The marvelous house on the northeast corner of the intersection at Rosemont (at Routes 519 and 604), once known as the Rittenhouse or Crosskeys Tavern, may be in search of a new owner in the near future. It is my sincere hope, and that of the current owners, that someone will take over who fully appreciates the historic value of the property. The sale has reminded me that I have not yet published Egbert T. Bush’s article on Crosskeys Tavern.
As is typical of Mr. Bush, he starts out writing about the tavern and its owners, but before long, he’s writing about other properties in Rosemont. So, really, this ought to be called a short history of Rosemont. There is so much information here, I thought it might be a good idea to give you the whole of the article first, without comment (but with two exceptions). In subsequent articles I will add my comments and additions.
Crosskeys Tavern, Built in 1754,
Still Stands at Rosemont
Later Called Rittenhouse’s Tavern;
Some History of Rosemont Village
Daniel Bray Buried There
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, January 30, 1930
The farm on the corner on which the old “Crosskeys Tavern” still stands appears to have been held in the Rittenhouse family for almost a century, beginning with William in 1719. According to tradition, this stone house was built by him, but the date stone says “F R 1754.” Another Rittenhouse may have come in between William and Isaac, who is known to have been the proprietor during the Revolution; or the initial W may have been placed upon the stone and since obliterated, the “W” for William and the “F” for his wife, it being a common custom in early days to use the initials of both husband and wife.
In the next article I will have more to say about that inscription. But here’s a hint: The “F” is really an “I,” as it should be. Mr. Bush’s speculations have led him astray. William and Frances had nothing to do with the house.
The stone proves that the walls were built in 1754, but tradition says that the house was not completed until the next year, and you know,
“That was the year when Lisbon town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock’s army was done so brown—
Left without a scalp to its crown.”
And tradition insists that the rafters on this building were raised on the day of that defeat, July 9, 1755. Be that as it may, the building has weathered the storms of 175 years, the rafters have never blown down, and the house looks good for another century.
The proprietor named his new venture “Crosskeys Tavern,” and hung out a sign with that emblem emblazoned thereon. And a good name it was; but the name of the proprietor made a stronger appeal to the public. Gradually it became “Rittenhouse’s Tavern,” and the good old sign was relegated to the rubbish loft, where it might still have been found forty years ago. What joy it would be to dig out that old sign now!
Negro Saved Horses from British
This appears to have been a central point for marauding bands on both sides during the Revolution. Isaac Rittenhouse is said to have had a Negro man whose duties included care of the sheds. On one occasion, while he was caring for some horses belonging to American soldiers, he discovered that a detachment of the enemy was approaching. Hurriedly cutting all halters, he sent the horses scampering into the woods. No horses for the British that day, thanks to the quick wit of the faithful Negro.
Bush was writing in 1930. I’m sure he would not have used the term ‘negro’ if he were writing today. And besides, the man had a name—Cato. Admittedly, it was a typical slave’s name. And he was a slave, as shown in Isaac Rittenhouse’s tax records.
The will of Isaac Rittenhouse, probated March 6, 1809, gives the “plantation” to his three sons—Samuel, John and William; also his share in “the Snap fishery on Inly’s Island,” and his share in “the fish pond in Howell’s falls in the Delaware river.” Somebody may recall echoes of those names.
Samuel and John sold their interests to William in 1811. He sold the property to Garret Lare, who sold it to James Woolverton in 1843. In 1868, Woolverton sold it to George Hoppock, who kept it as a tavern for a few years and then let it go dry. His heirs sold it to Lambert B. Mathews in 1910, whose heirs sold it to the present owner, Frank W. Reading, who has adopted the name “Crosskeys Farm” as the appropriate historic designation of this pleasant home.
A Dance Party Interrupted
John Slack kept the tavern for several years while Woolverton owned it. Slack like gatherings and lively times. Old people still tell of a dance party held in the wood that then extended across the upper end of the farm to the road. Somebody emphasized his strong opposition by gathering a supply of stale eggs, stealing down among the trees and bombarding the dancers with unerring aim. The perfumery was well distributed, the fumes were stifling, and the dancers rushed for their homes without seeking vengeance on the aggressor. Bad taste? Certainly; we may condemn—perhaps we must. But hold! Are we doing much better when we strangle dissenters from our own opinions by means of that deadly modern engine of uncivil warfare—the boycott, charged with our own mal-odorous prejudices, fanatical, social, political or religious? Let us look ourselves over before saying hard things about injustice or bad taste in some old-time offender against natural rights.
A trick more characteristic of the times and place is told of “Jeff” Reading, a farmer living not far away. One evening he and his dog were in the hamlet, nosing around for excitement as usual. Jeff bought a mackerel and hung it up to drain. Then he wrapped it in paper, tied it up, with a string left out for easy carrying, and presented it to “Bill” for his breakfast—”Bill” for want of another name. Away went Bill, proudly swinging the fish by his side. When Bill was supposed to be a half mile away, Jeff took the hound to the drainings and then set him on track. The air was soon filled with music of the chase, and the crowd with pleasant anticipations. The dog rushed up to Bill, grabbed the fish and proudly returned it to his master. The crowd went wild, and poor Bill went home minus his fine prospect for breakfast.
Cane Home Built in 1822
What is now the poultry farm of Charles H. Cane [father of Phil Cane], was deeded by Thomas Lequear to John Waterhouse in 1822. He built the house, still standing with date stone saying “I H 1822,” I being used for John again. His heirs sold it to Nathan Cain in 1853. Cain sold it to William R. Allen in 1860. After selling off several small lots, Allen sold the farm to Jonas Melick in 1871, and Jonas deeded it to Joseph A. Melick in 1876. Joseph sold the farm to Edwin Silvy Brady in 1919, who sold it to Charles H. Wisman in the same year, and Wisman conveyed it to Cane in 1927. Nathan Cain owned other lands in and about the village, including the farm now owned by Alvin Jardine. Cain had a daughter Elizabeth, who married Jonathan Hoppock, a well-known teacher in Delaware Township, whose local correspondence is still quoted by antiquaries.
Samuel Green, whose home was where Paul Bissey now lives, was the first wheelwright here. He was followed by Ramsey C. Phillips, who built the shop on the corner, now the site of Raymond A. Anderson’s house, and also built the house next above. Mahlon Williamson, father of Richard and grandfather of Mrs. Edward Sherwood, carried on shoemaking at the Sherwood home for more than 50 years, beginning about 1830.
The first blacksmith was James Opdyke, whose shop was on the east side of the road next to what is now the home of Zeph C. Drumm. The following blacksmiths are remembered as working in the shop at the turn of the road, now the office of Rosemont Chicken Hatchery: John Hinkel, William Shepherd, ____ Leggett, Smith Cottral, George P. Green (late Sheriff), Harry Swales and James Wyckoff.
A Funeral for $2.00
Samuel Hartpence came to Rosemont about 1850. In 1856 he took up undertaking, his first funeral being that of a child of Hugh Rooks. For this service the charge was two dollars. He carried on a growing business, much of the time with the assistance of C. Walton Green, until 1900, when Green took it over. Green came here in 1880, worked for a time at ironing wagons for William Shepherd, and then went with Hartpence as assistant in his varied lines of business, and is still the undertaker here, tho living at Trenton Junction.
Of the merchants here, Henry Winters is placed first but without date. “Col.” Levi Williamson is remembered as keeping the store in 1864; and particularly as keeping careful watch over the hickory pole erected in the tavern yard. His telephone was crude, but seemingly effective. It consisted of a rope tightly stretched from the pole to one post of his bed, that he might either hear the sound or feel the vibrations, should any miscreant attempt to cut down that pole. It was never disturbed. These merchants followed Williamson: Thomas Johnson, Charles Jones 1873, Samuel Hartpence 1880, Joseph G. Moore 1882, Jerald King, Winfield S. Black 1886, H. Bisbing 1888, Hiram Danley 1890, Lambert B. Mathews 1899, Willis H. Carver, to date.
Dr. John Barcroft is given as first physician here. He lived at the tavern, and stayed but a few months. Dr. Theodore Large came about 1845 and built the house on the corner now owned by Theodore L. Cullen, who was named in his honor in 1854. Mrs. Caroline Bray Brown, of Philadelphia, aged about 85, recently visited Cullen and looked over the house in which she was born. She is a daughter of Dr. Large and great-granddaughter of Gen. Daniel Bray. Dr. Henry B. Nightingale came before 1860, lived at one time where Allen Sherman now lives; left for a few years and returned to Rosemont, where he died. He was followed by Dr. Thomas and he by Dr. Young, both dates missing. Dr. George N. Best came to Rosemont in 1876, living for some time at the old tavern. Then he bought the lot and built the house where, after 50 years of service, he died in 1926, deeply lamented by the whole community. To scientists he was widely known as an authority on botany, especially the mosses, several thousand specimens of which, carefully labeled, he left to the New York Botanical Garden, where they have been systematically arranged and credited to the donor.
Myron Clark Smith also came here in 1875 and died here in 1927. His neighbors speak of him as a useful man, an excellent worker, driving at times for Dr. Best, doing this and doing that, and always ready to lend a helping had wherever needed.
The Name Rosemont
The name “Rosemont” was coming into use, seemingly without a formal christening, as far back as 1847. In 1882 a post office by that name was established, with Everitt Bowman, then owner of the Cullen lot, as first postmaster. He kept the office in the store of Joseph G. Moore. Prior to that time mail had been unofficially brought up from Stockton and distributed at the wheelwright shop on the corner.
By deed dated June 17, 1847, John Waterhouse conveyed to John Wilson, Derrick A. Sutphin, James Woolverton, Asher Woolverton and Joseph Salter, “Trustees of the Presbyterian Congregation of Rosemont,“ a plot of ground near the cemetery, upon which a substantial house of worship was soon erected. Services were held therein for about twenty years; then the church was abandoned and the house torn down, most of the adherents going to the Stockton Presbyterian Church, built in 1867.
By deed dated April 19, 1860, William R. Allen conveyed to “John Reading, Joseph Reading, Charles Green, Lewis Snyder, Wilson Snyder, Samuel Reading and Samuel Hartpence, Trustees of the M. E. Church at Rosemont,” the plot of ground upon which that church now stands. The need for this church is said to have resulted from a memorable series of revival meetings held in various places under leadership of Pastor Morrell, of the old Kingwood Church. These revivals brought in several hundred converts, many of them in and about Rosemont.
The Old Burying Ground
The old burying ground was incorporated in 1912, with Dr. Best as first President, who served until his death, and was succeeded by Howard Johnson. Frank W. Reading is now Secretary, and Allan Sherman has been Superintendent since its incorporation. About 4,000 bodies lie here, many of them representing old families having numerous descendants here and elsewhere. Gen. Daniel Bray of Revolutionary fame, has been sleeping here since 1819, with only a plain slab to mark his last resting place.
As in other old hamlets, tragedies have been mingled with the gayer life of Rosemont. Long ago a demented woman named Rittenhouse plunged into the well at the tavern and was drowned. Later, one very cold night, Frank Rooks started to go from Rosemont to his home near Strimple’s Mill, and never reached his destination. Next day his body was found on the Cane farm, and taken by the late Judge Henry P. Cullen to the Rooks home. Some say this incident led to closing the tavern as such; but there is proof that it was legally open several years thereafter, regardless of any relation between tavern and tragedy.
Tragedy Narrowly Averted
About fifteen years ago there was a narrow escape from another tragedy at that old well. A little daughter of William Mathews, then the tenant farmer, fell thru the “trapdoor” into the water 25 feet below, passing thru the numerous sticks placed across the well to keep the pump-stock in place. Screams brought the father, who chanced to be near. Climbing down the cross-sticks, he rescued the child, practically unhurt. This event will long be remembered because of the dangers so strangely escaped by the child and of the thrilling rescue by the father.
Unlike most hamlets, Rosemont has no mills or old-time industries to lament. Lying uphill from all directions, it has never had any water power—the only kind known in colonial days—and never will have. Its early industries were on a small scale. It has reversed the usual trend by having bigger industries now than ever before. The poultry farm of Charles H. Cane and the hatchery of Zeph C. Drumm easily eclipse anything ever seen here in the old days. The surrounding farm country has held up well, and there is nothing shabby about the old community. Rosemont is a live, modern and attractive village.