This is an update and reworking of one of the first articles I wrote for “The Bridge,” the Delaware Township newsletter, in September 1992. The road is part of the Raven Rock neighborhood, so it might be considered an extension of my series on that village.
Federal Twist Road runs in a straight line up the hill above Raven Rock and well into Kingwood Township, to end at Milltown, where there were mills to do any kind of work you needed, all taking advantage of the waters of the Lockatong Creek. The road was surveyed to run “from Jacob McClain’s ferry to John Snyder’s Mill in Kingwood” in 1775. On the way to Milltown, the road passed the Stompf Tavern, once owned by Jacob Kyple, which was located at the southeast corner of the intersection of Federal Twist Road and Stompf Tavern Road.
The straightness of the road indicates that this was a white man’s road. No self-respecting Indian would plan such a thing. The straightness is explained by the 18th century custom of respecting property boundaries when laying out roads. The earliest resident landowners along the new road were Guisbert Van Camp on the west and Robert Thorne on the east. In 1775, Van Camp’s neighbors were Jacob McClain and Robert Colvin. North of them were the farms of Isaiah Quinby on the west and Jacob Kyple on the east. Once the road entered Kingwood Township, the bordering owners were Thomas Combs north of Kyple, William Rodman on both sides of the road north of Combs, then running through land of George Odycke before ending at John Snyder’s Grist Mill.1 Signatories to the petition to survey the road were those most likely to benefit from it–Moses Quinby, Mahlon Cooper, Robert Curry, James Quinby, George Price, Isaac Vancamp, John Burket, Joshua Stout, Darius Everitt, John Woolverton, Jacob Kiple, and Isaac Rettinghouse.
The name of this road has been a source of speculation for a very long time. Exactly when the name began to be used is not known. In 1937, when Egbert T. Bush wrote an article about a farm located along this road, he referred to it as “Federal Twist,” but did not discuss its origins. It would be nice to find an earlier date for use of this name. When it was surveyed in 1775, road names were not given; the roads simply ran from one place to another, as in from McLain’s ferry to Snyder’s Mill. It was also known as Idell Road, and as late as 1846, as Ferry Road, for Painter’s (McLain’s) Ferry.
Some people have assumed that the word federal is the clue to its origins. Could it reflect an early disenchantment with politics at the national level? Probably not. The usual theory is that the name was derived from the ‘fact’ that federal troops used the road during the Revolution. This was not so. First of all, the “federal troops” were called Continentals or the Continental Army. It took a Constitution (1787) for us to think of ourselves as federal. And the Continentals probably did not use the road, unless perhaps they were the regiments under command of Gen. Sullivan. Gen. Washington never took that route.
There is another theory that makes more sense. Many years ago, reporter Jane B. Wyckoff of the Hunterdon County Democrat sent an inquiry to the editor of the paper about the origins of the name Federal Twist Road. This was the editor’s response:
In days when men chewed as much or more tobacco than they smoked, a popular brand of chewing Tobacco was called “Federal Twist.” The road had so many twists and turns that the locals applied the name of chewing tobacco to it. This is believed to be the authentic derivation of the road’s name and is given to us by Mr. Hiram E. Deats, who long served as secretary and librarian of the Hunterdon County Historical Society.”
“Twists and turns”? This is one of the straightest roads in the township. But once you enter Kingwood Township, the road gets very twisty. Unfortunately, the clipping I took this from had no date on it. (Wyckoff’s name was followed by “R. D. Frenchtown, May 2.”) Also, if there was such a brand as Federal Twist Chewing Tobacco, Google does not yet know about it. A twist of tobacco was a braid of tobacco leaves twisted into a rope and then cured. It was made by farmers for their own consumption.
On the other hand, the twist could refer to something else entirely. When I wrote about this road back in 1992, it caught the attention of Irene Janiewski, Harold Hvesda and others who took the trouble to set me straight about the twist in Federal Twist Road. It was located about half way up the steep hill, not far from the intersection with the Raven Rock-Rosemont Road and served the purpose of giving horses a chance to rest when hauling heavy loads. Mrs. Janiewski told me you can still see traces of it, even though it was taken out when automobiles replaced horses.
The fact that a twist was needed seems to confirm my theory that it never was an Indian trail. The survey of 1775, by the way, does not include a twist; it probably was put in later. The reason horses were hauling heavy loads up the hill probably has something to do with there being a ferry landing at one end and a mill at the other. Logs were often rafted down the river, and millers probably had their orders in for batches of logs.
Although it appears that Delaware Township has changed very little over the years, some prominent institutions have disappeared, especially in the vicinity of Federal Twist Road. One of them was Painter’s Ferry, located where Federal Twist Road meets Highway 29, and the other was Johnson’s Tavern, which serviced the ferry passengers. Wherever there was a ferry, there was usually a tavern, to take advantage of—excuse me, I mean serve stranded passengers.
The ferry closed soon after the bridge at Centreville (Stockton) was built in 1814. As for the tavern, though damaged, it survived the “Great Freshet” of 1841 and the flood of 1955. But it could not survive the Department of Transportation, which completely destroyed it in 1959, while building the extension of Highway 29 through Raven Rock.2
Ethel Emmons brought me information about the old ferry inn once owned by Martin Johnson and before him, the Painter family, who ran the ferry. The inn was described in Hunterdon County Democrat articles of March and April 1950. It said that the State of N.J. had acquired a 150-foot right‑of‑way for Highway 29, and planned to clear all structures within it, including the ferry inn. The building was offered at public sale to anyone who would remove it. According to the Democrat, it was a late 18th century stone building having a 2-½ story main block and kitchen wing with large open hearth. The story notes that once the covered wooden bridge was opened between Raven Rock and Lumberville in 1835, the ferry became redundant. My research has found that the ferry was closed soon after 1814. However, the ferry inn remained a “recognized place of assembly.” Sadly, no buyer was found and the great landmark was demolished. The Cornell Map of 1851 shows the “W. Johnson Hotel” at the southeast corner of the junction of Federal Twist Road and Route 29. According to Edna Lazlo, the stone foundation was still there in 1992.
8/12/12: A reader has reminded me that local tradition claims that there once was a barn along Federal Twist Road with a large painted sign advertising the tobacco, which was the source of the road name. If there ever was such a barn, it is long gone.
8/13/2012: Mark Zdepski’s family has long lived on “the Federal Twist” (see comment by Dave Steward, below), and they always called the turnout for horses “The Twist.” The old twist in Federal Twist Road was V-shaped and can still be seen on the west side of the road at the steepest section. Mark relates that his grandfather, who drove a Model T, found it necessary to get up the hill in reverse rather than forward, it was so steep. Mark’s father knew what it was like to walk both up and down that hill; he attended Lambertville High School and got there by catching the train at Raven Rock. As a child, Mark’s uncle used a Hudson car hood as a sled and zoomed down the hill taking the twist as part of the route. Must have been an exciting ride!
2/13/2015: For more information on this locale, and a particularly nice survey map, see “Return to Raven Rock.”