Got to texting the other day with a fellow Hunterdon Co. native , Peter Graff, about some memorable times locally. We recalled the monumental excavation that it took to build Round Valley Reservoir and later, Spruce Run Reservoir.

Then Interstate 78 came through with its attendant upheaval. Projects like these, for the public good, are many years in the making before the dirty work even begins.

Imagine just the condemnation process alone. That is, in my unlawyer-like description, the taking of privately owned land so that it can be used by the public for an essential purpose (in this case, transportation). The lands needed to build the interstate highways across America, for example, first had to be condemned .

It’s easy to understand the emotional rollercoasters sometimes encountered by the government’s condemnation agent. After all, the farm’s been in the family for four generations and now some mealy-mouthed dude in a suit comes to say he’s here to snatch part of it.

Yes, he’ll pay you for it. Yes, there’s room for negotiation, but not much. It’s not really the owner ‘s choice.

My conversation with Peter evolved to a discussion of Romaine Tenney in Weathersfield, Vermont.


Weathersfield, Vermont. 1964. A wizened old farmer, Romaine Tenney, has refused to do a deal with the government to permit the destruction of his house and cow barn that are in the way of future construction of Interstate 91.

At length, Tenney gets word that the Feds are on their way to remove his worldly possessions from the house to ready it for razing. When they arrive, the house and barn are a raging inferno, Tenney inside with a bullet in his head. Eminent Domain in its ugliest form.

I was eleven years old when that incident took place. I have to wonder how many similar circumstances clouded the judgements of wearied farmers who, right or wrong, felt betrayed; in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for the sake of the public good.


One thought on “WHO REMEMBERS ?

  1. Hey Pete,
    Long time, “no see”. Sorry that I’ve neglected you all these months. Things have been quite busy here. I’m still working at the Lab full time, but I haven’t been in there for over a year. I’ve been telecommuting from home all of this time. So, I’ve been making up for lost time by catching up on your blogs. I really enjoy your writing style, your wry way with off-hand comments, and your general knowledge of literature. Also, some of your musings re-connect me with Hunterdon County. You really are the Poet Laureate of Pittstown and the Bard of Hunterdon County!

    I hope that your health is holding up reasonably well. While it is remotely possible that we might make it back East this Fall, we are really aiming for the Summer of 2022. We plan to stay in Clinton then and reconnect with old friends. We would also really like to visit with you. I hope that we will be able to do so.

    California is drying out. The rains from the Pineapple Express from Hawaii just miss us here in California but head up to Peter Graff in green Oregon. Our snow pack (our main water reservoir) now contains a little more that half of its average water content, and our man made water reservoirs are all at about half full. With water rationing we’ll probably have enough water to get through another year, but after that if we don’t get a lot of rain, California will simply dry up and blow away. So, please send water immediately!

    Ok, this here blog of yours reminds me of my childhood exploits in Clinton when they were pushing through I78. The surveyors had marked out the proposed route with a lot of wooden stakes. The highway was to pass very close to the southern side of the Clinton Public School property and from there go right down the hill to the west and across the river, taking out Sheriff John Lee’s house along the way. My solution to preventing this disaster was to roam around in the fields, pull up all of the stakes I could find, and destroy them. Well, ultimately my solution didn’t work because the highway is there today.

    Then when I was in college at Drew University we were visited by Governor Meyner who gave a speech. In the Q&A session following his speech, I asked Meyner why Hunterdon County was getting chopped up with highways, reservoirs, state parks, reformatories, etc.. Meyner didn’t like my question and curtly replied that not that many people lived in Hunterdon County, that the state benefited from all of this development, and that’s just the way democracy works: the greatest good for the greatest number. It was clear that Drew’s President did not like it that I had impertinately asked that question, but a few days later I graduated and thus was able to escape the President’s wrath!

    Anyway, those were my feeble attempts to stall eminent domain.

    See you this Fall, maybe; but hopefully in July, 2022.



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