I know where, but not when. When was the name Sand Town first used? By the time that Hamilton Township was incorporated, Sand Town became Mercerville. The center of town is the intersection of Quakerbridge Road, Nottingham Way and Edinburg Road, also known as Five Points.
It seems as though Sand Town/Mercerville and Hamilton Square were always linked together. Perhaps it was the trolley. In the early 1900’s, the trolley came down East State Street Extension to Nottingham Way and followed it to The Square. There, the motorman/conductor enlisted the aid of the passengers to turn the trolley around on the turntable in preparation for its return journey.
After WWI, with the turntable gone, a stone monument was erected in The Square commemorating those who served and sacrificed in the Great War. Years later, newer residents to the area, quasi-intellectuals, failing to understand the patriotic fever after the war, questioned the value and the “architectural integrity” of the monument that, to them, was hindering traffic.
Back to Five Points: the oldest and largest structure in Sand Town/Mercerville was Gropp’s Tavern, but it was not the landmark. The landmark was across the street at Lererence’s Bar. Attached to the sign post at the curb was what anyone would call a circus bicycle. Its seat was five feet off the ground, but be careful, describe it too often and it could grow another foot or so. Come down Nottingham Way, and pass the bicycle and you knew you were in Mercerville.
We moved to Mercerville in the fall of 1940, and my remembrances begin then.
On the northeast point, William Steiner, Sr. sold sand. On a corner of his property stood the cinder block clubhouse of Mercerville Boy Scout Troop 38. Its excellent Scout Troop Leader, Bob Sherman, Sr., saw to it that the troop got frequent campouts at Toad Hollow.
Toad Hollow was off Hughes Drive near Quakerbridge Road at the Van Ness Game Preserve. Once the large tent was pitched and the camp fire ‘mellowed’ down, many a can of beans were warmed over the embers. But, be careful or the bottom would melt loose and there went your beans. No cleanup was needed as, in a few days, the permanent residents would clean up any spilled food. A bedtime ritual involved passing a jar of peanut butter around until it was scraped clean by “official” scout knives.
East State Street Extension in the 1940’s was lined with wide rolling hills great for flying rubber band powered model air planes and playing “War” with wooden tat-tat guns.
In the early 1940’s, the Catholic Diocese founded a mission on the corner of East State Street Extension and Nottingham Way and named it Our Lady of Sorrows. About the same time, Harvey Grove and his parishioners began a major improvement project at the Mercerville Union Methodist Church on Quakerbridge Road. With a lot of brick-n-mortar, the enlarged building boasted a colonial appointed sanctuary with white pews.
Over at Nottingham Way, the Mercerville Post Office was situated across from Regina Avenue in a private home; no ZIP codes in 1940. On Wednesdays during the war, the postmistress visited Mercerville School and you could purchase Liberty Stamps. Fill your book with $18.75 worth of stamps, and you could exchange the book for a War Bond worth $25 at maturity.
Just down the street towards Five Points was Lester Pullen’s Garage. The large plate glass window announced that it was, or had been, a Chrysler dealership. Lester’s son Royce was an ace mechanic who was also blessed with longevity; he only passed away within the last two years.
Next, on the west “point,” stood Taylor Anderson’s dry cleaning business. Make a right turn towards Route 33, and there was the sandlot ballfield. The field was an orphan, as 1940 was too early for a Little League team and no VFW post showed interest. After Taylor closed his dry cleaning business, his site and Pullen’s Garage became a gas station.
On the west side of Gropp’s Tavern was an ice cream shop operated by one fondly known as “Cookie.” Taylor Anderson eventually built Anderson’s Meat Market next to Gropp’s Tavern and across his parking lot emerged Gropp’s Hardware Store. It was a we-have-everything store. You could take in your radio and TV tubes and test them yourself.
After the end of WWII, Mr. Steiner’s sons, Bill Jr. and John—who was also Mercerville Fire Chief—ran an Esso station on their “point.” Down the left field foul line of the sandlot ballfield lived Howard Hutchinson. Ring the side doorbell any time of day or night, and get your hair cut by Hutch the Barber.
As the adage says, “Time marches on.” By the 1960’s, changes were underway.
In Hamilton Square, the stone monument was moved with reverence 70 feet into Bernard Foley Park, named after the longtime fire chief of the Nottingham Fire Company. The last of the trolley’s steel rails were finally removed from Nottingham Way. Until a recent repaving, the outlines of the trolley passing tracks were still visible in front of Sayen Elementary School. At Five Points, the Esso station became Humble Oil and is now a jewelry store. Gropp’s Tavern is now Bill’s Olde Tavern, Anderson’s Meat Market is now a parking lot and Gropp’s Hardware is now Delcrest Health Supplies.
The post office in the private home is gone. After moving twice, the Mercerville Post Office now serves at least two ZIP codes. The circus bicycle is gone, and its sign post now reads Jo-Jo’s. The sandlot ballfield is now filled with homes on Fenwood Avenue. If we remember what we were told in Sunday school, Hutch the Barber is probably now cutting hair in the Great Beyond.
At 6:58 a.m. on April 18, 1971, the Union Methodist Church on Quakerbridge Road was leveled by a natural gas explosion. It was so violent that a steel beam planted itself in a backyard a block away and Methodist hymnals came down as far away as the parking lot of Saint Gregory the Great Catholic Church, well over two miles away.
The Lord was watching as the janitor, Leroy Allen, was in the only reinforced room, in the basement, and eventually recovered from his injuries. Two hours later, it would have been a horrific tragedy as the cooperative nursery school would have been in full session.
The Methodists never missed a worship service as their good neighbors at Our Lady of Sorrows opened their doors and provided space for worship and meetings. By January 1972, the Hamilton Square Methodist Church and the Mercerville Methodist Church merged, forming the Saint Mark United Methodist Church. In the fall of 2016, the church celebrated its 45th anniversary of its founding in its facilities at Paxson Avenue and Edinburg Road. Edinburg Road—once a two lane road—is now a four lane thoroughfare to the village of Edinburg (part of West Windsor Township) and beyond.
Steiner’s sand business with the scout clubhouse is now the housing development of Brighton Drive, Steiner Avenue and Holt Circle.
Boy Scout Troop 38 is no more but down at Toad Hollow the circle of camp fire stones still awaits the next campers. Because of the fine leadership of Bob Sherman, Sr., many teenage boys were guided towards manhood, where they became responsible members of the community.
— Win Applegate