Also known as the Rosemont School, and the Raven Rock School

The Reading School House, from an old postcard

The Reading School House, from an old postcard

There is an old one-room school house standing on the north side of the Rosemont-Raven Rock Road, and it is in trouble. Built in 1861 to accommodate 60 pupils, the Reading school was closed in 1949 and converted to a residence, which it remained until about 2003, when the last tenants moved out. The property belonged to Lloyd Wescott in 1966, when he donated several acres, including the schoolhouse lot, to Hunterdon County. This was a landmark event, being the first example of land donated to the county’s park system. Once the last tenants moved out, it was the County’s decision not to rent it out again. The schoolhouse has been vacant for ten years, and yet it is still a sound structure, with good hardwood floors, high ceilings, lovely tall windows and a beautiful location. The County wants to tear it down.

Although Delaware Township is negotiating with the county, the chance of saving this building seems like a long-shot. If the building is lost, some of our history will go with it.

Early History

The 1780 School House

The first schoolhouse in this location was built around 1780, according to the a report issued by County School Superintendent Cornelius S. Conkling in 1876. It was a log building, as many of the first schoolhouses were. The schoolhouse lot is just north of the huge old Reading plantation of the 18th century, known as Mount Amwell.

The earliest owners I am aware of were Joel and Elizabeth Woolverton. They had nine children, born from 1737 to 1755, so it seems unlikely that they were the ones to build the school in 1780. The next owner was Joel Woolverton Jr. and wife Anne Runyon. They also had nine children, but the children weren’t born until after about 1790. So who built the school in 1780?

On August 13, 1794, this ad appeared in the NJ State Gazette:

“Joel Woolverton Jun offers for sale a lot of land containing 45 acres in Amwell Twp HC, within about 2 miles of Howell’s ferry and 1 mile of Joseph Hart’s ferry, adjoining land of Joseph Reading Esq, Jacob Kipple and others. It lies on Laokalon {Lockatong} Creek on which is a very convenient seat for both a grist and saw mill. There is a good log dwelling house and barn. For terms apply to the owner living in Alexandria about 3 and 1/2 miles above Squire Thomas Lowrey’s.”1.

This is a description of the property along the north side of the Raven Rock-Rosemont Road, and the hint of an explanation is here. Joel Woolverton Jr. was living in Alexandria Township while he owned this property. So he must have had a tenant, perhaps a tenant who took the initiative to build a schoolhouse.

The 1796 Schoolhouse

Log schoolhouses did not last very long. In 1796, a new building was constructed, this time of stone, being 20-foot square. The most likely builder was Joshua Stout.

In 1793, Joshua Stout bought 6 acres (Block 30 lot 18) from Joel Woolverton Jr.2 He was also in possession of 55-3/4 acres which Joel Woolverton Sr. sold to Joel Woolverton Jr. on July 26, 1784.3 In 1803, he bordered Asa Reed at Block 30 lot 17.4 This Joshua Stout may also have owned land in Kingwood. Snell wrote that he ran a tannery on “the creek above Bull’s Island.” Once again, I cannot definitely say whether Joshua Stout and his wife Mary Haines and their children lived on this property or not. But there is a good chance his children attended the school.

Joshua Stout of Amwell wrote his will on July 10, 1810, “being in perfect health.” He left everything to his son Joseph, but made no mention of a schoolhouse. The will was recorded on September 18, 1821. In 1836 and 1837, Joseph Stout sold small lots out of this property along the Raven Rock-Rosemont Road to William Johnson and John Reading.5 What became of Joseph Stout and his family I cannot say.

Early Teacher and Trustees

According to the Conkling report, one of the earliest teachers was John Kitchen. Earliest trustees were Samuel Wolverton, John Reading and John Huffman. I have to wonder why Joseph Stout’s names was not on this list, or William Johnson’s.

I am aware of six John Kitchens who lived in Amwell Township, from 1755 to the 19th century. Unfortunately, what information I have on them, and it is very sketchy, gives no clue as to which one was the first teacher here. None of them seemed to live in the neighborhood.

Samuel Wolverton (1779-1841) was a well-known figure in the neighborhood of Rosemont. He was the son of John Wolverton and Rachel Quinby, and served in the Hunterdon militia during the War of 1812. He married Mary Johnson (1788-1812) in 1810. They had two children, Asher B. Wolverton (1812-1897) and John Wolverton (c. 1815- ). Samuel Wolverton’s second wife was Elizabeth Wilson (1788-1836) whom he married in 1821; their only child was Maurice Wolverton, born in 1827. I assume that these three children attended the Reading School.

Another trustee, John Huffman, owned land adjacent to the school lot. In 1801 he bought two lots of 29 and 15 acres, a part of Block 30 lot 18, from Darius Everitt.6 He also owned land along Route 29, which he bought from Thomas Hankinson’s estate. In 1839, Huffman bought property from Joseph Stout.7 John Huffman (c.1765-1843) was married to Catharine Trout (1766-aft 1836). They had two children that I know of, George Huffman (c. 1797-aft 1880) and Rebecca Huffman (c.1800-?), two more likely students of the Reading school.

The third trustee, John Reading, is a little harder to place, because there are too many John Readings (I’ve got 26), and the statement about first trustees does not give us a date. Assuming he had to be a contemporary of Samuel Wolverton and John Huffman, the most likely John Reading was born 1789 to Joseph Reading and Lucy Emley, and married Martha Sergeant (daughter of Loman Sergeant and Lydia Wolverton) in 1808. The Readings had 9 children, two boys and seven girls, born 1809-1832, all of whom lived to adulthood, all of them in need of an education.

John Reading was the only one of the three who lived long enough to see the old schoolhouse of 1796 replaced by a new one.

The 19th Century

Detail from Beers, Comstock & Cline, Atlas of Hunterdon County, NJ

Detail from Beers, Comstock & Cline, Atlas of Hunterdon County, NJ

Following enactment of the Common Schools Law in 1838, schools were organized by district with boundary lines established. The Reading School was identified with District No. 97, which can be seen on the old Beers Atlas of 1873. The District was bordered by a line somewhat east of Route 519, running from Prallsville up to Kingwood, and extended west to include Raven Rock. It also included part of Strimples Mill Road.

The 1861 School House

What prompted the trustees to replace the schoolhouse in 1861? Either the old one had fallen into disrepair or a larger schoolhouse was needed. The new building, which is the one still standing, was constructed 25 feet from the earlier one, according to Conkling’s report. According to James P. Snell, it was also a stone structure, measuring 27 by 33 feet. Although it was meant for 60 pupils, by 1897 there were 69 in attendance.

Addendum, 3/6/15:  In 1863, the Democratic Club of Delaware Township was created, with a president (Joshua Primmer), and vice-presidents from each of the township school districts. The 1st or “Reading” district was represented by J. M. Hoppock.

Later Teachers and Trustees

In 1894 the member of Delaware Township’s School Board from the Reading School District was C. W. Green, and the teacher for that year was Willis Hartpence.8 Charles Walton Green (1859-1950) was a blacksmith and undertaker living in Rosemont with wife Ida Cullen (c.1863-bef 1950) and daughters Edith and Bertha. Willis Calvin Hartpence, born February 1865 to Enoch Hartpence and Lucy R. Stewart, did not make a career of teaching. By 1900, he had moved, with his widowed mother and brother Howard to Philadelphia, where he was employed as an insurance agent.

Another teacher at that time was A. B. Rittenhouse.9 It’s hard to say who this might have been. I am guessing Andrew Rittenhouse, born 1859 to Dewitt C. Rittenhouse and Jane Aller Shepherd, and husband of Emma Hockenbury. There were many Rittenhouses named A.B., which usually stood for Andrew Bray, a Revolutionary War patriot and veteran.

In 1895, the Reading School had 67 pupils, while the Sergeantsville School (also known as the Kendall School) had 66 pupils. The only school with more pupils than Reading was the Stockton School, then part of Delaware Twp., with 149 pupils. Clint Wilson reported that the total enrollment in Delaware Township that year was 616 pupils.10

By 1897, the school district numbers were simplified, and Reading School became District No. 8. There were 69 pupils and the teacher that year, according to Clint Wilson, was “K. Linder Brink.”11 Although the name Brink is an old one in Hunterdon County, at first I was clueless about this teacher. Linder is not a name usually found in this area. But thanks to the Hunterdon Republican, as abstracted by Bill Hartman, I discovered that her (not his) name was really Rosa Linda Brink, daughter of William and Margaret Bellis Brink of Stockton. She was born in July 1873, and taught in various places until she married Albert D. Seward around 1915 and returned to Stockton to live with her elderly parents.

The 20th Century

Another teacher at the Reading School was Henry H. Fisher (1881-1955). His son Henry Fisher Jr., who died in 2008, participated in an oral history project conducted by Stuart Wisse in 2006. He described what it was like for his father to teach in a one-room school house. Most surprising was the fact that Henry Fisher Sr. had no more than a 6th-grade education. He was mostly self-taught in Latin, trigonometry and music. To qualify as a teacher at the turn of the last century, one only had to pass a state-sponsored test, which Henry Fisher was able to do. He taught at several one-room schoolhouses in the township, until he gave it up to focus on farming. So much interesting information is contained in this interview with Henry Fisher Jr. that it merits its own post at some future time.

During the school year 1929-30, the teacher at the “Rosemont” school was Wallace McAloan of Raven Rock. This was William Wallace McAloan (1874-1951), son of Thomas and Rachel McAloan, who was teaching school by 1900. By 1918, he had moved on to other schools, and in 1920 he was school principal in Cape May.

It is curious that by 1930, the school’s name was shifted from “Reading School” to “Rosemont School.”

There were several graduates from Rosemont School in 1930. Wilson named Barbara, Eva and Margaret Bruckler, Jane Carver, Harold Feinberg, Helen Klein, Christine Lowman, Henry T. McAloan and Steven Vasaz.

Jane Carver, now Jane Carver Kitchin, is alive and living in Flemington, where Bob Hornby and I recently talked with her. She remembers the school and the benefits of being educated in a one-room schoolhouse. As she put it:

Well, that’s why I graduated from high school so young, because if there wasn’t enough students to make up a class, you just got shoved up into the next one, so really, I got shoved up twice, so that’s why I graduated so young. But that’s what they did. And we all taught each other. When the teacher was busy with one class, why either we would do our homework or we would help the younger ones or whatever. We didn’t have water, but we had a spring down in the back, there was a creek down there and that was where the spring was, and of course every day we got chosen to go get water in a pail, and of course we loved doing that because you got out of school. And two usually went, and we would make it last as long as possible.

Clearly there were advantages to attending a one-room school.

Lloyd Wescott and His Tenant

According to Clint Wilson, the building was used as a school until 1949 when it was closed and converted to a residence. He wrote that it was purchased at auction by Paul Whiteman (the bandleader) for $2,000. At the time, Whiteman was living on the old Reading farmstead, which he had purchased in 1938, and later sold to Lloyd Wescott in 1959.

Lloyd Wescott (1907-1990) was (and still is) a man of some renown in Hunterdon County. Among his other achievements was a successful campaign to establish the Hunterdon Medical Center, of which he was founder and first chairman. He and his wife Barbara raised dairy cows on the Reading-Whiteman farm.

Mr. Wescott became acquainted with a woman who was serving a murder sentence at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women near Clinton. Jane Carver Kitchen told me that Lloyd Wescott learned there were extenuating circumstances, and eventually got her released under his care. He invited her to be his tenant in the old schoolhouse, and she stayed there for many years. She was a large, outgoing woman, who coached the Rosemont baseball team. Another former Rosemont resident, Joyce Klinger Kintzel, recalled that the woman’s name was Ethel. Joyce knew of her because she frequently stopped by the Rosemont Post Office. Joyce’s mother had a high opinion of her character, and she seems to have been generally well-liked. However, in later years, especially after the death of Lloyd Wescott, she became a recluse. Neither Jane nor Joyce could remember her last name, and I do not know how long she stayed at the old schoolhouse. (Perhaps a reader can help us out.)

1966, The First Hunterdon Park

In 1966, Lloyd and Barbara Wescott donated a 15-acre lot to Hunterdon County. It became the first county park. Four years later they donated an additional 65 acres. The schoolhouse was part of this donation. It was still a residence at this time, and remained so until about 2003. In a perfect world, it will become someone’s home once again. If you want to help save the schoolhouse, please contact Mayor Don Scholl or committeewoman Sue Lockwood.

A word of caution to those who might visit the old schoolhouse. Pete Sudano had a chance to talk with Phil Cane and John Mann about the property, and both of them warned that “the area is notorious for copperheads.” So, watch your step.

Addendum, March 15, 2014:  I have since learned from Egbert T. Bush that Robert H. Clayton was schoolteacher at the Reading School in 1876. Three years earlier, while he was teaching at the Unionville school, he wrote an amazing letter to his brother-in-law Asher V. Williamson about Horace Greeley. < add link.

  1. “NJ State Gazette” Wilson & Stratford, Notices From New Jersey Newspapers, 1791-1795, p. 360
  2. Deed 77-086
  3. According to Deed 77-086
  4. Deed 9-351, see HCHS Newsletter p.107, “Early Deeds.”
  5. Deeds 65-161; 66-535, -537
  6. Deed 8-359
  7. Deed 71-352
  8. Clint Wilson, “Education in Delaware Twp. Before Turn of Century,” and “A School Board in Delaware Twp.” published in the Lambertville Beacon, n.d.
  9. Wilson, “Delaware Twp. Teachers in 1894”
  10. Wilson, “School Enrollment in 1895”
  11. Wilson, “Education in Delaware Twp., Before Turn of Century