The Summit Beacon

8-inch tall model of Summit beacon

Model (~8″ tall) of Summit beacon, as seen in the Summit Historical Society’s Carter House museum.

“So Josy,” you ask, “what’s with the, uh, pile of sticks? It’s not a very good-looking pile of sticks.”

Here’s the deal:

Summit, NJ, is so named because it sits on— get this— a SUMMIT of the second Watchung mountain.

Which means— if you’re Summit, and you happen to be 8.5 miles from a Revolutionary War stronghold like, say, Morristown, NJ… you can send smoke signals like “HEY MORRISTOWN! THE BRITISH ARE COMING!”

Or, instead of explicit smoke signals, you could just light a beacon and fire a cannon, and just assume that Morristown knows what that means.

Summit beacon in the background of a diorama

Summit beacon painted in the background the Carter House’s “Diorama of the Revolutionary Period, 1780-1782.”

Consequently, Summit was host to “Signal Beacon No. 10,” one of George Washington’s 23 beacons upon “the most conspicuous hills across New Jersey.”

While I’m not sure that Summit’s beacon single-handedly won the Revolutionary War, Summit is very proud that it was one of the beacon sites.

 

Consider the following:

Item 1. The emblem/ logo/ official seal of the City of Summit is in fact a nod to Summit’s beacon heritage. (I initially mistook the design to be a stylized bowl of soup.)

Summit emblem 01 Summit emblem 02
Summit emblem 03 Summit emblem 04

I suspect that the emblem actually references the tar-barrel beacon used at the same site during the War of 1812. My reference (see article at the bottom of this post) hints that everyone thinks the two beacons are one and the same, and apparently THEY’RE NOT.

 

Item 2. The northwest corner of Beacon Road and Hobart Avenue (the former Twombly residence) is marked by a commemorative plaque.

1776 -  Here in the time of the American Revolution stood the Signal Beacon, and by its side the cannon known as the "Old Sow," which in time of danger and invasion summoned the patriotic "Minute Men" of this vicinity to the defense of the country and the repulse of the invader. 1896 -  This monument was erected by the New Jersey Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and dedicated to the memory of the patriots of New Jersey. Removed to this spot from its original location and re-dedicated July 4th, 1908.

1776
Here in the time of the American Revolution stood the Signal Beacon, and by its side the cannon known as the “Old Sow,” which in time of danger and invasion summoned the patriotic “Minute Men” of this vicinity to the defense of the country and the repulse of the invader.
1896
This monument was erected by the New Jersey Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and dedicated to the memory of the patriots of New Jersey. Removed to this spot from its original location and re-dedicated July 4th, 1908.

How the plaque appears from the road

Context shot— how the plaque appears from the road.

According to my source (again, see bottom of post):

The original plaque… was “dedicated to the memory of the patriots of New Jersey” by the S.A.R. in 1896, and was mounted on a boulder on the exact site of the beacon. This was stolen in 1900, but was soon replaced with the present (slightly different) one. Then in 1908, when Henry B. Twombly built his home on the site, the boulder and plaque were moved forward to their present location in the stone wall along Hobart Avenue.

So that’s that.

 

Item 3. Last year (2011), Patricia J. McWhorter painted a mural of the beacon prominently in the middle of downtown Summit.

Mural of beacon in downtown Summit

Mural of beacon in downtown Summit.

Patricia J. McWhorter

Signature on mural above.

 

By the way— the reference I keep referring to is none other than this photocopy of an article on display in the Carter House museum. Presumably it’s from the Summit Herald:

Views of Summit's Yesterdays  Symbols and a reminder of Summit's role in the Revolution--  Although Summit was never a battleground in the Revolutionary War, its contribution was great, for it was the second Watchung Mountain on which it is located that blocked the efforts of the British to reach Morristown and invade Morris County. And to make this barrier completely effective, it was necessary for General Washington to set up a signal beacon accompanied by a resounding cannon to warn the countryside of any attempt by the British to storm the mountain's weak spot at the pass now called Hobart Gap. His "Signal Beacon No. 10" (erected 1779) was one of a chain of 23 such beacons located on "the most conspicuous hills across New Jersey." It and the "Old Sow" cannon (1777-1780) were located on the high ground adjacent to the pass, on the northwest corner of the present Beacon Road and Hobart Avenue, close to the spot now marked by a commemorative plaque. The original plaque (shown above) was "dedicated to the memory of the patriots of New Jersey" by the S.A.R. in 1896, and was mounted on a boulder on the exact site of the beacon. This was stolen in 1900, but was soon replaced with the present (slightly different) one. Then in 1908, when Henry B. Twombly built his home on the site, the boulder and plaque were moved forward to their present location in the stone wall along Hobart Avenue. The beacon, though often depicted as a barrel of tar atop a pole (tar barrel used at same site, but later, during War of 1812), was really a four-sided pyramid built log-cabin-style of 16-foot and then progressively smaller logs, within which brush was burned to produce a warning column of smoke visible to residents and troops behind the mountain, between Summit and Morristown. And the cannon was a carriageless 18-pounder set on the western slope of the hill, which wallowed in the ground like an old sow. What became of the "Old Sow" cannon is uncertain, but its successor, the "Crown Prince" (1780-1818) can still be seen in the Ford Museum in Morristown. Note: The cannon and beacon models shown were made for the Bicentennial by Howard Welsh of Summit. (Contributed by the Summit Historical Society) Note: For the full story of Washington's beacon alarm system, see "The Revolutionary War Beacon at Signal Station No. 10," by Margaret W. Long of Summit.

Views of Summit’s Yesterdays.

I also had a conversation with Patricia Meola, a member of the Summit Historical Society, who clued me into the beacon’s significance at all.

I’m not sure how to cite either one of these sources, but I didn’t make this stuff up, I swear.

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