Farmstead Receives First Grant Ever Awarded by The Historical Society of the Somerset Hills
We, Friends of the Kennedy-Martin-Stelle Farmstead (Friends), are honored to have received a grant of $2,000 from the Historical Society of Somerset Hills, the first grant ever awarded by THSSH. We are a 501C3 not for profit group, organized in 2004 as successors to the Kennedy Farmstead Task Force that had been appointed by Bernards Township in 2001. We lease this secluded four acre tract on the banks of the Passaic River and its four 18th century buildings from Bernards Township. It is our responsibility to preserve the buildings and to operate the Farmstead to provide historical education and as a center for the arts for the benefit of the public. The generous THSSH (www.historicalsocietyofsomersethills.org) grant provides much needed financial support for this effort.
The KMS Farmstead is an important historical landmark that is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. Since Nathaniel Rolfe first homesteaded the land in 1740 it was continuously farmed until 1999. Progressing down its 1000 foot access lane at 450 King George Road past its 18th Century barns to the Farm House on the bank of the Passaic River is a step back in time evocative of the 18th and 19th Century life when farms like this formed the basis for local culture. Rolfe built the first part of the Farm House in 1750. Rev. Samuel Kennedy, who was the fourth pastor of the Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church, lived here from 1760 until 1768 and on this property established a classical school which prepared young men to attend Kings College (Princeton University).
This school moved several times, finally in 1809 to the Brick Academy in Basking Ridge. Colonel Ephraim Martin, who lived on the farm from 1768 to 1794, was a Revolutionary War patriot who served under General, Lord Stirling, and was wounded in the battles of Long Island and Monmouth. While living in the Farm House he was elected to the newly created State Legislature and thus became a Founding Father of the state of New Jersey. Catherine Stelle, Colonel Martin’s third wife, acquired the property in 1794 and her descendants lived on the Farmstead until the 1940’s.
Tremendous amounts of work accomplished during the past eight years resulted from a wide spectrum of forces: preservation grants from the Somerset County Historic Preservation Trust & the Garden State Historic Preservation Trust Fund, financial support from Bernards Township, advisory and administrative support from the Township’s engineering staff, pro bono help from many local businesses, and diverse participation by 110 volunteers.
These volunteers, many of whom are members of THSSH, have accomplished important tasks ranging from heavy and dirty (using sledge hammers to remove a 20th century shower stall, repairing the Cow Shed roof, and cleaning the basement), to intellectual (creating a first rate web site, and writing grant applications), to social and educational (greeting the public and conducting tours of the property), to exciting (while removing 20th century wallpaper, wallboard and paneling in the Farm House, volunteers found two previously unknown doors between rooms and a stairway from the kitchen to the second floor that had been boxed in to form closets).
To date the exterior of the big English Barn has been completely preserved, and the collapsing Dairy Barn has been removed. The Wagon House and Cow Shed have been shored up with support beams. Extensive progress has been made in preserving the Farm House with major accomplishments that include: foundation repaired, vinyl siding removed and clapboard repaired and painted, a new cedar-shingle roof installed, new electrical, heating and air conditioning systems installed, and a French drain and sump pump system installed in the basement. More Farm House work is currently underway to repair and insulate windows and to repair plaster. This April we applied to Somerset County for funds to complete work on the Farm House – refurbish two bathrooms, paint the interior, install a new galley-kitchen and build an exterior access ramp to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.
If this grant is awarded we will complete work on Farm House so two arts organizations can begin using the building. The Eastern Conservatory of Music and Art will use the first and second floors to expand its operations from its current location in Lamington, N. J. The non-profit Conservatory’s instructors, including those from Julliard and Peabody conservatories, will provide music lessons for individuals and chamber music ensembles and present performances by professional musicians for the education of students and the enjoyment of the general public. The well established Raritan Valley Art Association plans to make the Farmstead a permanent home for its 100 members. The Friends are continuing discussions with other established local arts organizations and practitioners about providing a variety of arts programs at the Farmstead.
Open House Weekend
Scheduled Oct 10-11,2009
In October the Farmstead will once again participate in the Somerset County “Weekend Journey Through the Past,” and in 2010 will help celebrate the 250th anniversary of Bernards Township with historical and arts events at the Farmstead. For more insights into the Farmstead go to our web site, www.kmsfarmstead.org . If you’d like to schedule a private tour, or to find out how you can help, call John Campbell on 908 647-2241.
Thanks again to THSSH for its generous grant and the continuing involvement of many of its members in this exciting project.