How the Progressive Republican who Named Metuchen, New Jersey, ‘The Brainy Borough’ was Run Out of Town
For the man who named Metuchen the Brainy Borough, there is a little-known story about how this newspaper reporter, turned utility superintendent, turned postmaster, turned Republican committee member, turned real estate and insurance agent, took on the bosses that led the Republican Party in New Jersey and spectacularly lost. This is his story and the lasting impact his life has had on his adopted hometown of Metuchen, New Jersey.
To understand the rise and spectacular fall of Truman Pierson, one must understand the milieu in which he operated. Metuchen was a relatively small village with approximately 150 people going between Metuchen and New York City each day via the train. The presence of large houses and estates, many built the generation before Pierson arrived, were from the civic, political, and business leaders of that earlier generation. One example on Woodbridge Ave was the home of Wright Robins who served as President of the New Jersey State Senate. Also on Woodbridge Ave somewhat closer to town was the home of Peter Tertius Kempson who published insurance periodicals.
These large estates later attracted a “summer colony” with leading writers, artists, and business leaders of the time. Pierson himself captured this identity and character in a 1908 article, “For Brains You Cannot Beat Metuchen.” The article leads off with the line: “‘The Brainy Borough’ is the name by which Metuchen is rapidly becoming famed throughout the entire State.” He begins by recognizing author Mary E. Wilkinson Freeman. Next he mentions H.M. Alden, editor of Harper’s Monthly Magazine. Several names after that, the article becomes self-referential naming “no less a personage than John Noble Pierson,” (Truman’s father), “who was planned some very artistic homes.” And how “he has a son, Aylin” (Truman’s brother), “who is also a successful architect.” After naming numerous others, Pierson concludes “Metuchen’s fame as a center of culture is spreading and every few months The Brainy Borough acquires a new member for its artistic colony and yet residents of the town are very modest about the distinction which the community has.”
Commerce and Politics
For a town given such glowing words by Truman Pierson himself, how could it treat him so rudely ultimately forcing him and his family out of Metuchen and shortly thereafter out of New Jersey? The answer to that is in the cold and calculated story of commerce and politics which then and now are so intimately joined together.
Given Pierson’s early vocation as a journalist, newspapers are as good of a place as any to start. At the time newspapers were overtly partisan and the Home News published from the neighboring town of New Brunswick was a Republican publication. This put him at odds with the publishers of the Metuchen Recorder that sided with the Democrats. Dory Strong was publisher of the Home News and widely recognized as a Republican party “boss.” The Strong name also showed up in Metuchen, owning land where the present-day Borough Hall sits.
From his base of newspaper writing, Pierson accepted a position in early 1904 with the Middlesex Water Company. He started as a stenographer and bookkeeper. Over time he became an Assistant Superintendent. Their offices were in the current 410 Main Street. Water service was a key to the laying of new subdivisions and building of housing in Metuchen. This gave Pierson a front-row seat to understand and participate in real estate development. This connection with real estate was further evidenced by his association with the Metuchen Gas Company that was involved in providing service to buildings in Metuchen and to power the gas lights along Borough streets.
Entry into Politics
Pierson’s entry into politics was against his better judgment. He was urged to accept the nomination for Justice of the Peace in 1905 but declined to run. Despite not being listed on the ballot as the Republican candidate, a write-in campaign by friends helped to get him elected, making him the youngest Justice of the Peace in New Jersey. A year later in 1906 Pierson was on the ballot for Borough Council. This time he suffered attacks from the Democrat-aligned Metuchen Recorder. “Political Notes” were signed by “Taxpayer,” “Democratic Reader,” “Republican Voter,” and “Independent Republican.” Just before election day Pierson wrote a response to criticisms that he was in the pocket for avaricious corporations he worked for or was aligned with including the Water Company, the Gas Company, and his own real estate and insurance business. Pierson had these words of self-defense:
It is true that I at times furnish a good paper with real live news for its Metuchen readers, and I get 100 cents on a dollar for every line I write. It’s also true that aside from my real estate and insurance business I give part of my time to the Water Company and receive cash for it. Regarding the Gas Company, I beg to state that I am not now and never have been in its employ any more than I have any connection with the Metuchen National Bank or the Metuchen Building and Loan Association which have offices in the same building where my office is. Regarding my being a tool for any man or corporation I beg to state openly that I am under no man’s thumb, nor will I ever be crushed by any man’s heel. I am my own boss and have a reputation in Metuchen which is good and will stay good whether I win or lose at the polls, regardless of charges inspired by jealousy of the meanest kind and hatred of a few who sought to reach the front and failed.
In the same paper that Pierson’s statement was published, editors placed a biographical note acknowledging how Pierson came to Metuchen when he was two years old, and is a member of the Free & Accepted Masons, Mt. Zion Lodge, trustee of the Jr. Order of Understood and Accepted Masons, Metuchen Council; member of the Metuchen Woodmen; secretary of the Hook and Ladder Co; member of the Metuchen Club, of the Library Association, and the Borough Improvement League. The editor concluded, “In a word, he is one of Metuchen’s most honored and most useful men.” 
Despite that impressive track record, sixty republicans voted against Pierson resulting in his defeat – effectively handing the seat to the Democrats. The race for Borough Council was portrayed after the fact as a contest between the “Reform-Traitor Republican movement” trying to get on the inside of the local Republican party under the disguise of reformers, and the more Progressive branch (of actual reformers) exemplified by Pierson. So with the election of 1906 Pierson lost not only a race for Council but likely the patronage of political boss Theodore Strong.
Appointment as Postmaster
Perhaps as something of a consolation prize, Pierson was named postmaster a month later by R.H. Wilson, a Republican and the county committee chairman. This made Pierson the youngest postmaster in the State of New Jersey at the age of 22. Remarkable was how Wilson uplifted this upcoming progressive political voice, even when Wilson himself was at the end of his long life and career. He must have had an eye for talent.
An article recognizing Pierson’s appointment stated he “has grown up with the borough and has contributed during recent years much to its enterprise and growth. He has represented the progressive element of Metuchen and has had a hand in all important movements of recent years.” The same article juxtaposed this by saying “There has been some opposition to Mr. Pierson in the borough on account of the bold stand he has taken in political matters and he has made political enemies who have been secretly working against him, it is alleged.” The appointment of Pierson as Postmaster was made official by President Theodore Roosevelt on February 18, 1907.
Truman Pierson not only dazzled Metuchen voters and postal customers. Later in the same year Postmaster Pierson was elected vice president of the National Association of Postmasters on October 24, 1907. Following his election he and fellow postmasters were given a reception at the White House. Further, New Jersey postmasters agreed to meet November 20 that year to organize a State association with Pierson on the committee. Pierson served on the Constitution and By-laws committee for the first convention. The New Jersey Association of Presidential Postmembers met at the St. Charles on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Pierson was both a teller of the election elected Vice President.
Wasting no time, in March 1908 Postmaster Pierson achieved an important milestone. Gross receipts of the Post Office exceeded $5,000. Having reached this level, free mail carrier delivery service began. Pierson went to Washington, DC to press his case for rural delivery service throughout Raritan Township. It’s important to remember at the time that Metuchen was very much the epicenter, serving surrounding areas as well as Borough residents. Rural delivery service required at least five carriers and an additional clerk in the post office. While growing revenue was one thing, the other side of the ledger was managing costs. One way Pierson did this was to invent a padlock to place on the telephone so the phone could not be lifted without the assistance of a key he carried himself.
The week of December 1908 It was reported how “Postmaster Pierson has never experienced such a rush of business as during the past week. The mail has been tremendous, especially in the post card line.” Through tireless effort Pierson got sales up to a level to merit service. In his own words Pierson said “as long as the people buy their stamps out of town, they are working against their own interests.” Revenues at the post office had to raise to $8,000 annually to allow for free delivery service within Metuchen.
Rural mail delivery kicked off April 1, 1909 at 7:30am. Mayor Wilson was to give a brief address on the occasion before carriers set off in their carriages painted white and lettered with gold. The service allowed people to buy postage stamps, money orders, postal cards, receive and dispatch mail, and register letters from their homes which previously required a visit to the post office. The Mayor did not show up due to sleeping in, so Col. Weber who once served as postmaster of Keasby stepped in and gave a brief address. Three cheers were given for Postmaster Pierson before the coaches took off. An article following commencement of rural delivery wrote “Mr. Pierson is the first-class postmaster of a third class postoffice,” and documented his four trips to Washington to make the service possible.
Rural service was followed a few months later by expansion of the Post Office and adding “two good sized rooms.” This in turn allowed expansion of 250 new keyless boxes to the 500 already present. Starting August 1, 1909, the lobby would be open from 7:15am to 9:30pm.  Subsequently the time was expanded from 6 a.m. to midnight every day in the year. He also sought to start an evening mail service placing mail on the train that arrived in Metuchen at 7:13pm and to the south at about 5:15pm. To bring about these improvements Pierson visited 37 second and third class post offices in the State.
In 1910 Pierson was responsible for helping to arrange the National Association of Postmasters convention in Atlantic City. He attended meetings in Atlantic City with the arrangement committee, and then in Washington for a meeting of the arrangement committee and executive committee. The newspaper article on the convention opined:
The arranging for a big National convention is no small task, but Mr. Pierson planned to make it the biggest and best ever. Being so prominent in the postmasters’ associations brought Mr. Pierson in close touch with the officials at Washington and some of the postmaster’s friends in Metuchen think that is one of the reasons why Metuchen’s post-office is so thoroughly up-to-date.
Metuchen Political Scrap
Despite his great success as postmaster, Pierson was not immune to controversy due to his other business interests. The “Metuchen political scrap” unfolded in 1908. The new Democrat Mayor John W. Breen was also chairman of the Borough Street committee. In that role he had an ordinance passed requiring Borough approval for the opening of streets. Meanwhile, Truman Pierson in his role with the Metuchen Gas Company had Middlesex Avenue opened next to the high school (where Franklin Square condos are today). Pierson did not apply for permission from the Borough. The penalty was a fine for $100 or six months in jail. Pierson laughed the matter off with the following explanation: “He says that it is simply another effort on the part of the Democrats to down him and that it is following out the tactics used when certain Metuchen Democrats sought to discredit him with the Post Office Department at Washington, during the last campaign.”
Chief Marshal Enos Fouratt served a summons on ex-Sheriff C.C. Campbell. The only problem was Campbell had no association with the gas company, other than letting them use his office when the organization was formed years ago. Sparring continued over the next month. Truman Pierson and Campbell went to Recorder’s court with their witnesses, though the Borough was not represented, and the complaint dismissed. Senator George S. Silzer, a Democrat, was Borough Attorney though stopped serving in that role the day prior to the Recorder’s court hearing. Thus ended the “Metuchen political scrap” but this was not the first or the last political conflict that Pierson was party to. As an aside, Silzer who factored prominently in this conflict later became the 38th Governor of New Jersey from 1923 to 1926.
Fires and Losses for Pierson
Given that Pierson was also in the insurance business, fires were a constant threat to his livelihood. Fires in Metuchen were breaking out everywhere. The Hillside Inn was located in a renovated mansion on a sprawling block between present-day Hillside Ave and Highland Ave, one block from the New Jersey Transit station. It is here in January 1909 where a fire started from an overheated furnace around 6 p.m. causing $2,000 of damage. The Eagle and Hook Company arrived first, followed by the Washington Hose Company a few minutes later. Flames were confined to the cellar, kitchen, and café which were partially destroyed by flames and water. This would be the first of several high-profile fires for buildings that Truman T. Pierson insured.
A second minor fire occurred November 29, 1909 in the fruit store of Rocco Panzello. Several weeks prior he bought out the business. An explosion occurred around 7 a.m. and the front window was blown out and the interior was in flames. A week prior to the explosion underwriters had inspected the business and reduced the insurance to $2,200 and Truman Pierson had the policy taken by the German-American and North British Companies.
Another fire occurred September 12, 1911 for Joseph Dooley. This was the second time Dooley suffered a loss in the six years Pierson had been representing him. The insurer was the Germania Fire Insurance Company. While individually these fires did not ruin him, cumulatively they took their toll.
Running for County Committee
Wilson who had named Pierson postmaster after his disastrous Borough Council loss, also factored prominently in Pierson’s next political battle. Following the death of R.H. Wilson and the seat being left vacant for several years, Pierson ran in a contested election for Republican county committee. With the county committee seat came the ability to appoint a postmaster to suit them, just as Wilson had appointed Pierson. So losing the county committee race came with the threat of losing the employment that had distinguished Pierson so much. Of the 231 Republican votes cast for county committee, Pierson won 118 and his opponent E.C. Potter got 113. A five vote margin.
This was a remarkable moment in local politics for Pierson had to fight the local party organization, the Mayor, the Young Men’s Republican Club, four members of the Common Council, the Borough Clerk, three members of the board of Health, former Assemblyman Drake, former Sheriff Carman, and former Deputy Sheriff George Carman. On Pierson’s side were the street commissioner, the police magistrate, the Metuchen Recorder (a Democratic paper), and R.B. Powell. That support was enough to make a majority. Analysis after the election concluded that “Mr. Pierson proves beyond a doubt that he is a big figure in his party and must be reckoned with if his party is to win. The odds were all against his winning, but it looks now as if he is a part of the Metuchen G.O.P.” What makes this even more remarkable is how Pierson won the Republican committee member post with some Democratic support.
The county committee position was the prize he sought even more than postmaster. Even after winning and having the G.O.P. campaign for the general election placed in his hands, opposition for his re-appointment as postmaster persisted. Despite being nominated for a new term as postmaster by President Taft, he declined. Pierson was reported as saying “It is a hard proposition in a small town to hold a political office, particularly when a man has an outside business. In other words, politics and business do not mix well. If politics interferes with your business, give up politics.” This was perhaps the clearest articulation of Pierson’s progressive views – though regrettably he did not follow his own advice.
Heading into the fall elections of 1911, a political divide in the G.O.P. continued. The party fractured into three factions. One was led by Charles A. Prickett, former chairman of the county committee. Mayor Wilson led another. And county committee member Pierson led the third group. A major focus in the election was a proposal for a commission form of government. Advocates saw this as an opportunity to get beyond political squabbles and prevent qualified candidates declining political office for fear of infighting. The division between Pierson and the Mayor resulted in Mayor Wilson naming his own candidate for the county committee, a seat which Pierson held. On Council there were 5 candidates for the 2 seats on Council, illustrating a contested race with competition for the few seats available. At a deeper level this showed how the G.O.P. lacked the authority to select candidates for the various races, resulting in too many candidates.
In 1912 Pierson was Chairman of the Roosevelt Campaign Committee. While a campaign worker was distributing literature in May 1912, Alonzo Robinson was stabbed in the left shoulder by John Parkins, leaving a six-inch gap. Beneath the specter of political violence, the Raritan Roosevelt Club of Metuchen was formed. Out of forty-five men present, thirty-two men received votes. Pierson was among the top vote getters. Though ultimately he did not prevail. Instead William Dinwiddie was elected Chairman, D. Comstock was made secretary, and E.J. Drake Treasurer.
Pierson managed to play an important role in the election of 1912, nonetheless, helping a “Progressive Republican” candidate for Congress, Mark Prentiss, to find and buy a house in Metuchen from which he relocated to from Chicago to run. According to an article, “Pierson insisted that the colony of brainy folks would not be complete unless the talented Mark became a part of it, and so it came about that Pierson extracted some of Mark’s money from him and gave him in return one of the choice show places of the borough for his home.”
Mark Prentiss identified as a Bull Moose candidate. Local papers took to him asking in an article with the headline Who Are You, Mark? He launched his campaign in Metuchen on August 22, 1912, with the statement, “I have cut off entirely all connection with special privilege.” Prentiss was associated through a personal friend, George W. Perkins, with publicity work at Roosevelt headquarters in his campaign for President. Also novel in his platform was a commitment to send copies of all bills to voters with a post card for reply. Prentiss then pledged to vote on the majority of his constituents responses. He also proposed having a card index system containing names and addresses of all his constituents.
The background of Prentiss was as a traveling dry goods salesman for Marshall Field & Co. Later he entered the insurance business where he met George W. Perkins. Then he became a newspaper man and representative of the Root Syndicate, publishers of numerous trade publications. Prentiss was nominated at a Progressive Party Convention on September 12, 1912. Dinwiddie ceded the chair to Mrs. Pattison, so he could make a speech to nominate Prentiss. This marked the first time a woman served as chair of a party convention in New Jersey. Another woman, Mrs. Emma Annie Rhodes of New York, made a half-hour address to the convention.
Prentiss ran his headquarters from the Metuchen National Bank building at 406 Main Street, where he had a publicity agent, campaign manager, stenographer, and private secretary. A few days later on September 18 in a meeting at Arcanum Hall in Metuchen, the Progressives contemplated whether to join Republicans on the same line in the upcoming election. They put forth their own candidate, concluding that the Republicans “are fighting to save their own skin.” Prentiss remained the Progressive party nominee for Congress. Less than 12 days later word got out that party leaders in Monmouth County hoped to eliminate Prentiss as candidate for Congress and endorsed Benjamin F.S. Brown instead who had run as a Republican candidate in the primaries. There was also discussion of ex-Governor John Franklin Fort running for Congress in the 3rd District on the Progressive Party line.
Truman Pierson was part of this election not as a candidate, but through coverage by the Metuchen News Bureau which he owned and operated. In that role he provided coverage of how Benjamin F.S. Brown won the Republican nomination and also sought to run on the Progressive line, though Prentiss stuck with the Progressive party at the urging of former Governor Fort. This splitting of the vote effectively guaranteed the re-election of Congressman Scully, a Democrat. As the election approached Prentiss was urged to drop his name from the ballot by Governor Fort and other party bosses.
Despite his professions to not mix business and politics, Pierson allowed for Democrats to have their headquarters in his building at 397 Main Street during the 1912 election. The same coalition that swept him to power with some Republicans and a few Democrats appeared to still hold. Bull Moosers had their headquarters across the street in the Metuchen National Bank Building. These locations were remarkable given that Pierson had been the one-time Republican committee member and was now supporting Democrats. During that election the “Republicans have been paying rent on headquarters in the Whittier building but so far they have done nothing but pay the rent.” Prohibitionists in October 1912 made the Campbell Building their headquarters. The Progressive Mark Prentiss ran a business-like campaign and gained much support from “practically all the rank and file of the Progressives with the belief that in him they found a man who was sincere and who was a businessman and not a politician.” Embedded in that description of Prentiss was a self-reflection of what Truman Pierson himself aspired to be.
Prentiss withdrew his petition as candidate for Congress by October 14, 1912, several weeks prior to the election. Benjamin F.S. Brown instead was the sole candidate and also named himself as campaign manager.
The Raritan Roosevelt Club immediately responded by demanding the recall of President Dinwiddie and the Board of Governors of nine men on the charge they had “bossed” Prentiss into withdrawing as a candidate. This is consistent with treatment that Pierson had received in prior elections when rank and file Republicans stood against a progressive candidate. The reasons for dropping Prentiss were that he ran a weak campaign, was unable to gain aid from the Progressive National Committee, and had not lived long in the District. The next day on October 15 it was reported that Mark Prentiss intended to “move Heaven and Earth to get back on the ticket.” At the local club level Charles A. Bloomfield led the fight for the return of Mr. Prentiss and the recall of William Dinwiddie as chairman. By the following day, however, Prentiss announced he would not seek to withdraw his withdrawal as the Progressive candidate. The deciding factor was State Senator Judge Lyon asking that all discussions relative to Mark O. Prentiss’ candidacy for Congress be stricken from the minutes of the Raritan Roosevelt Club and that further reference to the same be prohibited.
As the Progressive campaign was burning out, the Prohibitionist party campaign was just starting to heat up. At noon on October 10, 1912, Rev. Dr. Jas. G. Mason of Metuchen who was the Prohibition candidate for State senator addressed a crowd at Railroad Plaza by the Pennsylvania Railroad train station in Metuchen. He pledged to do three things if elected. First, to give people of Middlesex County a chance to vote out the saloon. Next, a constitutional amendment allowing equal suffrage for men and women. And finally to regulate conduct of county prosecutors throughout the state, specifically to not be able to accept fees from applicants for liquor licenses at any time during his term in office. A trip was made in two autos throughout the county. Truman Pierson was included on the trip as a representative of the Metuchen News Bureau and press agent for the Middlesex Prohibitionists. So not only did he give space for the Democrats in his building, he also helped with campaigning by the Prohibitionists, showing that Pierson’s political participation transcended any one political party.
As the 1912 election approached Pierson was very vocally making statements in the press. This time advocating for improved trolley and train service between Perth Amboy and Metuchen. He vividly described the existing conditions with “The single track road with its long delays at switches, cars moving at snail-like pace over innumerable curves, foul smelling, ill-ventilated, poorly heated rolling stock.” Such an improvement might reduce the trip from 40 to 60 minutes by trolley to 11 minutes by train. Touching on the issue of annexation he did not come out one way or another on the issue, though suggested how greater Amboy through annexation might comprise Woodbridge Township, Borough of Roosevelt, Township of Raritan, and Borough of Metuchen. Then if they added New Brunswick to Greater Amboy that “the center of the Greater city which would naturally be Metuchen.” Pierson clearly relished being in a position to influence these greater systems.
Violence on Primary Election Day in Metuchen in 1912
When the primary election day approached on September 12, the only real excitement was an incident between ex-Chief of Police John T. Gedney and Truman T. Pierson. Meeting at Main Street near the polling place, they proceeded “to jolly one another on the Commission Government fight.” Things heated up “during which several blows were struck.” Truman made an atrocious assault charge against Gendey before Recorder Weber, though Mayor Wilson gave bail for him. The following day Gedney made a similar charge against Pierson before Justice of the Peace Sedam of New Brunswick. Commission government was voted down that day.
Pierson continued to press charges, this time against Enos Fouratt, borough marshal. Pierson claimed that on September 8 an intoxicated Enos Fouratt was standing in the vestibule of the Metuchen National Bank Building (today 406 Main Street) “in a state of intoxication” and “used vile, profane and indecent language” in the presence of Pierson’s wife. On September 11 at the bar room of the Lawless Hotel, Fouratt “publicly threatened that if he met me the next day he would lay my head open with his club.” Then he reiterated the assault made on him by John Gedney on election day September 12. Fouratt was present and “made no attempt to arrest… or prevent any further attack on me.” What Fouratt did instead was grab Pierson by the arm and said “If you don’t keep your mouth closed, I will put you down; I will put you out you bastard.” Pierson requested an investigation be made into the matter.
Pierson and Fouratt were summoned to appear before the Council on November 1 at a standing room only meeting. After hearing the charges the council voted on them one by one. On every charge the council voted unanimously not to sustain them with one exception. Council member Edward Kramer voted against one charge. Trying to make sense of the proceedings, a newspaper wrote:
It is claimed by many of Mayor Wilson’s supporters, that these charges, now proven untrue, were hatched up for political purposes, since Mr. Wilson is the Republican candidate for reelection and Mr. Pierson is working hand and glove with his opponents to bring about his defeat.
At a meeting of the Borough Council on November 6, the night before the general election the following day, Pierson said “I am displeased with the outcome of the hearing Friday night. Four valuable witnesses failed to answer their names when called. There were witnesses present who were not called at all. I will with a new lawyer appear at the meeting of Council this evening and ask for a new hearing.” Justice would take some time to prevail. Political consequences were immediate. At the election the following day Wilson was not reelected. This brought Democrats back in control as Metuchen Mayor for four years from 1912 to 1915.
In national politics Roosevelt and the Bull Moose Party did not prevail. Instead, Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, defeated the Republican candidate Taft. Realistically Prentiss had very little chance of winning. His name remained on the ballot, so when multiple progressives voted for two candidates, the Democrats moved for these ballots to be called “marked ballots” and thrown out. This ultimately cost the Progressives the Borough of Metuchen Assessor seat for William C. Bohlke and favored the Democratic candidate John W. Breen who prevailed. And for the Congress seat that Prentiss ran for, the Democrat Scully won and served for five consecutive terms from March 4, 1911 to March 4, 1921. Pierson’s efforts collectively helped the Democrats the most. Prentiss would later go on to work with the United States Chamber of Commerce and not play a significant role in Metuchen politics again.
Pierson Returns to Business After the 1912 Election
The aftermath of the 1912 election was swift for Truman Pierson. His growing list of political enemies had an influence on his business dealings. The Truman T. Pierson Company along with several other related entities such as the John Noble Pierson & Son, architects, moved their offices on December 1, 1912 from the Metuchen National Bank Building at 406 Main Street to the Pierson Building at 397 Main Street. This most likely was a reflection of how the Republican leaning Metuchen National Bank no longer cared to associate with Pierson, and vice versa.
Fire continued to ravage Metuchen and undoubtedly impact Pierson’s bottom line. A fire broke out at the Cameron Spear country place in December 1912 with damage of $10,000. Truman Pierson insured the buildings. Complicating matters was the fact that no water was running to the Middlesex Water Company main (a corporation that Pierson had once served as Superintendent for). The Spear home was saved from destruction by forming bucket brigades.
The Metuchen Gas Company met in Pierson’s offices and lowered prices from $1.40 per thousand feet to $.90 if a discount if bills are paid by the fifteenth of the month. Officers elected were Patrick Converty of Perth Amboy as President, A.F. Reitemeyer of Perth Amboy as superintendent, Robert Carson of New Brunswick as Secretary, Francis Engel of Elizabeth as Treasurer, and Truman T. Pierson as manager. This was one of the last levers of influence Pierson had, and even here his actions were met with controversy.
Metuchen Newsdealers War
A war over newspapers broke out in Metuchen between the Metuchen News Bureau which Pierson controlled and Star Publishing Company, owned by William Randolph Hearst, and publisher of the New York American. Like earlier legal troubles Pierson had, witnesses failed to appear. Allegations were made that metropolitan dailies would not sell to his news bureau so he could publish a local paper. Star Publishing countered they were not providing news because of a bill of $200 that was payable. On June 29, 1913, three men arrived and charged the news stand of the Metuchen News Bureau in front of the Pierson Building at 397 Main St. They took off with almost all of the papers. Local papers reported “until new supplies of papers were received there was a near-famine in Sunday papers.” Later several youth from Newark were apprehended and brought to Metuchen for arrest. They made admission and implicated a Newark newsdealer.
Clarence Shearn, general counsel for William Randolph Hearst defended them. Leading up to the court case Pierson claimed for the last eight weeks papers belonging to the Metuchen News Bureau were stolen or thrown off trains at wrong stations on the way from New York. It appeared as if Pierson and his Bureau were being blacklisted by the two largest metropolitan papers. Following the hearing an offer was made by the Star Company to settle, but no agreement was reached. A hearing for another suit claimed that Pierson owed $187 for advertising space in the New York American for the Metuchen Realty Company. Pierson countered he had no connection with the Realty Company and never handled advertising for them. Pierson did admit taking advertising but offset that for services rendered as correspondent for the New York American. After a two-hour hearing a judge ordered the parties to come to an agreement on the facts of the case.
End of the Truman T. Pierson Company
The impact of all the controversy surrounding Truman Pierson ultimately touched the Pierson, Power, & Co. that carried his name. It was reported the company would be dissolved on December 16, 1912, and a new company would be incorporated to take over the business of that company. In return Pierson was given a note of $500. Pierson later decided he would not take the collections and would instead conduct the business himself, and equip another office in his own building. This injunction against his business partner Powers was later refused and his partner made free to collection the accounts of the firm and take possession of the property. Mr. Power went on to establish a real estate and insurance agency of his own. Pierson got a restraining order against Power to prevent him from collecting any monies owned to the Pierson, Power & Co.
A District Court case was heard on January 22, 1914. Power testified equipment was his by agreement. Pierson scored a victory. He claimed that he signed, but had never gotten a copy from Power of an instrument by which Mr. Power claimed title to the property sued for. A copy was found in which Mr. Power agreed to purchase a half-interest in Mr. Pierson’s business, the Truman T. Pierson Company, which was to be incorporated or to take the form of a partnership.
Giving up Other Positions
Pierson resigned from the Metuchen Gas Light Company prior to its consolidation with the Perth Amboy office. He had served as assistant superintendent under Robert M. Kellogg. Later he succeeded Mr. Kellogg as superintendent. After shedding this last responsibility, Pierson was free to focus exclusively on his real estate, insurance, and newspaper business. Later he brought suit claiming the Metuchen Gas Company was indebted to him for services and rent of $600 from the time he served as superintendent and manager. When rates were raised to $1.25 per thousand feet in 1914, Pierson no longer as an employee and now only as a private citizen was asked to prepare a table of rates. Now finding himself aligned with the Democratic Mayor Thorfin Tait and other leading citizens, Pierson attended the hearing of the Board of Public Utility Commissioners on the rules and regulations. They asked for a flat rate of 90 cents, without rebates and discounts. Metuchen was joined by leaders from the Board of Trade in Rahway, Cranford, Elizabeth, and Perth Amboy. A hearing was granted against the Metuchen Gas Light Company, Elizabeth Town Light Company, Cranford Gas Light Company, and the Perth Amboy Gas Light Company. Chief Inspector Betts of the Commission suggested a uniform rate placed at $1 with a 10 per cent discount for prompt payment.
With his time ended with the Metuchen Water Company, Metuchen Gas Light Company, as Postmaster, and as Republican committee, Pierson experienced yet further loss. On February 27, 1914 at 6:30 in the morning Truman Pierson found his horse lying in the ice and snow outside of his barn. He went to the barn with his stable hand Alonzo Robinson and discovered the lock and hasp was pried off the stable door with a metal bar that laid in the snow near the door. While the horse was revived, because of exposure it was not expected to recover. The house was used for delivery of papers for the Metuchen News Bureau, and was a family pet for Mrs. Pierson and daughter. When added to newspapers being stolen, reduction of his flock from 175 to 6, poisoning of 200 guinea pigs, and a dozen coops of tame rabbits – enemies of Pierson exerted a growing toll. Reflecting on these setbacks an extensive statement from Pierson published with the notice of maltreatment of his horse followed:
I am at a loss to understand how anybody, no matter what his feeling against an individual, could make a poor dumb beast suffer to gratify desire to work out a spite. As to who perpetrated this latest outrage I am not prepared to say until after the police finish their investigation, and as to the motive of the guilty person or persons I do not care to say. This is only one of a long chain of undeserved mean acts. Threats have been made and were made three years ago to drive Truman Pierson out of business and out of town. Actually efforts were made to take the very roof from over the head of wife and child. Once I was warned that my barn would be in ashes. If it was generally known exactly what I have been up against I believe there would be some big surprises. I don’t care for the threats. I can even stand the uninterrupted string of petty indignities, but this latest is too much. But as to my future I cannot make it too clear that I will remain in business and in this town which I have done so much for in spite of everything and everybody. I will not be driven out and while I have a breath left I am going to stick.
Also, in 1914 Pierson brought suit against Kate Saxon for a commission on the sale of the Saxon estate at Metuchen to Mark Prentiss. He claimed after bringing Prentiss here he never received his commission of $475.
A.C. Case owned the property that Pierson’s house and barn was located on. An article from May 1914 stated “It is thought that Mr. A.C. Case of New York and daughter, Mrs. Irwin Smith and family will soon occupy their beautiful summer home on Woodbridge Avenue in Metuchen. Newspapers announced: “The spacious home of A.C. Case of Woodbridge Ave is thrown open for the summer. Mr. Case and daughter, Mrs. Irwin Smith, and family have recently arrived in town from New York.” Later the same year in June 1914 it was said that “A.C. Case of Woodbridge avenue, has sold his beautiful residence to a party from Perth Amboy.” With Case no longer as his landlord, Pierson and his family needed a new home.
The year of 1914 was not all tragedy. Pierson opened the Majestic Summer Garden between his building at 397 Main Street and the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks. An electric fountain with a pool containing gold fish, beautiful flowering plans, and clear water pouring from the fountain. Surrounding this was a garden decorated with flowers from Bruno’s Florist Emporium. At night colored electric lights illuminated the garden. Castles Ice Cream of Newark and Perth Amboy provided frozen treats. At the Grand Opening on July 3 and 4 the highest priced Victorla in Middlesex County was operated by Ramon Montalvo, Jr., the Victrola King of New Jersey. A local paper reviewed it as such “It is a place where pleasure is easy. Metuchen is glad that Truman T. Pierson’s enterprise has added this attraction to the town.” This enterprise was also evident when Pierson offered “Finest Rockway oysters” for order through the Metuchen News Bureau.
Efforts for a local option gained momentum in the early months of 1915. Truman Pierson came out with a signed article in a local paper taking a stand for local option. He also announced his favor of votes for women. Democratic Mayor Thorfin Tait also came out in favor of the local option. This was a long-held aspiration as well for Rev. Dr. James Gilbert Mason who was candidate for New Jersey Senator, and Governor on the Prohibition ticket, and spoke of as a candidate for president of the United States on the same ticket. Pierson by selecting this issue singled out Dr. William E. Ramsay who voted against the Gaunt bill. He concluded “New Jersey will have local option in spite of Middlesex.” This was the final evolution of Pierson in local politics, finding himself aligned on the Prohibition issue with Democrats and Prohibitionists.
Metuchen Bread War
There was one last controversy that happened before Pierson left town. While the local option was being debated, the Metuchen bread war broke out in 1915. It started when Morris Margolius, a tenant in Pierson’s building at 397 Main Street, offered bread for four cents instead of six cents. His competitors claimed discriminatory and unfair tactics and refused to supply him with bread “because the other grocers in Metuchen object.” Margolius subsequently made arrangements with a Hoboken baker for a supply. Margolius received several threats to raise his price or “be put out of business.” Ultimately he lost the war and shortly thereafter his grocery and bread business ended.
Departure from Metuchen
Evidently it became difficult and eventually impossible for Pierson to engage in politics or carry on his business in Metuchen. At the end of 1915 it was announced that Truman Pierson became the sporting editor for the Plainfield Courier News. With the change in employment also came a change in residence. His home was at 648 West Front Street and office at 220 Park Ave in nearby Plainfield. His tireless energies resulted in 1,201 new members of the Y.M.C.A. of Plainfield.
The Pierson Building in Metuchen was sold to Joseph Hoffman in 1916 to operate a butcher shop. The Great War had been raging for several years. On April 6, 1917, the U.S. declared war on Germany. Truman Pierson enlisted in the Fifth Illinois Infantry and was sent to serve out of Fort Sam Houston, Texas. A month after that he was performing a role as Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Quincy, Illinois. With that his work in Metuchen and throughout New Jersey was done. On his way west he passed Indianapolis, the town he was born, and ended up in Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River over 1,000 miles from Metuchen. The armistice for the Great War was signed November 11, 1918.
In the 1920s his brother Aylin Pierson joined Truman, working on advocacy for a Mississippi River Scenic Highway. In 1924 he was elected national president of the Liberty Highway Association. This highway ran from Atlantic City, New Jersey, via Washington, DC, to Portland, Oregon. Politics never fully left him. He made a run for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator in Minneapolis, running as an “independent Republican.” He did not prevail.
Later he joined with George Arliss, English stage and screen actor, to form Cat Lovers International to help cats and raise them in public esteem. Pierson was active president, working to establish shelter homes, improve breeding, encourage legislation and foster cat cemeteries. His name was also associated with The Indiana Humane Education Society, Inc. based in Indianapolis, his birth town. Professionally he became editor of The Grand Juror in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1943. After that he worked for the post office, and part-time deputy personal property tax assessor.
In his later years, Pierson collected train schedules from all over the world. He continued to serve as president of Allied Cat Lovers International. An article mentioned he and his wife were writing a book with the title Our 50 Years With a Cat.
Looking back on his remarkable life and career, Pierson recounted among his many successes helping set up the New Jersey and Illinois Chambers of Commerce, being active in various groups concerned in judicial and civic affairs, and how he had a hand in founding some 175 organizations.
One of the last recorded acts before his death was an advertisement he placed in New Jersey newspapers to buy or sell Perth Amboy National Bank stock at a price of $35 per share. While he had been away from New Jersey for over 45 years the ties of memory remained strong.
Truman T. Pierson embodied the spirt of his times. As a young man he was an innovative dynamo, full of progressive values and not afraid to challenge convention and try new things. He named Metuchen “The Brainy Borough” while also exemplifying it. Pierson paid a great cost for his beliefs and enthusiasm. He lost his appointed and elected political positions, the company that bore his name, horses and other animals, and ultimately his adopted hometown of Metuchen.
Pierson provides a cautionary tale in light of present-day polarization in American politics, inter-party conflict, and the use of violence to bring about political ends. The formative experiences of Pierson’s life were being aligned with powerful institutions before challenging them and ultimately losing. Whether it be Dory Strong’s Home News newspaper that Pierson wrote for early in his career then disavowed, the Republican Party which he was a committee member for before supporting Democratic and Prohibitionist candidates, or U.S. Senator John Kean’s Metuchen Gas Company that Pierson worked for before leaving that too and advocating against high gas rates.
Had Theodore Roosevelt prevailed and consolidated support for the Progressive cause in 1912, this might have transformed the Republican Party and our national politics, with repercussions cascading all the way to the local level in Metuchen and through the present day. Instead, in Roosevelt’s case as well as Pierson’s, entrenched interests were too strong to overcome and those interests prevailed. Most tragic is that Pierson was ultimately forced to leave the town that he contributed so much to as Postmaster, Republican committee member, utility superintendent, real estate and insurance company owner, and active participant in civic and social causes. Had he been allowed to stay Pierson might have continued to contribute to civic life in Metuchen and even risen to become a member of Borough Council, the Mayor, or even a member of Congress. Instead, the progressive moment in Metuchen and the U.S. passed. In the decades to follow Metuchen and other communities in New Jersey struggled with a political system that stifled progressive ideas.
Were Metuchen to honor the progressive roots from the time of the founding of “The Brainy Borough” in 1900, one of the best ways to do so might be to memorialize Truman T. Pierson for his many contributions to the community. The Borough might recognize how elected and appointed Borough officials treated Pierson and his property with contempt and violence, at the cost of his pursuit of happiness. Those who assaulted Pierson and threatened his family and property were never held to account. The Borough might also recognize how Pierson was willing to cross party lines and stand up for what he felt was just and benefited the residents of Metuchen, and use that as a model for inter-party cooperation, encouraging individuals to rise above political party for what is in the best interests of Metuchen.
In final analysis when Truman Pierson was forced to leave Metuchen and ultimately New Jersey, his adopted hometown and state were worse off. Surely his track record after Metuchen shows that he made major contributions to the other places he lived. Local politics took away an opportunity for the community to benefit from his contributions for the remainder of his long lifetime. Metuchen lost some of the progressive spirit from its founding that Truman Pierson both exemplified and contributed to. Perhaps the greatest lesson from Truman Pierson is to prioritize equality, freedom, and justice, and to reject violence in politics and community life. The greatest way to memorialize the man who named “The Brainy Borough” is to support innovative people and causes seeking to enhance this place and bring about a higher and better quality of life for all people.
 Employe’s (sic.) Coolness Saves Hillside Inn at Metuchen from Destruction by Fire, Perth Amboy Evening News, January 30, 1909, p. 1.
 Truman Pierson Wants Pay for Brining Mark Prentiss to Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 16, 1914, p. 7.
 Truman Pierson Wants Pay for Brining Mark Prentiss to Metuchen, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 16, 1914, p. 7.
 Assemblymen and Senator from Middlesex Are Criticized, The Central New Jersey Home News, March 15, 1915, p. 6.
 Ad, The Central New Jersey Home News, April 27, 1962, p. 31.