BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Despite overcast skies, the 23rd annual Charter Day celebration brought out area residents knowing they could count on fun, tempting food, friends and live music. But this year, they also had a chance to view, and "sign" giant recreations of the charter signed by King George II that created the "Township of Bernardston" in 1760.

On Saturday, local vendors also set up the "traditional booths" to hand out information about their business, local sports team or civic organization. The Basking Ridge Fire Co. and First Aid Squad staffed their usual corner on Henry Street and North Finley Ave., to sell cotton candy as a fundraiser for one of the volunteer groups at what is Basking Ridge's largest community event.

For those attending, meeting up with their neighbors at Charter Day was part of the draw.

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"I've been here half an hour, and I already ran into 10 people I know," said Anita Parmar of Basking Ridge. She said her children, who are students at the Mount Prospect School, were having a great time on the rides and bouncy attractions on the field behind Oak Street School.

Even though they are high school students at Ridge, Leyla Steiner and Katie Krauss said they still find it fun to ride the rides that each charter day are temporarily put up on the school field.

Both also said they enjoy meeting up with friends at the event.

As band Hoi Polloi was setting up for an evening show, many residents and visitors of all ages grabbed dinner or met up with friends along North Finley Avenue - Ridge freshman Jenna Ascolese among them.

Along with plenty of food booths, Charter Day also offered visitors a chance to pick up some useful information earlier in the day, whether it was learning how The Seeing Eye trains dogs to assist the vision impaired - or learning about the views of the local Republican and Democratic organizations, which had both set up booths on opposite sides of the street this Charter Day.

No matter what their age or political views, everyone was given a chance to sign an enlarged recreation of the original charter in which British King George II created the "Township of Bernardston," named after then-NJ Gov. Sir Francis Bernard, which also included a larger area of the Somerset Hills.

Basking Ridge resident Brooks Betz researched the project, searching down similar original copies of charters creating Bedminster and Bridgewater that he said were templates for the charter in Bernardston, created in 1760. The original charter had burned in a fire in 1850, said Betz, who also is a member of the Board of Trustees for The Historical Society of Basking Ridge.

Betz said he used digital writing on the recreated charter. Although the wording was similar to that in surrounding townships, Betz said a copy of the wording from the Township of Bernardston charter had been recorded in Perth Amboy, and was the basis for the issuance of the wording for the charter during the township's 250th anniversary birthday celebration back in 2010, he said.

One of the copies was out in a booth along North Finley Avenue, and another was in The Brick Academy, the headquarters for The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills at 15 W. Oak St.

First signatures on the recreated charter

Betz said some of the first signatures on the recreated charter were written by two women who had traveled from near Philadelphia, and also from Montana, to see the Basking Ridge oak tree before it was taken down in April.

Both women said that an ancestry search showed they were descendants of an occupant buried in the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church cemetery under where the oak stood for centuries, Betz said. They also attended a history walk held prior to the day on which the tree, which had died last summer, was taken down, he said.

During a reception at The Brick Academy, both women expressed an extreme reluctance to leave, and said they somehow felt a deep connection to the town. Betz said he allowed them to sign the recreated charter - and both said that they would soon return to Basking Ridge.

On Charter Day, Mayor Carolyn Gaziano was the first person to sign the copy of the charter after officials spoke briefly following "Town Crier" Hank Barre's traditional walk down North Finley to proclaim that Charter Day was open.

 Sisters Emmalee Lafean, a Ridge sophomore, and Ginny Lafean, sang the national anthem.

The event was also attended by other members of the Bernards Township Committee, and county and state representatives, as well as U.S. Congressman Leonard Lance (Rep., Dist. 7). State Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (Rep., Dist. 21) and state Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (Rep., Dist. 21) also were on stage. 

"This community has an extraordinary history and an extraordinary future," Kean said.

"This is the most authentic town crier in the state of New Jersey," said state Assemblyman Jack M Ciattarelli (Rep., Dist. 16), who was also on stage.

Local officials thanked the Bernards Township Department of Parks & Recreation as well as the many volunteers that made the event possible.

Parks & Recreation Director Jennifer Gander said the vendors and volunteers were out in the rain early on Saturday setting up for the street fair and other activities, including Charter Day Idol, a competition of young musicians and musical groups from the area.