Explore Local History with Union County Trading Cards

Union County now offers a series of free commemorative history trading cards. Each card features a notable person, place, event, or theme excerpted from four centuries of Union County’s rich history. Collecting the cards is a fun way for anyone—but especially kids—to learn about the people and events that shaped life in the county—and the nation—we know today.

More than two dozen trading cards are available, including: Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, William Livingston, the Battle of the Short Hills, John Kean, Virginia Apgar, and more. Scroll down to view some of the cards on offer. Other cards are being added.

Ask for trading cards when visiting the historic sites across Union County. There are more than 30 sites to visit, and most sites offer at least one trading card.

Where To Find Cards

Would you be so brave? When Abraham Clark signed the Declaration of Independence along with the other representatives of the thirteen colonies, they put their very lives at risk for such a treasonous act. Clark taught himself law and became quite popular. He was called “the poor man’s councilor,” offering to defend poor men when they couldn’t afford a lawyer. When the residents of Rahway’s 5th Ward voted in 1864 to secede, they named their new community after Clark, while Roselle built a replica of his 18th century home. 

As a teen, Alexander Hamilton immigrated to America and attended the Academy in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth) in preparation for college. He regularly visited and stayed with the Boudinot family at Boxwood Hall. He also lived for a time at Liberty Hall, the home of William Livingston. Hamilton became a leading political figure and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. He was the primary founder of the nation’s financial and banking systems, and the first secretary of the Treasury. 

A highly regarded artist of the Hudson River School, Whittredge painted landscapes that hang in major museums and the Carter House, home of the Summit Historical Society. Whittredge moved to Summit in 1880, where he continued to paint for 30 years. He had traveled from the Great Plains to the Rockies in 1865 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. 

New Jersey’s fifth governor, Aaron Ogden, held many prestigious posts during his career. Perhaps the most intriguing chapter of his life came when Gen. George Washington summoned him for a special mission—to secure the return of Benedict Arnold, the most infamous traitor in American history. Ogden attempted a trade of Arnold for British Major John Andre, who was carrying papers revealing Arnold’s betrayal of his troops at West Point. The British rejected the exchange. Andre was hanged and Arnold went on to lead British troops at Yorktown.

This battle was the final major confrontation between American and Crown forces in the North. Had the British broken through the American line and vanquished Washington’s forces in Morristown, the war would have taken a very different turn. A month later, 6,000 French troops arrived in Rhode Island, providing desperately needed reinforcements. In 1781, memory of the losses at Springfield prevented the British from attacking the armies of Washington and Rochambeau on their march to Yorktown, Virginia, where they ultimately defeated the British. 

On the plains below the Watchung Mountains, Gen. Washington’s force of fewer than 6,000 men fought a running battle with combined British and Hessian troops numbering nearly 12,000. Feigning retreat, British Gen. Howe sought to defeat the colonial forces by luring them to the lowlands. The battle started in Metuchen and made its way to the Ash Swamp, where delaying tactics gave Washington’s troops and local militia enough time to return to the safety of the Watchungs. Ash Brook Reservation is on the new Battle of the Short Hills Historic Trail. 

According to legend, with his troops tired and hungry after the Battle of the Short Hills, British General Cornwallis stopped at the Frazee house at the smell of baking bread. Cornwallis introduced himself and asked “Aunt Betty” if he could have some bread for his troops, to which she is said to have replied, “Sir, I give you this bread through fear, not in love.” Cornwallis is said to have then politely declined to take the bread. However, historical records indicate his troops plundered the property, taking tools, livestock, a hive and household goods. 

Fleet Admiral William “Bull” Halsey Jr. grew up on West Jersey St. in Elizabeth, attending the Pingry School. After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, he served in both world wars, rising to commander of the South Pacific in World War II. Halsey led the Allied forces in the Battle for Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands. He also took part in the Battle for Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle of WWII and, considered by some, the largest naval battle in history. He was present when Japan formally surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri, on September 2, 1945. 

Born in 1702 in what is now Guinea, Caesar was captured and brought to America. He was sold as a slave to Isaac Drake to work his 111-acre Plainfield farm. Caesar, who like many slaves, had no last name, was freed in 1769. During the Revolutionary War, he was a teamster, driving supply wagons to troops stationed at the Blue Hills Fort and Camp in Plainfield in what is now Union County’s Green Brook Park. Soldiers from this garrison fought in The Battle of the Short Hills.

The Earl Cornwallis was a leading British general in the American War of Independence. After defeating Cornwallis at Yorktown, effectively winning the war, Gen. Washington invited Cornwallis to dine with him. In the tradition of the day, a toast was offered by the vanquished to the victor. Cornwallis rose and gave this toast: “When the illustrious part that your Excellency has borne in this long and arduous contest becomes a matter of history, fame will gather your brightest laurels rather from the banks of the Delaware than from those of the Chesapeake.”  

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.

At age 34, David Brearley was appointed Chief Justice of the NJ Supreme Court. Eight years later, he would represent New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention. He opposed proportional representation in Congress, favoring a system of one vote per state to protect smaller states. He chaired the Committee on Postponed Matters, which was ultimately responsible for deciding the powers and term a President would serve. Brearley rose through the ranks of the Continental Army, taking part in the battles of Short Hills, Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth.

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.

George Washington was no stranger to Union County. In June 1777, during the Battle of the Short Hills, he stationed his field command at the Plainfield home of Isaac Drake. He was a guest of William Livingston at his Liberty Hall home in Union, as well as at Boxwood Hall, the Elizabethtown home of Elias Boudinot, a prominent statesman. During Washington’s historic journey from his Mount Vernon home to New York—to be sworn in as the first President of the United States of America—he had breakfast at Boxwood before heading to his inauguration.

With crushing American defeats on Long Island and then Fort Lee, a group of men met at the Elizabethtown home of Isaac Arnett to consider their fate. But when the men agreed to side with the Crown, Hannah arose and castigated them—Isaac included—as traitors: “Isaac, we have lived together for twenty years, and through all of them I have been a true and loving wife; but… if you do this shameful thing, I will never own you again as my husband.” When she was done, the men reconsidered and vowed to continue their fight for Independence.

Hannah Caldwell was married to the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Elizabethtown, Reverend James Caldwell, who fought fervently with the patriots against the British in the Revolutionary War. In 1780, during the Battle of Connecticut Farms (in what is now Union), Hannah was fatally shot in the parsonage. It has been long debated whether the British had targeted the Caldwells or Hannah’s death was an accident of war. Her death is commemorated on the Union County seal.

During the 1780 Battle of Springfield, American soldiers were running low on ammunition for their smoothbore muskets. Gunpowder and a lead ball would be wrapped in paper and then rammed down the barrel, with paper wadding holding everything tightly in place. On hearing the need for paper, the Rev. Caldwell rode to his church, grabbed a stack of hymnals written by Isaac Watts, and took the books to the soldiers to use the pages for wadding. As he did, he shouted, “Give ’em Watts, Boys!,” a battle cry that became famous and the basis for this painting

Born to a wealthy family in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), Jonathan Dayton joined the Continental Army and served throughout the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of captain. He was the youngest person to sign the U.S. Constitution. Dayton served in the New Jersey Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, including time as Speaker of the House. He also served in the U.S. Senate. In 1795, Dayton purchased Boxwood Hall, where he resided until his death.

Born into one of New Jersey’s most prominent families, John Kean would ultimately take his place at the head of the family’s extensive holdings: The National State Bank, Elizabethtown Gas and Elizabethtown Water. He graduated Harvard Law School and practiced law in Newark. Soon after joining the NJ National Guard, President Wilson sent his troop into Mexico to pursue Pancho Villa. When World War I broke out, Kean was sent to France, where he was severely wounded in the Battle of the Argonne Forest. It would take him nearly a year to recover.

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.

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

Raised in Westfield, Dr. Virginia Apgar is renowned for establishing the method known as the Apgar Score, used in hospitals worldwide, to assess the condition of newborns by observing five key health factors. A leader in the field of anesthesiology, Apgar was the first woman to head a division at Columbia Presbyterian. During her career, she treated women and infants, and researched genetics and birth defects. She advocated for vaccination to prevent mother-to-child transmission of rubella. Apgar was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.

From 1770, William Livingston resided in a stately home he named Liberty Hall. Livingston was elected New Jersey’s first governor in 1776. He persuasively urged the citizenry and legislature to support the War of Independence. During the war, he commanded the New Jersey militia. British commanders sought several times to capture or assassinate him. Livingston was a signer of the U.S. Constitution and an influential leader in the development of the new nation.

In 1850, Isaac M. Singer patented a sewing machine that could produce 900 stitches per minute. Seven years later, he and attorney Edward Clark formed I.M. Singer Company, which became the worldwide leader in the production of sewing machines. The Singer plant in Elizabethport became the world’s largest factory, eventually employing more than 10,000 people. During World Wars I and II, munitions were manufactured here. In 1949, when this factory’s workers were out on strike, twenty percent of Elizabeth’s workforce had no income. The plant closed in 1982.

Nicaraguan-born artist Roberto de la Selva studied in Mexico. His work, influenced by that of Diego Rivera, is found in museums and private art collections. Although known for his bas relief, scenes and portraits carved in wood, during the 1920s he painted several murals on the walls in a home in the Deserted Village. These are the only known murals by De la Selva. He later returned to Mexico,  where he ultimately gave up his art and took a civil service job. At some point, the murals were covered by wallpaper and forgotten— until 1975, when removal of the wallpaper led to their discovery.

The Union County Performing Arts Center still stands today, in good measure, because no one wanted to see its historic Wurlitzer pipe organ fade into memory. Custom built in 1928 for silent movies, the Rahway Theatre organ’s 600+ pipes were installed in two lofts on both sides of the proscenium to heighten the sound. During WWII, many organs were scrapped, their metal donated to the war effort. This organ miraculously survived the arrival of sound movies and continues to be used for concerts and movies. Once one of almost 1,000 theater organs in New Jersey, it is now one of 11. In Production.

Thrust into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, America needed military equipment quickly. Linden’s General Motors plant went from Buicks, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles to fighter planes. GM paired with Grumman Aircraft Corp. and retooled the plant to build the Navy’s F4F “Wildcat,” while across the street, construction began on an airport to test the planes. More than 3,500 Wildcats were produced in Linden, with the Wildcat playing an integral role in aerial combat in the Pacific. After the war, the Rt. 1&9 plant returned to making cars—the last vehicle rolling off the assembly line in 2005. In Production.

A prolific poet, novelist and playwright, Langston Hughes was an influential figure in the 1920s Harlem Renaissance. He came to Westfield in the 1930s, when his patron, “Godmother” Mason Mrs. Rufus Osgood Mason) found him a place to stay because she “believed that if Hughes lived in Harlem, he would be too distracted,” according to biographer Laurie F. Leach. During his stay in Westfield, he wrote several plays and collaborated with Zora Neale Hurston, who also lived in town, to create Mule Bone: A Comedy  of Negro Life in Three Acts, a play they never staged. It was published posthumously. In production.

Zora Neale Hurston—novelist, short story writer, folklorist, anthropologist—lived in Westfield during the early 1930s. Perhaps best known for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, she was originally from the South. Her studies brought her to Barnard College in New York, where she was the sole black student. While she made significant contributions to the Harlem Renaissance, writing about the African-American experience and racial divisions, her novels went relatively unrecognized by the world until Alice Walker’s essay “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” was published in 1975.

Walking along the Blue Brook, from Lake Surprise to Seeley’s Pond, and then downstream along the Green Brook, if you look carefully, you will see the foundations of long-forgotten mills. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, these waterways
were the industrial hub for this area, producing everything from lumber to paper to gunpowder, grist, material for hats and
crushed stone. There were upwards of 12 mills along these two brooks. In some spots, you can still see remnants of the dams,
sluices, and spillways that provided the water power to drive the machinery. *

Tin Kettle Hill played a vital role in the Revolutionary War. Gen. George Washington stationed sentries on the 186-foot hill to warn of British troop advances. There were several, leading to the Battles of Springfield and Connecticut Farms. From 1903–1906, the Pennsylvania Railroad leveled Tin Kettle Hill, using the soil to build a new route to New York City. Not long after, the Rahway Valley Railroad built a line connecting Kenilworth to Summit. Passenger service on the RVR—it ran along the Kenilworth side of what would become Galloping Hill Golf Course—discontinued soon after the golf course opened in 1928. *

The Union County Performing Arts Center still stands today, in good measure, because no one wanted to see its historic Wurlitzer pipe organ fade into memory. Custom built in 1928 for silent movies, the Rahway Theatre organ’s 600+ pipes were installed in two lofts on both sides of the proscenium to heighten the sound. During WWII, many organs were scrapped, their metal donated to the war effort. This organ miraculously survived the arrival of sound movies and continues to be used for concerts and movies. Once one of almost 1,000 theater organs in New Jersey, it is now one of 11.