The town of Somerville offers a diverse restaurant scene and quaint specialty shops. But look just beyond these modern day delights and you’ll also find a historic hidden gem. In fact, the area hosts a landmark responsible for helping advance the American Revolution and create NJ’s largest university; Of course, its 250+ years of history make the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage perfect for Jersey Through History.
The Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage have intertwining stories that extend back to the mid-18th century. The lands are no strangers to prominent individuals both journeying by and inhabiting the homes. But before they could host a historic legacy, both buildings had to first…be built.
The History Behind Old Dutch Parsonage
In 1751, three Dutch Reformed Church congregations of the Raritan Valley spearheaded a project to build the Old Dutch Parsonage. Reverend John Frelinghuysen became the first occupant of the two-and-a-half-story brick Georgian building. After his death in 1754, Reverend Jacob Hardenbergh became his successor.
Hardenbergh was a strong advocate for education. In fact, his petition to the Royal Government requesting a “classical and divinity” school in NJ led to something incredible; although New Jersey was a small colony at the time, Queen’s College was chartered within a year of his petition. (Hardenbergh even became the first President of Queen’s College.) Today, that college is known as Rutgers University.
Hardenbergh left Somerville for New York in 1781. During the following years, the property changed hands several times; even the Central Railroad of New Jersey took ownership for a spell. In 1913, however, the results of a preservation effort found the Old Dutch Parsonage moving to a new location; where it now resides within the borough. Finally, in 1947, the state acquired ownership of the property.
The Wallace House Helps Make History
Philadelphia fabric importer and merchant John Wallace came to New Jersey in the late 18th century. He quickly bought 95 acres of land from Reverend Hardenbergh, who was living in the Dutch Parsonage at the time. Shortly thereafter, Wallace bought an additional 12 acres and built an eight-room, Georgian-style manor adjoining his farmhouse. (This manor is actually the largest house built in the state during the Revolutionary War.) Wallace was planning on quietly retiring on the property – which he named “Hope Farm” – but life had other plans. During the height of the Revolution, General George Washington and his troops found themselves in need of assistance.
During the winter of 1778, Washington and his Continental Army were in the Watchung Mountains, three miles from Hope Farm. Since the area had few homes suitable for officers’ quarters, Wallace was asked to share his home with Washington himself. Washington’s stay only lasted two weeks before heading off to Philadelphia. But he returned again shortly after, planning the successful 1779 military campaign against the Iroquois League at the Wallace House. Washington and his staff left the property for good on June 3, 1779. He paid Wallace $1,000 for the use of his home.
By 1796, much of the Wallace family passed away, and living relatives sold Hope Farm to Dickson Miller. For much of the 19th century, ownership frequently changed hands. That is, until 1896, when the Revolutionary Memorial Society bought the home to use as its headquarters and museum. Eventually, the society presented the house to the State of New Jersey.
Jersey Through History: Visiting The Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage Association
The Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage Association was established in 1974. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that preserves and restores New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places sites.
Sitting right off Somerset Street, both building offer indoor tours during the week. But guests can roam the stately property any time throughout the day. While this quaint part of Somerset County is peaceful, the surrounding area offers a fair bit of excitement; with restaurants and shops right down the road, the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage are a worthwhile day trip. To learn more, follow the site on Twitter or call 908-725-1015.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ