April Fool’s Day is a custom with a long history. Which makes it a dangerous day to move to a new home. And yet, that was the practice in Hunterdon County in the 19th century. Well, not always on that particular day, but close to it, as Egbert T. Bush attests. It seems that by winter’s end, everyone got restless and packed up their belongings to try living in another place.

How long this practice lasted is hard to say. Perhaps a close study of deeds might help. I decided to check the deeds I have in my database, from the years 1850 through 1897. I have 161 deeds for that time period, only 16 in February and 10 in May and 34 during the summer and fall. But in April there were 68 deeds and in March 82 deeds. But it appears that most people purchased land in January, for which I found 161 deeds. Although most land transactions took place that month, people probably waited until winter was over before packing up and moving to their new homes.

But enough with statistics. We have Mr. Bush’s recollections to tell us what these moving days were really like, and once again, he does not miss the opportunity to speculate on human nature and the vagaries of politics, with the addition of some of his own poetry. And I have added some intriguing news notices related to some of these many movings.

April First Was Once Moving Day

Boys Considered It a Great Honor to Be Chosen to Drive the Cattle

A Woman on Every Wagon

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
The Hunterdon County Democrat, April 6, 1933

Mark Twain credits his “Puddinhead Wilson” with this entry in that famous diary: “April 1, This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty four.”

A characteristic Mark Twain sarcasm, of course. But, like most of his milder forms of wit, well worth more than a passing glance. If we sit down to ponder over how many of the days of our past year have been “fool” days,” we shall have a rather unpleasant time of it, especially as our thoughts will not be illuminated by the prospect of any great reformation for the coming year. If we are capable of taking an honest and unprejudiced valuation of our own doings, they are so many proofs of foolishness in ourselves that we shall feel very much like saying: “Pud’nhead, you may have deserved the scorn of your neighbors, but you came very close to the bull’s-eye that time.”

However, this skit was meant for dealing with other matters. April 1 was “moving day” in the years that are gone; that is, for farmers and other rural people. Of course the movings did not all occur on that particular day, but that was the pivotal day for movings seventy years ago and later. Things are different now. Farmers move more irregularly and the new comers arrive in much the same way. The chief reason for the change seems to be this: Then the farmer sold out to a farmer. Rarely is this the case now. The farmer sells his farm when he finds a good chance, but he does not buy a farm. This is usually done by one who wishes to become a farmer or by a city “capitalist” who wants a country home—a thing never thought of in the old days.

It appears that the arrival of automobiles did not change the basic logistics of moving one’s household from one place to another. The above photograph was taken in the 1920s, courtesy of Google Images.

It appears that the arrival of automobiles did not change the basic logistics of moving one’s household from one place to another. The above photograph was taken in the 1920s, courtesy of Google Images.

Driving the Cattle1

I remember well the excitement of those moving days of long ago, not that we ourselves ever moved, but that friends and neighbors for miles about us did. The chief interest for boys, say from 14 to 16 years of age, was a chance to drive the farmer’s cattle. The trip might demand “footing it” for 8 or 10 miles. No matter. Distance could not be reckoned against the honor of being selected to help drive the farmer’s cattle to their new home. The charge was a responsible one, and only boys who “could be trusted” were asked to assume the responsibility. I would not like to say that we always merited all of the confidence reposed in us; for cattle sometimes got almost as cranky notions into their heads as we humans get into ours. But it does not hurt boys to walk long distances or even to run parts of the way as we sometimes had to do. Tired legs and aching feet were not to be compared with the honor of being “invited,” for this ranked—well, slightly below that of a call to the President’s Cabinet.

And then the thought of that “moving dinner” sure to follow! Yes, that dinner! Ask any old fellow if he remembers it. There was roast veal in abundance and such veal! There was homemade bread, bakers being almost unknown. There were pies and puddings beyond mention. There was everything that heart could wish, and much more than stomach could appropriate. But we did our best, all the while regretting our shortcomings.

The boys and the cattle were started off ahead of the teams. The cattle were not to be hurried, and after the first mile they did not seem to think that time meant anything anyhow. What at first was a jolly outing for them soon became a wearisome journey to the unknown, where they had no interest in going. Now and then one could not be induced to cross a plank bridge and had to be forced around it as best we could. But the thing most to be dreaded was another herd meeting ours “head on.” Draw your own conclusions as to occasional consequences of such a meeting.

A Woman on Every Wagon

movingday1830s no women

Moving Day in New York City in the 1830s, showing what happens when there are no women on the wagons.

The teams came straggling along fifteen or twenty of them, sometimes singly and sometimes two or three together as they had happened to “get loaded up,” or as the speed of the horses dictated. Every wagon was supposed to have at least one woman on it, a wise precaution, no doubt. Of course, everybody’s wife was “invited.” If the driver did not happen to have a wife, then his mother or his sister—or preferably the sister of somebody else—was his companion for that journey. To overlook any of the women was unneighborly then. Now, if there were any such movings, we might safely invite the women to drive the vehicles, ignoring the men as neither necessary nor useful. The girls would probably insist on their right to drive the cattle.

There was one peculiarity about those old-time movings. Tho “Jersey lightning” was generally abundant at frolics and raisings, I do not remember ever to have seen anything of the kind at a moving. It may be that on some occasions liquor could be found by those who knew where to look for it. If so, I was too much engaged with more important matters ever to notice either the suspicious paths or the effects upon the wise ones. A more likely supposition is, that the strong delegation of women—ever opposed to all intoxicants, as we have lately seen demonstrated—kept the men strictly along the line of teetotalism.

Pure nonsense , did you say? Certainly—some of it. But if you can’t find a gleam of sense here and there, remember that I am exercising the privileges of “April Fools’ Day”: and don’t forget the other 364, with their countless ways for showing one’s own foolishness.

The stocks bought just when they should have been let alone or sold just when they should have been held. The assumption of fixed “principles” that were really fixed prejudices. The pretense of being logical when there was no logic in our chatter. Our dogmatic assertion of our own opinions and our scorn for the opinions of others. Our bitterness in denouncing one man and our vigor in shouting for another, tho both may have been good, or either may have been using us for his own purposes, since it often happens that—

There are promises plenty of this and of that,
As alluring as such things can be,
For a gesture, a grin and a well-managed hat
Are the things which the most of us see.

All these things may come before us in our reveries, and others so many and so various that they force into mind Pope’s sweeping couplet:
“For forms of government let fools contest;
Whate’er is best administered is best.”

An apt expression of a sound philosophy, as applicable to many other of the things of life as to forms of government.

As for “nonsense,” I doubt that Mr. Bush was making anything up. There were a lot of ‘movings’ on or about April first, as a perusal of the old newspapers confirms. Also there were notices of people who were contemplating in January or February moving elsewhere “in the spring.”

The Hunterdon Gazette, published from 1825 to 1866, had nothing to say about individual families making moves. But local businesses were keen to let their customers know when they had relocated, so there are many ads in the Gazette for new store locations.

On April 9, 1851, Jacob D. Suydam informed his customers that he had “NOT LEFT TOWN YET!” He had “rented the South end of Peter Haward’s house in Flemington, whither he has removed and has engaged in a different business—that of Trimming old and new Wagons in the neatest styles and on the most reasonable terms.” Later that month, Edmund Perry Esq. announced he had moved his law office to another location in Flemington. In April 1853, Daniel White announced his move to a farm in Somerville where he would resume his nursery business, providing “all the different varieties and qualities of Trees . . . with prices at least ten per cent lower than they can be purchased at any Nursery in Hunterdon County.”

In the spring of 1854, John S. Rockafellow had moved his clothing store in Flemington to a lot four doors south of the Court House, and Mrs. W. M. Genther moved her millinery business from Somerville to White House.

In 1855, Dr. Justis Lessey moved his residence and office “to the house lately occupied by A. Fulper, one door north of Wm. P. Emery’s store.” Also dentist Robert Carrol moved from Mine Street to an office above the Jones & Dunham store.

In 1858, the editor had to make some apologies. First he announced that his “Carrier” was delivering one day early in order be ready to move on April 1st “to change his residence from the country to the city of Flemington.” Then on April 21st, he published an apology, titled “A Grand Mistake,” for previously writing that the inventory of Wm. W. Young’s dry goods store in Flemington would be for sale on April 19th, when in fact, Mr. Young, “proprietor of the Clothing Emporium in Flemington, had not failed in business, but simply moved out of his old location to “Rea’s new building directly opposite the County House [and across the street from his old store], where he is rushing [sic] business as usual.”

There were two interesting removals in 1860. First, the Gazette’s editor [Alexander Suydam] announced on April 4th that:

Last Thursday the old Sheriff moved out and the new one moved in. The new one is much the size and shape of the old one, and we have no doubt about the same kind of a man out and out, and consequently as good as they make them. While we are pleased to have Mr. [Robert] Thatcher one of us, we regret to part company with Sheriff [George B.] Holcomb. He moved to Reaville, four miles from here and we congratulate the people of that town upon a valuable accession to their number, in the person of the Ex-Sheriff. May he ever flourish.

And then there was the remarkable store known as “The Golden Ophir.” The editor wrote:

The “Golden Ophir” man has returned from New York with a VERY LARGE stock of New Goods, and was compelled to remove his establishment, (for the want of room) to a more capacious building. He will hereafter be found directly opposite the old establishment, on Main Street, No. 97, one door north of the County House, where he will be happy to have his friends and customers, males and females give him a call. He is now much better prepared to supply the wants of the public, both as regards quality, quantity and price. Don’t forget the “GOLDEN OPHIR” is just opposite where it used to be.2

The reason for this editorial attention may be that the proprietor of The Golden Ophir, otherwise known as Samuel V. Egbert had placed a very large ad in the same issue of the paper, and repeated it on April 11th.3

In 1862, the competing newspapers (the Gazette and the Democrat) both decided to change locations. The Gazette editor wrote:

Our neighbor Bellis [Adam Bellis, editor of the Democrat] has moved his office in a room over the Hunterdon County Bank, formerly the law office of Geo. A. Allen, Esq. It is a handsome room in a handsome brick building, and no doubt neighbor Bellis feels quite proud, but we hope he will not put on airs on account thereof.

We would say to him by way of an offset to his new and fine arrangement, that we too intend to get a notch higher. As soon as convenient, we shall move our establishment just above us, in Masonic Hall, a very large and handsomely finished room, where we shall endeavor to entertain our customers and friends as best we know how.

The Hunterdon Republican, which began publishing in 1856, made note of several “movings” by businesses. Some interesting ones were the eclectic shop of Emily Rockafellow and Martha B. Rockafellow, who have

removed their Millinery, Dress-Making, Variety, Book and Periodical Store, a few doors south of their old stand, directly opposite the new firm of Alpaugh & Poulson, where they solicit the continuance of your favors. They have Silks, Ribbons, Laces, Flowers & Straw Goods. Also a variety of Patterns for sale. An Apprentice wanted.4

Rather odd to find a “variety, book and periodical store” also selling millinery. Another item concerned the Bartles house on Main Street.

The work of removing the old Bartles mansion on Main Street, has started and it will be moved to the rear of the lot, fronting on New Street [Park Ave.] and converted into a double dwelling. In its place, Dr. William H. Bartles, will erect a handsome residence in modern style. The building which is being moved, is one of the landmarks of Flemington and one of the oldest dwellings. It was occupied for nearly 60 years by the late Charles Bartles and previous to that by the Maxwell family. It is well preserved and in excellent repair, but not suited to the needs of the present owner.5

The Republican had a lot more to say about family relocations, although not until the 1870’s and 1880’s did they get into some detail. I have noticed that Hunterdon mortgage payments were usually due on either April first or May first, another indication of how many people were starting over in a new place during those months.

Taking into account Mr. Bush’s description of the large number of families that hit the road on and around April first, it seemed to me that there must have been a considerable ripple effect as one place got vacated for another. And so there was, as seen in these items from the 1880s when the Republican began publishing “Brief News” from various localities.

From Bloomsbury (also known as Springtown):

Tuesday of last week seemed to be general moving day: George Sinclair moved to Milford; Theodore Melick moved into the house Sinclair vacated. William Carpenter moved into the house Melick vacated. Martin Hulsizer moved into the Bowlby building; William C. Cole moved in the house Hulsizer vacated; James Able moved into the house Cole vacated; Abraham Smith moved into the house of Robert Housel; James Alshouse moved to Harmony; Daniel Axford Schooley moved into one of Dalrymple’s new houses; Mr. & Mrs. Dennis Weider, moved to Phillipsburg.6

These are the recent changes in residences: Chester Smith moved onto his farm; George Hawk moved into the house of Mrs. Joseph P. Smith; John H. Heany moved into the house vacated by George Hawk; William Bigley moved into the house vacated by Mr. Heany; William Starner moved into one of the houses of Henry Gardner; James Parker moved onto the farm of John Smith. Michael Kelly moved into the house vacated by Mr. Parker; Mrs. Joseph Stopp moved into her house on Main Street; John Ulmstead, moved into the brick tenement house of Henry Gardner and Jacob Stamets moved into the house vacated by Mr. Ulmstead.7

From Glen Gardner:

In consequence of Simeon H. Smith of Valley, moving his family to Glen Gardner, Andrew Lewis, our barber and James Bumstead, the tobacconist, will have to vacate. Mr. Smith will remodel the basement of his house and open a store. Our barber and tobacconist will occupy rooms over Petty’s flour and feed store.

John Willever moved from the Fritts farm, to near Asbury on Wednesday. William Banghart moved to Springtown, Warren Co. William Vannatta, of Milford, will move his family into his mother’s house in Glen Gardner.8

From the Rosemont area:

The moving bug has visited our area: David Sperling, has been hired by Henry W. Johnson and will move to his farm near Bull’s Island; Mr. J. L. Hartpence moves from the property of Asa Cronce, to that of Mrs. Samuel Johnson; Burroughs Slack moves from the property of Mrs. Samuel Johnson to that of Clark B. Johnson; Albert Hann moves from Kingwood to the farm of Gardner B. Johnson; Gilbert Conner moves into the village in the house vacated by William E. Wilson; Edward Hann moves from Sergeantsville to Plainfield; William Hann moves from Sergeantsville to Flemington; Stacy G. Sherman moves from the farm of Joseph Williamson to that of Elisha P. Tomlinson; Samuel W. Britton moves from the farm of Elisha P. Tomlinson to that of John T. Hampton; William Curtis moves from John T. Hampton to the farm of John Carrell at Headquarters; Judge Henry P. Cullen moves from his farm to Stockton. David W. Hoppock has again consented to become half a Jerseyman.9 (I have no idea what it means to be “half a Jerseyman,” unless Mr. Hoppock spent part of his time in another state. He lived his adult life in Lambertville.)

And one of the last of this group of ripples, also from Rosemont, in 1898:

Some moving changes have already taken place: Patrick Kiley moved from the farm of Joseph Hunt to a farm in PA. Mahlon Corson moved from the farm of William H. Cherry to the farm that Mr. Kiley left. Judson Warrick moved from the farm of Elisha P. Tomlinson to the farm Mr. Corson left. William Johnson & Barney Johnson moved from the farm of Sarah A. Bird to the farm of Maurice Wolverton. Augustus Pidcock moved from the Wolverton farm to the Bird farm. Joseph C. Cain will move into part of the house of George Hoppock. Joseph W. Wolverton will move into part of the house of William A. Shepherd.10

Imagine if newspapers today (what is left of them) reported on the ripple effect of our current real estate transactions! It would make an intriguing history. I’ve often wondered as I drive around Hunterdon County what it would be like to live in this or that house, even though I am very happy in my own, and have been for forty years. The urge to move is foreign to me, but seems to be a deeply ingrown American trait, probably acquired from our immigrant ancestors, like the very mobile Germans I wrote about in a recent article (The Amwell Church of the Brethren).

Footnotes:

  1. I tried to find a picture of cattle being driven over old New Jersey roads, but Google only has western cattle drives, not quite the same thing.
  2. Hunterdon Gazette, April 4, 1860; see also the editorial notice on January 25, 1860, and a moving notice on March 14th, and also on that date, an announcement that “the rooms now occupied by the subscriber (Egbert) opposite the County House, and now known as the “Golden Ophir” stand, are for rent. Possession given on the 1st of April.”.
  3. The word “Ophir” is the name for a Biblical town known for its wealth, apparently a trading town that shipped precious metals and other exotic items to King Solomon.
  4. Hunterdon Republican, April 20, 1866.
  5. Hunterdon Republican, May 5, 1886.
  6. Hunterdon Republican, April 12, 1883.
  7. Hunterdon Republican, April 6, 1887.
  8. Hunterdon Republican, March 23, 1887.
  9. Hunterdon Republican, April 6, 1887.
  10. Hunterdon Republican, March 30, 1898.