Monday, January 14, 2013

Watson's Corner

Cow time in Aldine, 2008
Triangle Farm at Aldine in Alloway Township is well-known for the driving of the cows up and down the road between Alloway and Elmer, from the lower pasture to the milking barn and back. In the late afternoon brothers Donn and Dale Smith would drive them up to the barn for the late milking where they would stay overnight, stay for the morning milking, then saunter back down to the lower pasture for the day. It was an traditional way of life here, where cow time was everyone's time, where the filling and emptying of udders ruled the human pace of life for most of the twentieth century.

The daily moves by the herd halted auto traffic at the intersection of Alloway-Aldine Road (once called the road from Pittstown to Allowaystown) and Friesburg-Aldine Road (once called the Road to Cumberland), which had to wait for the cows to complete their journey. Commuters learned either to avoid the route, or to join cow time and enjoy the wait.

In recent years the brothers Smith retired. A young farmer leased the farm and valiantly tried to make his own dairying venture work, but it was short-lived. The cows no longer dot the grassy fields or take to the road twice a day. Folks miss it, but the forces of the economy work against the small family dairy farm. Now the farm is home to miniature horses instead.

My friend Steven Smith knew the plain house at the corner as Aunt Betty's house. His great-aunt Elizabeth Smith served him many an after-school snack there. After Aunt Betty died, the house became Steven's, and thus it became one of my study houses for my master's thesis in 2007. I was fascinated with its articulated timber frame and other signs of antiquity. I found it was a good example of a "simplified Anglo-American box-frame," which differed from the heavy timber New English variety and the Dutch-derived H-bent framing also found in Fenwick's Colony. With my latest grant, I'm continuing the study of this farm, beyond the farm house this time, to the outbuildings and the story of farming.

I spent a couple of days in the County Clerk's Office searching the deeds for this farm. Mapping the land descriptions in the deeds will show me how land ownership has changed over time, and if I'm lucky, will shed light on the evolution of the people and the buildings.

Before it was Aldine, this crossroads hamlet was known as Watson's Corner, according to old maps and deeds. John Watson and his wife Rachel, who originated in Pittsgrove, began buying land around this crossroads in the 1820s, with many transactions through the 1850s. Many of their nine sons and daughters stayed in the area to farm, mill and can. John Watson was born about 1778 and died in 1864. Rachel Seads was born in 1781 and died in 1851.

Aldine sits on a high spot between the headwaters of Alloways Creek and the Cohansey River, both of which still contain many mill ponds impounded in the nineteenth century. John Watson built a saw mill on a branch of Alloways Creek not far from here. The recent completion of the mill in 1827 was stated in a deed of land from Adam Minch to John Watson in that year. In consideration of constructing the mill rather than cash, John Watson earned from Minch the ownership of one-half  of the 28-acre parcel and saw mill. Partnering the two men's assets, Minch's land on a  watercourse, and Watson's competency in mill-building, made the enterprise possible.

In 1830 and 1837, John Watson purchased two adjacent 25-and-a-half-acre parcels from Isaac Johnson and Jacob Hitchner, who had scooped up a 300-acre parcel known as the Gamble Farm in 1829. These two parcels form the nucleus of today's Triangle Farm. The current farm house is on the parcel Watson bought in 1830. It probably predates 1830, because the deed refers to "land and premises." Premises means real estate including house and buildings in addition to land.

Watson House at Triangle Farm
Also, if John Watson, a saw mill owner, had built it, almost certainly he would have sawn the timbers in his mill (as miller Samuel Shivers had done in Woodstown in 1742). However the frame of the earliest portion of Watson's house is hewn, meaning hand cut with axes and adzes.

Hewn frame (post, plate and wall tie) in the Watson House
It is likely that Watson did some renovating when they moved in, however, as evidenced by an ogee molding around the parlor fireplace mantel that has a profile common around 1830.

An 1830-era ogee molding frames the fireplace
The house was likely built in the eighteenth century when this land was part of the Gamble Farm. John Gamble inherited the farm from his father William, of Dublin, Ireland in 1773, who owned it at least as far back as 1749, when he wrote his will. A house built circa 1760 (according to the HABS report of 1940) was on the property and it is one of Salem County's famous pattern brick houses, located just north on the Aldine-Daretown Road. So, the hewn-frame house that John Watson bought in 1830 may have been a tenant farmer's house on the Gamble Farm.

The form and fenestration of the house is typical of a house of the eighteenth-century: a one-room hall on the first floor with a central door flanked by two windows ("window-door-window"), a pattern which is repeated in the kitchen wing. We might call it the "Gamble Tenant House" but for now, the "John and Rachel Watson House" will do since there is more evidence of their presence here.

The Watson House in 2007, before rehabilitation.

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