So what do we tell the children?…about the past, that is.

After a highly successful pilot program at the Deserted Village last fall, Union County’s Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs is rolling out a History Trading Card series for youngsters to learn more about the history of the people and events that shaped Union County—and the country—we know today.

“We live in a County that is so rich in history–and I’m not talking just about the Revolution–I’m talking about a County whose residents played vital roles in every century since New Jersey was first settled in the 1600s,” said Freeholder Chairman Bruce Bergen.

“And yes, sadly, much has been paved over and developed over our 400 years, but we should know the ground we walk on–the incredible people who came before us,” Bergen said.

Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr studied at The Academy in old Elizabethtown, while George Washington directed the Battle of the Short Hills from the Drake House in Plainfield, noted Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski.

John Philip Holland, who designed the first submarine capable of running submerged for a considerable distance, would build the US Navy’s first submarines at the Crescent Shipyard in Elizabeth. The famous scientist Nikola Tesla built his plant in Rahway while Marconi built his factory in Roselle Park, she said.

“And it was not all that long ago,” Kowalski said, “that in Linden, when America needed planes for World War II, when we were fighting totalitarian dictatorships for the future of the free world, the General Motors Plant went from turning out cars to producing fighter planes,” she said.

“When babies are born and they want to check to see if they’re okay,” Bergen said, “they administer the Apgar test. Dr. Virginia  Apgar, who invented that test, lived in Westfield.”

Last year, the Cultural & Heritage Affairs Office, part of the Union County Parks Department, developed the first cards in the Union County Across the Centuries series: Alexander Hamilton, William Livingston, Jonathan Dayton and Hannah Caldwell.  Youngsters at Four Centuries In A Weekend had so much fun collecting the cards that work continued, with 14 cards now in the series and more on the way.

Because the County was celebrating the 240th Anniversary of the Battle of the Short Hills in June with a reenactment of the battle at Oak Ridge Park, a lot of focus was put on the Revolutionary War era. But as the program rolls out, there will be cards from across Union County’s history.

Alexander Hamilton

1757 – 1804

Hannah Caldwell

1737 – 1780

Jonathan Dayton

1760 – 1824

Virginia Apgar

1909 – 1974

William Livingston

1723 – 1790

Aaron Ogden

1723 – 1790

Betty Frazeen

1738 – 1815


1702 – 1806

Charles Cornwallis

1738 – 1805

Hannah White Arnett

1733 – 1823 In Production

Central Railroad of New Jersey

1831 – 1976 In Production

The Central Railroad of New Jersey played a major role in the development of Union County, from Elizabethport to Plainfield. Founded in 1831 as the Elizabethtown & Somerville Railroad, horse-drawn trains took passengers from Elizabeth to Elizabethport and the ferry to New York. The arrival of steam engines in 1839 coincided with the line reaching Plainfield. Through mergers, the CNJ continued expanding west and south, connecting to Somerville and out to Pennsylvania, along with the famous Blue Comet, which ran from the CNJ’s main terminal in Jersey City to Atlantic City

Britain’s Prison Ships

1776 – 1783 In Production

More American soldiers died (11,000+) from the horrid conditions on the British Navy’s prison ships than in Revolutionary War battles (6,800). With more than 1,000 men crammed into a ship’s hold, every morning the dead would be carried up on deck and hauled ashore. If a captured soldier would renounce the Revolution  —most refused—he could go free. Two sons of Abraham Clark, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, were prisoners on the HMS Jersey. The British offered to release them if Clark would swear allegiance to The Crown. He refused.

MacKinlay Kantor

1904 – 1977 In Production

A journalist and prolific author, MacKinlay Kantor received the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Andersonville. He was an early resident of Free Acres, a utopian community in Berkeley Heights, and during the Great Depression, was a tenant in the then privately owned Deacon Hetfield House in Mountainside. Kantor allowed his name to be used on a 1950s screenplay by Dalton Trumbo, one of the “Hollywood Ten” blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Kantor then passed his payment to Trumbo to help him.

Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America

 1899 – 1920 In Production

Today’s cellphone would not exist if not for the scientists who believed signals did not need wires. On Westfield Avenue in Roselle Park, the Romerovski Bros. factory site was formerly “The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America.” The invention of wireless communication by Guglielmo Marconi led to factories including this facility, where radio and wireless equipment was manufactured for the U.S. Navy during World War I. Later, this site was home to one of the first licensed broadcast radio stations in the country, WDY.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge

1820 – 1910 In Production

A highly regarded artist of the Hudson River School, Whittredge painted landscapes that hang in major museums and Carter House, home of the Summit Historical Society. Whittredge moved to Summit in 1880, where he continued to paint for 30 years. In 1865, he had traveled from the Great Plains to the Rockies with Sanford Gifford and John Frederick Kensett, resulting in some of his most important work. “Whoever crossed the plains …could hardly fail to be impressed with its vastness and silence and the appearance everywhere of an innocent, primitive existence,” he wrote.