Burning of the Old Wagner Homestead Prompts
Mr. Bush to Cite Its History
Was Prized By Its Owners
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat, January 19, 1933
Note: This article was published two years after Mr. Bush’s previous article on the Moore homestead plantation, “Old Farms in Old Hunterdon.”
On a kindly visit to me January 2, 1933, Rev. Henry T. Horne said: “The old house on the Wagner farm burned down today. It was a smoking ruin when I came past a short time ago.” That gave me a peculiar shock. A feeling of personal loss was strangely mingled with a sense of irreparable loss to the community.
That old building stood on the site of the original log house built here so long ago by Jacob Moore. Jacob was the progenitor of the Moore family, still numerous in this vicinity and widely scattered. The Misses Rhoda and Catharine Wagner now owners of the farm, are lineal descendants of Jacob Moore, the first settler. They say: “We do not know just when Jacob came here, but we have evidence that it was between the years 1700 and 1705. We call it 1705 for safety.”
This is very early for settlers in this vicinity; too early for those who came up the Delaware. But Jacob came from another direction. This was the Jacob Moore of whom, in an article published about two years ago, I told this tradition: He came here from New York, lived in a hollow tree while building his log house, then went back to New York to marry the rosey-cheeked German girl who had crossed the ocean on the same vessel that had carried him over.
The house that burned down was an extension of the original, enlarged very early as necessity required, and at various periods by small and curious additions, making it one of the most interesting of all the antiquated buildings that I have found in the county. I recall the fine old work, the curious divisions rare specimens of the blacksmith’s art as expressed in locks and hinges. I also recall that I expressed the hope that this rare old building—then in good condition, with sound roof and substantial timbers—might stand for a generations as a relic of the past and a reminder of old-time life in Hunterdon County. Alas! Such was not to be the case.
After hearing of the fire, I watched the papers sharply, curious to see if any correspondent would think that fire worth reporting. So far as I could find, none did. I have seen no mention of it anywhere. To me that seemed surprising. But perhaps that was nothing surprising about it. My interest in old things is general and this building in particular magnified by my own feelings about its importance, just as a lack of such interest probably minimized the feelings of most people. It is not at all strange that, to the younger generation, that building appeared merely as “an old shack not worth mentioning.” That is natural, quite as natural, I suppose as for us “old fossils” to feel that the loss is very great.
I know that the owners prized the old building highly. And there is no doubt that they could have realized much money for the antique parts and pieces that made a strong appeal to those who stand ready to pay well for such things. But nothing was for sale—oh no! They have my sympathy, with sincere regrets that the rare old house must be lost to them and to coming generations.
Here is a photograph of the old Jacob Moore house, according to Joe Maresca who gave it to the present owner several years ago. It was located just above the surviving ice house, but its foundation was demolished after fire destroyed the house.
At the time of the fire, the Wagner siblings were living in the house built by their grandfather, which is still standing today. Katherine was 59 years old, Rhoda was 54 and their brother Bert Wagner was 58. Bert died first, in 1950. Then Kate in 1962, and finally Rhoda in 1971, at the advance age of 92. Their history and their family are described in the previous article, “The Moore Family.”
Below is an aerial view of the farmstead, with the surviving Wagner house and the various barns and outbuildings, some of which are no longer standing. The original Jacob Moore house would have been off to the lower left, out of the frame of this photograph. Many thanks to Bob Fusi, the present owner, for providing a tour of the Wagner house and copies of these wonderful photographs.
June 13, 2016 @ 9:24 am
My mother was Kathryn R Moore daughter of Theodore Moore mayor of Stockton for 25 yrs. I’m beginning work on Moore genealogy. Marilyn Sandford Smith.
July 24, 2016 @ 9:00 pm
My husband and I bought the “old Wagner place”. I t had been standing empty, vandalized, and partly burnt for some years. This was about 1970. It became the joy of my life to bring the house back to life.
There were many outbuildings on the ten acres I bought. Two small barns ( one for cows), sheds, 2 out houses, a pig house, and many that we couldn’t even guess as to what they were meant for. We had a large pit dug and threw the falling down buildings into that and burned them when the pit was over flowing. This pit was burned 4 or 5 times. Cleaning up the place was a serious challenge.
The house was in terrible shape. When the last owner was still living there at an advanced age, her relatives insisted on making an inside toilet. When the septic tank was opened it appeared never to have been used! There had been a fire there at some time and a portion of the roof and walls were missing. At no time was there running water.
One dangling cord fell from the center of each rooms ceiling to provide electric light. All that was removed and proper wiring was done.
The house was used as a “picking field” by many people. Every room on the first floor was almost knee deep in debris. Food stuffs and what evers – just torn up and thrown down. The basement was a total disaster with some objects showing drag marks across the floor where someone was trying to get that object out. The inside stair way to the basement had many many jars of canned food stacked against the walls all the way down to the dirt floor there.
There was a wood burning stove in the end room towards the barns, Obviously that was used for cooking. Every fireplace was closed. Some rooms had small stoves for heating.
The first job was to clean the place out. What we got out of the place was thrown into the pit and burnt. There were no stairs to the back recessed porch. We used a plank to get to the porch for some time.
The two bedrooms upstairs on the end facing the road were combined into one master bed room. A closet was created by walling off the top end of the staircase. The area between the two stair cases had 3 bedrooms. I had the inner walls taken down and created one bedroom with closets, a bathroom, and a laundry room.
The bedroom over the kitchen stayed as is.
The bedroom upstairs at the end of the house ( the original beginning of the house) only had very small window and a slanted roof. I had the roof raised to full height and a sizable window installed. The circular staircase leading up to that room is original. The paneling enclosing the staircase had been painted (many times) – I stripped this and painted it. The staircase was so narrow it was difficult to get any furniture up into that room. I had a section removed between two joists to make an opening from a bedroom through which I could get the beds, etc into that room. There was an opening in the back of the other closet which gave a “peek through” to that room.
Downstairs – the living room is the original size. When I was moving in my furniture (which had been in storage) we got one leg of the baby grand piano on the original flooring and heard a loud CRACK. I told the movers to stop. We put the piano into the large middle room where the floor seemed more strong. We could actually see through the cracks of the floor boards to the basement. Only single boards! We used the middle room as a living room until we got the floors replaced – and shored up in the basement! This room later became our dining room.
The living room had all the original plaster – badly cracked. The plaster moldings on the ceiling and top of the walls were in bad shape. I had them replaced with wood. I upholstered the walls in gold velvet with the same gold velvet used for the drapes, It took two bolts of fabric for this one room.
There was NO workable kitchen. I chose to use the next large room as a kitchen. I had a wall built from door to door to shut off part of the kitchen. In this wall was a door to a large walk in pantry, a refrigerator, double ovens, and a door to a bath room. (This is where there had been a toilet installed before Miss Wagner had gone to the nursing home.) This whole space was faced with vertical old boards stained dark brown. The doors all had iron hinges and pull locks. The floor was dark slate.
Two long walls of that room became my kitchen. I had custom copper back wall and hood made over the surface stove which had a grill in it. The sink was in front of the large window over looking the lane in from the road. The cabinets were stained walnut and there was butcher block as a surface all around. The last wall served as the wall for the dining table and chairs.
The small last room on the first floor became our den. I put an iron stove in there for heat and put a large picture window in the end wall. I stripped the paneling around the entrance to the circular staircase of many layers of paint and stained them. Bookcases were built in the entire end of the room towards the main road.
As I understand it, this small end of the house was the beginning of this structure. The second section – where I put the kitchen and there was a bedroom upstairs – came next – probably in the late 17oo’s. The last section is the largest – built about 1830. In the brick wall upstairs in what became a hall was a flat white shoe of the style worn up to the 1820’s. We found this when we had to pull out all the plaster on the walls due to the excessive amount of wind getting through the crumbling brick lining used as insulation.
A large porch was added to the back of the house facing the lane coming in. The steps going down to the walk were the full width of the porch and had lights in the risers. I had brick laid for paths leading from the lane to the porch. A stoop of flagstone was built outside the “front” door. A handmade tin light was hung by the front door.
All the shutters were painted black as was the front door. Missing “shutter dogs” of the proper vintage were found in a local hardware store. The house was painted white.
All of this work took several years as it was done in stages. During this time, my husband was in New York all week coming home on weekends, my daughter finished high school and went to college, my son was in boarding school in Pennington.
I loved this house then and now. It was an experience to be savored. Mr. Wagner paid me several visits – in the middle of the night- waking me – standing by my bed in his white linen suit. I tired of these visits. On the last one I told him I loved his house and was taking good care of it. If he was not going to talk with me, please stop waking me. I never saw him again.
July 26, 2016 @ 4:03 pm
Martha, What an incredible story. I will be sure and let the current owner know about your history with the house–he will be very interested. And I must congratulate you on an excellent memory!
July 26, 2016 @ 9:45 pm
Truly an amazing letter. I am extremely grateful to you for passing it on to me. I remember her well and for some reason I thought that she had passed. I did receive a visit from her son David, some years ago who had many fond memories of the farm. I wonder where she got her information on the construction dates of the house.
August 20, 2016 @ 2:40 pm
Are you the current owner of this amazing house? I would be glad to talk with you about this place if you wish.
August 30, 2016 @ 11:02 am
I am the current owner who purchased the house from you in 1981. What is the best way to contact you?