February 21, 2005

Somerset history buffs follow
in footsteps of Washington's troops.


BRIDGEWATER -- Instead of traveling by horseback or marching, more than 100 people toured the Middlebrook encampment sites by bus Sunday to see where Gen. George Washington brought his army to spend the winter from December 1778 to June 1779.

The Somerset County sites are spread out from the Van Horne House in Bridgewater to the Vanderveer House in the Pluckemin section of Bedminster. Heritage Trail volunteer Jo-Ann Liptak, who read the tour's script like a Revolutionary War story book, said that's because Washington wanted to lessen the 9,000 troops' burden on Somerset County's 10,000 residents at the time.

While the river views and the hundreds of acres that surrounded the estates are now home to subdivisions, stores and warehouses, the tour allowed a glimpse of where history was housed.

"You have to keep reminding yourselves that none of these dwellings were here, none of these roads were here. It was very primitive, very open," Liptak said as the 18-seat bus turned toward Interstate 287. She noted that the tour was the Heritage Trail Association's second such tour, held the weekend before Presidents Day.

The tour began at the Van Horne House and included the Wallace House in Somerville, where Washington stayed. Participants were able to visit harder-to-find homes such as the Abraham Staats House, which is tucked behind a South Bound Brook neighborhood, and the Van Veghten House, which is surrounded by an industrial park in Bridgewater, near the Manville border. The Vanderveer House is along heavily traveled Route 202-206 in Bedminster.

"I drive by these places all of the time, and I wanted to know what their stories were," Karen Brown of Bridgewater said. She and her husband, Sandy, said they signed up for the free tour so they could learn about the five structures at one time.

During a stop at the Wallace House, Bernard Graebener and his grandson, Eric, stood outside the parlor where Washington worked.

"It's really something to ponder, that you're walking on the same floor boards as these historic figures," Bernard Graebener said while the tour group descended a white pine staircase back to the bus.

Maureen and Howard Greenbaum of Watchung took their 13-year-old son, Noah, on the tour so they all could get a better appreciation of Revolutionary War history in Somerset County.

"We have such a Boston and Philadelphia view of the Revolutionary War," Maureen Greenbaum said.

One of the Heritage Trail volunteers chimed in that Somerset County was "the crossroads of the American Revolution."

Kara L. Richardson can be reached at (908)707-3186 or krichard@c-n.com.

Brian Faulks, dressed as a period farmer and militiaman, greets visitors on a stop of the tour Sunday at the Abraham Staats House in South Bound Brook.



The bus for a tour of historical Somerset County homes prepares to depart the Jacobus Vanderveer House on Sunday in Bedminster.

The historical home tour included these stops:

  • Van Horne House, 941 Main St. in Bridgewater, was Gen. William Alexander's quarters. It was owned by Phillip Van Horne and overlooked the handful of houses and tavern known as the village of Middlebrook, which is now the western edge of Bound Brook.
    Alexander, who is also known as Lord Stirling because he claimed to be heir to a noble Scottish family, had a key role in the Battle of Long Island. He also fought in battles in Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He was Washington's second in command at Middlebrook.
  • Abraham Staats House, 17 Von Steuben Lane in South Bound Brook, was home to Baron Frederick von Steuben, who used it for his headquarters. He was a European soldier of fortune, a Seven Years War veteran who wanted to help with America's war for independence here. Von Steuben was in charge of training troops.
    Staats, who owned the home, was in charge of the repair of the Raritan River crossing called the Queen's Bridge. The Friends of the Abraham Staats House have restored the home and have run programs there since the borough acquired the building in 1999.
  • Jacobus Vanderveer House, along Route 202-206 in Bedminster, was where Brig. Gen. Henry Knox stayed. Knox, born in Massachusetts, headed the Artillery Corps and was one of Washington's closest advisers. He enlisted in the colonial service and was trained by British officers. He quickly sided with the Revolution and went on to direct the famous crossing of the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776.
    Vanderveer was a well-to-do local and one of the Bedminster Dutch Reformed Church founders in 1758.
  • The Wallace House, at 38 Washington Place in Somerville, was where John Wallace played host to Washington. As many as 25 men stayed in the home, and more than 200 camped on his property, curator Jim Kurzenberger said.
    John Wallace received $1,000 in Colonial currency, silver candlesticks and furnishings in exchange for Washington's stay, Kurzenberger said.
  • The Van Veghten House, 9 Van Veghten Road in Bridgewater, was where Quartermaster Gen. Nathaniel Greene stayed. Greene was responsible for supplying the troops with everything but food, Liptak said. Greene had challenges getting supplies as the roads were unpaved and supplies were short during wartime.
    The brick house was a sign that its owner, Derick Van Veghten, was wealthy, Liptak said. That's because the lime for the mortar was hard to find when it was built in 1722. Home to the Somerset County Historical Society, it will be closed until April for repairs.