By Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J., June 30, 1935
Hunterdon County was once well supplied with covered bridges. Now the lonely last one stands at what has long been known as “Green Sergeant’s Mills.” Some say that there is no other such bridge in New Jersey today. I cannot vouch for that; but the covered bridge is almost a thing of the past.
This bridge was erected in accordance with favorable action taken by the Board of Chosen Freeholders of the county at a special meeting, the minutes of which say in part:
“Sergeantsville, Sept. 16, 1872
“Pursuant to notice the Board met at the hotel of Jacob K. Wilson for the purpose of viewing a site on the Witchley Oak Stream near Sergeant’s Mills, and considering upon the necessity of building a bridge over the stream. The Board was convened here at the request of Mssrs. Smith, Bird and Bray.
“Adjourned to view the site. Upon calling the roll at the site all members except Messrs. Bray, Lunger, Gulick, Brothers and Durham answered to their names—5.
“Adjourned until 12½ o’clock at Wilson’s hotel. “On motion of Mr. Storr that a new bridge be built. Adopted. On motion that all piers be removed and a wooden bridge erected with iron stringers. Adopted. Adjourned till 2 o’clock.
“On motion that the truss work of the bridge be inclosed with pine boards, an amendment was offered favoring capping the truss work.
“The yeas and nays were called for on the amendment, and resulted as follows: yeas—Swope, Bonnell, Farley, M. Case—4. Nays—Rittenhouse, Smith, Pidcock, Bird, Lilly, Storr, Beaver, Slater, Myers, Durham, J. Case—11. The original motion was then carried.
“On motion that the bridge be as wide as the present abutments will permit. Carried.
“On motion that the timbers of the bridge be made of white oak or rock oak. Carried.
“Building Committee: Messrs. Smith, Rittenhouse and Bird.” [signed] H.M. Vliet, Clerk.1
Old Abutments Served
From the motion concerning the width of the bridge, we find that the present abutments are the ones that served the bridge then to be displaced— standing today just as they stood perhaps more than a hundred years ago.
That the readers may know what constituency each Freeholder represented, it is thought best to give here the Board as it was organized May 8, 1872, for the ensuing year:
Mathias Case, Bethlehem
William Rittenhouse, Kingwood
Joseph Smith, Delaware
P. S. Pidcock, West Amwell
James Bird, Stacy Bray & Samuel Lilly, Lambertville
Isaac M. Swope, Alexandria
John N. Storr, Clinton
Joseph Bonnell, Lebanon
Peter A. Beavers, High Bridge
George A. Lunger, Union
George Gulick, Clinton Boro
G. H. Slater, Frenchtown
Lemuel B. Meyers, Franklin
John P. Brothers, Readington
Joseph C. Farley, Tewksbury
Edward H. Durham, East Amwell
Jacob Case, Raritan2
Of course, this bridge was built under the immediate supervision of Joseph Smith, a Freeholder from Delaware. “Uncle Joe,” as commonly called, then owned and lived on what later became the Jacob K. Wilson farm, adjoining the John Reading farm, now owned by Reading’s daughter Sarah Elizabeth Fisher. There all of Joseph‘s children were born except the oldest.3
We are told that Joseph was made paymaster, as well as supervisor; and that he was in the habit of walking to Flemington when pay-day came, to secure the necessary funds, and then walking back to the bridge for making the distribution. Probably the horses were needed on the farm, and it is certain that the old-time farmer did not shrink from long walks when they were necessary to avoid interference with the all-important farm work.
An Unwelcome Companion
The story is told that, on one such occasion, he had an unknown and not altogether welcome companion for a part of his way back. Doubtless with knowledge of Joseph’s errand, this fellow closely attached himself to the paymaster. It was necessary for him to walk out to that vicinity, and he was happy to find a companion who knew the best way to get there.
“Uncle Joe” was innocent and unsuspicious, of course. But when they came to some bushes along the roadside, he suddenly found it necessary to leave his companion for a few minutes. Being armed with the kind of pocket knife that was a part of the old-time farmer’s equipment, he soon fashioned a heavy cane that, if needed would serve well for purposes other than assistance in climbing the hills. With this in hand, he rejoined his waiting friend. But that gentleman, upon reaching the next intersecting road, decided to take that instead of continuing his pleasant walk with Uncle Joe. Possibly the outlook had materially changed; no one will ever know.4
Charles Odgen Holcombe
The designer and chief carpenter at the building of this bridge was Charles Ogden Holcombe—always known as Ogden Holcombe. He was noted as a builder of such bridges and for other skillful carpentry. In 1870 he built the bridge spanning the Lackatong [sic] Creek at Hoffman’s, near the Delaware River.5 Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Hewitt, daughter of Joseph Smith, says that Holcombe boarded with them on the farm while building this bridge [presumably the covered bridge], and that he was then able to walk only with the help of two canes. This persevering man so interested me that I determined to find out more about him, if possible, than Mrs. Hewitt could tell. Different members of the great Holcombe family were consulted without finding any trace of this particular one. Nor did the records in the offices help when search was made in the name of Ogden Holcombe.
Fortunately, I was directed to Alfred L. Pierson of Lambertville, who’s wife is a relative, as a man who could give the desired information. This he kindly did in substance as follows:
Charles Ogden Holcombe, son of Emley and Mary (Skillman) Holcombe, was born in Lambertville March 21, 1813. He was twice married. His first wife was Rebecca Barber,6 and his second was Katharine Young.7 By his first wife he had one child, a daughter Mary. She married Capt. Charles A. Slack, a veteran of the Civil War, and once postmaster at Lambertville, who died there quite recently. They also had one child, Miss Mabel Slack, who still lives in Lambertville. After spending his life in Lambertville—during his later years, a wheeled-chair being his only means of getting about—Charles Ogden Holcombe died there December 25, 1890, and was borne to rest in the Mount Hope Cemetery.
Emley Holcombe, father of Charles Ogden, was born January 25, 1775. He was the father of eight children: William, Charles Ogden, John Emley, Ellen Ann, Theodore, Mary, Isaac S., and Alexander H.
William, the oldest, went west when a young man. He lived in at least six different states, and was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Minnesota. John Emley was the father of Peter and Emley Holcombe, late of Pleasant Ridge. Theodore lived at Quakertown, a millwright by trade, making and repairing the big water wheels, as I well remember.
Another persevering mechanic on the Sergeant’s Mills bridge was Peter Sibley, a ship-carpenter by trade. He also was a cripple, walking with canes. His home was the lot now owned by Mr. and Mrs. John Gerard, less than a mile farther down the Wickecheoke Creek, now transformed into a summer home which Peter could never recognize.8 The masons on the work were Ely Everitt and his brother Charles. But, as the abutments were to remain, their work was probably on repairs to the wingwalls.
Smith an Active Citizen
The office of Freeholder was not the only one held by Joseph Smith. He was active in township affairs, and after the expiration of his time as Freeholder, he served a term as County Collector. His genealogy may be interesting—must be to many readers. He was a son of John and Marane [Mary Ann?] Smith, whose family consisted of Joseph, Isaac, Enoch, Jeremiah, John, Silas, Amelia, Sarah, Margaret and Mary.
Anna, married David Wilson
William, died at the age of 12 years
Eleanor, died in childhood
Richard Green Smith, married Jane Kerr
Jess, married Mary Williamson
Martha Jane, married George Hammer
Asa, married Anna Opdyke
Charles, married Emma Reed
Harriet Amy, married David Larue
Henry Reading Smith, married Mary Sanders
Amelia, married John Kerr
James Wilson Smith, married Ann Walker
Sarah Elizabeth, married Charles Hewitt
Emma Caroline, married Edward Johnson
Here was an old-time family, indeed. Twelve out of the fourteen lived to marry and have families of their own. Now only two are living—Sarah Elizabeth and Emma Caroline, who lives with her son Willard on the Clark B. Johnson farm. Sarah Elizabeth lives with her daughter-in-law and son, Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Hewitt, in Stockton. To these I am indebted for valuable data furnished in the preparation of this sketch.
While wishing good luck and long life to the old bridge, one cannot help feeling that both are somewhat doubtful. We are told that a year or two ago it was found to be on fire, and was rescued by a neighbor before material damage had been done. We may all thank that unknown benefactor for saving needless expense, and for preserving this interesting reminder of the days that are gone and of things soon to be seen no more.
Ann R. Barber Holcombe. Although she was identified as from Tiffin, Ohio at the time of her marriage, I have no doubt she came from a New Jersey family. In fact, the 1860 census in which she is listed with husband Charles O. Holcombe states that she was born in New Jersey. My best candidate for her parents so far is Johnson Barber and first wife Elitta Craven or second wife Rhoda Letty. Johnson may have traveled to Ohio after Rhoda died and then returned about the time that Ann married Charles O. Holcombe, as he is counted in Lambertville in the 1850 census. There was a Johnson Barber listed in the Tiffin, Ohio census for 1840, but the oldest male in the family was in his 20s, whereas Ann’s father would have to be in his late 40s or early 50s. Perhaps the enumerator made a mistake. Perhaps I just don’t have enough information.
The photographs of Mr. and Mrs. Smith were owned by Harvey Hewitt, their grandson, and were loaned to me by Jeanette Smith of Delaware Township.
Children of Joseph and Eleanor Smith: I was not able to identify the Martha Jane Smith that Mr. Bush says married George Hammer. There was a George Hammer in the Kingwood census for 1860 who had a wife Jane born about 1841. But there is no such person listed with Joseph Smith’s family in the 1850 census, and I cannot locate George Hammer’s family after 1860. Daughter Eleanor who died in childhood is also not mentioned in the census.
- Some writers have stated that the 1872 bridge was constructed because the original bridge had burned down. I do not know where that idea came from. The freeholders’ minutes only call for “a new bridge,” making no mention of a fire. ↩
- Why did Lambertville have three freeholders and every other town only one? Why Clinton Boro and Frenchtown but no Flemington? Must be a story there. ↩
- The Jacob K. Wilson farm, also known as the Joseph Smith farm, was on Sanford Road. The Reading Farm that Bush describes was on Upper Creek Road. Prior to moving to the farm on Sanford Road, about 1830, Smith was living with his grandfather John Smith further north on Upper Creek Road. He spent his whole life in the same neighborhood. ↩
- I retold this story in a previous post, and now realize I was taking a few (albeit minor) liberties. ↩
- This is the beautiful bridge on Raven Rock-Rosemont Road that the County is planning to restore sometime soon. ↩
- According to the Hunterdon County Gazette, “Mr. Charles Ogden Holcombe of Lambertville, New Jersey” married “Miss Ann Rebecca Barber of Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio” on 28 August 1842. ↩
- Catharine or Katharine Young married Holcombe on 21 February 1878, as listed in Hiram Deats’ Hunterdon Co. Marriages. I do not know who her parents were. ↩
- This house is known as ‘Red Bridge Farm’ on Lower Creek Road. For more on Peter Sibley, see the Addendum to this post. ↩
- I have no genealogical information for the Stuard family. ↩
- This is Smith’s obituary printed in the Hunterdon County Democrat on November 16th: “Mr. Joseph Smith, an old and popular citizen of Delaware township, died at his residence near Sergeantsville last Friday night, of pneumonia, aged 77 years. Mr. Smith, who was also known as “Old Hickory,” from a supposed resemblance to the lamented General Jackson, represented his township for two full terms of three years each in the Board of Freeholders of the county–a feat never before or since accomplished by a citizen of that township. He also served as County Collector for three years.” ↩