Corrections or additions?
This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the February 14,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Rockingham — On The Move
If George Washington were to seek shelter at Rockingham
right now, he would be turned away. Partly hidden by trees along Route
518 in Franklin Township, Somerset County, the place our
called home for a few months in 1783 is going on the road again —
for the third time. This spring Rockingham will be moved yet again,
traveling just over two miles to a 35-acre site that is expected to
become its permanent home.
Meanwhile, reflecting years of preparation and countless hours of
work, the house’s contents — mostly furniture, along with
artifacts, and fine art — have been carefully cleaned, wrapped,
and placed in climate-controlled storage. Rockingham’s grounds are
in disarray, due as much to the season as to the movers’ incursions
and the purposeful uprooting of some gardens. Although Rockingham’s
re-opening time is uncertain right now, rest assured: it will happen,
and it will be a "grand re-opening." Too much has been done
over the last nine years to consider anything less.
After Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown, but before the peace treaty
that would officially end the war between Great Britain and the United
States, the Continental Congress moved from Philadelphia — where
restive troops demanded payment — to Princeton, then a town of
300 people. Meeting in Nassau Hall at the first College of
New Jersey (now Princeton University), the Congress summoned General
George Washington from Newburgh, New York, where he and his wife
uncomfortably, chafing to return to Mount Vernon, which the
Washington had seen only twice in the last eight years.
Housing had become scarce once the Congressional retinue was settled
in Princeton, so the Washingtons, their servants, and aides were put
up about four miles away, at Rockingham, the home of the late John
Berrien, former justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, whose
widow had hoped to sell the house, but agreed to rent it by the month.
From August 23, 1783, until November 9 of that year, Washington lived
at Rockingham, often attending meetings of Congress nearby;
sitting for portraits, and working on his farewell orders to the
of the United States. Not until October 31 did news of the Treaty
of Paris arrive. Early the following month, General Washington left
for West Point and New York City before heading south to Annapolis,
where Congress was meeting, to resign as commander-in-chief. He
Mount Vernon on Christmas eve.
Believed to be the second oldest building in the Millstone River
the house was probably built between 1702 and 1710 on a rocky hillside
overlooking the river. John Berrien bought it in 1735, giving it the
name of "Rockingham," possibly for the Marquis of Rockingham,
and with his enlargements, it became a substantial farmstead,
for someone in his station in life. In 1803, Mrs. Berrien sold the
house to the Cruser family, who lived there until 1830. It then passed
through a succession of owners and occupants, serving at one time
as the home of the quarry manager, then as a crowded rooming house
for its Italian workers. By 1896, the Rocky Hill Quarry Company, which
remains an ongoing industry today, had so expanded that the historic
building was severely shaken by blasting.
Saved by local residents and patriotic organizations, the house was
purchased from the quarry company and, in 1897, moved for the first
time, away from advancing quarry operations. Only partly furnished
with donated period pieces — reports differ on what might have
been in the house during Washington’s stay — Rockingham opened
to the public in the same year. In 1935, it was transferred to the
State of New Jersey. By 1956, when a second move became necessary,
the house was transferred about a half-mile away — reportedly
with its furnishings left inside during the trip — to a site
For reasons unknown, the back of the house was placed facing the road,
so visitors now enter by the back door. However, this spring’s third
relocation will an about-face for the house, and not only will the
front (marked by a second floor porch with railing) face out, but
the building will once more be situated on a bluff overlooking water
— by now, it’s the Delaware & Raritan Canal, built between the
site and the Millstone River since Rockingham’s first incarnation.
Benefits of the coming move promise not only relief from the effects
of quarry-blasting and the promise of permanency, but also a return
to a setting like its original one.
The best-case scenario calls for the Rockingham
house" and two out-buildings to be repositioned by sometime this
spring. Once in place, the building will be restored, the grounds
landscaped with 18th-century gardens, and the furnishings moved back
from storage. A new kitchen wing, more historically accurate than
the 19th-century add-on that will be left at the current site, will
also be built. Even though two more phases of the project will remain
— calling for walkways, parking lot, visitors’ center and
— Rockingham will reopen, and its variety of programs will start
again. From Peggi Carlsen, curator for nearly a decade, through the
ranks of the Rockingham Association, the Stony Brook Garden Club,
the Montgomery High School Live Historians Club, and volunteers —
sometimes one and the same — a wild, un-decorous, non-18th-century
cheer of joy will undoubtedly go up. And rightly so.
To make that long-planned, long-awaited day possible will have been
the work of years, with innumerable people and hours of labor
If before we could move, you or I had to do what has been done at
Rockingham, even if our present location were threatened and we were
offered a virtual Eden instead, we wouldn’t hesitate: we would sit
Since Rockingham is a state historic site owned and operated by the
State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection, Division
of Parks and Forestry, it was necessary to work through the system.
First, just imagine having to go through the state’s bidding process
for moving, storage, and architectural services, and only after that,
having to pack all your possessions something like this:
Take a household inventory, assigning a coded number to
every single object in the museum collection of 1200 pieces;
Obtain a photograph of every object in the collection;
Complete a 5 x 8-inch card for each piece of furniture,
each cup and saucer, each picture on the wall, and to it, affix a
copy of its photo;
Attach its inventory number to each object; and be sure
the same number is entered into a computer software program, along
with a digitized photograph.
These procedures assure that Rockingham’s valuable contents are
in three ways: card, photo, and software. With the contents of the
house codified, everything can be prepared for months in storage.
Since all the furnishings are historically valuable, they must be
protected from the moving process itself, as well as from one another.
Use specially-recommended furniture polish to clean and
moisturize every piece of old wooden furniture.
Thoroughly wrap each piece of furniture separately, first
in acid-free tissue, then in "Kim-pak," a cellulose padding
material, covering even the feet of chairs and tables.
Seal the padding with masking tape, which in turn holds
that object’s inventory bar code sticker.
Wrap any silver objects in sulphur-free material after the
acid-free base layer, to prevent tarnishing.
To hold each object safely, without touching or stacking,
construct 16 customized crates to hold individually-wrapped pieces
on two to four levels. As each crate is filled, make a manual list
matching the crate number with the bar coded items in it.
Drill eight two-inch holes in every crate so the
atmosphere of both the truck and the storage facility can pass in
and out — but cover those holes with screening so winged and
creatures can’t enter.
Finally, occupying two tractor trailers, Rockingham’s
are ready for the trip to storage in Poughkeepsie, New York.
"kas," Dutch for a wardrobe or armoire, from the second floor
to the ground (see accompanying photo). The stairs wouldn’t work,
the windows were too small. The plan was to jockey the kas through
the second floor door onto the porch there and use a forklift to bring
it down. That was plan A. But the ground was too soft to support the
equipment. So, says Ted Peiffer, a residential consultant with
Transportation Systems and the Burlington-based firm’s project manager
for Rockingham, it was time for plan B. The moving crew secured long,
strong straps ("like seat belt material") around the
and it was lowered to the ground. Done.
Agreed? If you had to do all that, you would never move. But "the
history buffs are different from you and I." When Peggi Carlsen
began with the Rockingham site some nine years ago, she knew all this
was coming. It was part of her job — for all we know, a desirable
part. And so, along with the site’s array of programmatic activities
open to the public; and besides being ready to talk knowledgeably
about Rockingham and its furnishings and its period at the drop of
a national holiday; and on top of maintaining and managing the
while generally watching over the place, she was expected to use her
history and museum expertise to assure the safety of the collection
and facilitate its move.
Among the specialists Carlsen has worked with is Eric Holterman, of
Holt, Morgan and Russell Architects, Princeton, the firm contracted
by the state to design the whole new site and, in a three-phase
make it happen. Although he’s comfortable about how the 220,000-pound
mansion house will be lifted onto a flatbed — the modern beams
left under the house from previous moves will be supplemented with
new beams when the structure is jacked up — Holterman admits he’s
eager to see the actual move take place, necessitating as it will
moving some overhead wires along the route.
During my visit late last month, Carlsen was awaiting a visit from
an art conservator, contractually required to be involved with packing
the house’s art works — a couple large oil portraits and six
on glass. The latter, all looking seriously dilapidated, show heroic
and military figures, such as General James Wolfe. One of the
or curiosities, at Rockingham is a framed letter from Grover
in which he presents 13 hairs from George Washington’s head, equating
them with the 13 original states.
Prints, including some maps, had already been crated, and waited in
the one-time dining room. In spite of its windows, the room was far
from bright even at midday, prompting Carlsen’s comments about the
likelihood of Washington and his guests having their main meal about
now, rather than later, to allow for preparation, consumption, and
clean-up during daylight hours.
Carlsen’s readiness, not to say eagerness, to answer any question
fulsomely is the best proof of her dedication to her curator’s role.
She knows a lot, and she’s used to sharing it, sometimes giving the
impression of mentally living during Washington’s time at Rockingham,
and only visiting 2001. Given that perspective, her acceptance of
the ever-burgeoning quarry nearby is surprising. "It’s progress.
It’s part of the American story. They sell quarry stone, and for all
we know, we may have some of their material in the walkway right here
During a walk-around with Anne Wooley, the site’s volunteer publicist
who first visited the place 12 years ago and kept coming back, she
and Carlsen fell into conversation about what nighttime was like at
Rockingham two centuries ago. It would have been pitch black: no night
lights or street lights or any light except candles, and once they
were extinguished, that was usually it. Medicine bottles came in
shapes so anyone needing a dose during the night could distinguish
by bottle, and since most furniture was placed against the walls,
that facilitated walking about.
There was no indoor plumbing, of course; just chamber pots. And in
the short beds — did everyone sleep in fetal position? — ropes
supported the lumpy feather mattresses instead of wooden slats.
such reminders, it’s easy to look at Rockingham through our 2001 eyes
and assume that General Washington, the big mahof, would live in
there. Luxury, maybe, but not by our standards.
All by itself, the presence of a bootjack symbolizes the vast
between then and now, giving pause to those of us who might be caught
up in the historical romance of it all and impulsively exclaim,
I’d love to live here!" or words to that effect. Think about
muddy roads — where there were roads — and high, tight boots.
And a world before either Velcro or zippers. Hmmm. How to get those
boots off without muddy hands and clothes. Why, with the household
bootjack, of course. (Here, Peggi Carlsen demonstrates how she removes
the low boots she wears by left-toeing the heel of her right boot
and pulling her foot out. The boot jack works on the same principle,
without making permanent heel-and-toe scuff marks.)
When the Rockingham site re-opens, it will be easy to find: From
take Route 206 to 518, then through Rocky Hill to the intersection
at New Laurel Avenue (Route 603). Turn right, pass the trap rock
entrance on the left, and then on the right: General Washington’s
digs. Restored in many senses of the word — to a setting like
its original locale; to its front-facing-front once again —
a lot to be said for this move: It’s almost like going home.
And, hey, until that grand re-opening, General, you might try the
Route 1 corridor for comfortable accommodations in all price ranges.
08540, 609-921-8835. Members’ group supports restoration and upkeep
of the historic site with donations and volunteers. Dues are $25 per
year and include a subscription to the newsletter, "The
Crossing Historic Park , Visitors Center, Route 32 and 532,
Crossing, 215-493-4076. General Washington, portrayed by James B.
Stinson Jr., will greet guests for a hearty birthday breakfast of
Virginia ham, eggs, Washinton Potatoes, cakes, breads, cherry tarts,
and birthday cake. Traditional music performed on Irish harp by Robert
Mouland. Reservations required, $16 adults; $7 children. Saturday,
February 17, 10 a.m.
Street, Trenton, 609-396-1776. A day-long celebration of George
on his 269th birthday. Dave Emerson gives a talk on "George
the Man" at 1 p.m., Richard Patterson speaks on "George
the General" at 2 p.m., and at 3 p.m. Jeff Masechak gives a talk
of "George Washington, the Myth." Colonial crafts for
President Washington will pose for pictures with visitors, who are
invited to stay for cake at 3 p.m. $6 adults; $3 students. Sunday,
February 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, 609-737-2515. Celebration
features characters and activities of the late 18th century, with
craft and cooking demonstrations, colonial games and schooling, punch
and gingerbread. Donation goes toward construction of a reproduction
Colonial ferry boat, $5. Sunday, February 18, 1 to 4 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.