Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on
September 9, 1998. All rights reserved.
Bucolic, Unvarnished Past
The cow poke alone is worth the trip. That’s not "cowpoke"
as in hired hand or cowboy, but cow poke as in "wire fencing
yet been developed and the cattle may get into the vegetable garden
or wander away, so we’d better invent special necklaces with long
prongs, to keep them from getting through the split-rail fence."
That kind of cow poke.
And if cow pokes don’t do it for you, the two-horse treadmill might.
Before steam or electric power, and long before therapeutic treadmills
for people, there were animal treadmills, connected to drive belts
and then to whatever needed powering up, such as threshing machines
or cider mills. Baby chicks were shipped in cardboard cartons you
can see here, along with metal crates used to mail eggs. And potato
forks, about the size of today’s snow shovels but much heavier, are
on hand to remind us that potatoes don’t grow on trees — or in
These are the artifacts of rural life from the 18th into the 20th
century. And this weekend, as today’s pitchmen might put it, you can
see and marvel at "all this and more" during a two-day
of Farming at the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum in Lambertville,
Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13. For the second year, the
historic farmstead on Route 29 at Route 202 hosts an old fashioned
farm festival, complete with antique farm produce truck and a farm
The property includes the oldest farmstead in Hunterdon County —
a farmhouse built in 1711 — along with a three-story barn that
houses the museum, and a post office, print shop, blacksmith shop,
and carriage shed. In 1968, Holcombe House owners Milo and Rachel
Jimison (descendants of Richard Holcombe, who in 1733 had bought the
house from its builder) deeded the Farmstead to the Hunterdon County
Historical Society, and in 1983, after Milo’s death, the property
was deeded to the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Inc. Since then, the
museum’s trustees and other volunteers have added outbuildings and
restored the property, which is open Sunday afternoons from May to
October, with occasional special events.
Together, Irvin Hockenbury, president of the Holcombe-Jimison
Inc., and the museum’s curator, Claire Young, walk a visitor around
the property. They finish each other’s sentences on one recurring
topic: the volunteer effort that made this place happen and still
supports it. The farmstead board numbers 18. Asked whether that’s
a lot of chiefs, Hockenbury and Young just laugh. "We’re all
they say, and proceed to prove it.
An unpaid volunteer herself, Young’s walk-around includes chats and
updates with those working on site: one trustee does woodwork; another
mentions his plans to acquire a Civil War saddle blanket for the Farm
Fest; a third donates her expertise in publicity; Hockenbury had only
temporarily rested his hammer to tour. Volunteers, all.
A display of early plows manufactured in nearby Pittstown by Hiram
E. Deats, from his father’s original design, dominates the top floor
of the barn museum, together with sleighs and ice equipment,
metal cornshellers, and a scary display of barbed wire samples. Young
observes, "We don’t usually think of what a boon it was for a
farmer when wire fences became available." Until then, it was
the cow poke, or running wooden fences that had to be built and
Perhaps the most compelling curiosity to be seen at
the farmstead is found on the second floor of the barn museum, where
the office of Dr. Morris Leaver, who practiced both medicine and
near Flemington, in Quakertown, New Jersey, has been reconstructed.
Looking just as it did at his death in 1954, the area includes a
of cabinets and shelves, various tools, and Leaver’s dental chair,
where patients were treated with a foot-powered drill. Some of his
medicine and denture-making materials are also on view — no nearby
pharmacy or lab in those days.
Not content with operating in two branches of medicine, Dr. Leaver
also farmed, maintained his own family and various other relatives,
collected and repaired musical instruments, and established and
a brass band. An early car buff, he drove a red Maxwell, though he
reverted to house calls by horseback in bad weather.
Like most of the museum’s holdings, Dr. Leaver’s office was donated.
Young says when farms go out of business, their barns are often full
of implements and tools that are perfect for this museum. The massive
beam loom on display came from Dr. Leaver’s ancestors. So, one good
thing led to another.
Of Dr. Leaver and the farmers who lived before him and during his
time, Young says, "Today, we earn money so we can pay other people
to do the work. They just did the work." This is borne out by
the display of household non-gadgets: a wood stove, a lard-renderer,
canning equipment, flat irons, candle molds, and a 1911 Regina vacuum
cleaner that required using one hand to pump up an air tank to create
suction while directing the intake wand with the other.
And don’t forget the continuous need to pump water and to clean
via a wooden wash machine with a pump handle on top to move the
inside. A farmer’s wife would perform such tasks in a long dress,
often with hoops and petticoats; the only small blessing may have
been the split drawers women wore under their voluminous clothes,
facilitating visits to the outhouse.
For a long time before beef, hogs were the chief source of meat. They
ran wild in the woods and fed themselves, generally requiring little
space or upkeep. Once in the farmer’s butcher shop, a hog was
then lowered into a tub of boiling water to loosen bristles for
off. Next, the carcass would be hung and slit for removal of organs
to be used for other purposes, and finally it would go onto a
bench for cutting into hams. Irvin Hockenbury claims to remember
fried hogs’ brains with eggs, and of course the origin of "blood
pudding" becomes perfectly clear (if not appetizing). In short,
Hockenbury says, "Everything was used but the squeal."
Demonstrations of blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, soap-making, and
sheep-herding are scheduled for one or the other day of the Farm
weekend. Children can also take a hayride, find their way through
a hay maze, and visit farm animals in the carriage shed. The post
office will be open on Saturday with a special commemorative stamp
cancellation, and farmhouse tours will be available. Local artists
will show, and sell, crafts — sweaters, jewelry, pottery, tinware,
and baskets — and handmade candy will be sold as well as lunch
and fresh produce.
The Farm Fest promises a mix of instruction and fun. So get into your
car (not powered by a two-horse treadmill), wearing your chinos and
polo shirt (not woven or hand-sewn at home, not washed in hand-pumped
water in a person-powered "washer," or ironed with tools
in a special oven), enjoy your breakfast (not preceded by butchering,
boiling, and scraping a hog, or collecting fresh eggs or baking in
a wood stove) . . . and head for the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead.
learn about a lifestyle that only looks bucolic.
— Pat Summers
Route 29 at Route 202, Lambertville, 908-995-2237. $5; $1 students.
Saturday and Sunday, September 12 and 13, 10 to 5.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.