SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – You’ve heard of the Osborn Cannonball House, the Frazee House, and may have enjoyed the outdoor bar at the historic Stage House Tavern, but did you know Raritan Road was originally a stage line running from Newark to New Brunswick? According to a local historian, the history of Scotch Plains and Fanwood isn’t necessarily common knowledge.
Having just celebrated his 80th birthday, Pete Terry knows a thing or two about the area. In fact, he’s been neighbors with his brother, James, on Rahway Road long enough that he’s lost count of how many times his address has changed based on municipal boundaries alone.
“My family bought this property here in 1759 and we’ve been here ever since,” Terry said. “Rahway Road has been called Short Hills Lane, of course it was Elizabethtown originally, then we were in Westfield Township, then at one time for a while it was Plainfield Township. When the 911 system came through that’s when they came back and called us Scotch Plains again. All this time it was called Dog Corner, and we've been in all those towns but the place never moved.”
A graduate of Scotch Plains High School Class of 1954, Pete Terry met his wife Judy in school and the two have been together ever since. Together they have preserved the local history through personal heirlooms and as officers of the Historical Society of Scotch Plains and Fanwood.
Among the catalogs of documents and photos in the Terry’s possession is a framed piece of parchment dated from 1739 granting a piece of land to Gershom Frazee, which Pete believes is the original deed for the nationally designated Frazee House site on Raritan Road.
“It’s for seven acres in the Ash Swamp with the Old Pine Brook running through it. It’s designated like, ‘from a big rock to an oak tree,’” said Pete Terry, describing the era’s terminology. “It came to me because William Hetfield Terry that lived on top of the hill, he was the executor of the Lee’s Estate. It went from the Frazees to the Lee brothers and then to the Rynos, and then to the Frank Terry who had the zoo there.”
Having lived on the South side of Scotch Plains for seven decades, Terry is able to retrace history, aligning tidbits of information with his very own experience. With genealogy that extends back to the Revolutionary War and equipped with copies upon copies of government reports, the Terrys know quite a bit of hidden facts as well.
“I would bet that 85 percent of the people of Scotch Plains don’t know there was a country club on Cushing Road over to Cooper Road,” said Pete Terry, describing the Prescott Hills Country Club. “I don’t know when it was built, but they built the first 9 holes then the Depression hit and they went bankrupt.”
Mr. Terry also had close ties with Maxwell Stewart Simpson, a local artist whose works now hang in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Upon moving to Scotch Plains in 1950, Simpson purchased Pete Terry’s grand-uncle’s house on Raritan Road, where he eventually died in 1984.
“For a local artist he was pretty well known. He lived in the house and ended up getting divorced so he sold the main house and converted the barn and carriage house into an apartment and studio. We have quite a few of his works because he didn’t have a lot of money and he paid my father off on time so Max invited my father and mother over and let them pick out a painting of their choice because he was grateful. I took some of his artwork in payment and I think it was worth it,” Terry said.
Pete and Judy Terry continue to unravel the antiquity of the community page by page. With hundreds of artifacts, photos, paintings, and family treasures, the two have no plans to move anywhere else. They will be honored as "Couple of the Year" at the Scotch Plains Mayors' Gala on Friday, May 6.
“My dad died in 1977 and somewhere in the 60s he told my mother, my brother and I that while he was living he would live on this property,” Terry said. “My brother’s saying the same thing as him now, but he’s a year older than me and he’s the big brother and we’re partners in this. So that’s why we’re here.”
As key members of the Historical Society of Scotch Plains and Fanwood, the Terrys are looking to boost membership to get more locals interested in the deep-rooted history. With more support, the Historical Society will be able to complete renovations to the Frazee house and provide signage for local sites with detailed descriptions.
The Historical Society meets at 8 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Scotch Hills Country Club except in July, August and December.