The Allée in Autumn

The Alley at Pitney Farm Mendham NJ

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?

The Beer Connection

Ballantine Brewery, Newark NJ, 1880-1890

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.  WRoberta_Ballantine_Pitneyhat’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.


The Boy Who Didn’t Come Home from War

Window Writing

Wounded in the Battle of Williamsburg – May 5, 1862

Joseph P. Watkins Jr

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.

What Inspires an Artist

Stormy Day, Back Barn at Pitney Farm, oil on board by Tjelda vander Meijden

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.

Thanksgiving Day 1925

“After luncheon and a sip of applejack produced on the farm over fifty years ago, the host welcomed guests to the restored mansion house, recalled some of the historical incidents above set forth, and expressed the hope that in these venerable surroundings and antique fittings the guests might imagine the Mahlon Pitney of one hundred years ago returned to enjoy the warmth of the hot air furnace, listening over the radio to the score of the Army-Navy game, or strolling to the barn to watch the cows milked by electric driven machinery, dashing in his motor [car] over paved roads to the movies at Morristown or telephoning to the doctor for something to relieve his cough. He also hoped that all the guests in the years to come would feel at home in the ancestral mansion and enjoy the reminders of their forebears and their life here in years gone by. ”

-J.O.H. Pitney

The Mendham Aqueduct


Frederick V. Pitney (center), brother of JOH Pitney and Mahlon Pitney III, Aqueduct engineer

I recently heard the phrase “The Mendham Aqueduct.” Aqueducts make me think of Roman mega-structures.  If Mendham had one of those, I’ve certainly missed it.

Turns out, the Mendhams only gained a public water system and a reservoir when Henry Cooper Pitney — at various points, founder and President of the National Iron Bank, of Morris County Savings Bank, and Vice Chancellor of the Court of New Jersey  — donated the water rights and land in 1906 to build the “Mendham Aqueduct.”  Having its own source of water was one of the chief factors that allowed the creation of Mendham Borough, originally part of Mendham Township.

The gentleman in the center of the photo, the one in the tie and cap with a notebook, is Frederick V. Pitney, brother of J.O.H. and Mahlon Pitney III.  I am told he was an engineer and worked on many projects around Morris County.  Now I just have to take a hike and find out what’s still left of these first Mendham waterworks.

Buying Seeds in Winter

Pitney Farm Cutting Garden, oil on board by Tjelda vander Meijden

Pitney Farm Cutting Garden, oil on board by Tjelda vander Meijden


It snowed last night.  In the gray of early morning, I’m looking out the window at the white domes capping every bush, branch and fencepost. This is the time to go to the on-line seed catalog, its cover a riot of yellow, purple, red, orange and green.  An explosion of color to combat the insistent white and gray beyond my windowpane.  All I have to do is look at the pictures and already I am dreaming of the piercing tang of dill, the full flavor of the strangely-shaped heirloom tomatoes, the tantalizing acrid smell of the clown-wild marigolds, the sweet fragrance of roses,  the hard red balls of the radishes.  Shall we do watermelons this year?  Listada de Gandia eggplant?  When can I start turning over the good, brown earth?

How Farmers Measure Time


I was listening to a BBC podcast about cider orchards in Herefordshire and it set me thinking about how farmers measure time.  One of the farmers said he didn’t feel that he owned the farm, he saw himself as its steward for his children and grandchildren.  Rows of pear trees that he had just planted to commemorate the birth of 3 new grandsons would be bearing fruit for the next generation of the family and the generation after that.