Pleasant Valley House Tours and Pleasant Valley in the Revolution
2012 Date: May 19 and 20
The history of a rural New Jersey farm community will be the focus of the Pleasant Valley house tours and American Revolution militia encampment held at Howell Living History Farm on Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20. On Saturday, visitors will have the opportunity to tour four houses that represent various slices of life in the Pleasant Valley Rural Historic District from the mid-1700s to the present. On both Saturday and Sunday visitors can learn about how the Revolution involved the people of Pleasant Valley by visiting the militia encampment.
On Saturday, half-hour exterior tours of the Henry Phillips farmhouse (Howell Farm farmhouse) will be offered at 11:00am, noon, and 3:00pm. The house is listed on the NJ State and NJ National Register of Historic Places and is in the midst of a three-year restoration process. The history of the house and plans for its restoration and use will be presented during the tours.
Three additional houses will be featured on a 90-minute walking tour, led by Howell Farm historian Larry Kidder, at 1:00pm on Saturday and transportation to the historic houses will be available for those needing assistance. The three houses include a former blacksmith house and shop site, the Pleasant Valley School/Wooden family farmhouse, and the Justice John Phillips/Maj. Henry Phillips house. Henry Phillips was one of the first captains and then major in the First Hunterdon Militia Regiment during the American Revolution. Part of the tour of the Phillips house will include a cannon firing and militia muster interpreting the Revolutionary War militia that included Henry and his relatives and neighbors.
On both Saturday and Sunday, members of Lamb’s Artillery Company and Daniel Morgan’s Rifle Company will reenact times when the farmers of Pleasant Valley belonged to the patriot militia fighting for America’s independence from England. Henry Phillip’s story, as well as those of other Pleasant Valley residents, will be told through militia drills, musket and canon firings, cooking demonstrations and a reenactment of soldiers mustering at the Justice John Phillips House.
Between 10:00am and 4:00pm on Saturday visitors can visit the encampment and talk with soldiers about their equipment, the types of duties they perform, and the many ways they serve the patriot cause. At 2:00pm the soldiers will demonstrate drills and musket firings, and Lamb’s Artillery will demonstrate setting up and firing their bronze 3-pounder cannon, similar to the ones used by the artillery company of the Hunterdon militia. This program will be continued on Sunday afternoon, May 20, between 12:00 and 4:00pm, with the primary cannon firing and drills taking place at 2:00pm.
craft program: Grass in the Snake
In connection with the encampment and house tours, on Friday evening, May 18, Farm historian Larry Kidder will give a talk on Pleasant Valley during the Revolution, with an emphasis on the role of Major Henry Phillips as both a militia officer and owner of the local gristmill located across the road from his house. The presentation will take place in the Charles Fish barn at the farm’s visitor center. Doors open at 7:00pm and the program will begin at 7:30pm. There is a suggested donation of $3.00.
The four houses on the tours represent various slices of life in Pleasant Valley from the mid-1700s to the present.
The Henry Phillips farmhouse - The familiar farmhouse at Howell Farm. The stone portion of this house was built about 1800 probably by Henry Phillips, the grandson of John Phillips whose land purchase in 1737 included present day Howell Farm and several adjoining farms. This house was the home for the Henry Phillips family and then the Charles Miller family until about 1900 when it was purchased by Titusville blacksmith A.B. Coleman. During the Coleman ownership the house was lived in by tenants who rented the farm from him. The last tenant was Wilson Leming who purchased the farm and the house was the home for his family until about 1919. The Cromwell family owned and lived in the house for two generations and after several other ownerships it came into the possession of Charles and Inez Howell who were the final owners before the property was given to Mercer County by Inez Howell in the 1970s. The house is listed on NJ State and national Registers of Historic Places and is in the first phase of a 3-year restoration process. The history of the house and plans for its restoration and use will be presented during the tours, which include a walk-thru of the second floor.
(For some additional information, click here. The information will open in a new window.)
The John Phillips/Maj. Henry Phillips/Birum House - This stone and frame house on Pleasant Valley Road was the home of Maj. Henry Phillips, father of the Henry Phillips who built the farmhouse at Howell Farm. The oldest parts of this house date to the mid-1700s. Several generations of the Phililps family lived here before it was purchased by John Holcombe of the Lambertville area. The house was owned by the Holcombe family and then the Gervas Ely family after John's heir, Caroline, married Gervas Ely. During the Holcombe/Ely ownership the house was the home for tenants who rented the farm. Tenants included the Xenophon Cromwell family who later purchased what is now Howell Farm. The Birum family owned the house and about 20 acres of land until it was purchased by Mercer County several years ago to be administered by Howell Farm.
(For an historic photo of this house, click here. The information will open in a new window.)
The Pleasant Valley School/Wooden Family Home - In 1889 the people of Pleasant Valley voted to build a one-room schoolhouse on a corner of the Ely farm mentioned above. In 1917-1918 the school house was enlarged to have two rooms and a side cloak room/kitchen. The school served both as a school and as a community center for a wide variety of community gatherings. After the school closed in 1935 it was purchased by a former student, Franklyn Wooden, in 1938 to serve as a home for his young family. Franklyn removed the original one-room school from the building and used the wood to build the chicken houses that are still on the property. The 1917 addition that remained was remodeled into the family home. The Wooden family lived in this house and carried on a successful chicken and egg farm until Franklyn retired in the 1960s. The family continued to own and live in the house until it was purchased by Mercer County several years ago to be administered by Howell Farm.
(For more information and photos of the school house, click here. The information will open in a new window.)
The Phillips/Steward/Shearman Blacksmith House - This frame house that sits on Valley Road was probably built in the early 1830s by Lewis Phillips, son of Henry Phillips who built the Howell Farm farmhouse. Lewis Phillips carried on the blacksmithing tradition of the family that dated back to his great-grandfather, John Phillips. The house was sold by Lewis to his son-in-law, Francis Steward, who was also a blacksmith. After reverting back to Lewis Phillips the house was sold to blacksmith Andrew Shearman. After Shearman gave up the blacksmith business and moved on, two retired farm couples owned it in succession. Then Leroy Harbourt of Titusville made one last effort to establish a viable blacksmith shop on the property between 1908 and 1910. The house then became the property of the Charles Jones family who lived in it during most of the 20th century. This property has recently been purchased by Mercer County to be administered by Howell Farm.
(For the story of how this house fits into the history of blacksmithing in Pleasant Valley, click here for our story from the series of Pleasant Valley Stories - The Last Blacksmith. It will open in a new window.)