The Allée at Pitney Farm in Mendham NJ
One day last fall, I hiked into Pitney Farm, leaving the concrete sidewalk with its stream of cars whizzing past. A step beyond the white gates at One Cold Hill Road — and I was in a different space, a different world — of vine-decked trellises and formal flower beds still bright with autumn’s last blossoms. A quick hike up the driveway, a few steps past the sparkling white clapboard front of the old homestead, and there it was: the Allée.
That day the yellow leaves, turned golden as the sun shone through them, dropped and drifted this way and that, through the clean, crisp air. A shower of bright sunshine falling past my head and carpeting the lawn. Planted in 1760, before there even was a United States of America, who had passed under these boughs? Gentlemen in frock coats and breeches, riding off to meet with Washington’s officers at the Ford Mansion in Morristown? Ladies in their petticoats and gowns, wearing caps trimmed in gay ribbons and carrying a parasol as they strolled leisurely down the corridor of new sapling maple trees?
Ballantine Brewery, Newark NJ, 1880-1890
I was told that the earliest Pitney home on this site was built in 1722. But what I see is a large Federalist residence with Victorian detailing. What’s the story? How did this homestead grow from its Colonial roots to the nearly 12,000 sq. ft. Pitney Farm mansion of today?
It turns out that one of the more exotic pieces in the puzzle was the Scotsman, Peter Ballantine, who started his brewery in Newark in 1840. His granddaughter, Roberta Ballantine, married J.O.H. Pitney in 1890 and they moved back to Pitney Farm in 1925, expanding the main homestead from its 1826 footprint, which had added to the original 1722 footprint.
As someone who is intrigued by how houses grow, I trudged around the outside of the home last Sunday through the snow to get the feel of the additions from the outside, the huge Music Room, the big kitchen. Now I want to go inside and see if I can figure out which rooms are from the original 1722 structure, what was added next.
Wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg – May 5, 1862
Joseph P. Watkins Jr
I thought at first it was a dirty smudge on the window glass. But when I went up close, I saw it was writing — delicate, almost calligraphy. Deciphering the words was like a puzzle, but it got easier as I got used to the handwriting: “Corporal J.S. Watkins, Company K-7th Regiment NJV. Wounded at the Battle of Willamsburg, May 5, 1862. Died May 31, 1862 at Fortress Monroe, VA”
Clearly it had to do with a Civil War soldier. Who had written it? Why on a window? The answers were sobering — a grieving mother, learning of her young son’s death, slowly scratching this small epitaph on a window that would be seen every day by family and friends down through the decades. The young man’s life was cut short in service to his country. 19 years old. His memory lives on in this window 150 years later.
Stormy Day, Back Barn at Pitney Farm, oil on board by Tjelda vander Meijden
“I like to go outside early in the morning or late in the afternoon to try to capture the essence of the light as it hits the flowers or streams across the red barn. Those are all moments that make you aware of how beautiful the farm is.” Tjelda vander Meijden, Artist in Residence at Pitney Farm from 2012-2014, plans to again offer Art Classes to all ages at Pitney Farm and show their work at the Pitney Farm Gallery if the Friends of Pitney Farm and the community can save the farmstead.