Mill and Mansion Built at Time of French and Indian War
Name “Grover” Never Stuck
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, November 7, 1929
While the mother countries and their colonies were scouring rifles and picking flints in preparation for that spectacular game in the Noble Sport of kings, known to us as the French and Indian War, humble workers whose names are all forgotten were quietly engaged in shaping stones, pouring mortar and cutting “B. 1754” into the date stone for a gristmill six miles west of Flemington. Four years later the mansion house bearing a date stone “B. 1758” was erected. Some say the builder’s name was Opdyke but that lacks confirmation. The stone does not bear out that statement. But by whosoever built, it was a good job then, and still gives promise of standing for another hundred years. 1
The remodeled mill is idle now, but is still proudly holding up the “B. 1754” stone and one under it saying, “Rebuilt 1876 J.A.C.” At the time of the remodeling, John A. Carrell built the adjoining sawmill which still appears to be waiting for any business that may come along. At that time, Carrell put in steam and prepared to operate both mills by either steam or water as conditions might demand.
Long Called Headquarters
Both of these old buildings have naturally become of much historic interest, especially the mansion house because of the persisting claim that Washington made it his headquarters for a few days during the Revolution. Snell’s History records this as a fact; and the long standing of the name Head-quarters, dating so far back that people must have known the propriety of the name when given, furnishes strong evidence that the claim is well founded. 2
So far, all efforts to find who were the first millers and who the first merchants here have been in vain. The Opdykes were here very early, and after them the Covenhovens. But there were very evidently others between. 3
We find that in 1822 Samuel Holcombe conveyed two tracts of land to John Covenhoven and Elias H. Covenhoven, the large tract “Beginning at a corner in the road from the new meeting house to Howell’s Ferry;” that is, from the German Baptist Church to Stockton. This tract had been conveyed to Holcombe by John Dennis in 1803, and the small tract had been conveyed to him by John Severns in 1795. 4
We also find that Gabriel Hoff, Sheriff, conveyed six lots to John Covenhoven and Elias H. Covenhoven in 1825, all in this vicinity. We find further that Charles Smith, 1828, conveyed to John Conover and Elias H. Conover, 181 acres of land, the first of its twenty-seven courses “Beginning at a stone in the junction of the road near the stone house called White Hall,” one of its twenty-seven corners being “near the distillery.” 5
A later deed covering a part of the last mentioned says: “Beginning at a stone in the junction of the road near the store house called “White Hall.” That seemed at first to answer a perplexing question. But the word “store” may easily be an error, and perhaps should be “stone,” as in the early description. This old White Hall, a large stone building, stood on the west corner lot in front of the present store property, on land now owned by Mattie H. Eppele. It stood, until torn away a few years ago, a striking relic of by-gone days, seemingly reluctant to leave the hamlet of which it had seen so much. Many questions were asked concerning what it had been—a dwelling house, of course, but hadn’t it been used for something besides? One deed appeared to give an answer, but now we shall have to keep on guessing, as is often the way when we are overwhelmed with surplus information. 6
Mansion House a Store
The part of the mansion house facing the road was long used as a store, but whether from the beginning is not known. The Covenhovens so used it until 1860, when this property and several others with it was sold by Robert Thatcher, Sheriff, to John A. Carrell. Since that time, it has not been used for that purpose. Carrell built a stone storehouse north of the mansion in 1888, in which business was carried on for several years. The building is now used as a shed or storage house. 7
After the death of John A. Carrell, his son Joseph bought the property and carried on business as miller, sawyer and farmer. He still owns considerable land, the mills and the historic old house, of which he and his wife now grown old and feeble, have long been the sole occupants. 8
John A. Carrell was a successful farmer, owning much property and understanding how to make the business pay. In his later years he was noted for raising champion hogs. Those far-famed animals were the crowning glory of his agricultural achievements. His sons John and Joseph kept up the Carrell reputation for fine hogs long after the father’s death.
Three Big Steers
This son John owned and occupied a farm cornering down into Headquarters on the west side of the road, and was widely known for raising fine steers. Three of these are well remembered and much talked of to this day. And they were certainly worth remembering. It was a pleasure to see the big fellows grazing so contentedly about the premises, growing bigger and fatter all the time. To many flattering offers John turned a deaf ear. The steers were enjoying themselves; so was John, and he could not let them go. One died and he sold one at last. Then one remained, the last of the trio and very close to the heart of his owner. Fabulous offers were said to have been made for him. But however plenty big offers might be, big steers were scarce. Anyhow, that fellow was too fine to be chopped up by unsympathetic butchers, and to have his bones ignominiously thrown to the dogs. At last an offer came that appealed to John’s sense of propriety. He sold the big fellow at eight years of age, together with his little mother when she was sixteen, to William Griffith of Three Bridges, who exhibited them widely at various fairs as “Uno and his mother.”
The lonely bachelor John Carrell is gone. There are no big steers to be seen there now. The farm was sold to Jacob K. Wilson, then keeper of the tavern at Sergeantsville. The barn burned down and the crumbling stone house on the opposite side of the road from the mansion has been torn away. 9
Covenhovens Become Conovers
The good old Dutch name Covenhoven has been gradually changed into Conover. The Covenhovens are said to have owned practically all of Headquarters, including lands abutting on both sides of the road northward to the road leading from “the new meeting house to Sergeantsville,” and the records bear out the claim. 10
About the only exception to their holdings is the now famous poultry farm of Mrs. Frank J. Eppele, which was sold by Charles Poulson, executor of Daniel Poulson, to George O. Poulson, March 19, 1899, and by George O. Poulson to his daughter Mattie H. Eppele, Dec. 23, 1908. 11
The Covenhovens appear to have been very active business men. They were millers, merchants, farmers and distillers; enough, one would think, to keep them busy. Yet for a time it was a matter for wonder that we found neither record nor tradition showing that a tavern was ever located here. 12
But, after closer inspection, one does not feel like being too hard on that apparent lack of business acumen on the part of these old-timers. The Covenhovens did at least in part atone for the lack of a tavern by carrying on an active distillery about three hundred yards east of the mansion house, to which fact the walls of the building still bear mute testimony. It may be that the output of this popular factory for making “Jersey Lightning,” duly taken with its other activities, kept both the spirit and the spirits of the hamlet up to the required standard of the times.
Neither Covenhovens nor Conovers are to be found in or about Headquarters now. Two of the Covenhoven descendants who were boys in that hamlet, William Conover and Charles Conover, brothers, were for a long time clerks in the store of Carver and Williams, merchants, who were located in the Oddfellows’ building at Lambertville. Later on they took over the store and carried on business under the firm name of Conover and Conover. Both are now deceased.
Some of the Storekeepers
The present store property was sold by the Covenhovens to Joseph Housel to whom it was only a residence. Joseph Carrell bought it of the Housel estate in 1872, and rented it to Theodore Denson, who used part of the house as a shoemaker shop. Carrell later enlarged the part used as a shop and changed it into a storehouse. The store has since been kept by Rutan Heath, James Buchanan, William H. Brewer, A. J. Dalrymple and for the past seventeen years by Bert B. German, who purchased the property of Carrell in 1929. 13
During the first administration of Grover Cleveland, a post office was established here, with Theodore Denson as first postmaster. The name was changed to “Grover,” for what reason is not apparent, but the post office remained Grover until 1905, when it was discontinued because of the establishment of R.F.D. No.1 from Stockton, with Erastus C. Rockafellow as the first rural carrier. 14
The name of the post office was never taken seriously as the name of the hamlet. The long-established name and sentimental reasons combined to keep it Headquarters, no matter what the Department at Washington said about it.
A combined wheelwright and blacksmith shop was operated by Manuel Green evidently up to 1873, on the lot now owned by William W. Pegg. A map of that date marks the place “M. Green.” Here were made sleighs and wagons for sale, besides doing the repair work for the community.
A deed from Robinson R. Hyde, Elder Hyde of the Hemlock Church, to John A. Carrell, 1859, conveys land “Beginning at a stone in the road leading from Trout’s old sawmill to Sergeantsville.” This land was in the vicinity of Headquarters, but where was Trout’s old sawmill? Echo feebly answers “Where!” 15
A deed from Israel Poulson, the old-time Dunkard preacher, 1828, conveys two acres and three-hundredths of an acre of land to Elias Covenhoven for $24.36, a close calculation at $12 an acre. The description starts in this curious way: “Beginning at a stump a few chains distant from Covenhoven’s distillery.”
It would be an interesting job for any surveyor to find that corner now, and from that to find the boundaries of the land. It might be possible by the aid of other deeds but even that is doubtful. Anyhow, somebody would have to put up several times as much money for the work involved as Covenhoven paid for the land. It is cheaper all around to have clear statements and durable monuments at the start.
In 1836 Israel Poulson sold three lots to John Covenhoven and Elias Covenhoven; in 1837 he sold a lot to John Conover and Elias Conover, very evidently the same parties. This lot is described as situate “in the village of Headquarters, Beginning at a corner in the road leading from that village to Centre Bridge”—Stockton after 1851.
Once Active Business Hamlet
Headquarters was evidently an active business hamlet from early colonial times. It is still the center of much interest, but its activities have been greatly reduced by changing conditions. During the 175 years since those old-time warriors were picking flints for the spectacular game, and those old-time workers were building the mill and the mansion, great things have been taking place. That great game in the Noble Sport of Kings has been played to a finish, and the world has recently witnessed another of its kind which makes that one look like a battle of bluebirds for a nesting place in a knot hole. The colonies have grown to a hundred times the population and still more in wealth and power; have become a mighty nation, founded upon the rights of man, to be torn asunder by human slavery and to come crashing together again, with slavery crushed and buried forever in the closing gap. Men are going ten times as fast now as they could then, and are now delivering in a few seconds communications that would then have taken months.
Amid all these changes and hundreds of others as wonderful, the work of those forgotten builders of the mill and the mansion has been peacefully serving the needs of humanity. These ancient buildings are standing to-day, as needed reminders to this more rapid age that good and lasting things were sometimes done by humble toilers in the cruder days, peacefully working with no thought of glory and no thirst for blood.
* * *
- The mill has an earlier datestone that Mr. Bush apparently missed. The date reads 1735. Opdycke is most likely the one who expanded the mill in 1754, but the original builder may have been his brother-in-law Benjamin Severns. Both men mortgaged land in this vicinity in 1737. ↩
- Washington probably did not stay at the Mansion House because in 1776 and ’77 it was occupied by Benjamin Tyson, a Tory sympathizer. Opdycke’s house and farm was across the road to the south, and the White Hall tavern was across the road to the southwest. This large inn, no longer standing, is reputed to have been the recruiting center (or ‘headquarters’) for the Amwell militia. ↩
- John Opdycke probably owned the property from about 1735 until sometime before 1765 when it was advertised as the property of Joseph Howell. Howell was the son of Daniel Howell, who ran the ferry and tavern at Howell’s Ferry (Stockton). The mill property was sold at a sheriff’s sale in 1765 to Benjamin Tyson. After Tyson, it was owned by George Holcombe, who also had to sell to cover his debts. ↩
- This is probably Mt. Airy; not Headquarters. This mill lot of 119 acres bordered the Alexauken Creek (Deed 34-343). It was George Holcombe who bought the mill property from Thomas Opdycke in 1793, and sold it (in a sheriff’s sale) to the Covenhoven brothers in 1825. ↩
- This was Charles Stewart Smith, the assignee for George Holcombe, merchant of Amwell (Hunterdon Co. Deed 44-298). ↩
- I have a note that Elias Conover bought the White Hall property in 1855 for $7800 at a sheriff’s sale, but I don’t have the deed number. ↩
- After the death of John Conover in 1854, his brother Elias ran the business alone, but was overwhelmed by debts incurred by his brother. He was forced to sell his property in 1861, and retired to Lambertville where he died in 1871. ↩
- John A. Carrell died on October 31, 1895 at the age of 85. Son Joseph had taken over the mill and store long before that. In his will, John A. Carrell ordered his executors to sell all his real estate for the benefit of his heirs. ↩
- The stone building torn down was the White Hall tavern. ↩
- This is the Sergeantsville-Ringoes Road (Rte 604). ↩
- This farm was purchased by Daniel Poulson’s father, Rev. Israel Poulson from Ann Farley, widow of Caleb Farley, in 1814, which Farley probably bought from Thomas Opdycke about 1789, although no deed was recorded. ↩
- See J. M. Hoppock’s article “Whitehall Recruiting Station.” ↩
- The “present store property” is not to be confused with the store/storehouse built by Carrell in 1888 just north of the Mansion House. This ‘present’ store faced Rte 604 on the north side of the road. ↩
- According to Charles Juregensen, Erastus Rockafellow was commonly known as “Rasty.” ↩
- This land was not in Headquarters. Trout’s sawmill was formerly Besson’s sawmill, located just north of the intersection of Ferry Road and Locktown-Flemington Rd. Roberson Hyde was married to Salomy Myers, the sister of John A. Carrell’s wife Amy. The land he sold to Carrell was land owned by Salomy Hyde’s father John Myers, who died in 1859. His land was on the west side of Ferry Rd. ↩