Sometimes finding hidden treasures requires hunters the likes of Indiana Jones, but other treasures are often in plain sight. How many times have you driven along Great Road, seen the sign that says Hobler Park, but never walked its paths? Count me among that lot. In this blog, I tell the history of the park and also encourage you to visit it, as I finally did. It’s indeed a treasure, right in our midst.
More than two centuries after the farms owned by original Dutch farmers named Blaw, Nevius and Tulane were settled, land along Great Road and adjacent properties was sold to The Great Road Land Company and Bedens Brook Company, which were both owned by William Augustine. The farms were merged to form a golf course community that became known as Cherry Valley Country Club (CVCC). Part of this land was set aside to become a park for all to enjoy.
The core of this large tract of land was last known in the 20th century as Woodacres, a 600-acre parcel that was originally part of the Blaw holdings from 1738. John Blaw gave 500 acres to each of his sons, Michael and Frederick. It was on part of Frederick’s parcel that Woodacres was built.
Over the years, the farm passed through many owners. In the late 1800s, the farm was owned by John Terhune. In 1914, V. (Voorhees) Leroy Skillman purchased the farm, which he worked until 1931. When a man named Vaughn bought the farm, he named it Avis Farm after his wife. Mr. Vaughn kept Skillman on as manager.
Atherton Wells Hobler, 1890 - 1974
In 1941, Atheron Wells Hobler, the prominent founder and CEO of Benton & Bowles Advertising Agency in New York, purchased the farm and renamed it Woodacres Farm. Already a gentleman farmer, he moved his prized herd of Guernsey cattle from his farm in Connecticut to the new farm. After an initial purchase of 200 acres, Hobler purchased 400 more acres for his growing herd.
In 1971, Hobler decided to retire. He sold 50 acres from the Tulane tract that faced Cherry Valley and Great Roads to William Augustine. By the mid-1970s, Hobler sold the rest of the farm to Augustine’s company.
An additional land purchase from the VCVCC bought more land from the Van Zandt family, expanding its area from Route 518 to Cherry Valley Road.f homes and a golf course possible.
Setting Aside Land
By the mid-1970s, a young man named Clem Fiori had moved into Blawenburg. He was a photographer for Princeton University and a gifted artist. He is largely responsible for Montgomery’s initiative to set aside over 8,000 acres for open space.
Clem’s property backed onto the field that was farmed by Woodacres, and he had a vision to keep that space as farmland, leave it as open space, or turn it into a park. He talked with the developer and the township about his vision, and they liked the idea. Rather than adding houses to the historic village, why not a park?
“I suggested purchasing the 50-acre property and donating it to the town where everyone could enjoy it,” he said. The township officials agreed, and with a week, William Augustine donated the land to develop a park just south of Route 518 along Great Road. It also didn’t take long to name it after Atherton Hobler. It was officially dedicated in 1990 as Atherton Hobler Memorial Park, just a year before CVCC opened.
A passive park in natural succession
All parks are not created the same. Some are filled with athletic fields and lights. Others, so-called passive parks, remain mostly natural. They might have picnic areas and trails, but they are meant to keep the environment as natural as possible.
Hobler Park is passive. “People look and see a field and think it’s just a field, but when you get down there, you see a real diversity of species and plant life,” Clem said in a 2010 interview. Its grass trails are easy to access and well maintained. Photographer Dan Balogh noted, “These trails are in the woods and along farm fields with a variety of surprises along the way. There's a butterfly garden, an area where you can see wooden sculptures of animals, and an area where you can see some works from a local Princeton sculptor. Bird houses also abound. It's not a large park, but you can spend a nice hour here.”
There is also a pavilion for picnickers, a multipurpose field, small playground, ample parking area, and a restroom. The entry lane and parking area are unpaved.
The playground at Hobler Park
A Walk in the Park
For my first walk through Hobler Park, I chose a sunny Saturday afternoon in early September. Signs of fall were in abundance—leaves on shrubs beginning to turn, golden rod just emerging, and Queen Anne’s lace was everywhere in bloom. I noticed the sculptures as I walked along the only paved path in the park. I wondered who created them, and immediately thought of the volunteer art curator, Clem Fiori.
I walked up a path toward the houses in Blawenburg, not knowing where I was going, but figuring that I couldn’t get too lost. I soon came to the only four-legged mammal that I saw, a skittish black cat who was focused on its next meal until he saw me.
I found some interesting models of houses that were made of metal and looked like they would last in the outdoors forever.
The bees, wasps, and other insects were busily feasting on the fall flowers, and, unlike the cat, they seemed oblivious to my presence.
My walk brought me to the backyards of downtown Blawenburg residents. Like Robert Frost, I had a choice, but I don’t know whether I took the path least taken. Being attracted to more natural sculptures, I took the path behind the houses and paused to take in the abstract beauty of the sculptures. Knowing that these were right behind Clem’s house, I surmised they were surely his creation.
I found myself back in civilization when I reached Great Road and headed back to my car. Along the way, I reflected on what a great walk I had taken, just me in the natural flora and fauna of a village I’ve called home for half a century. It was an hour well spent away from the hustle and bustle of daily life—no computers, no social media, no TV. It was just all those plants and critters that live in Blawenburg’s treasured park and me.
Take some time and explore Hobler Park. Who knows? You might see me there, too!
1. The original name of Cherry Valley Country Club was intended to be Cherry Glen Country Club, but after discussion with Montgomery Township officials, the builder agreed to name in after nearby Cherry Valley Road.
2. When John Blaw gave Frederick the land that became Woodacres he also gave his son Michael 500 acres on the east side of Great Road to run Blaw’s Mill. George Gallup Sr. bought Michael’s farm in the 1930s.
3. Hobler had 150 champion cattle on this farm. People came from across the country to bid on getting these prized bovines.
4. In honor of Atherton Hobler, CVCC named its two main buildings Woodacres and Hobler House.
Reminiscence of Blawenburg and Other Memories with V. Leroy Skillman, Anna Drake Skillman, and Edward Terhune, Oral History 98-05, Belle Mead, NJ, Van Harlingen Historical Society of Montgomery, Inc., 1998
A. W. Hobler – Find a Grave
Trail map – Township of Montgomery
All other pictures – D. Cochran
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