On a warm day, there are few places more placid and pleasurable for history fans than Rockingham Historic Site. Found in Kingston, Franklin Township, Rockingham sits just off of Laurel Avenue. Although most know it as George Washington’s final wartime headquarters, the site’s story continues beyond that. In short, it is another fine addition to our Jersey Through History series.
Construction for the Rockingham house began between 1702 and 1710. The home is one of the oldest in Somerset County; in fact, historians believe it is the second-oldest in Millstone River Valley. Jedidiah Higgins, who receives credit for building the home, was one of the Rocky Hill-Kingston area’s first settlers. In the 1730s, he sold the home to New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John Berrien.
The Original Rockingham
Under Berrien’s ownership, Rockingham became a prosperous farm. In addition, the home underwent renovations including the expansion of a kitchen wing. Berrien died in the early 1770s, however, leaving his wife to inherit the estate. Then, a decade later, Rockingham briefly became home to one of the most influential men in United States history.
In 1783, General George Washington took up residence in Rockingham. The property became Washington’s final military headquarters. Just before Washington came to town, Mrs. Berrien was planning on selling the property; instead, she took the opportunity to rent it to Washington on a monthly basis. By the end of August 1783, Washington, his wife, a few dozen military personnel & others were staying at Rockingham.
Not unlike the rest of his military career, Washington was very busy during his time at Rockingham. It was not unusual for him to host noteworthy guests regularly, including congressmen like James Madison and Elias Boudinot; he would also host military personnel such as General Benjamin Lincoln, and revolutionaries Robert Morris and Thomas Paine. Additionally, he and Mrs. Washington sat for a couple portraits at the home.
A Farewell Address
Most notably, Washington wrote his Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States at Rockingham. In these orders, Washington gave thanks to the soldiers for their service and sacrifice; Moreover, he made a promise to the soldiers that Congress would compensate them. Finally, the announcement also made clear Washington’s intent to retire from military service.
News about the signing of the Treaty of Paris didn’t reach General Washington until October 31, 1783. (This is the treaty that put an end to the American Revolutionary War.) Shortly thereafter, Washington left Rockingham for New York before heading on his final journey home to Mount Vernon.
Rockingham Without Washington
After Washington left, Mrs. Berrien once again found herself back at Rockingham. Nearly two decades later, though, she sold the home to Frederick Cruser. The Cruser family kept the land until 1941, again making a number of renovations. After changing hands several times, the property found new owners in the late 19th century. What became known as The Washington Headquarters Association bought Rockingham and the adjoining land. A decision was made to relocate the home itself, which was once along the quarry, to better preserve it.
Since then, after acquiring the house in 1935, the state of New Jersey came to a similar decision; the home had to endure two more relocations before landing in its current spot.
Today, Rockingham Historic Site takes up 27 acres. It is open five days a week and gives history lovers some great insight into the birth of our nation. The site offers several tours a day, bringing guests through George Washington’s former home during an important period in history. The tour guides are very knowledgeable and can answer even your wildest questions.
No Tour Guide Necessary
A visit to this historic site is completely free. Guests are also able to traverse the land on their own and admire the impressive grounds. The 100-year-old stone building closest to the parking lot also serves as a visitor center and museum shop. Of course, the visitor center doubles as a gift shop, offering literature, toys and gifts for all ages.
Rockingham Historic Site dates back to the earliest years of Somerset County’s existence. It is a place of superb antiquity and brilliance. It has been home to varied levels of wealth and means, and is the perfect place to Jersey Through History.
All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ