swing. Having had a tremendous positive response from donors, Save Ellis Island needed help mailing acknowledgements and thank you gifts in this case tote bags to our new members as timely as possible. We posted flyers in area businesses and community spaces like the local public library. Ruth, a volunteer at the library, saw our ad, contacted us and began to volunteer for Save Ellis Island immediately.

About Ruth's Family History
Ruth comes from a prominent family in Gladstone where she has lived for most of her life except during World War 11 when she was married to a Navy pilot and lived elsewhere. Ruth's father's family was Dutch and her mother's was Irish. Ruth thinks her mother in law came to the United States through Castle Garden Immigration Station before Ellis Island opened. The Dutch were known to settle near the river, and that is true of Gladstone's early settlers. Ruth's father ran the livery stable in town providing a much needed service to travelers requiring a ride from the Gladstone train station, the end of the railroad line from New York, to one of the many estates in the Somerset Hills. Besides the livery, Ruth's father ran the family farm and several other businesses in town. He had a hardware store, ran a feed mill and a farm machine business among others and was a founding partner of the Peapack Gladstone bank which is still in operation in Gladstone and elsewhere today.

Ruth's remarkable experiences span eight decades of 20th century history. Ruth is the only surviving sibling of three children. Her brother T. Leonard Hill recently passed in 2006, and her older sister Evelyn "Dottie" Hill Bailey, passed away in mid - 2005. Ruth experienced life on a farm during the Depression, living with a loved one away in the war, rationing, and life on the home front during WWII Ruth is a college graduate, which was not that common at the time. When Ruth was a newlywed and her husband was serving overseas, Ruth worked as a chemist at the Thomas Edison Museum in West Orange, NJ. Her husband, the Navy pilot, was recalled in the Korean War. Ruth and her husband raised their family of three sons in Gladstone where she resides today and is happy to be the doting grandmother of two wonderful grandchildren.

Ruth's Tidbits about Peapack Gladstone

    1. The Borough of Peapack and Gladstone, two villages incorporated in 1912 into a single municipality, is nestled in the beautiful hills of Northern Somerset County.
    2. Peapack and Gladstone are 5.9 square miles - has a population of 2,422.
    3. There are two post offices, 2 railroad stations, 4 churches, a very active Fire Company, a fine library, and one Police Department.
    4. The Sisters of St. John the Baptist from the Mt. St. John property (former Mosley Estate), who ran the orphanage and school on the former Mosley Estate, they used to walk the children all the way down the mountain on St. Johns Drive, to the local drug store for ice cream. (That's about a 4 1/2 mile roundtrip (See the Trip), including a steep uphill climb back home.)
    5. The churches are aligned in town according to the areas development and it is reflected in their position on Main Street with the oldest closest to the center of town;
      1. Gladstone United Methodist Church (First Minister 1837)
      2. Peapack Reformed Church, (First Minister 1849) 13 Mendham Road
      3. St Luke's Episcopal Church, (First Minister 1900)
      4. St. Brigid Roman Catholic Church , (First Minister 1936) 129 Main Street Peapack
      5. St Elizabeth's Roman Catholic, (First Minister, 1936) 34 Peapack Road
    6. See Goggle Map of Churches in the area - Click Here

    7. In 2002, two men bought Blairsden from the Sisters of Mercy.
    8. When I was growing up, the local fire department didn't have a telephone. Since we did, the calls came in to my house, where I had to run next door, open the fire house, write on the blackboard where the fire was, and then unlock the doors for the firemen to get ready.
    9. My father created one of the first livery taxi services in town to bring people from the train, up to the estates that they worked on.
    10. When I was a child, since we didn't have a pool, we used to swim just about anywhere. In fact there used to be islands in the Liberty Park lake, where we used to swim, dive off the diving board, or just relax on the beach.
    11. "Why would anyone want to build a house on top of a limestone cave?" referencing someone who built a house on top of the old Todd's Quarry Limestone kiln on Main Street. Limestone is prone to erosion by underground water. (Ruth is preparing a discussion on the historic Peapack Caverns).

      One picture Ruth describes is the original Hardware store where her father, along with a business partner, decided that it was too far to travel to Oldwick to spend a day "banking", so he decided to take the left portion of their hardware store and open a bank (the first Peapack Gladstone Bank). She mentioned that it took approximately $3,000 in liquid assets to get the bank started (1921).

       

 

Recommended Readings

It's certainly tough to recognize what Ruth enjoys more, reading or writing. While she certainly is an accomplished writer, she has a tremendous knowledge of the Gladstone area. Not just because she grew up here, but that she's an accomplished researcher and loves to listen.

Here are a few of Ruth's favorite books/magazines on the area that she recommends:

A Journey through Peapack and Gladstone
by Jacqueline Tutton and the Friends of Peapack Gladstone Library

 

 

 

NEW JERSEY COUNTRY HOUSES
the Somerset Hills
by John K. Turpin and W. Barry Thomson

"I keep these books on my coffee table since I seem to reference them all the time when I'm writing." While they are great resources for learning not only about the bucolic mansions of the past, but there's tremendous reference to the people and their families.

Ruth's son W. Barry Thomson was an integral part of the series, who partnered with local real estate owner John Turpin. "Barry's a great researcher", stated Ruth. "I think his growing up in the shadow of Blairsden influenced his interest in the estates of the Somerset Hills. According to Ruth, the two met at the Bernardsville library when Barry was researching something, and Mr. Turpin's wife had always been asking John,"What are you going to do with all of these photos of the places you've sold?" Ruth commented that Mr. Turpin said "I'm going to make a book someday." When the two crossed paths at the library, they say the rest is history. New Jersey Country Houses: the Somerset Hills chronicles the country estates that were built in the rolling countryside of Somerset and Morris counties from the 1870s through the Great Depression. Volume I covers more than sixty houses that were constructed prior to World War I, and Volume II covers the estate-building activity that took place between the two world wars.

Four Prominent Historical Estates in Peapack/Gladstone include:

  1. Blairsden Estate (Blair)
  2. Hillandale Estate (Mosley)
  3. Natirar Estate (Walter-Kate Macy Ladd)
  4. Hamilton Farm Estate (Brady)

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Black River Journal- Created and managed by the Wolf Family (Chris and Lee Wolfe) who started the magazine back in 2000.

Ruth has written a number of articles for the feature packed local magazine over the years and she highly recommends subscribing.

 

 

Other Thomson Writings
(all available at the Clarence Dillon Library in Bedminster)

Traditions- Wanted One Good Barber
by Ruth Thomson
about Joseph Telesco.
Black River Journal - Summer Fall 2003

Traditions- Lead a Horse to Water about
by Ruth Thomson
Black River Journal - Spring Summer 2003
Traditions- Playing House -
by Ruth Thomson
Black River Journal - Winter 2003 Spring 04
Traditions- A Scout Cabin witout Scouts
by Ruth Thomson
Black River Journal - Spring Summer 2004
   

She also mentioned the Boro Gazette, which posts information on the Peapack Gladstone Historical Commission - Click Here

 

Favorite Historical Projects

If you are a Save Ellis Island Member, chances are that you received one of the tote bags packaged by Ruth. Using scissors to trim stray threads and folding thousands of tote bags, Ruth placed them in boxes, moving them one step closer on their way to our new members. Perhaps you noticed how carefully the tote bag was folded when it arrived from Save Ellis Island.

Ruth also spent many hours folding, stuffing, sealing and affixing postage to thousands of Membership Renewal requests that were mailed to donors last August during the annual fund drive. She brought along a friend, Charlene, on a number of occasions when reinforcements were needed to complete a project on time. For a few hours, one day a week, Ruth volunteers for Save Ellis Island performing other tasks such as assembling packages of printed materials used for grant applications to cutting out articles for use in Save Ellis Island press kits. Like many other organizations, Save Ellis Island could not accomplish the tasks necessary to further their mission without the efforts of volunteers like Ruth. Ruth's patience and dedication are truly inspiring.

Photography Collections

While Ruth doesn't have a favorite collection, Ruth notes that there are a large number of postcards and photographs of Peapack and Gladstone down at the Municipal Building in Gladstone. Her favorite cartoon is the one that's on display in the Mayor's office. She calls it the "Outhouse", depicting an image of an outhouse, referencing her fight to change the township from a septic based system to incorporating a more scaleable sewage system.

 

Other Documents

We hope to digitize some of Ruth's publishings soon and will post them here for downloading.

  • My Brother Leonard Hill, Summer 2006 - Black River Journal
  • Winter in Peapack Gladstone, December 2000 - Black River Journal
  • The Last Picnic of Summer, September 2001 - Black River Journal
  • Pottersville Post
  • Veterans Day Remembered- November 2000 - Black River Journal

Ruth has also written numerous articles for Inside the Brick Academy, the official publication of The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills.

 


The best tidbits...
The Best stories...
See their recollections and recommendations.
Bernardsville
Bernards Twp
Peapack Gladstone
Far Hills
Bedminster

 

Researched and submitted by Brooks Betz

 

 

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