Special Features... Off The Beaten Path In Hunterdon

by Victoria Memminger

Hunterdon County has a long history as an agricultural community and the farmsteads and one-room schools listed here offer glimpses into its bucolic past. Many of these sites have been saved from the wrecking ball by groups of concerned citizens (or alumni, in the case of schools) and are staffed by volunteers who love their work and enjoy sharing their knowledge with visitors. The list is not all barns and farm implements, though—also included are an old railroad station, the nation’s first choir school, and a pottery museum that is unlike any you have seen before. Most of the places are ideal for school-age children—they get to see real history, not something from a textbook or television.

Beaver Brook Homestead

Beaver Avenue, Annandale, NJ (908-735-4463)—In 1760,Thomas Jones, an active patriot and delegate to the Provincial Congress of New Jersey, became the original owner of the Beaver Brook land and expanded what had been a two-room log cabin into a colonial farmhouse. He also built a tavern nearby that was a recruiting station for the Continental Army.

Unlike many of these old places that remained in the same family for generations, the Beaver Brook Homestead was sold and remodeled into the early 20th century, so it provides a good look into the evolution of an American property. An 1833 owner added barns and connected two small houses on the property to a larger farmhouse. A stock broker from New York, the next owner, built a tenant house and renovated the main house in the Colonial Revival style. In 1933, the chairman of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad purchased the estate and, not surprisingly, added wallpaper with a transportation motif and color schemes popular during this period.

The house now sits on 11 of the original 100 acres—outbuildings include a large dairy barn, laundry shed, ice house, tenant house, and old barns. This is one of few homesteads that contains both an ice house and a laundry shed, both of which have been restored by a local Eagle Scout troup. (The homestead is open all year—tours are given by the town historian and are by appointment only.)

Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead

1605 Daniel Bray Highway (Rte. 29), Lambertville, NJ (908-782-8866)—If you want to see all facets of country life as it was lived in the 19th century, this is the place to go. The original house, built in 1711, is still there, but is open to the public only four days a year. The main attraction is the three-story barn that houses exhibits including a print shop, a woodworking shop, a kitchen, a doctor/dentist office and photographic tutorials on timber working tools, dairy farming, and weaving. The blacksmith shop comes with a real live blacksmith, demonstrating how it was done.

Some of the exhibits use mannequins, others are just an arrangement of artifacts. Everything you see is local and has been donated by families who have lived in the area for generations. The pictures and story boards that line the walls are succinct and easy to read. Want to see how they shipped chicks years ago? Sure enough, there’s a chick-shipping box. The cobbler exhibit leaves no doubt that people used to have smaller feet. The dentist’s office will make you feel glad that you are going to a dentist now, not then. The newest exhibit, one on seed catalogs, has prints of catalog covers that are pretty enough to frame. There are sleighs of different shapes and sizes, a stable, and a corner devoted to a local hero, Hiram Deats, whose father invented the plow, inspiring Hiram to invent corn shellers and various kinds of stoves.

The site was deeded to Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead, Inc. in 1984 and the trustees keep it going. They recently added a lovely herb garden, thanks to the Delaware Valley Unit of the Herb Society of America, which will have a knowledgeable person on site to answer questions. And if you don’t know what a schnitzelbonk is, there’s someone there who can tell you. (Open Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. from May through October.)

Prallsville Mills

Rte. 29, Stockton, NJ (609-397-3586)—A lot of couples get married here, and it’s no wonder. The pastoral setting, bordering the Delaware and Raritan canal and Wickecheoke Creek, is hard to beat in terms of bucolic beauty. The original grist mill was built around 1720 and was sold to John Prall in 1794. Prall added a saw mill, several stone houses, and a versatile stone building that was used successively as a linseed oil mill, a plaster mill, a chapel, a post office, and a store. He also opened a stone quarry and two fisheries.

By 1950,the property had begun to deteriorate and was saved from a future as a townhouse development by a local resident, Donald Jones, who bought it in 1969 and held it until the state could afford to buy it in 1973. At this point the site was included in the National Register of Historic Places; the following year it became part of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park. There are nine buildings to see and the grounds are lovely. (Open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.)

Hill-Fulper-Stangl Museum

Mine Street and Stangl Road, Flemington, NJ (732-846-1368)—This just may be the smallest museum you have ever been in and its location just may be the oddest. Built inside a brick kiln that has been preserved, the diameter of the floor is 20 ft., so crowds are not even a possibility. There are two other kilns in this Pfaltzgraff outlet, but this is the largest—these are the only existing standing kilns east of the Ohio River.

The tiny space is ringed with four large glass cases representing the works of the three potteries represented. Hill Pottery, which was founded in 1814 and lasted until 1860, made jars, pots and drain pipes of redware. There’s not much to see of Hill’s work—the selection is limited to sections of an unearthed drain pipe and a jug. Fulper, who purchased the Hill Pottery after Hill’s death, made a wide assortment of pieces, ranging from water coolers, lamps, and vases to piggy banks, doll heads, and figurines. Fulper was bought by Stangl in 1935, and Stangl outdid his predecessor in the variety of work produced. Birds were added, as were ceramic dogs, large plates, candelabra, brightly painted pieces, comic small pieces for children. In 1978, Pfaltzgraff, the nation’s oldest commercial pottery manufacturer, bought the Stangl name. (The museum is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.)

Doric House

114 Main Street, Flemington, NJ (908-782-1091)—The Doric House was named for the fluted columns on this 1845 Greek Revival-style house. There are six rooms in the house and a genealogical research library provides information about local families. It was owned by the Methodist Church until the Flemington Historical Society bought it and established their headquarters there. (The library is open on Thursdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. Tours are by appointment only.)

Fleming Castle

5 Bonnell Street, Flemington, NJ (908-782-1091)—The town of Flemington was named for Samuel Fleming, who built this house in 1756. It is not a castle, but Fleming was apparently fond of the expression ìA man’s home is his castle,î so it has always been referred to as one. It is now run by the Colonel Lowrey chapter of the DAR. (Tours are by appointment only.)

Flemington Children’s Choir School

3 Chorister Place, Flemington, NJ (908-782-6243)—This is a one-room school, of sorts—though the school was for singing only. Now on the second floor of a historic building in Flemington, the school was established in 1895 by the churches in town and was the first children’s choir school in the nation.

Two women named Bessie (Bessie Vosler and Bessie Hopewell) taught 200 to 300 children—ages nine to 16—every year until 1958 when the school closed. The children sang in their own church choirs, but the school attracted such notable musical figures as conductor Walter Damrosch to its graduation services, when they performed as a group. Today you can see the piano and the benches that were used and there are pictures on the wall of each graduating class. The tour is given by a graduate of the school. (Tours by appointment only.)

James Wilson Marshall House

60 Bridge Street, Lambertville, NJ (609-397-0770)—James Wilson Marshall was a local boy who made good, for a while, because he discovered gold at Sutter’s Fort in California. This small two-story Federal house was his boyhood home, built in 1816. In its 186-year life, it has been not only a private residence but also both a post office and a convent; it was saved from the wrecking ball in 1964 by concerned Lambertville residents.

Architectural features of interest include the decorative Adam-style frieze under the eaves, the pegged front door, and the chimney cupboards. Four rooms are open to the public: the entry hall and parlor on the first floor, and the two rooms on the second floor. The furniture is not all Federal, but it is all local, having been donated by families in the area. Displays in the entry hall give a history of the house and antique costumes hanging there add a decorative touch. The paint is the original color that was discovered during the restoration of the house. The hall, parlor and bedroom are furnished as living quarters—the front room upstairs, which was probably two rooms originally, serves as the meeting room for the Lambertville Historical Society and has displays on shad fishing, an important part of Lambertville life for centuries.

The curator, who acts as tour guide, is a wealth of information and can answer any questions you may have. (Open Saturday and Sunday afternoons from the last weekend in April through October.)

Oak Summit School

190 Oak Summit Road, Kingwood Township, NJ (908-996-4633)—A one-room schoolhouse built in 1849, this building was rescued from years of decay and neglect by a group of alumni who became the Oak Summit School Historical Society. The group restored it to the way it looked in the 1930s when 35 to 40 children, representing grades k through 8, went there every day. It functioned as a school until 1951 and today you can see the period furnishings and pictures of the classes. (Tours are by appointment only.)

The Township of Lebanon Museum

57 Musconetcong River Road, New Hampton NJ (908-537-6464)—This is another museum that started life as a one-room schoolhouse built in 1823. Fifty years later, a second story was added to the original building and since then it has been used as a grammar school, a Sunday school, and a meeting place for local organizations. The first floor of the museum re-creates a 19th century schoolroom—the books are original, but the blackboards, desks, and stove are reproductions. Upstairs is an exhibit area, where a new exhibit is installed every two months. The exhibits are the work of local people and have recently included a collection of antique Christmas decorations, vintage birdhouses, collages, and mementos from World War II. (Open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 5 p.m.)

The Station at Califon

25 Academy Street, Califon, NJ (908-832-2012 or 908-832-2941)—Defunct railroad stations, it seems, end up as either restaurants or repositories of local history, and this one in the one-square-mile village of Califon has gone the local history route. Once a stop on the Jersey Central Railroad, the 1875 Califon station sent freight to northern New Jersey, and, in the 1940s, briefly carried passengers. Today you can see some of the original station furniture, along with historic photos and antique uniforms donated by long-time residents. (Open the first and third Sundays of each month from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.)

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