1939 Hopewell Carnival Mystery Photo

So, what the heck is this? The image was provided courtesy of Bill Frenchu, and is labeled “Carnival Hopewell 1939.” OK – But what carnival? In our Hopewell? And where could this be?

It turns out that we’ve been able to make quite a bit of sense of this – but with some details still uncertain. So you may want to take a shot at figuring this out for yourself. Then come along for the ride…

The Scene

First, look at the scene. There’s some sort of large figure, with what looks like a dance floor behind with lighting, and then maybe a Ferris wheel behind. Beyond is a large empty field apparently sloping down, with a fairly straight horizontal line of bushes behind in the distance, with poles and wires. The land then rises to a hill in the distance.

Just behind the horizontal line on the right is a house, with another house or barn behind. And to the left, a bit further back, is simple foursquare house. Then in the distance up the hill is what looks like a farm complex.

So if this is Hopewell Borough, then the hill in the distance does have a similar look to other images facing north at the beginning of the rise to the Sourlands. Or maybe not.

The Markings

Next, we can check the markings in the image. One helpful clue is the sign under the figure: “Shrubbery furnished by Howes Nurseries.” From online references and seed catalogs, the Howe Nurseries in Pennington apparently was active from at least the 1930s through the 1950s to the 1970s. So apparently we are indeed in our Hopewell, New Jersey.

The trailer to the right is marked “Philgas,” but does not seem to have any other clear markings.

And there is faint text along the bottom of the image, albeit white against a white background, which reads “Firemans Ice Carnival   Hopewell N. J.” (Yes, apparently the Ice Carnival was held in the warm growing season, with trees in full foliage.)

Hopewell Fairs and Carnivals

So what do we know about Hopewell carnivals and fairs? Many organizations in and around Hopewell had carnivals, including the Hopewell Baseball Club Carnival, Rocky Hill Carnival, and Princeton Ice Carnival in the 1930s. But Hopewell has had a major summer event running from Fire Department carnivals starting in 1911 through the mid 1950s, then the American Legion around the 1960s and 1970s, the Business Association’s Community Day in the 1980s, and up to the current Hopewell Harvest Fair.

The Hopewell Fire Department anniversary booklets detail the chronology of the Fire Department carnivals in Hopewell, starting annual carnivals in 1911 (when the Fire Department was formed), then in the early 1920s, and reinstated in 1936 through 1942, but stopped during World War II. These were then revived, but stopped in 1953 due to concern about state gambling laws. Unfortunately, the booklets do not mention where the carnivals were held.

(More on the Fire Department 50th, 75th, and 100th Anniversary booklets – Hopewell Valley Fire Departments)

The American Legion Hopewell Post 339 then apparently took over running the carnivals, in addition to organizing Memorial Day parades. Around the time of the development of Taylor Terrace in the mid 1960s, the Legion moved the carnival to its first home on Mercer Street near Model (built 1949), and then to its building on Van Dyke Road (built 1966, with carnivals at least through 1973).

(More on the American Legion post(s) and other veterans groups in Hopewell – Hopewell Borough Veterans Organizations)

Later, the Hopewell Community Day was held in at least the early 1980s in the area next to the current PNC Bank on East Broad Street, sponsored by the Hopewell Business Associates. And finally, the current Hopewell Harvest Fair has been held since 1987 on the Elementary School grounds.

(More on the 30 years of Harvest Fair almanacs in the Pamphlet Collection – Hopewell Harvest Fair Almanacs)

So a 1939 date for the picture showing a Fire Department carnival would seem to make sense.

Hopewell Herald

So the next step is to go to the newspapers, particularly the Hopewell Herald.

And here’s the confirmation – The Herald in June and July 1939 discusses the “Hopewell Firemen’s Ice Carnival,” which was held July 28 through August 5, 1939.

It featured a “mammoth nine-foot tall snow man,” designed and made by H. Mount Williamson Jr. “The snow man will be finished in black and white and covered in sparking snow. In one hand he will hold a large fountain of water, the entire structure to be facing a powerful spotlight.”

The paper even had this picture of the “giant-size realistic snow man” (a rarity for the Herald). That’s our guy!

The Location

However, the Herald does not mention where the carnival was being held in 1939, so we need to look in the years before and after.

The Herald has articles from 1916 on a Firemen’s Carnival, which was held “on the lot opposite J. Newton Allen’s residence, at the eastern end of the trolley line.” This would be in the area of what is now the Castoro property on East Broad Street past Maple Street.

Then from 1920 to 1927 there are articles discussing the “Hopewell Carnival” run by the Fire Department, on the grounds of the “Lincoln grammar school” (the still-existing school building on Model Avenue that was built in 1888, and replaced by the Hopewell Elementary School in 1926).

Then bracketing our year of 1939, the Herald has articles and ads from 1938 and 1942, 1951 and 1954, placing the carnival on “West Broad Street.”

But exactly where? Another Herald article from 1942 reports three youths attending the carnival has their bicycles stolen, which were “parked near Lamson’s Garage, adjacent to the [carnival] grounds.”

Of course, this punts the question to now locating Lamson’s Garage. Betty Gantz has “John Lamson’s land or the Amoco Station” on the north side of West Broad Street, i.e. where the auto repair and detailing shop still stand today. Jack Koppel in the Hopewell Valley Historical Society Newsletter from 2004 has pictures of both the Lamson Ford building that still stands behind the auto shop, and the main building shop building, later used as the site for the movie “IQ.”

(More on the Betty Gantz book, Hopewell’s Past, and on the HVHS Newsletter)

This is confirmed by long-time residents who remember attending the carnival, on the grounds to the west of the current location of the car repair / detailing garage between Eaton Place and the entrance to Taylor Terrace.

The Picture and Houses

So if the picture is taken in a field between Taylor Terrace and Eaton Place, what are we seeing in the background? Our current answer is thanks to Dick Sudlow, who is our go-to guy for identifying unknown images of the Hopewell area.

The photo is facing north between Taylor Terrace and Eaton Place (which were not yet developed), so the horizontal line of bushes in the distance must be the train tracks, with multiple wires on poles running along them. (The poles in photos back to the early 1900s have up to six horizontal cross arms of wires.) There also is a suggestion of a train carriage on the far left of the image(?)

Just beyond the tracks is Louellen Street, which comes up diagonally from Model Avenue on the right to Hart Avenue on the left (further away from the tracks). This might be the line of trees behind the horizontal bushes, with some telephone poles. And then Hart Avenue is just beyond, cutting horizontally across in parallel with the train tracks, again with the suggestion of trees and telephone poles.

So where are these houses located?

The house on the right is facing the camera, and seems a good match for the first house on the right on Louellen just after you cross the train tracks – with a center chimney and a projection on the left side.

The house on the left is apparently facing away from the camera, which looks like a match to the last house on the left as you continue up Louellen, before you reach Hart Avenue. This is indeed a four-square (since extended on the back), with a pyramidal hip roof – with a dormer in the front but not the back, and a chimney on the back side of the roof (facing the camera).

Both of these houses are facing perpendicular to the train tracks, and both do appear in 1940 aerial images. And the aerials show that the rest of this end of Louellen Street and Hart Avenue are not yet developed, so we do not expect to see more houses. Unfortunately, there is one exception – there also is a structure in the aerials at the end of Hart Avenue on the south side, which does not seem to appear in the carnival image. It could be behind the trees and/or the posts in the foreground.

The farm in the back is a bit more difficult. It is up the hill, in the general location of the Betty Johnson compound, north of the end of Hart Avenue. But the buildings have been significantly modified, and so do not match the old aerials, and the old aerials are difficult to match to the carnival photo.

But in general, we do seem to have good matches for the structures in the image. You can follow the tracks and the roads by the associated bushes, trees, and power and telephone poles:

Buildings and suggestions of tracks and roads in the image

Making Sense

So we are comfortable that this image does indeed show the Hopewell Firemen’s Ice Carnival from summer 1939, complete with giant snow man. The photo label and the text at the bottom are confirmed by the Hopewell Herald.

And the location was on West Broad Street, between Taylor Terrace and Eaton Place, confirmed by local memories and multiple sources.

The houses in the scene seem to make sense, although the farm in the distance is difficult to match. The other difficulty is the field of view of the carnival photo. If the two houses are basically the ends of one block of Louellen – from the train tracks to Hart Avenue – that is a very narrow field of view for a photo looking over a large field. But the photo is focused in on the snow man and dancing floor behind.

Here are two rough illustrations of the scene, and the view from the camera, on a map and an aerial image. You can recreate the view in the image from a position standing just west of the Garage.

Rough field of view in the image (OpenStreetMap)
Rough field of view in the image (1930, NJOIT / OGIS)

Any further thoughts on this? Any other documentation or images of the Hopewell Fire Department carnivals?

More on Town Events

See also Memorial Day

Hopewell – Harvest Fair, Community Day, Fire Dept. and Legion Carnivals

Pennington – Pennington Day

Titusville – Fourth of July

2 thoughts on “1939 Hopewell Carnival Mystery Photo

  1. Terrence Devlin

    I’d say the farm is the Holcombe farm as shown on the 1903 map.
    The house on the left is likely 35 Louellen St.

  2. […] 1939 Hopewell Carnival and Hopewell Fairs and Carnivals […]

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