Earliest History of the Farmstead
The earliest records state that the Farmstead was acquired by John Harrison in 1717 from “Nowenoik, an Indian Chief”, and included 3000 acres between the Passaic River and the Dead River. In 1740, the land was transferred to Nathaniel Rolfe, who conveyed the portion of the land which included what is now the Farmstead to Moses Doty, “subject to the yearly payment of ‘an ear of Indian corn’ if demanded”. Reverend Kennedy purchased 300 acres of land that includes the current Farmstead property from Moses Doty in 1762 for 1200 pounds.
Reverend Samuel Kennedy
(1720 – 1787)
Reverend Samuel Kennedy lived on the Farmstead from 1762 – 1767 where he established a classical school for boys as a preparatory school for the College of New Jersey, which is now Princeton University. He was the fourth minister of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Born in Scotland in 1720, Samuel Kennedy was educated at the University of Edinburgh before coming to America in the 1740s and settling in New Jersey. He pursued theological studies in New Jersey, and became the minister of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church on June 26, 1751. He served the congregation in that capacity until his death on August 31, 1787. An energetic clergyman, he was a well-regarded preacher. He also was a practicing physician of some distinction, acquiring a “reputation in the treatment of disease,” and joined the Medical Society of New Jersey in 1768 two years after its founding. The “classical school” which he established and carried on for many years gained local renown. According to an unnamed source quoted by the 1881 county history, Rev. Kennedy “being a highly accomplished scholar and possessing great wisdom and energy as a disciplinarian, his school was extensively patronized, and sent many of its pupils to the College of New Jersey [Princeton].” The exact location of Rev. Kennedy’s schoolhouse at the Farmstead is not known. The school was subsequently taught in several locations in Basking Ridge. In 1809, it moved to the Brick Academy which was constructed for that purpose.
Samuel Kennedy and his wife, the former Sarah Allen of Philadelphia, had at least seven children.
Kennedy advertised the Farmstead for sale in 1767, describing it as “a dwelling house with three rooms and two fireplaces on the lower floor, a good Barn and a Stable at each end of it”. The property description included 300 acres with an apple orchard, along with horses, cattle and sheep.
Colonel Ephraim Martin
Colonel Ephraim Martin, revolutionary war patriot and New Jersey founding father, lived on the Farmstead from about 1778 to 1795. He served in the Second Regiment, Sussex County Militia and represented New Jersey in the newly formed state legislature, where he was instrumental in the creation of the Bill of Rights.Born in 1733 in New Jersey, Ephraim Martin purchased the Kennedy plantation from Reverend Kennedy. He was commissioned as a colonel of the Second Regiment, Sussex County Militia on June 14th, 1776 and wounded in the Battle of Long Island in August, 1776. On November 28, 1778, he was appointed as colonel of the new fourth New Jersey Battalion the Continental Army. In 1779 his brigade was included among troops wintering at Valley Forge.
In 1779, Col. Martin resigned his army commission and embarked on a life-long career of government service. He was chosen in the general election of 1779 to represent Somerset County on the New Jersey governor’s council, the upper house of the new state legislature, and thereafter served many terms on the council until 1806, the year of his death. In 1786 Col. Ephraim Martin was appointed by Congress to survey the Western Territory of the United States.
In 1789, Ephraim Martin played a major role in the approval of the first amendments to the U. S. Constitution by the New Jersey legislature. The state legislative council appointed Martin and three other councilors to a committee to discuss the proposed amendments on November 4th. Following his committee’s recommendation, the legislature approved the report on November 20th, 1789 making New Jersey the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights.
Ephraim Martin was a prosperous landowner. Surviving Bernards Township tax records indicate that his local landholdings reached 375 acres of “improved land” in 1784. In 1778, he was assessed for four horses, seven hogs and seventeen head of cattle. In various years throughout the period he was taxed for a riding chair, sleigh, chaise and covered wagon, and in most years for two or three vehicles.
Ephraim Martin married three times and had at least four children. Following the death of his first two wives, he married Catherine Wall Green Stelle in 1789, the widow of the Reverend Isaac Stelle, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Piscataway. Ephraim Martin sold his Bernard Township farm to brothers Oliver and Samuel Stelle, the stepsons of his wife, in 1794.
The Stelle Family
(Owners from 1794 – 1943)
Oliver and John Stelle, step-sons of Colonel Martin, acquired the Farmstead in 1794. They and their descendants farmed the property for almost 150 years. The family was politically prominent in Basking Ridge and Somerset County.
Oliver Stelle acquired his brother’s interest and married Mary Runyon in 1778. They had at least eleven children. Bernards Township records indicate he owned 232 acres of improved land, 5 horses, 14 cattle, 1 still, 1 covered wagon, one slave ( later freed), and a dog. Oliver Stelle died on June 3, 1832 at age 76. His will identifies several rooms and features of his house by name: the “west front room,” the “west back room,” the “middle back room,” and the “entry” and/or “entry chamber,” as well as the kitchen, cellar and well, thus establishing the configuration of the present house by that time.
Clarkson Stelle inherited the property from his father and owned the property from 1832 to his death in 1850. In 1852, the Farmstead was listed for sale as a “Splendid Farm for Sale. Known as the ‘Oliver Stelle Farm’, containing about 200 acres of first rate Plough, Meadow and Grazing Land. About 30 acres of very heavy Timber on said Farm. The improvements are a large and good Frame House, two large Barns, Cow House, and every desirable out building, all in good condition.”
Isaac Runyun of Morristown, husband of Clarkston’s daughter Rachel, purchased the property in 1853. In 1883, Rachel, daughter of Isaac and Rachel Stelle Runyon married William Codington, who was a noted lawyer in the area. Codington establishes a dairy operation at the Bernards Township property (which he named River Edge Farm), raising Guernsey cattle. In addition to his law practice, William Codington was active in political and business affairs at the local and state level. Codington died in 1935 at 81. His inventory indicates that electricity and plumbing had been installed by that time. After his wife’s death, daughter Margaret acquired the property and subsequently conveyed it, in 1943, to Gerald Pearson.
In July, 2004, the Historical Society of the Somerset Hills was given a group of Stelle Family archive materials. One of the most fascinating items is a diary from 1847 that was written by John Stelle – the brother of Clarkson Stelle who owned the Farmstead from 1832 to 1850. John Stelle owned the large farmstead on the opposite side of King George Road. The diary, which is available in the Bernards Township Library, offers a fascinating glimpse into life in Bernards Township as it was over 150 years ago, through the eyes of a local farmer writing in the first person.
(1905 – 1987)
Gerald Pearson, who was born in Salem, Oregon in 1905, acquired the Farmstead from the Stelle family in 1943. He lived on the property with his wife, Mildred until 1960, when the property was purchased by George and Ingrid Geier.
Gerald Pearson’s fundamental research in semiconductor materials led to his invention, with Daryl Chapin and Calvin Fuller, of the silicon solar cell, the first practical device that converted solar energy into electrical power.
Pearson went to Willamette University for college and Stanford for his master’s degree in physics. He began to work at Bell Labs in 1929. In 1945, he was put into a lab dedicated to studying solid state physics. Pearson’s work in the early days of the lab was to study the way current moved through the body of a semiconductor crystal.
One of Pearson’s crucial contributions was to build thin semiconductor filaments less than a hundredth of an inch thick. These could be used instead of the metal leads in a point-contact transistor making for a transistor that was easier to build, and much quieter, since current crossing from the crystal to the metal made a lot of noise. His work on silicon rectifiers – electronic components that control electrical current – led to the invention for which he is best known, the silicon solar cell, which became the power source of satellite communications and numerous other applications.
In 1957, Pearson was promoted to head of the department of applied solid state physics at Bell, where he stayed until 1960. He left Bell in 1960 to become a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University where he set up one of the first university programs in compound semiconductor research. He actively continued his work until the age of 78. He died in 1987 and was inducted posthumously into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
The Geier Family
(1943 – 1999)
George and Ingrid Geier purchased the Farmstead property from the Stelles in 1943. The family lived on the property and continued to do limited farming. They were well known locally for the Christmas trees that they grew and sold on the property. Some of those trees are still growing on the upper field.
Kennedy Farmstead Task Force
In 1999 Bernards Township purchased a 36acre tract by using funds raised by municipal open space taxes. The Township Committee designated four acres as the Kennedy-Martin-Stelle Farmstead.
The Township Committee appointed a Kennedy Farmstead Task Force in January, 2002 to develop a vision for adaptive uses and a plan to provide the financial means for preserving the Farmstead. This group worked with the Township Engineer to write and submit a grant application to Somerset County. As a result, the Township received a grant of $75,000 to fund the development of a preservation plan and stabilize the English Barn.
The preservation Plan was completed by Michael Califati of Historic Building Architects ,LLC, and Dennis Bertland, a historic preservation consultant, in December of 2002. This document provided for the success in the listing of the Farmstead on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. It also formed the basis for all past and present funding requests and preservation planning.
The Task Force vision was that the Farmstead was best suited for cultural arts pursuits. They consulted with Township residents, as well as local artists and organizations involved in cultural fine arts.
Based on this input the Task Force visualized the use of the English Barn for the following pursuits:
- Art Exhibits, workshops, lectures and classes
- Small theatrical performances and workshops involving minimal scenery
- Small group musical performances (moderate or low volume to spare neighbors)
- Spoken word events, writer/author lectures and workshops
- Barn dancing
The Task Force also believed that an unobstructed view of the interior of the English Barn should always be retained and the middle section should be easily re-configurable, multi-purpose space with moveable seating, lighting & audio equipment, temporary wall partitions and stage equipment.
These two aspects of the vision became the basis for subsequent grant requests.
The Task Force ended it duties in June 2004. Subsequently, The Friends of the Kennedy-Martin-Stell Farmstead, Inc. was formed.
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