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Local History: One Man's Memories of the Early Days

John Lonergan remembered much of the history of Millburn-Short Hills.

The 1920 federal census for Millburn notes that 41-year-old John Lonergan and his wife Theresa had a butcher shop. That shop was at what is now Sawhorse Designs at 328 1/2 Millburn Ave., which is between the Millburn Deli and the later-built Photography By Stieve building.

In the Millburn-Short Hills Historical Society collection of local memorabilia, a number of items start to bring Edward Lonergan to life again. Among those items are the photos seen here, which are of Lonergan in front of his shop, with his horse and delivery wagon, with his "horseless carriage," and standing across the street from his store with fellow Millburn business owners (he is in white, in the center of the group).

To further develop the story of Edward Lonergan, we have a reminiscence of him from a story written by renowned author and former Millburn resident William R. Forstchen:

"Mr. Lonergan, whose store was next to the bridge, had taken a shine to me and was always delighted by my visits. I believe he must have been in his seventies back then, therefore he must have lived in Millburn in the 1880's. We would sit on the bridge together and he would spin stories to me about being a boy, what it was like when horse drawn carts filled the streets, when the train was pulled by steam locomotives and when that great wonder, the electric trolley, came to town."

In the historical society collection, we also have a transcript of a brief interview "M.F." did with Mr. Lonergan:

"June 10, 1954; Statement of information given to me by Mr. Edward Lonergan, 67 years of age: He has lived in this Town all his life and has a vivid recollection of various details concerning the early history of Millburn Township, including the old Short Hills section. I reviewed with him the photostatic copy of the 1906 map (Plate 34) and he pointed out to me details concerning the various old residences located along Old Short Hills Road, Glen Avenue and Marion Avenue. He clearly recalls the street then known as Hollow Road, which, as indicated on the map, was a dirt road running from Old Short Hills Road down to the Campbell tract across what is now South Mountain Reservation, to Brookside Drive.

"He recalls, as a boy, the extensive stables and horses then located on what was then the Hack Estate but which, in 1906, was owned by Nesbitt. He clearly recalls the residences of Todd, Hopkins, E.S. Renwick, F.C. Farley, Neal, Cox, and others, all of which were apparently existing dwellings in or about the year 1906.

"He clearly recalls a gravel pit located on the southerly side of Hollow Road at a point approximately opposite the residence of W.W. Renwick, now the residence of Dr. Stragnell (Editor's note: The Renwick house was demolished several years ago; it sat sideways to Old Short Hills Road, opposite Parsonage Hill Road) that gravel was removed from this pit by Township or County employees in connection with road maintenance and for other purposes; that Nick Schmidt's grandfather, Mr. Marshall, in some official position, used to remove gravel from that pit; that when teams of horses and wagons came up from Millburn on Old Short Hills Road to Hollow Road, they would turn left on Hollow Road and the pit was located on the right hand side of Hollow Road; that after the wagons were loaded, they would proceed on down Hollow Road to Brookside Drive and back to Millburn rather than proceed back by way of Old Short Hills Road, in view of the upgrade from the pit to Old Short Hills Road.

"He recalls the pond and the brook designated on the map flowing from the pond in the vicinity of Stragnell's house across Hollow Road and down to Brookside Drive.

"He does not recall how long or until what year the gravel was removed from the pit nor does he recall the circumstances under which such removal of gravel was discontinued.

"I directed his attention to the details concerning the restrictive covenant in the deed from Renwick to Bayard prohibiting the erection of any structure on the rear portion, or second tract, of the premises conveyed to Bayard.

"He then directed my attention to the position of the Stragnell (then Renwick) residence, particularly the direction in which the front of the house faces. It could very well be that the restriction in question was imposed for the benefit of the W.W. Renwick house. Examination of the map and of the position of the house would seem to indicate that the second tract premises and a structure thereon might very well be in the line of vision, in those days, of the front of his residence and that the purpose of the restriction was to prevent the erection of any structure that might obstruct his view from the front of his home or possibly the rear of his home (depending upon the location of the front and rear of his home).

"He referred me to a Mr. Joseph Connelly, employed by Jersey Central Power and Light Co. as either a troubleshooter or collector. This man apparently is the son of the gardener for the Todd Estate adjacent to the subject premises and Mr. Lonergan feels that Mr. Connelly may have some valuable information to give to me concerning the subject premises."

It appears Lonergan was the source of valuable information about Millburn's early days and as the cataloging of the collection continues, new discoveries of stories of and from Lonergan may continue to enrich the history of the community.

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