Harmony School Rightly Named

by Marfy Goodspeed on December 27, 2013

in E. T. Bush, Historians Revisited, Hunterdon County

Reunion Revives Interest in Old-Time Folks of That Neighborhood
Many Trimmers in Vicinity

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, August 21, 1930

Note: In the summer of 1930, the former students of Harmony School in Raritan Township held a reunion. It was a great success and was written about at length in the Hunterdon Democrat. The school was located on Route 579, north of Harmony School Road, at the junction of 579 and Stone Signpost Road, and had been in existence since at least 1810, and probably earlier.

This article by Mr. Bush has very little to do with the school itself or of its pupils. It contains a great deal of information about landowners in the vicinity of Harmony School. Many of the names mentioned by Mr. Bush also appeared in my series on Buchanan’s Tavern (see topics in right-hand column). I am publishing Mr. Bush’s article in quotes, and adding comments in normal text. References to sources appear in footnotes. Here is Mr. Bush’s article:

“Heaven opened wide Her ever ‘during gates,
harmonious sound, On golden hinges turning.”

As I was listening to the reading of Mr. Burkett’s fine history of Harmony School,1 and to the declaration of uninterrupted harmony as echoed and reechoed in many brief and interesting speeches, the foregoing lines came stealing upon the memory, as some unexpected old melody that now and then comes floating through the air. It set me to thinking more intently upon what had long been in contemplation but not yet attempted.

That word “harmony” has an enchanting sound. And certainly if the school was all along so harmonious as appears in evidence, the neighborhood must have been in the same enviable condition. Who ever heard of a harmonious school in a turbulent or quarrelsome neighborhood? No such anomaly has ever been known or ever will be. The school reflects its surrounding neighborhood, as the still waters of the pool reflect the overhanging branches.

Some things about that old community have been of life-long interest to me. One old building there—apparently as old when first seen in early childhood or now—has always been a source of wonder; and the wonder was no less or less alluring as I looked upon it seventy-five years later, while on the way to the recent Reunion. That curiously constructed barn on the farm of “John Trimmer, Senior,” next above the schoolhouse, is the thing of wonder, and probably must continue to be. The middle bent of the building, for perhaps the orthodox twelve feet, sticks its head up less than two feet above all others, some to the east and some to the west of it. That struck the small boy’s eyes and the old man’s in exactly the same way, and stirred up the same line of wonderment. I have never seen the like any-where else, and am still wondering why “this is thus.”

Those chronic explainers who know it all have said: “Why, the barn was built at several different times.” Yes, no doubt; but that explains just nothing. It is no better than to say Jack Sprat is so much taller than either of his parents or any of the family because he grew that way. With Jack there is some natural cause hidden from our view; with the barn there seems to be nothing natural, logical or reasonable. Yet there it has stood for several generations, a curious monument to somebody’s curious idea of either economy or usefulness.

John Trimmer Sr.’s barn is no longer standing, and I have never seen a photograph of it. John Trimmer, born about 1741 to Johannes Trimmer and his second wife Elsje (Alice), lived along Route 579 south of Boarshead Road. In old days, one would have said he lived south of the Boarshead Tavern, but that institution is also long gone. John Trimmer’s wife was Susanna Servis, born December 1745 to John Jurien Servis. They must have married about 1765 when their first child, Amos Trimmer, was born.

The First Blacksmith

We find that by deed dated May 17, 1768, Henry Young conveyed this property, then a farm of 42 acres, to John Trimmer, a blacksmith, who carried on his trade in connection with farming, a double occupation being a common thing with early settlers of whatever trade or profession. His shop, as pointed out to me in boyhood, stood on the small lot west of the road and adjoining the farm. There the old shop still stands, looking very old indeed, just as it did then; but it has not resounded with the ring of the anvil for scores and scores of years.

Mr. Bush’s “boyhood” took place in the 1850s, which is why his recollections of that time are so valuable to us. The blacksmith shop is long gone. I have no information on this Henry Young.

A deed to George Trimmer, 1751, conveys the 230-acre farm adjoining this one on the south, the farm from which most of the school grounds have been secured. This deed says: “Beginning in the great road leading from Bethlehem to Trenton, where it crosses the line of lands known as the Thomas Kitchen farm.” “Bethlehem” was then a general name for a large area in the northern part of Hunterdon County. The deed also speaks of touching “lands of John Trimmer, Senior,” but just where is not clear; probably the blacksmith-shop lot.

This George Trimmer was probably another son of Johannes Trimmer, and his first wife Mary Dierdorff, and thus a step-brother of John Trimmer the blacksmith. I cannot say when he was born, but he died on March 29, 1807. If he was conveying land in 1751, which was shortly after the death of his father, then he must have been born about 1730 or earlier. I have not seen this deed Mr. Bush refers to, but suppose it involved the conveyance by his siblings of their rights to their father’s estate. Thomas Kitchen appears often in my articles on Buchanan’s Tavern.

The will of George Trimmer, probated May 6, 1807, whether this George Trimmer or not cannot be ascertained, divides his estate among his legal heirs, whom he designates as: “My son John Trimmer, my daughter Catherine Kuhl, my daughter Sarah, wife of William Risler; my daughter Mary, wife of Matthias Case; my daughter Elizabeth, wife of Jacob Bearder; my daughter Rebecca, wife of Andrew Harte (?), and my daughter Anna’s children.”

George Trimmer ordered that a third of his moveable estate go to his wife Catharine, along with a room in the house to be provided by their son John during her widowhood. By rights, Catharine was also entitled to a third of the real estate. I wonder if she quit claimed those rights to her son. George Trimmer ordered that his real estate be sold and the proceeds divided among his children.

County Historian Frank Burd wrote many years ago that there was a burying ground near the Boarshead Tavern on the west side of the Trenton Road; the stones were rough and have long since disappeared. Burd thought that many Trimmers had been buried there.2

The Trimmer Will

The will of John Trimmer,  dated May 17, 1819, and probated August 1821, is interesting both for its devises and for the family explanations:

“My will is that seventy-five acres of land on the westwardly side of the farm whereon my son Henry Trimmer now lives be run off by a division line running through the said farm to include all of the buildings and half of the timberland within the boundary of the Westwardly Tract thereof. And that the same shall be appraised with my moveable estate, and my will and desire is that my son Henry Trimmer may have and hold the said seventy-five acres of Land at the Appraisement and pay the amount thereof into my estate (Provided Nevertheless). In case my son Henry Trimmer Declined holding the said Land on the conditions above mentioned, Then the said Devise shall be void, and said premises be sold at public vendue.”

Henry does not seem to have declined; and the remainder of said farm, 67 acres, was divided into lots and sold as usual in early days; two of them aggregating 7 acres were sold to Joseph Robbins for $200.50. That farm appears to have been west of the Boarshead Tavern.

Another provision of John Trimmer’s is as follows: “My will is that my farm whereon I now live and the Lot of Land on the Westwardly side of the road with the blacksmith shop and the dwelling house thereon shall be appraised with my moveable estate, and it is my desire that my son John Trimmer may take the said farm and Lot at the appraisement,” &c., making the same conditions as with the bequest to Henry. Then he directs: “The residue to be divided into eight equal parts and paid as follows: To the children of my son Amos, deceased, I give and bequeath one share, to be divided equally between them share and share alike; to my son Henry one share; to my son John one share; to my daughter Hannah, wife of Tunis Trimmer, one share; to my daughter Susana, wife of Furman Marshall, one share; to my daughter Mary, wife of John Young, one share; to my daughter Sarah, wife of Jacob Bush, one share; and one share to be held in trust and the income to be paid to my daughter Catherine Mackintire during her life.”

This Furman Marshall was the grandfather of Anson Marshall, now of Flemington, and the great-grandfather of Judge Erwin E. Marshall of Trenton. Amos Trimmer was the father of Henry S. Trimmer and John S. Trimmer, both of whom lived and died in the vicinity of Quakertown, leaving many descendants widely scattered. The daughter Sarah and her husband, Jacob Bush, began their housekeeping in the dwelling house on the west side of the road, as mentioned in John’s will. That house is still standing, and looking very much the same as when first pointed out to me as the place of their first housekeeping.

As far as I can tell, that house is no longer standing. Jacob and Sarah Bush were Egbert T. Bush’s grandparents.

Farm Often Sold

John Trimmer, to whom the 42-acre farm and the blacksmith-shop lot were devised by his father, to be paid for at the appraisement, conveyed the farm in 1823 to Asa Jones, Sheriff  . . . [text seems to be missing] . . . in 1836-38; and Jones conveyed it to Holcombe Dilts the next year. Dilts conveyed it to Theophilus Titus in 1857 and Titus conveyed it back to Dilts in 1862. In 1867, Dilts sold it to John F. Lightfoot, a slater, who put on the first slate roof that I ever saw laid. He was living in Wertsville then—late in the 50s—but no slater was nearer. In 1873, Lightfoot sold the old farm to Wilbur B. Mahen for $7,000. It was shifted about in the Mahen family until February 1, 1875, when Jonathan A. Mahen conveyed it to Lewis Ackor for $5,000; Ackor sold it to Annie Whitenack, and she sold it to Robert C. Brewster, all within the same year and at the same price, $5,000. Brewster sold it in 1880 to Edwin S. Eldridge, for $4,000. Eldridge sold it to Eli Price for $1,500 in 1883, and Price sold it to Henry S. Hoffman in 1886 for $1,250. The general land depression of that period seems to have hit this locality very hard.

There you have a complete chain of title for this property, from 1807 to 1886. As you can see from the turnover, the late 1870s and 1880s were a terrible time for people living in Hunterdon County. It was terrible for the entire country, due to an economic slump. Many houses were simply abandoned when their owners moved away to avoid creditors and attempt to start over, usually in the West.

Mr. Bush mistakenly stated that Asa Jones was sheriff from 1836 to 1838. In fact, he was elected in 1833. Then in 1836, a prisoner escaped from the county jail, and that cost Jones his re-election.

“Strong Evidence of Coal”

The farm has since had several owners. I remember that Richard Prost, soon after this, started considerable local excitement by “finding strong evidence of coal” on the old place. The discovery was widely heralded. My naturally skeptical remark was: “Dicky has been running into the pit in which the old blacksmith, John Trimmer, used to burn his charcoal.” And so it proved to be; at least the excitement died down. Nobody sold any stock in that prospective coal mine and nobody has got rich out of it to this day.

By deed dated February 15, 1835, Jacob Bearder conveyed to Isaac Horne, grandfather of Rev. Henry T. Horne, the property on the west side of the road. The deed recites: “Being part of the land conveyed by Josiah Rounsaville to Jacob Bearder in 1830;” and the deed to Rounsavill, dated April 30, 1815, conveys 54.75 acres for $2,190, touching lands of Jacob Bearder, John Buchanan and John Trimmer—evidently the John G. Trimmer who leased the ground for the first school-house.

This property was southwest of the schoolhouse, on which a fine 18th-century house is still standing. Josiah Rounsavel (1786-1877) married Margaret Bearder (1789-aft 1860), daughter of Jacob Bearder and Elizabeth Trimmer. He had purchased the farm, referred to by Mr. Bush, in 1814 from John Mattison.3 John G. Trimmer (c.1740-1821) was a son of George Trimmer (mentioned above) and wife Catharine.

Fixing a Spinning Wheel

Isaac Horne, whose wife was a daughter of the old-time schoolmaster, Hugh Dunn, was a chairmaker and general shop-worker as well as a farmer. He has been gratefully remembered for more than 70 years. Somehow a great disaster had befallen the “big wheel”—that is, the great wool wheel on which was spun the yarn for our stockings, mittens and linsey-woolsey trousers. One of the long, slim spokes had been hopelessly broken. What was to happen next? With mother’s aid we appealed to Mr. Horne, carefully sending the broken spoke for a pattern. And didn’t he turn for us just about the finest new spoke ever seen? He surely did, and for a mere trifle, too. The wheel was soon repaired. The great world went right on and has kept going ever since. Strange to think what great calamities trivial accidents were then! Now a maudlin youth may smash a costly automobile;  and little is thought of it; the poor boy’s young life must not be marred by noticing such things. Then a ten-cent break was a big thing, one to be schemed over and made good in the smoothest possible way.

Isaac Horne was the brother of Benjamin Horn, who served on Delaware Township’s first Township Committee in 1838. Isaac Horne was making chairs as late as 1880, and died January 12, 1891, age 81. His wife Sarah died on October 19, 1887, age 78. Their son Jeremiah (1836-1908) was also a chairmaker, and son Theodore (1841-1930) was a schoolteacher.

The Robbins Family

Amos Robbins came to this vicinity quite early. He owned and occupied the old tan-yard farm, which he appears to have built up out of smaller tracts. Here he carried on tanning to the end of his days. His son Joseph owned the farm later, and Joseph’s son Ephraim is now the owner. No tanning has been done there for almost 70 years. I remember the closing out sale, at which the old tannery stock and implements were disposed of. I was not there—O no! Boys of that size were better off at home in those days; or there is where they generally were, probably to their benefit. But memory says that some abominable old leather came to our house from that sale, and that from the same leather a most abominable pair of shoes were made for the boy soon after. How they did hurt the feet—no, the head! It almost hurts to think of them now. But they were said to be “good,” and I know that they lasted seven times as long as they were wanted. But abominable shoes, like many other things, had no mercy on boys at that time.

The “old tanyard farm” was located on Boarshead Road. Amos Robins (1758-1837) was the son of John Robins and Elizabeth Taylor. In 1777 he married Ruth Barnes (1758-1823) daughter of William Barnes Sr. and Hannah Kitchen. In the 1830s, Amos Robins was part owner of the Boarshead Hotel, along with Elisha Warford.4

There was a Joseph Robins of Amwell who bordered Daniel Pegg and Philip Bevins, near the Boarshead Tavern in 1771.5 But he was clearly too old to be a son of Amos Robins. There was another Joseph Robbins, son of John Robins Jr., born about 1783, died 1858, who did have a son Ephraim (1821-1849).

It is hoped that, in the near future, this Robbins family may be straightened out, at least into some kind of understandable lines. So far the individuals have persisted in getting tangled almost as hopelessly as do the long lines and side-lines of John Trimmers. Very numerous were the Trimmers here in old days, and the Johns predominated. Trimmers were found everywhere and no old deed or reference seems quite complete without one or two. But the family name is here no more. At the late reunion, so largely attended by the descendants of old settlers, a large part of these descendants carrying more or less of the blood, not a Trimmer was to be found.

As Mr. Bush has shown, sorting out the Robins/Robbins family can give you a headache to match those “abominable shoes.” And the same can be said for the Trimmers.

Here is the neighborhood of Harmony School in 1851, as shown on the Cornell Map of Hunterdon County, published that year:

Detail of the 1851 Cornell Map of Hunterdon County

Detail of the 1851 Cornell Map of Hunterdon County

The only roads intersecting Route 579 are Plum Brook Road running east through Raritan Township, Boarshead Road running west past “H. Housel,” and Locktown-Flemington Road where the Bearders were located. “A. Dalrymple’s” house is directly across the road from the school house. Dalrymple was never mentioned in Bush’s article. “J. Horn” and “Chair Shop” were the properties of Isaac Horne who fixed the spinning wheel owned by Mr. Bush’s family. The only Trimmer shown on the map is “G. Trimmer,” whose property is well back from Route 579, probably along what is today known as Harmony School Road.

In the 1840 census for Raritan Township, a George Trimmer in his 40s (wife also in her 40s) with an older couple in their 70s, a couple in their 20s, and a female 15-19 was listed with a school on his property having 15 scholars. Unfortunately, I cannot connect this George Trimmer with the family that Mr. Bush was writing about. I begin to wonder if John G.  Trimmer was sometimes referred to as George Trimmer.

In a future post, I will share more information on this interesting school. At one time, the schoolhouse was octagonal. But that intriguing structure has been lost, along with Trimmer’s big barn.

  1. A. Jackson Burkett originally presented his history of the school in 1898, and again in 1930.
  2. Hunterdon Co. Historical Society, Deats Genealogical files, Gary Family File.
  3. Deed 22-504. For more information on the Rounsavel family, see my article on the Sutton Family Burying GroundJosiah is not mentioned in this article, but his father, Henry Rounsavel, was.
  4. For more on Amos Robins, see these two articles on Buchanan’s Tavern (Buchanan’s, A Tavern with a Long History and The Two Taverns at Robins Hill, part two).
  5. H.C. Mortgage 1-157

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