The American Elm, or Ulmus americana

“Trees are the best monuments that a man can erect to his own memory. They speak his praises without flattery, and they are blessings to children yet unborn.” That’s what John Boyle, Fifth Earl of Cork and Orrery, said of trees in 1749.

American Elm along Valley Avenue at Riverview Cemetery

Whenever I have the occasion to walk the grounds of historic cemeteries, the mature trees dotting their landscapes bespeak the work of the nation’s earliest horticulturists. The idea of a “rural” cemetery for Trenton was conceived by Jacob M. Taylor in 1857. He introduced his plan to a group of the city’s leading citizens—William M. Force, John K. Smith, Isaac Stephens, David Witherup and William S. Yard—who together founded Riverview Cemetery on January 16, 1858. It was incorporated by an act of the state legislature of New Jersey on February 28, 1858.

The grounds of the then two-and-one-half-acre Cemetery were laid out according to a plan drawn by Smith, but the planting of the trees was tasked to Stephens. Indeed, the Sunday-Times Advertiser of December 12, 1915, described his residence, then owned by Charles S. Van Syckel, and its many specimen trees, noting: “Due to his extensive knowledge in the care of trees, Stephens was given entire charge of the planting of all the trees in Riverview Cemetery, of which he was one of the founders.”

Edward Ansley Stokes and the William Trent House

Stokes Monument
Edward A. Stokes (1869-1939), son of Trenton photographer Edward H. Stokes, was a lawyer, author and poet. He was also the last private owner of the William Trent House which he donated to the city in 1929. After extensive restoration it was opened as a museum in 1939.

The Trent House is the oldest of Trenton’s landmarks. An excellent example of Early Georgian Colonial architecture, it was built in 1719 on an 800-acre tract of land as the country estate of William Trent, a prominent Philadelphia trader and merchant, who laid out a settlement around his house in 1720 which came to be known as Trent’s Town, later Trent-Town, and finally Trenton.

Over the years the house has been known by several names. At one time it was named “Kingsbury Hall,” then “Bloomsbury Court,” and finally “Woodlawn.” It was occupied by Hessian troops in December of 1776, and has been the home of three New Jersey governors, Lewis Morris from 1742 to 1746, Philemon Dickerson from 1835 to 1838, and Rodman McCamley Price from 1854 to 1857.

Trenton’s First Lunch Wagon

Peter G. Curtin and his pioneering lunch wagon
Born on October 17, 1859, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Peter G. Curtin was the son of a New York City harbor boatman. He obtained his early education in New York and later in Elizabeth, N.J., where he gained employment at the Singer Sewing Machine Company and learned the machinist trade. It was there that he kept a watchful eye on the city’s lunch wagon business and took advantage of an opportunity to take over a lunch wagon while its owner was on vacation, he decided to enter the business himself.

Moving to Trenton he was employed as a tool maker at Warren Kimball and Company, but afterward returned to Singer. Coming again to Trenton he established a restaurant, and noting there was not a lunch wagon to be seen anywhere in the city, he hired the carriage maker Fitzgibbon & Crisp to construct a wagon with which he realized his dream.

The Fatal Leap of Charles Richmond

Gathering at community parks to watch balloon ascensions was once a favorite national pastime. At Cochran Park on Morris Island in the Delaware River, as they had days before, a crowd gathered on June 5, 1893, to watch aeronaut Charles Richmond (abt.1860–1893) make a parachute jump from a hot air balloon. The leap proved fatal, however, as his parachute failed to open and he plunged several thousand feet into Sturgeon Pond and drowned.

Henry W. Antheil Jr., American Diplomat

Henry W. Antheil Jr.
Henry W. Antheil Jr. was born in Trenton on September 23, 1912. Educated at Trenton Central High School, he enrolled at Rutgers University (now Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey), but cut his higher education short when through the efforts of his older brother George Antheil, a composer and pianist then-living in Paris, he obtained an interview with William C. Bullitt, a family friend who had just been appointed ambassador to the Soviet Union, and subsequently accepted a position at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.

Bullitt presented his credentials to the Soviet government on December 13, 1933; Antheil and other newly-minted foreign service employees arrived at the embassy several months later.

After serving five years, during which Antheil was responsible for maintaining cryptographic communications devices and their codes and ciphers in the Soviet Union and Northern Europe, he obtained a transfer to the U.S. Legation in Helsinki, Finland, a country for which he developed a particular appreciation during his travels.

When the Soviet Union concluded mutual assistance treaties with the Baltic States in 1939, and moved toward their occupation in 1940, Antheil was dispatched to close the U.S. Legation in Tallinn, Estonia, and retrieve sensitive documents. On June 14, 1940, he boarded the Finnish airplane Kaleva for the return flight to Helsinki, with several diplomatic pouches in hand, but the plane crashed over the Gulf of Finland ten minutes after takeoff from the Tallinn airport.