Sunday, July 12, 2009

East Jersey Olde Towne (Piscataway)

My visit to the Cornelius Low house inspired me to put East Jersey Olde Towne next on my list. Like the Low house, it is managed by Middlesex County, and also like the Low house, I had stopped by the grounds a number of times, but never been inside the buildings.

Conveniently located in Johnson Park in Piscataway, this collection of 18th and 19th century buildings were erected here to preserve some typical structures of central New Jersey from that time period. The "towne" was the brainchild of Joseph Kler, who was concerned about the destruction of the area's historic structures and started this project in 1971. Some of the buildings were actually moved here from their original locations, while others are reconstructions of known buildings using authentic materials.

I decided to use a weekend visit of my wife's family from Virginia to suggest East Jersey Olde Towne for an afternoon outing. While my daughter accompanied me on my last two trips, I now had my wife, parents-in-law, grandmother and aunt to keep happy. We arrived just in time for the 1:30 guided tour. This had better be good.

Each building represents a different aspect of early American life (blacksmith shop, farmhouse, etc.). Because some of the structures are not original, you can actually have a hand-on experience in some. For example, you can sit in the desks in the schoolhouse and take out the slates.

The highlight of the tour, though, has to be the Indian Queen Tavern. The tavern was built in the early 1700s near the ferry landing in New Brunswick (a couple miles downriver from Raritan Landing). It was considered to be one of the more "upscale" taverns in town and hosted the likes of Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, who stayed here on their way to peace talks with the British in New York. Apparently, they were not the most compatible of roommates (as you will hear about on the tour).

One room of the tavern is set up to show the proprieter, James Drake, making preparations for a dinner party given in honor of George Washington at the end of the war. He may not have slept there, but Washington certainly drank there.

The upstairs portion of the tavern (which is wheelchair accessible via elevator), highlights some of the later history of the tavern, which was used well into the 20th century. [In case you were wondering where the tavern is located, go to the Route 18 ramp at the corner of Albany Street and Johnson Drive in New Brunswick and try very hard to picture it].

Doug Aumack, the assistant curator, gave a terrific tour. I believe our tour ran quite a bit longer than usual because three of us (from different groups) asked a lot of questions about different aspects of the property and its history. However, the great thing about this site is that you can leave the tour at any point, wander around the grounds, and then rejoin the tour as it enters another building.

The entire family, ranging in age from 6 to 86, really enjoyed visiting this site. As we left, my wife Allison said, "You know, you could really make this area a vacation destination." Exactly!

1 comment:

Kevin said...

This series is getting better with each visit! I especially enjoy the comments from your fellow travelers!

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