Friday, December 26, 2014

The Proprietary House

The Proprietary House
149 Kearny Avenue
Perth Amboy, NJ 08861

I had the opportunity to visit the Proprietary House in Perth Amboy, NJ earlier this month. This building is best known for being the home of the last royal governor of New Jersey William Franklin. Franklin was a prominent American Loyalist during the American Revolution, as well as the acknowledged illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. This home is an imposing site in a residential area of Perth Amboy. The home is still open for tours to the public throughout the year. The home is also conveniently located close to a number of other historic sites in Perth Amboy and Middlesex County. A quick Google search of the home also results in a variety of websites dedicated to paranormal investigations of the home, to include ghost hunts. The next time you are in Central New Jersey I highly recommend stopping by this historic building!

The official website of the Proprietary House provides an outstanding timeline of the 250 year history of the house, and features a number of events that the building hosts throughout the year. (

Below is a brief write up on the Proprietary House from the City of Perth Amboy website, along with some photos I took from my recent visit:

"Perth Amboy is home to the only official Royal Governor’s Mansion still intact since Colonial days, commonly known as the Proprietary House. The Proprietors of East Jersey were responsible for its construction during 1762-1764 for the Royal Governor of New Jersey. In 1774, William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin, was Royal Governor at which time he took up residence at the mansion with his wife. However, since he was arrested by the Continental Army in 1776, the house did not remain a Governor’s mansion for long. After the Revolution, the Proprietary House became a private home. In 1809 it became a resort hotel, but business was ruined by the War of 1812. In 1883 it became a rooming house for retired Presbyterian ministers, called the Westminster. Currently, the Proprietary House is owned by the State and maintained by the Proprietary House Association."


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from the Matt Ward History Experience! May your holiday season be filled with holiday cheer(s)!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Van Horne House

Van Horne House
941 East Main St.
Bridgewater, NJ 08807

The Van Horne House is one of a handful of historic homes in New Jersey that is associated with the Second Middlebrook Encampment of 1778-1779. The home was also targeted by British troops during the Battle of Bound Brook in 1777. Today, the home sits on top of a large hill, with its back up against a Target store. Across the street to the right is TD Bank Ballpark, the home of the minor league baseball Somerset Patriots. The view of the home from the right field line of the ballpark is phenomenal, and a nice addition to catching a game there. The home is very well preserved, and is definitely a great place to visit if you are interested in the American Revolution.

Below are a couple of write ups on the home from the Crossroads of the American Revolution and Heritage Trail Association sites. I also posted three photos I took during my recent visit:

"Phillip Van Horne, who built this home in 1754, was such a genial entertainer of officers of both armies that his house was known as 'Convivial Hall.' Van Horne’s house was one of General Cornwallis’ objectives in the Battle of Bound Brook. General Benjamin Lincoln was quartered at the home when Cornwallis sent troops looking for him. Lincoln escaped, but the British captured three American cannon on the front lawn as Lincoln’s men retreated. General William Alexander (known as Lord Stirling) used the house as his headquarters during the 1778-1779 Second Middlebrook Encampment."


"In 1735, the site was the location of the Janeway and Broughton Store. John Broughton was Bridgewater's first Town Clerk. Philip Van Horne, the house's most famous and colorful owner, purchased the property 19 years later and built his home there. He was a generous and hospitable man who freely entertained both sides of the American Revolution, so much so that a concerned George Washington considered throwing him in a New Brunswick jail for treason. Van Horne's welcoming nature earned his home various nicknames: 'Phil's Hill,' 'Phil's Hall' or 'Convivial Hall.'

During the Revolution, the house served as headquarters for Generals Benjamin Lincoln and William Alexander (Lord Stirling). In April 1777 at the Battle of Bound Brook, Lord Cornwallis' troops marched to the house and skirmished with Patriot troops in hopes of capturing Patriot officers staying at the Van Hornes, but without any luck. General Benjamin Lincoln, who had been at the house escaped into the hills, 'clad only in his breeches,' according to one account.

From the Van Hornes, the house and property subsequently became part of a milling business, a residence for down-in-their-luck union members, and eventually was sold to Calco Chemical Company. The house is listed on the National and New Jersey Register of Historic Houses as a fine example of Corporate Colonial Revival, a tribute to the renovations done by Calco.

In 2002, The Heritage Trail Association moved its headquarters location into the newly renovated Van Horne House and completed entry of the home into the New Jersey Register of Historic places the same year. Today the first floor of the house is exhibit space, a gift shop and meeting rooms (available for rent). The second floor is office space. It is a fine example of adaptive re-use of an historic building." (


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Joe Louis Memorial Park

Joe Louis Memorial Park
15 Perrin Ave
Pompton Lakes, NJ 07442

The finest tribute, outside of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, that I have seen to a professional boxer to date is the Joe Louis Memorial Park in Pompton Lakes, NJ. This park is located just behind the Pompton Lakes Elks building. Pompton Lakes is a quiet suburb of New York City that once served as a training location for former boxing world heavyweight champion Joe Louis. The "Brown Bomber" was not only a world champion boxer; he was also a patriot and philanthropist. Louis served his country during World War II and had significant charitable impacts on the communities that he lived and worked in. The next time you are in North Jersey, I highly recommend taking some time out of your day to stop by this little-known history gem!

Below is a write up on the park from the "New York Times" website, along with some photos I took during a recent visit:

Sports of The Times; The Monument Where Joe Louis Trained

"WHEN Joe Louis was the heavyweight champion, he put this leafy little town on the map.

'When I was in the Pacific during the war,' Russ Pagana, a retired contractor, was saying, 'guys would ask me where I was from. When I'd say, Pompton Lakes, N.J., they'd say, 'Yeah, that's where Joe Louis trains.'

And now the town has put Joe Louis on a monument.

Created by Anthony Sgobba in glossy South African black granite, Joe Louis's life-size likeness is on a monument dedicated here yesterday in what is now Joe Louis Memorial Park next to the Elks Lodge #1895, a left jab away from what was Doc Bier's training camp, where Louis prepared to knock out, among others, Max Schmeling and Billy Conn (twice).

'As kids, we'd watch Joe train on Sunday,' Pagana recalled, 'then we'd go to the movies at the Colonial theater on Saturday and watch the Movietone news of what we had watched.'

Every so often, Louis would go to the movies, too. If a few kids were standing around outside, he'd tell the ticket-taker, 'Let 'em in. I'll take care of it.' If the kids were standing around outside the ice-cream parlor, he bought cones. And the Pompton Lakes kids never had to pay to watch him train.

'When he did his roadwork,' said Howard Ball, a former editor of the local Suburban Trends newspaper, 'he'd stop to talk to my grandmother in her rocking chair on our porch. I'd peek through the window to see him.'

After a local resident died in 1935 and before an ambulance arrived from a nearby town, Louis boxed an exhibition that raised $2,600 to buy Pompton Lakes its own white Packard ambulance. He raised $2,000 to help build a police communications tower.

And every so often, Lou Duva, then a teen-ager in nearby Paterson, hitch-hiked here to watch the champion train.

'Nobody trained like Joe Louis,' recalled Duva, the 77-year-old Hall of Fame trainer. 'He always wore white knit trunks with a white tank top, black boxing shoes and white socks. He was all business. On the weekends, there'd be as many as 5,000 people around the outdoor ring under the trees next to the big house where he and his sparring partners lived.'

For a big fight now, boxers don't train like that. They stay in casino-hotels now. They spar in glitzy ballrooms with chandeliers.

'And now they all have their entourages,' Duva said with a smirk. ''Every lawyer, every accountant, every hustler is hanging around.'

Duva and the Pompton Lakes Police Chief Al Ekkers were the fund-raising co-chairmen for the Joe Louis Memorial Park and monument.

'The whole thing will probably cost $80,000 before we're through,' Duva said. 'We've raised a lot already, but I'll put up whatever we need to finish it. Coming up here to see Joe Louis train is where I learned to watch trainers train fighters. I never learned anything from fighters. I learned it all from the trainers.'

As early as 1923, boxers began coming to the barracks-like house next to the home of Dr. Joseph Bier, an eye-ear-nose-and-throat specialist who operated what he called a Health Farm on the shore of Pompton Lake in this tiny town of 3,000 in the woods and lakes of northern Passaic County. The population is now 11,500.

Some of the best boxing names of that era trained here -- Benny Leonard, Harry Greb, Pancho Villa, Ace Hudkins, Tony Canzoneri, Jimmy McLarnin, Jackie (Kid) Berg, Lou Brouillard, and Primo Carnera.

But in 1935, when Louis was about to come here to train for his first fight in New York, against Primo Carnera, at least one resident objected to the presence of a black fighter along with John Roxborough, a black manager, and Jack Blackburn, a black trainer. Doc Bier never blinked.

'I've rented the place,' Doc said, 'and they'll be here.'

For most of Louis's fights in New York, they returned here. He considered Pompton Lakes his 'lucky camp,' especially after he trained at Lakewood, N.J., before being knocked out by Max Schmeling in the 12th round at Yankee Stadium in 1936.

Before his 1938 title defense against Schmeling at Yankee Stadium, Louis trained here, then knocked out Schmeling in 2 minutes, 4 seconds of the first round.

'What a great place this would be for a training camp,' Lou Duva was saying now. 'That house over there, that's where Doc Bier lived. I'd like to buy that house and use it as a training camp for some of my young fighters. Put up an outdoor ring like they had when Joe Louis was here.'

And it would be only a left jab away from the Joe Louis monument."


Christmas Season Reading List

Season's Greetings! Here are ten books that I recommend you pick up or add to your favorite e-book reader this holiday season! All of these titles can be purchased from your local bookstore or favorite online book seller.

Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation by Joseph J. Ellis

Bert Sugar's Punchlines edited by Tom McCarthy

Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic by John Ferling

Hey Ho Let's Go: The Story of the Ramones by Everett True

Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916
by Michael Capuzzo

1776 by David McCullough

Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson

Suburban Warriors:  The Origins of the New American Right by Lisa McGirr

Jersey Joe Walcott:  A Boxing Biography by James Curl by James Curl

The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution by Jeff Shaara



Monday, December 8, 2014

Derrick Van Veghten House

Derrick Van Veghten House
9 Van Veghten Drive
Bridgewater, NJ 08807
I had the opportunity to visit the Derrick Van Veghten House in Bridgewater, NJ two weeks ago. This home is one of several locations that are associated with the Continental Army's encampment at Middlebrook (see 12/1/14 post). The home served as the headquarters for Quartermaster General Nathanael Greene during the winter encampment of 1778-1779. The home is very well preserved, and serves as the current home of the Somerset County Historical Society.
Below is a write up on the home from Somerset County's Weekend Journey through the Past website, along with some photos I took of the site:
"The Van Veghten House stands on its original site on the north bank of the Raritan River. The present structure evolved from the first house built by Michael Van Veghten before 1720.
The house served as headquarters for Quartermaster Nathanael Greene during the Middlebrook Encampment in 1778-1779. Units of the Continental Army's Pennsylvania Brigade were encamped on his fields.
While in residence, General Greene wrote a letter describing 'a pretty little frisk' held in the house on March 17, 1779. Throughout the course of the evening, Washington danced with Mrs. Greene 'upwards of three hours without seting [sic] down.'"

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Murray Farmhouse and Barn

Murray Farmhouse and Barn
Poricy Park
345 Oak Hill Rd.
Middletown, NJ 07748

A historic site in Monmouth County, NJ that still stands as a reminder to the bitter civil war that took place in this country during the American Revolution is the Murray Farmhouse and Barn in Middletown, NJ. The house and barn are located in Poricy Park. During the American Revolution, the property was owned by the Patriot Joseph Murray. On June 8, 1780, Murray was murdered by Tories for his contributions to the Patriot cause in the war. A marker (shown below) shows the approximate location of where Murray was shot and killed on his property.

Below is a write up on the history of the property from the Middletown Patch website, along with some photos that I took of the property during a recent visit:

"In a five-room, two-story house, the remnants of the 18th century echo through the original plaster and brick walls of the Murray farmhouse and barn.

Simply decorated in what is considered to be a replica of the farming family’s home, light blue paint adorns the original walls and documents hang in simple frames.

The home once living quarters to early Middletown residents, Joseph Murray, his wife Rebecca and their four children, is now open for tours on selected dates throughout the month.

Joseph Murray, a stonemason, came with his mother from Ulster County, Ireland in 1767 with the intent of farming peacefully in the Jersey colony, said Murray Farmhouse Curator Melissa Jackson.

If Murray brought anybody else with him to Middletown that is still unknown.

In New Jersey, he met his wife Rebecca Morris and had four children, three boys, William, James and Joseph, and one daughter, whose name is still unknown.

Murray’s dream of farming peacefully was not has peaceful as he hoped, Jackson said.

In 1776, Murray joined the local Patriotic militia and was a 'staunch' defiant of the British rule, she said.

In 1779, his home was raided, looted and personal belongings were burnt and Murray was sent to prison. Murray was released in January of 1780 and returned to the militia in Middletown.

'At this time, horses were treasured possessions,' Jackson said. 'And Joseph’s militia was ordered to commandeer horses for the patriots.'

Instead of doing this at night, Murray decided to travel to his neighbor’s home 'Marlpit Hall' on King’s Highway during the day to find a horse, according to the Murray family tale.

At this time his neighbor, Edward Taylor, was under house arrest so when Murray was stealing the horse, Taylor heard and saw Murray. In a quick attempt to scare the horse, Taylor threw his fine hat at the horse.

'Now as we know, when family tales are retold, they keep getting better and better,' Jackson said.

According to family folklore, Murray caught Taylor’s hat and rode off with his new hat and horse. At this time stealing a horse was punishable by death, if caught.

Months passed by and on the evening on June 7, 1780 Murray and his neighbor Thomas Hill were active for their militia regiment.

Looking to work on their farms, Murray and Hill were granted permission to leave the next day and tend to their fields, Jackson said. At this time, the area was still dangerous so Hill would stand guard as Murray farmed and Murray would do the same for Hill.

The next day, on June 8, Murray felt safe enough to work in his field alone and let Hill return home for the day, Jackson said.

As Hill returned home, three men had come out of the woods and shot Murray in the back. The shot did not kill Murray so the men used their bayonets to finish the task.

The three men, who most likely arrived by boat through Poricy Brook, were believed to have worked for Edward Taylor and shot Murray in retaliation for horse theft, Jackson said.

Years past and Murray’s wife, Rebecca, remarried and became Rebecca Patterson. Soon after remarrying, it is believed that she moved away from the farm and one of Murray’s sons took control of the property.

The property stayed in the possession of the Murray family until 1861.

In 1840, a Murray grandson added to the house. The addition was retained to afford more room for programs. The property was farmed and the farmhouse inhabited until it was purchased in 1973 by Middletown Township.

The purchase was made at the encouragement of the Poricy Park Citizens Committee to save the land from development. The 250 acres now known as Poricy Park, were acquired by Middletown Township through a succession of land purchases from 1970 to 1973.

The barn was restored in 1978 and the farmhouse in 1981 and are still the property of Middletown Township and maintained by Poricy Park Conservancy." (


Friday, December 5, 2014

Wilt Chamberlain Stamps from the USPS

The USPS created a commemorative stamp for basketball star and Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain. This is a great collector's item, especially for all of you sports history buffs out there!

Here is the write up from the USPS website:

"Available for Pre-Order

This year, the U.S. Postal Service® celebrates the life of basketball superstar Wilt Chamberlain (1936–1999). On the court, he was a force of nature. The 7-foot-1-inch center dominated the NBA for more than a decade, setting a plethora of individual records. As a pro, he led his teams to two NBA championships, and in 1962 he scored an NBA record 100 points in a single game.

These two Forever® stamps showcase artwork by Kadir Nelson, who created two portraits of Chamberlain. One is based on a photograph of Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform, the other based on an image of Chamberlain in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. The word “Wilt” is featured in the top right or left corner of each stamp, along with the “Forever” denomination and “USA” in the bottom right or left corner of each stamp.

“Wilt Chamberlain (1936–1999)” appears on the left side of the pane. Photographer Ken Regan’s image of a leaping Chamberlain in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform is featured on the right side of the pane. The flip side of the pane features biographical information about Chamberlain.

The Wilt Chamberlain stamps are being issued in panes of 18 self-adhesive Forever® stamps. These Forever stamps® will always be equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate. Art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamps." (


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pomona Hall

Pomona Hall
1900 Park Blvd
Camden, NJ 08103

Pomona Hall is one of the few American Revolution related historic sites located in Camden, NJ. I stumbled across this building last weekend while driving through the city. Later research revealed that the home was built in 1726 by the prominent Cooper family of Camden. The home was used by Hessian troops following their defeat at the Battle of Red Bank (October 22, 1777). Today, Pomona Hall is located on the grounds of the Camden County Historical Society headquarters.

Below are two writes ups on the home from the New Jersey Historic Trust site, and from the Crossroads of the American Revolution site. I also included three photos that I took of the home last weekend:

"Pomona Hall is a notable example of an eighteenth-century Georgian residence. One of the principle historic sites in Camden County, it contains fine interior detailing and architectural elements. Pomona Hall is associated with the Cooper family, who were early Camden settlers. The building has a high degree of architectural integrity. The City of Camden acquired the house in 1915 and in 1924 the Camden County Historical Society began leasing the property from the city.

The 2007 grant helped fund the preparation of an accessibility study that recommended methods to make the house museum, exhibits, and research facility more accessible to visitors with impairments. A previous Trust grant helped fund roof and drainage repairs and repairs to water-damaged brickwork and interior plaster." (


"Following the Battle of Red Bank, defeated Hessian troops used this house as a regrouping point before returning to the safety of Philadelphia. Built in 1726, with a 1788 addition, the Georgian brick building, is operated as a museum by the Camden County Historical Society, and furnished with 18th and 19th century collections. Public tours are offered Thursday and Sunday."


Riddick Bowe, Naseem Hamed & Ray Mancini Elected to International Boxing Hall of Fame

Yoko Gushiken, Rafael Mendoza, Steve Smoger, Nigel Collins and Jim Lampley also enter Hall of Fame.
CANASTOTA, NY - DECEMBER 4, 2014 - The International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum announced today the newest class of inductees to enter the Hall. Living inductees include heavyweight champion Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe, featherweight champion “Prince” Naseem Hamed and lightweight champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini in the Modern category; light flyweight champion Yoko Gushiken in the Old-Timer category; booking agent / manager Rafael Mendoza and referee Steve Smoger in the Non-Participant category; and editor / journalist Nigel Collins and broadcaster Jim Lampley in the Observer category.    
“We’re extremely excited about the Class of 2015 and are very much looking forward to paying tribute to the new inductees in Canastota next June,” said Executive Director Edward Brophy. 
The 2015 Hall of Fame Weekend is scheduled for June 11-14th in Canastota, NY. Over 10 events, including a golf tournament, banquet, parade and autograph card show, are planned. An impressive celebrity lineup of boxing greats of yesterday and today will attend this year’s Induction Weekend. The highlight of the weekend will be the Official Enshrinement Ceremony on the Hall of Fame Museum Grounds in Canastota, New York on Sunday, June 14th to welcome the newest members 
The Hall of Fame also released names of posthumous honorees: Masao Ohba and Ken Overlin in the Old-Timer Category; and publicist John F.X. Condon in the Non Participant Category. Inductees were voted in by members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians. (


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Affair at Cedar Bridge (December 27, 1782)

Affair at Cedar Bridge Marker
Rte. 72 and Old Halfway Rd. South
Barnegat, NJ 08005

One of the most notorious villains in New Jersey Revolutionary War history, and arguably state history, was John Bacon. Bacon was a well-known leader of Loyalists in the state during the war. The first time I saw Bacon's name was as a child on the Long Beach Island Massacre Monument in Long Beach Island, NJ (stay tuned!). Bacon is best known in NJ history as being the leader of a group Tory raiders who massacred Patriot militia Captain Andrew Steelman and his troops while sleeping on the beach on October 25, 1782.

Months later, Bacon attempted another ambush on Patriot militia troops near the Cedar Bridge Tavern. In the shootout that ensued between the Patriots and Loyalist forces, one Patriot was killed, four Patriots were wounded, and four Loyalists were wounded. The wounded Loyalists included Bacon himself.

Below is a write up on the skirmish from the NJ Pine Barrens website, along with some photos that I took back in January 2014:

"In late December, 1782 a party of men under the command of Captain Edward Thomas of the Mansfield Militia and Captain Richard Shreeve of the Burlington County Light Horse were in hot pursuit of Bacon near Cedar Creek. Knowing that they were being pursued, Bacon decided to build a barricade across the south side of Cedar Bridge, opposite the tavern on the stage road to Barnegat. The barrier constructed, all that remained was to wait for the Continentals.

The militia arrived, opened fire, and charged the Refugees. Bacon, knowing he could not expect anything except the executioner should he be captured, urged his men into a stiff resistance that lasted for a considerable time. Finally the militia seemed to be getting the better of Bacon’s men, when suddenly shots rang out from a different direction. Locals, for some reason sympathetic to Bacon’s cause, began firing on the militia. The confusion allowed Bacon and his men to retreat, and the militia could do nothing more than arrest those that had fired upon them and transport them to the Burlington County Gaol. When the smoke cleared, Thomas and Shreeve discovered the militia had suffered two casualties – William Cook, dead, and Robert Reckless, injured. Ichabod Johnson, a refugee who carried a bounty of £25 on his head, was slain. Bacon and three other of his men suffered injury, but escaped." (


Monday, December 1, 2014

Middlebrook Encampment

Middlebrook Encampment Site
Middlebrook Road and Miller Lane
Bound Brook, NJ 08805

I visited the site of the Middlebrook Encampment in Bound Brook, NJ over the weekend. I enjoy visiting historic encampment sites because it provides one with the opportunity to imagine what the site must have been like during the time of the encampment. Today, there are markers telling the story of the encampment, along with a flagpole and lecture area. The site of Middlebrook encampment is now a residential area with a number of homes built over the areas in which thousands of American Soldiers served and lived in both 1777, and again from 1778-1779. Continental Army general officers such as George Washington, Nathanael Green, and William Alexander (Lord Stirling) made use of homes in the area. I will spotlight some of these residences in future blog posts.

Below is a write up on the Middlebrook Encampment from "Things to Do... In Somerset County, New Jersey" website, along with some photos I took of the encampment this past weekend:

"This area was the scene of two encampments of major portions of Washington's Continental Army during the early summer of 1777, and during the winter of 1778-1779. In May of 1777 Washington moved his entire army into Somerset County. The largest portion of his forces (approximately 5,000 troops) was stationed just north of Bound Brook (known as the First Middlebrook Encampment). The presence of the American Army at Middlebrook foiled the British plans for taking Philadelphia by land in the spring of 1777. When the 13-star flag was officially adopted by Congress in 1777, the first place it was flown over Continental troops was at Middlebrook.

In December of 1778 the portion of the American Army under direct command of General Washington returned to Middlebrook. Almost 10,000 soldiers were encamped at Middlebrook and other areas of the county (know as the Middlebrook Cantonment). Unlike the previous year at Valley Forge, the winter was remarkably mild and supplies were for the most part plentiful. The encampment was significant for several reasons, among which were the establishment of the first military training academy for artillery officers (Pluckemin), the first training program for army surgeons and the formation of the Continental Army's first light-infantry corps under General Friedrich von Steuben. The Washington Campground Association and Somerset County own portions of the encampments." (