Bonnie Brae Farm for Boys was founded by Harry V. Osborne, a Judge from Essex County Court. He continually saw young men from destitute circumstances, in need of both care and love, passing through his courtroom and he wanted to create a place for them so they didn’t fall through the cracks of society and fall into delinquency. The Board of Directors was formed in 1915. In 1916 Judge Osborne rented a small farm in Livingston, NJ from a Scotsman who named it Bonnie Brae, which means “beautiful hillside.” The original farm was home to 14 boys.
A New Home
- Judge Osborne purchased a larger 209 acre farm in Millington, NJ at a cost of $29,000;
- Boys attended school locally in Liberty Corner and the farm provided boys with employable skills as well as a safe and therapeutic environment;
- The Women’s Auxiliary/Dining Room Committee chaired by Mrs. Walton Graft, Mrs. Arthur Herrmann and Mrs. Frank Sundstrom was formed and raised funds for boys through Bridge games;
- Kiwanis, Osborne, Paul’s and Gould Cottage were built and named for generous benefactors as well as the Administration Building and camp cabins;
- The Camp opened in 1925.
- Cabins were built with funding from Mrs. William B. Reilly, followed by a recreation hall and craft shop;
- The Camp Infirmary and swimming pool were donated by the Dining Room Committee;
- The Mabel Brewster outdoor chapel was built;
- The school was built and named the Fredrik Fisher Meyer Memorial School Building with funds from the Meyer family;
- First Bridge benefit was held at the Farm.
- Many staff members and older boys were lost to the war;
- Gas was rationed so the Bridge Club hosted their parties in homes instead of on-campus;
- The first Boy Scout Troop was formed on-campus (Troop 55);
- Walt Park drove “The Blue Bus,” transporting young men to and from school and local activities;
- The “Sea Scouts” were formed and took trips on the Delaware River;
- In 1948, The Dining Room Committee held a Conference for Professional Social Workers and Volunteers (“Today’s Volunteers in Tomorrow’s World”).
Commitment and Changes
- Judge Osborne passed away and his son, Harry Jr. stepped in as President;
- 156 acres of adjoining land were purchased bringing total acreage to 377;
- The Dining Room Committee was reorganized as the Bonnie Brae Auxiliary with the annual Bridge Party and Fashion Show as their major activities. The Matinee Theatre Group was formed in 1956 by Ruth Carey of the Auxiliary;
- A new Administration Building was opened and named in honor of Herbert and Margaret Turrell;
- Metcalf Cottage was built in 1955;
- House mothers were replaced with cottage parent couples;
- An on-grounds academic program was initiated, the first consulting psychiatrist was hired, registered nursing services were offered 24 hours a day and a Treatment Team approach began to take hold.
Half a Century
- A sixth residence for boys was added and enrollment rose to 100 boys;
- The recreation pavilion was built, Brewster outdoor chapel restored, camp lavatory facilities improved. All funds were donated by Mr. William G. Wright;
- Improvements were made to the Meyer Memorial School and Reeve Schley Rink. The Green Hay Barn burned down;
- The Auxiliary drove fundraising efforts and established the Scholarship Fund, helping its first candidate attend the Indiana Institute of Technology;
- The Director’s Cottage was converted into housing for boys;
- Fred Persiko served as Executive Director and was credited with bringing innovation and harmony to the staff, focusing on the clinical and therapeutic approach to treatment.
A Shift in Treatment
- Funding shifted from largely private to largely public and “the farm” was now a “residential treatment center” and equipped with a fully accredited school. Boys could not work on the farm or attend local public schools;
- An Outpatient Treatment Center helped youth from surrounding communities who needed psychological testing, psychotherapy, vocational rehabilitation and career guidance;
- A new Admissions Intake Cottage opened;
- Bicentennial Cottage burned down;
- The first vocational training program was established called “Education for Survival.” This program also extended to girls;
- In the late 1970’s, after a loss of funding, 277 acres were sold as a means of financing a new residential treatment center as well as establishing an endowment.
A Time for Firsts
- First Outward Bound Trip, first Scottish Games, first Tartan Ball, first computer and business courses offered; first ropes course built on campus;
- Osborne Cottage opened when Gould Cottage closed;
- McNally Building opened, named for generous benefactor Bud McNally;
- The Thrift Shoppe opened;
- “Experiential Learning” took hold with cottages travelling to Canada, Virginia Beach and Acadia National Park. Following this the Outward Bound Program became a cornerstone offering with groups hiking the Appalachian Trail.
A Fresh Start
- The agency received its first accreditation from the Joint Commission;
- The first Tartan Golf Classic raised $20,000;
- “Mileiu Therapy” began, helping to bridge the gap between residential and therapeutic care;
- The first MICA (Mentally Ill, Chemical Abuse, today’s term is “co-occurring”) program was housed in Farrow Cottage and was the first of its kind to follow a 12 step model;
- Clinical Care was brought back to campus under Clinical Director, Jamie Rau;
- The athletic program was redeveloped under “Coach” Tom Melvin, with the guidance of beloved Education Director, Donna Crane. The basketball team won their first ever championship. Coach also launched the Brae Vision Program;
- The Thrift Shoppe reopened.
A Powerful Era
- Capital Campaign, “Building a Future…One Boy at a Time” raised $3.5 million, providing for a new Vocational training facility, Health Office and Primary/Middle School;
- First Polo Classic hosted at Fieldview Farm in Pittstown, NJ;
- Bill Powers was hired as CEO; capacity expanded from 53 to 80 residents and then to 97 young men;
- 2005: the first transitional home in New Brunswick opened for 5 young men (The William M. Powers House);
- Bonnie Brae Knights Drum Corps was formed and in 2009, marched in President Obama’s Inaugural Parade;
- The Aftercare Program was established;
- The Bonnie Brae Alumni Association was established.
100 Years Later
View our 100th Anniversary Video.
- The Work Experience program was created and the Aftercare Program expanded;
- 2013: the second community based transitional living home opened in Bound Brook for 7, then 8 young men: The Van Houten House;
- 2015: the first community based transitional living home for 5 young men, ages 18-21, opened in Bridgewater: The Brozowski Liberty House;
- McNally Building Cottages were renovated;
- The annual summer expedition to Canada was moved to Forest Lake Camp in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York;
- Bonnie Brae celebrates 100 years with an on-campus celebration and launches its bold dreams for the future to build a premier Family Center and state-of-the-art new Residential Cottage;
- Paul Rieger, MSW, is hired as new Chief Executive Officer.