Little Known of Mill That Existed Prior to John Prall’s
When the Canal Was Dug
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, February 13, 1930
The paintings shown in this article were made in the mid 19th century
for John Parker Prall. The artist was Thomas Whitley, and the originals
can be found in the John Prall, Jr. house in Prallsville.
It is common to speak of John Prall Jr. as the builder of the first mill in this hamlet. But his titles date back to early 1792; and to some of us it seemed strange that a site so attractive with the Wickecheoke Creek rushing into the Delaware, with an established ferry close at hand, and with a solid community back of it should have been so long without a mill. While investigation has so far failed to reveal all that was hoped for, it has demonstrated that Prall was far from being first to carry on milling business here.
An early deed conveys to him 280 acres of land, “Beginning at the middle of the Ferry Road by the Delaware River side, being the boundary of land now or late of Joseph and Benjamin Howell.” It then runs by devious courses and strikes a creek called Shoppin’s Run—still the boundary of Dr. Woolverton’s farm—thence “down the run until it strikes the line of the Mill Tract, now or late of Charles Wolverton.” The deed recites that it was purchased of John Barnes, Esq., Sheriff, August 15, 1771.
There is so much to say about this transaction that I am putting it all at the end of the article, to avoid such a major disruption. The property ran from Route 523 west to Shoppon’s Run and the mill lot, part of which is now known as the Bodine Farm.
By deed dated May 1, 1794, George Wolverton and Charles Wolverton conveyed to John Prall Jr. “the plantation and the Mill taking in some part of the Watcheioke Brook and a lot on the westerly side thereof suitable and convenient for Erecting or Raising a head of Water for a Corn or Grist Mill.
These lands with others were conveyed by John Reading, Governor of New Jersey, in 1747 and again in 1757 to Daniel Howell, by deed dated Feb. 20, 1719. This deed was later found to be unsatisfactory and by request of Daniel Howell, was made void. A new deed was given by John Reading to Daniel Howell and John Howell February 15, 1744.
This is somewhat confusing. The original deed, of which there is no surviving copy, was dated 1719, in which John Reading Jr., as executor of his father’s estate, conveyed the property to Daniel Howell, which had probably been given him years earlier when he married John Reading’s daughter Mary Else. John Reading Sr. had died intestate in 1717.
I do not know where the years 1747 and 1757 come from. The deed that Mr. Bush is referring to can be found in Book 2 p. 35, and states:
“. . . which deed at the request of the said Daniel Howell was made null & void by the said John Reading and a new deed bearing date the 15th day of February 1744 given by John Reading to Daniel Howell & John Howel son to the aforesaid Daniel Howell by a deed bearing date November 14th 1750 conveyed by the aforesaid Daniel Howell & John Howell to Charles Wolverton . . .”
Daniel and John Howell were sons of Daniel Howell Sr., and as such were entitled to a share of their father’s estate. It seems that the deed recital also got things confused. The original deed of 1719 was made after the death of John Reading Sr. in 1717, confirming that Daniel Howell had gotten his square mile of land from Reading. John Reading Jr. conveyed the property as his father’s executor, not as an owner.
In 1744, Daniel Howell was dead. He had written a will in 1733 in which he bequeathed his land to his four sons, including son Daniel Jr., and died soon afterwards. So it had to be Daniel Howell Jr. who asked to have the deed of 1719 set aside and a new deed made, which more explicitly stated the terms of their father’s will.
The same land was by them conveyed to Charles Wolverton, Nov. 11, 1758. By will dated May 7, 1761, Charles Wolverton devised his land south of the Watcheoike Brook to his son John Wolverton, “with the mill” and a lot of land as above described. By deed dated Feb. 22, 1792, John Wolverton conveyed the same to Charles Wolverton who, with George Wolverton conveyed it to John Prall Jr.
The John Wolverton who inherited the mill lot from his father Charles, wrote his will in 1773, ordering that the mill and plantation be sold and the profits used to support his widow and children. But the property was not sold at that time. It was not until 1792 that sons Charles and George reached the age of maturity, and in that year they took a mortgage out on this property, from John Lambert, for £470.1 The property consisted of two lots of 10 and 73 acres.
Prall an Active Man
Prall was evidently a very active man, as no doubt his predecessors had been, and as have been those who came along in later days. He probably built or rebuilt one mill or more; but he certainly bought a milling business already established here. For several years he lived in “Dublin,” later Bowdentown,” the part of Prallsville lying on the opposite side of the Wickecheoke and farther up. Then he built the mansion house now owned and occupied by Dr. William H. Woolverton. He put in no date stone to tell us when, but it was evidently more than 125 years ago.
I wish Mr. Bush had shared with us how he knew that John Prall lived in ‘Dublin’ before moving to the center of Prallsville. Dublin was located just north of the driveway into the mill complex, on the west side of the road. There are now two or three houses there that have an antique look about them.
I am also confused about the Prall house, which Bush wrote was occupied in 1930 by Dr. William H. Woolverton. I assume he means the Rev. William H. Woolverton (1855-1946) who was married to Primrose Dickinson. Another article by Mr. Bush states that Dr. Woolverton owned what was once the Robert Reading farm, later owned by his daughter Dorothy and her husband James D. Allen. Did Dr. Woolverton own both properties?
It is generally thought that John Prall, Jr. built the Woolverton Inn as well as his own stone house across from the mill. But why would he build two such fine houses? Perhaps one was meant for his son, William L. Prall. This is a subject for another article.
He did put into the wall a large, coffin-shaped stone to commemorate his own narrow escape from drowning. One day when fishing in the river, he fell from the boat and was rapidly carried down the stream. Fortunately, he drifted to that stone, then sticking slightly above the surface, and clung to it until he was rescued. He always after looked upon that stone as the means of saving his life, and now made it a prominent part of his dwelling to show his appreciation of the coincidence. If he had only done one thing more, cut the date into that stone.
The Prall house has been carefully examined by Marilyn Cummings and she did not see anything resembling this coffin-shaped stone in the walls. Edie Sharp, executive director of the Delaware River Mill Society, also has never seen such a stone. Is it there? or is this one of those family stories that never dies?
The old stone mill now used as a fertilizer house may have been the first here, tho that seems doubtful, but there is little doubt that it stands on the first site used. Thru just what changes that historic building has passed can only be conjectured. It is known to have been an oil mill in early days, and later, a mill for grinding plaster and still later a store house, the change to that use having been made in the early 60’s. It is well remembered that when the news of Lincoln’s assassination reached Prallsville, William L. Hoppock placed under a picture of the murdered President then hanging in this store house these three words: “Fallen But Enshrined.” How comprehensive! How prophetic!
When Bush says “early 60s,” he means the early 1860s. At the time that Bush was writing, the company known as J. W. Smith’s Sons owned the mill complex. The building Bush is referring to is now known as the Linseed Oil Mill, a small stone structure that is described in Linseed Oil Mills in New Jersey, 1732-1955 by Carter Litchfield (p.115).
In those early days, there was a forebay covering most of the ground between the road and the present mill site. From this forebay the water was carried to the old mill and to the sawmill back of it, now used for storing fine lumber. People still remember that forebay and that the earlier stone house was the large stone part of the house on the corner later the residence of John W. Smith, who built the frame addition thereto. The change into a dwelling was made by Hoppock, when the store was taken into the old mill.
This view of the John Prall Jr. house and the store next door
by Thomas Whitley shows what Bush called the “forebay.”
The “earlier stone house” that Bush refers to is the John Prall Jr. house, “later the residence of John W. Smith.” Bush seems to be suggesting that the house was on the same side of the road as the mill, which is not the case.
When Bush wrote “The change into a dwelling . . .” he was referring to the old Prall & Lambert store, which was the smaller stone house next to the John Prall Jr. house. As Mr. Bush wrote, that house was converted to a residence by William L. Hoppock, after he had moved the store into the old building that had once been the linseed oil mill. The post office was also located there.
Dr. John Bowne is the only physician known to have settled here. He came in 1791 and remained until 1796, then going to what is now Bowne Station on the Flemington Railroad. Garret Wilson is known to have lived here as operator of the sawmill for several years during the time of John Prall Jr.
Dr. John Bowne (1767-1857) was a well-known physician in his time, and the list of his patients is a very long one. His ledgers can be seen at the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. He received his license to practice medicine in 1791, and began his work in Prallsville, before it was known as Prallsville. In 1794 he married Ann Corle, daughter of Samuel Corle and Catherine Deremer. In 1795, Dr. Bowne bought a tract of 204 acres in today’s East Amwell near Bowne Station Road, and spent the rest of his life there.4
Garret Wilson (1781-1876) was the son of William Wilson and Sarah Vandolah. He married Mary Butterfoss (1783-1863) about 1810. He began his career as a miller at Brookville, but later on moved to a farm on Reading Road in Delaware Township. Census records suggest he moved back and forth between these locations during his long life. He was probably working at the Prallsville Mill in 1813, for that year he signed the road petition for the road from Centre Bridge to the road to Prall’s Store.5
Subsequent Mill Owners
By deed dated April 25, 1833, the executors of John Prall Jr. conveyed the mill property and two other tracts to William L. Hoppock and John S. Wilson. On the 18th day of September 1894, John S. Wilson conveyed his interest in the mill property and in part of the other to William L. Hoppock, who carried on the various activities established here, and greatly expanded some of them.
From 1833 to 1894 is a span of 61 years—pretty incredible. This must be a typographical error. Wm. L. Hoppock was born in 1792 and died in 1874, so we can be certain the date of 1894 is a mistake. In fact, John S. Wilson conveyed his interest to Wm. L. Hoppock in 1834.6
He is said to have been postmaster from 1832 to 1851, at which time the railroad came thru, a post office was established at Stockton and the one at Prallsville abandoned. We find evidence of a post office here however, long before Hoppock’s time. Cyrus Van Dolah has a faded receipt as follows: “Received the 26th of December 1806 of Henry Van Dolah the sum of two Dollars in full for his subscription to the True American up to March 4, 1807 by me Charles Ent. Post—” After “Post” are flourishes, probably meaning “Master,” he being said to have held that office at the time.
Charles Ent (1767-1847) was the son of Daniel and Elizabeth Ent, immigrants to New Jersey. He owned land, probably inherited from his father, near Sandy Ridge. (There is no estate in Hunterdon County recorded for Daniel Ent.) In the late 1790s, Charles Ent married Mary Johnson (1769-1859), said to be the daughter of Dirck and Gertrude Jansen. Sometime after 1815, Charles and Mary Ent left Hunterdon County for Ohio.
We find that William L. Hoppock owned several dwellings, three of them in “Dublin.” One of these, just opposite to the westerly end of the bridge, a stone house still standing 40 years ago, was then said by old people to be the first dwelling built hereabout. It was torn down when the later quarries were opened on the Woolverton farm.
This leaves us to speculate on whether that old stone house now long gone could have been the home of Daniel Howell and wife Mary Else Reading. They both died relatively young, when their children were still minors. The children were taken in by relatives, so the house must have been left vacant or sold.
The first mill on the site of the one now standing may have been built by John Prall Jr. Anyhow, there stood a low stone mill with steep roof during most or all of Hoppock’s time here. That mill caught fire from the burning wooden railroad bridge across the Wickecheoke and was burned down early in the ‘70s.
Once again, that is early 1870s. We can speculate on whether that old stone mill was built by Prall or even earlier by the first owner, Daniel Howell. The mill that Bush describes, with its “steep roof” can be seen in this painting by Thomas Whitley, on the left edge of the picture.
Before this time the whole property had been sold by William L. Hoppock to L. O. Kessler & Co. for $40,000. Kessler failed to meet his obligations and the property was sold by the Sheriff, the mill lot finally coming into possession of Stout Stover, who built the present mill in 1877. Kessler & Co. are marked as owning the original quarry in 1873, with office seemingly in the house now occupied by William Vanselous.
William L. Prall, son of the original William L. here was Assemblyman from the First District of Hunterdon County 1873 and 1874.
This last statement is odd—it seems out of context.
The original Wm. Livingston Prall lived from 1788 to 1848. He was the son of John Prall Jr. and Amelia Coryell. I know he had a son named John Parker Prall, after his mother Charlotte Parker, who died in 1824. He also had a son named William Henry Harrison Prall, named in honor of Wm. Henry Harrison, hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. William L. Prall never had a son named after him, and there never was an Assemblyman from Hunterdon named Wm. L. Prall. “The original William L.,” as Bush calls him, was elected Clerk of the Assembly in 1826, at a time when he was also printer for the Assembly. In fact, he printed “Votes & Proceedings of the 52nd General Assembly” that same year.
I think I’ve found the source of the error: In 1872, William L. Hoppock, Jr. was nominated to the Assembly by the Republicans for the First District of Hunterdon.7 He was the son of William L. Hoppock, the owner of the Prallsville Mills from 1832 to 1872. Wm. L. Jr. was re-elected in 1873 to the 1874 term of the Assembly. He won 1808 votes to 1667 for the Democrat, James Bird.8
Quarries Once Active
This was a famous quarrying locality thru most of the last century. John Prall Jr. is credited with opening the first quarry, the one above noted—in 1830, probably for local use and for the locks of the prospective canal. After Kessler & Co., that quarry was operated by S. B. Twining & Co. The Railroad Company opened a quarry above Prallsville for its own use and did much work there for many years. Several other quarries were opened and operated. Thousands of car loads of stone were sent out to various points. But concrete, tho never fully taking the place of cut stone, was a death blow to numerous quarries. Not one of these old quarries has been worked in many years, and Nature has been busy slowly spreading her mantle of glorious colors over the exposed faces of the rocks to conceal men’s desecration.
On the 17th day of May 1888, a most distressing accident occurred in connection with the quarrying business here. James Wafer, a young man employed by the quarry Co. [sic] went into the powder house on some errand connected with his duties. By some mishap never to be explained, he set off the entire store of explosives. The building and the man were blown to atoms. The whole vicinity was shaken as by an earthquake. Practically all windows in and about the hamlet were broken and general confusion prevailed. The shock was felt far away and the great column of black smoke rising hundreds of feet into the air was seen from points distant many miles.
Nothing of the man’s body was ever found except some fragments thought to be such that were caught in a shad net by fishermen. Wafer was about to be married and was carrying a ring from or for his chosen bride. That ring was shot thru a bedroom window in the house of Pierson Williamson, corner of Ferry and Risler Streets in Stockton, and was found on the bed of Williamson’s niece, Miss Lavinia Stockton, later Lavinia Dalrymple and owner of the property.
Lavinia Stockton was married to Amos Thatcher Dalrymple on Dec. 31, 1868. She was the daughter of Hon. John P. Stockton and Lavinia Van Ness, and was born on March 13, 1841. Her mother died about a week later, and her father remarried, which probably explains why Lavinia went to live with another family. But I cannot explain how she could be called Pierson Williamson’s niece.
There was a Pierson Williamson (1814-1895), son of Adam and Eleanor Williamson, who married Martha Opdycke (1813-1883), daughter of Joshua Opdycke and Mary Wolverton, in 1836. As far as I can tell, they had no children of their own. In the census of 1850, Pierson and Martha Williamson were living in Delaware Township, and Lavinia Stockton, age 9 (born c.1841), was living with them. But the 1850 census does not give relationships. In 1860, Lavina Wolverton, age 19, was living with the Williamsons, and also Asher Wolverton, age 48 (born c.1812).
As far as I know, this Asher Wolverton (1812-1897) was the son of Samuel Wolverton and Mary Johnson, and married Anna Gearhart in 1860. In 1850, he was living on a Delaware Twp. farm with his brother Maurice, age 23, and several other people, suggesting he may have run some sort of poor house. One of other residents was Sarah Stockton age 60 (born c.1790). Once again the 1850 census frustrates us, as it does not tell us if Sarah was married, widowed or single. Could she have been related to Lavinia Stockton? Very tenuous connection there.
Favorite Indian Rendezvous
Great numbers of Indian relics have been found between the mouth of the Wickecheoke at Prallsville and the mouth of the Lackatong, a mile and a half above. This region is believed to have been a favorite rendezvous for the natives, probably because of the many fine springs and other natural attractions that must have made a strong appeal to their wild ways of life.
Research since Mr. Bush’s time has taught us that Indian bands did a lot of fishing in these creeks and in the Delaware River. They came during certain seasons to fish and hunt, but did not set up permanent villages. Notice Mr. Bush’s spelling of “Lackatong.” That old spelling was pretty common at one time.
During the digging of the canal—1832-1833—there was a large camp of laborers at Prallsville. The men were mostly foreigners of recent arrival, living in rude shanties, as men necessarily did when doing such work in those days. Cholera broke out among them and they were soon in pitiable condition. Many died and were buried in a spot selected on the farm now owned by James D. Allen. A dozen or more of the graves may still be located, being marked by rough stones with nothing to tell who or when.
The Allen farm referred to was the old John Reading farm, known as Mount Amwell, a few miles north of Prallsville along Route 29. Allen married Dorothy Woolverton on June 19, 1920. She was the daughter of Rev. William H. Wolverton and Minnie ‘Primrose’ Dickinson.9
Subsequent quarrying work made that burial spot desirable for dumping refuse and strippings. But the carters were not to intrude upon the marked graves. So they dumped and dumped in a circle all around the sacred ground until now the place of burial looks like a great bowl sunk in the earth to the brim, with gravestones showing in the bottom, perhaps eight feet below the level of the ground from which you look down upon them. Trees are growing in and about that big bowl, and the spot has become wild and difficult to locate. Few know that it is there and still fewer pay any attention to it. Yet the spot is of deep interest. Standing among these crude markers of the last resting place of crude men, one cannot repress the thought that the sleepers here are representatives of millions who, thru long ages, have been falling “unknown solders” in the great War of Industrial Progress.
But here is another and more pleasant thought. The father of Hiram Danley, late of Flemington, is not sleeping here. He had a home of his own and a family to care for. But the sufferings of these workers called aloud and he came to their assistance. He contracted the disease and died, a hero all unsung as thousands more have died because such quiet ministrations to human need, however costly, are not spectacular.
We have a quandary here. There was a Hiram Danley. He is buried in the Prospect Hill Cemetery in Flemington, born 1845, died 1903. Yet in 1930 Bush said he was “late of Flemington.” People must have had long memories back then. Still, I am not so sure I’ve got the right Hiram Danley. The one born in 1845 was the son of John and Elizabeth Danley of Kingwood in the 1850 census. If John Danley was counted in the 1850 census, he certainly did not die in the epidemic of the 1830s.
Hiram Danley was the son of John Danley and Elizabeth Van Selous who married on Aug. 24, 1839 and had seven children. In 1860, Elizabeth was listed in the Frenchtown census with three of her children, so I gather John Danley had died before then.10 Hiram Danley of Kingwood Twp. married on July 4, 1866, Sarah Niece, daughter of George Niece and Dinah Kugler, also of Kingwood. They were married at the Methodist Parsonage in Frenchtown by Rev. H. J. Hayter.
Apparently there was an earlier Danley named James who married Catherine Anderson, daughter of Capt. John Anderson of Maidenhead, but I know nothing about him.
This has turned out to be one of those articles where Mr. Bush had several facts wrong. Part of the explanation could very well be typographical errors by the Democrat; this was something that Mr. Bush lamented about in a letter to the editor for a different article. He was surprisingly stoic about it. But some errors might have been caused by relying on information provided by others. At this point in his life, Mr. Bush was 82 years old, so he was not likely to go running off to do a lot of fact-checking.
Usually Mr. Bush is to be trusted with his information, but even the best of us sometimes slip up. As far as I am concerned, his ability to write engaging stories and his wonderful phraseology and philosophical speculations trump any rare mistakes he might make.
Post Script—Conveyances by John and George Ely to John Prall, Jr. in 1792
In the deed of 1792, John Ely and wife Sarah conveyed 280 acres of land to John Prall Jr. for only 15 shillings, which John Ely had purchased at a sheriff’s sale in 1771. The deed says no more about previous owners, but the Sheriff was selling land of George Ely, John Ely’s father. George Ely had gone into debt. He had purchased the property in 1761 from Joseph Howell, who had gotten it from the estate of his father Daniel Howell in the 1740s. Daniel Howell got it from his father-in-law, John Reading.11
There were actually four additional transactions recorded at this time. The first deed recorded in this series conveyed the 280 acres to John Prall Jr., including two rods reserved for a burying ground.12 There followed several deeds making sure that all rights in the property were fully conveyed to John Prall Jr. John and Sarah Ely conveyed the rights of Joseph Ely (brother of John) to those 280 acres to John Prall Jr. for 15 shillings.13 Then George Ely (another brother of John’s) and wife Susannah sold their share in the property to John Prall for 15 shillings.14
And finally, the strangest of all, John and George Ely conveyed their rights to the 280 acres and signed a bond for £5,000, which guaranteed that the title would be free from any claims of dower right from Sarah Ely, wife of George Ely Jr.15
Since George Ely Jr. was married to Susannah Farley, who did not die until 1821, this makes no sense. (It should be noted that Susannah Farley Ely was a first cousin of John Prall, Jr., through their grandparents, George Farley and Feminitie Tunison.) But let’s say the clerk meant to write Susannah instead of Sarah. Presumably, Prall was guaranteeing that if George Ely Jr. died, his widow could not claim rights in the property. But then why didn’t he do the same for John Ely and his wife Sarah Coryell?
Here’s another theory—Sarah Tunison, second wife of George Ely Sr., is said to have died around 1760. But that is probably incorrect. If she were still alive in 1792, then this deed would make sense. The George Ely (c.1706-1793) that I have been calling “Sr.” was the son of George Ely (c.1682-c.1750) and Jane Pettit (c.1680-c.1750), and could therefore also be considered George Ely, Jr.
All these deeds tell us a lot about the kind of person John Prall, Jr. was—very careful, very legalistic, and not someone to trust his fellow human being when it came to matters of business.
- H. C. Mortgage Book 1 p. 536. ↩
- H. C. Mortgage, Book 2 p. 45. ↩
- H. C. Deed, Book 2 p. 35. ↩
- Mr. Bush wrote about the “Bowne Ledgers” in his article “The records of an Early Physician—Dr. John Bowne,” published in the Democrat on Nov. 13, 1930. ↩
- You can learn more about that intriguing road record in my article, Jacob’s Path, an 1813 Shortcut. ↩
- H.C. Deed Book 58 p. 564. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, 31 Oct 1872. ↩
- Hunterdon Republican, 23 Oct 1873 and 13 Nov 1873. ↩
- Mr. Bush wrote about this farm in an article published on Nov. 5, 1936, titled “Woolverton Farm Near Stockton in Family Since 1799,” which I will publish here sometime in the future. ↩
- There were no estates listed for anyone named Danley in Hunterdon County. ↩
- A manuscript copy of the deed is among the papers of Carl Cathers, now donated to the Hunterdon Co. Historical Society. The deed was recorded in Book 2 page 26. ↩
- Deed Book 2 p. 19. ↩
- Deed Book 2 p. 43. ↩
- Deed Book 2 p. 21. ↩
- Deed Book 2 p. 24. ↩