Pitney Farm One of 10 Most Endangered NJ Historic Sites

Historic photo of Pitney Farm Main House

Main House 1924

The annual list of New Jersey’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Sites was announced on May 14, 2015.  Pitney Farm won the sad distinction of heading this year’s listing.  At the  event, Omie Ryan, president of the Friends of Pitney Farm, stated “The layers of history that the house represents are extraordinary, and it is almost literally at the center of our town. We would like it to remain there in perpetuity.”

Preservation NJ highlighted the Federal-style farmhouse, three barns, two cottages, ice house, and award-winning gardens. The 1760 farm remained in the Pitney family for 10 generations until the township bought it in 2009. Among the many notable Pitneys associated with the property are a Revolutionary War veteran and prominent lawyers and jurists, including Mahlon Pitney III, nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1912. Continue reading

Township Historic Preservation Committee urges saving of Pitney Farm

All of the historic structures on Pitney Farm, dating back to pre-Revolutionary days, are in danger of being lost in developers’ pursuit of residential redevelopment, increasing Mendham’s housing density at the expense of our heritage.  The Mendham Township Committee is disregarding the recommendations of its own Historic Preservation Committee.

Please make your voice heard.  Write a Letter to the Editor, e-mail each one of the Mendham Township Committee members.  Go to the “Get Involved” section of this web site and tell the Mendham Township Committee that they cannot ignore the overwhelming public sentiment to preserve historic Pitney Farm.  The Mendham Township Committee may be focused on the money, but they were elected to carry out the will of the people — and that is to save and re-purpose Pitney Farm for the benefit of the community.

On February 24, 2015, Ray Nadaskay, Chair of Mendham Township Historic Preservation Committee, presented his committee’s plea to the Mendham Township Committee.  He urged them to be good stewards of the Pitney Farm property currently owned by the township, and to “retain, preserve, and re-purpose Pitney Farm for the benefit of present and future citizens of the Township of Mendham.” Continue reading

Pitney Recognized by NJ Preservation Dept


The NJ Historic Preservation Office has awarded Pitney Farm structures and property a certification of eligibility to be listed on the New Jersey and National Register of Historic Places.  Recognized as the Pitney Farm Historic District, the farm’s structures singled out by the NJHPO include:

  • the pre-Revolutionary Main House
  • the 1860 Farmer’s Cottage
  • the 1930s Chauffeur’s Cottage
  • the 1910 Cottage
  • the Main Barn
  • Garage
  • Ice House
  • rare Corn Crib
  • the display gardens
  • the working gardens
  • the 250 year old maple Alleé

These buildings and gardens were recognized by the NJ Historic Preservation Office to be eligible for listing on the New Jersey and National Registers under three of their four criteria.  They deemed Pitney Farm to be worthy of listing as an irreplaceable New Jersey historic resource. Currently, Pitney Farm has no historic protection.  Continue reading

Township Engineer proposes intensive development at expense of historic Pitney Farm

At the request of the Mendham Township Committee, the Township Engineer John Hansen presented two proposals on March 24, 2015 for the use of the historic 5.1 acres of Pitney Farm.  Both plans envision the sale of the property to a developer and the loss of every historic structure.

Proposal 1, shown below, would entail the creation of 7 lots, the loss of every existing historic structure and the construction of 7 residential homes.

Proposal 2 would entail the loss of every existing historic structure and the construction of 5 age-restricted residences on a single lot.

Map of Township Engineer's proposal

Mendham Township Engineer’s Proposal to demolish all historic structures and build 7 homes.

If the thought of losing all of the recognized historic treasures on Pitney Farm upsets you, please help save Pitney Farm. Send a Letter to the Editor, e-mail each one of the Mendham Township Committee members, or go to the “Get Involved” section of this web site.

The Township Committee is ignoring the overwhelming public support to save historic Pitney Farm.  Tell them you want the 300-year old Pitney Farm to be preserved in perpetuity — for our children, our families, and our seniors — providing needed programming and spaces to benefit the community.  Tell the Mendham Township Committee that selling to developers will lead to more intensive development of the site than the current zoning allows and therefore will increase housing density in Mendham.  That’s not why residents chose to move to Mendham.

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.

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.

Pitney Women: 1876

Pitney Women 1876

Pitney Women 1876

Lucetta Cooper Pitney was the daughter of Henry Cooper of Chester, NJ, and the wife of Mahlon Pitney II.  She lived on the farm until her husband’s death in 1863.  The farm was willed to her son, Henry Cooper Pitney.

Sarah Louisa Halsted Pitney was the wife of Henry Cooper Pitney.  They lived in Morristown where Henry had his law practice and visited the farm weekly to oversee the work of the resident farmers, the operation of the old cider mill on the premises, and the iron forge on Mendham Mountain.

Sarah Pitney Johnson was the daughter of Lucetta Cooper Pitney, sister of Henry Cooper Pitney, and mother of Lucetta Pitney Johnson.