Metuchen Edison History Features

Recollections of

Boyhood Days

In Old Metuchen


David Trumbull Marshall

Published by The Case Publishing Co., Flushing NY 1930

(Second Edition)- (c) 1930


Menlo Park, New Jersey.

My earliest recollections of Menlo Park date back to 1876, before Edison came out there and put the place on the map.

My father used to conduct a Sunday school in the Pennsylvania Railroad station at Menlo Park.

We lived at that time at the western end of Metuchen.

Mr. Noah Mundy used to lend father his fat horse and carryall and he drove the three miles to Menlo Park every Sunday afternoon.

I sometimes went with him. I was about ten years old at the time. I can remember one of the songs we used to sing, "Safe in the Arms of Jesus." Curiously I never think of Menlo Park without recalling that song.

There was one odd character in Menlo in those days, and for a good many years afterwards.

He kept a grocery store right near the station.

He lived in a very narrow, tall house. The house never seemed to get finished. The truth of the matter is that Mr. Blank's family grew faster than his house. The demands for a pair of shoes for Susie and a pair of new pants for Ichabod always had to take preference over the demands of the lumber dealer and the carpenter.

However, whenever Mr. B. could spare fifteen cents he used to buy a board and nail it on his house. Lumber was cheap in those days. Later the Sunday school was located in the office of the Edison Laboratory. Whether this Sunday school met while the Edison outfit was in Menlo Park or after they left I do not remember.

Some of the Edison outfit might have been benefitted by the reforming influence of a Sunday school.

One of the joys of living in a country village is the ever-present interest one has in the affairs of one's neighbors.

If one is blessed with a keen sense of humor, as was my father, there will always be odd doings and odd sayings of the characters of the town which add to the joy of living.

Old Sim Conger was an ever-interesting character to us children.

Sim lived for years in a house which was literally six feet by eight and just high enough for a man to stand upright.

This building had formerly been a hen-coop, and was located in the back yard of a farmhouse on the outskirts of Metuchen.

Poor old Sim is dead now.

He had a very sore toe.

He came down to the blacksmith's shop in Metuchen one day with a chisel which he wished to sharpen. He said he was going to cut off his sore toe. He went home and did cut off his toe with one blow of a hammer on this chisel placed on his toe.

He died from blood poisoning a short time afterward.

He told Mr. Mason, our Minister, for whom he had sent, that "He was a damn fool to cut off his toe that way."

We lived at the Parsonage for several years and boarded the minister. The minister had a sense of humor and used to tell us many a story gathered on his rounds.

Once he was called upon to officiate at a wedding of some Scandinavians way down at the Sand Hills, below Metuchen.

In honor of the wedding all the chairs had been newly varnished. Sitting down in them was easier than getting up.

My sister spent some hours the next day removing the varnish from the Dominie's broadcloth suit.

In later years this same family of Swedes sold some property.

My father wrote the deed and witnessed the passing of the purchase price. The whole two thousand dollars was fished out of the pockets of the purchaser.

There were stacks of one-dollar bills and bowls full of nickels and pennies. The buyer was a huckster and had kept the identical money he had taken in by selling a peck of potatoes here, and a cabbage there.

One odd character in Metuchen was Bill Martin.

Bill was a teamster.

He was the owner of two teams of little black horses.

These horses were small but wiry and very powerful.

Bill went about town with his trousers tucked into large cowhide boots.

He always wore a broad-brimmed, soft felt black hat.

Bill couldn't read or write.

Bill used to have a very loud voice and used to swear like a pirate. Bill's wife applied for a divorce from him after living with him for many years. She said that he insisted on going to bed with his boots on. One of the sights of old Metuchen was to see Bill and his helper driving these two teams of horses hitched to springless farm wagons coming down the road swinging long, braided "black snake" leather whips, his rat-like horses galloping at top speed.

The red Jersey mud when dry used to make beautiful clouds of dust whenever the team was driven over it.

One time there lived in Metuchen a Swede by the name of Axel Skrogwist. Axel bought a small lot and built a foundation for a house. He later bought a one-room office building way down in the Sand Hills below Bonhamtown.

He hired Bill Martin to cart the little house to Metuchen.

Bill loaded the house on one of his heavy wagons, hooked the two teams of little black horses to the wagon and carted the house the three miles to Metuchen.

The cavalcade arrived about sundown.

With much hollering to his men Bill got the house on its foundation. By that time it was late.

The little Swede mildly suggested to Bill that the house did not set quite right.

I shall never forget the picture of little Skrogwist standing alongside of big Bill. Bill was bawling at the top of his voice as many do when speaking to one who does not understand his language, "That some night when the moon shone bright he and his men would come up and straighten out the house."

Maybe the moon didn't get to shine that summer or maybe for some other reason, but Bill never came to straighten the house.

There was another old farmer in Metuchen who lived way out on the "Brumsick" road.

This man couldn't read or write.

For years his name always appeared on the ballots of Democratic and Republican parties to be voted for as "Pound-keeper."

A pound-keeper was one who kept a "pound," or place where stray horses and cattle were cared for until their owners called for them. If one was found, which was a not infrequent occurrence, a cow straying on the highway, one might lead the cow to the "pound" and receive fifty cents for his trouble.

In order to redeem the cow the owner had to pay the pound-keeper one dollar, or if the cow had to be cared for some days the amount would be more.

This putting an animal in the "pound" was a very good thing for the owner of a cow that had really strayed far from home, but it was often used as a source of revenue by boys and evilly-disposed adults to get a little money. I know of several feuds which were started because Timmie Murphy had put Mrs. Bridget McGinty's cow in the "pound."

In the early days of Metuchen it was customary for the poorer people to pasture their cattle on the highways.

Tommy Larrigan would call for Mrs. O'Brien's cow and Mrs. Dimity's cow and the cows of many other inhabitants of "Dublin," and for a compensation was supposed to pasture them on the highways all day and return them in the evening.

Sometimes Tommy became interested in a game of ball or in foraging for apples or maybe was just plumb lazy.

Meanwhile the cows would wander away and maybe break into the cornfield or garden of some one.

This cattle pasturing finally became such a nuisance that it had to be stopped.



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Lasted updated 6/8/99 by Jim Halpin.