The history of Warren County is rich and varied, its river valleys have been marked by human habitation from the earliest Indian settlements, through the days of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, up to the modern age. All across Warren County are visible reminders of those who lived, worked and dreamed here before us; their homes, schools, churches and cemeteries.
Portals to the Past:
County Landmarks Unite the Then and Now
What gives a building or location historical significance? Perhaps it is its relationship to people and events that changed or influenced history or maybe its unique architecture or its enduring effect on present day life. Throughout Warren County there are more than 40 significant destinations that are considered cultural resources worthy of preservation and therefore eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Minding the Manor
Shippen Manor located off of Route 31 in Oxford is a one-of-a-kind landmark with a multitude of stories to tell. Built in 1754 by Joseph and William Shippen to accommodate the iron master for the Oxford Furnace, the manor now houses a museum, overseen by the Warren County Cultural & Heritage Commission (WCCHC), dedicated to preserving and sharing the long and intricate role Shippen Manor has played in the chronicles of Warren County and beyond.
Shippen Manor has a great deal of historical fabric, said Museum Curator Andy Drysdale. It is connected by important personalities throughout history.
The Shippen family hailed from Philadelphia, which was considered the city much as New York is today. They had ties to the Continental Congress and William Shippen II served as the hospital director for the Continental Army. Another Shippen relative, Isaac Roberdeau, was the son of Daniel Roberdeau, a member of the Continental Congress and commander for a militia supplier network set up by George Washington. Isaac is noted for assisting Pierre LEnfant in laying out the plan for Washington DC.
The furnace, which played an integral role in industrial revolution, was built and run by Joseph Shippen and Jonathan Robeson. It was later sold to industrialist William Henry and new techniques were implemented by members of the Scranton family of Pennsylvania who constructed an estate nearby and turned Shippen Manor into a boarding house. Dr. Sterling Valentine bought and refurbished the manor in the early 20th century. It was bought and sold several times and was finally acquired by Warren County in 1984 and restored through the efforts of the WCCHC.
It is one of our little pieces of the war and the industrial revolution, commented Drysdale. It is a wonderful monument to history and to the people who recognized that.
The museum houses furniture and dcor reflecting each period of its history and includes Native American artifacts, copies of ledger pages from a company store that sat on the property, a sword from the 1820s used by a militiaman and an open hearth kitchen where cooking classes are held today.
We want visitors to interact with every historical period, said Drysdale. We want them not only to feel they have stepped into another time, but that it is alive and vital.
One such artifact, acquired through the perseverance of Drysdale and the commission, is the circa 1859 desk of a Warren County teenager, who apparently, while restricted to his room as a punishment, inscribed his name (Robert Kennedy) and date into the wood. The item was bought to the attention of Drysdale who tracked it to its most recent location in San Miguel, Mexico. Because of its obvious historical value to Warren County, the commission was able to acquire the desk for the cost of shipping.
In addition to its tremendous cache of artifacts, the manor also hosts reenactments and offers a variety of art and history programs for schools and other groups. Its popular summer lawn concerts draw crowds from Warren and surrounding counties. In his continuing effort to liven up history, Drysdale said he hopes to expand the school programs with more hands-on activities and, down the road, would like to incorporate blacksmithing as an attraction.
I am looking forward to a great future in the past, he said.
Hope and the Long House
The Village of Hope, which was entered into the State and National Registers of Historic Landmarks in 1973, is unique among the communities of Warren County due to its well-defined origins. Established in 1769 by German Moravians from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Hope was one of the first planned communities in the country.
With the goal of turning the village into an industrial center to supply goods and services to surrounding farms and residents, the Moravians laid out a detailed plan to include a church, school, farms, houses, businesses and a tavern. A gristmill and millrace were built to generate income, followed by the construction of a sawmill, oil mill, pottery, distillery and general store. The main building, the Gemeinhaus, was the site of the governing body of elders and was where Sunday services were held.
When the planned experiment failed to thrive after 40 years, the Moravians sold the entire village and returned to Pennsylvania, but not without leaving their distinct historic imprint, which is piece-by-piece being uncovered.
The Moravians were really industrious people, commented Mio French, treasurer and director of walking tours for H.O.P.E (Help Our Preservation Effort), the group entrusted with overseeing the villages numerous restoration projects. When they left, the area didnt grow.
The area sustained pockets of progress throughout the years, but retained its Moravian influence. In 1982, volunteers from H.O.P.E. identified several buildings that were in danger of being lost and began the effort to raise funds for restoration. In 1986, gristmill was purchased and converted to a bed & breakfast. The original Gemeinhaus, now First Hope Bank, was restored to its original faade and architectural features by bank President, Norman Beatty.
One of the final and most intricate undertakings in Hope is the restoration of the Long House. Located on Walnut Street, the structure evolved from a single building in 1776 that housed the general store to a multi-use elongated structure that now features five connected buildings each from a different time period ending in 1870.
The Long House was purchased by H.O.P.E in 1998 and its history was researched thoroughly. With the help of grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust, Warren County Open Spaces and the New Jersey Cultural Trust as well as individual donations, each part of the building is being restored to its original era. The new building will house retail establishments and the H.O.P.E. office.
This building defines the growth of a rural village, said French. It is a comfort to have a picture of what we have come through and what we can add to it today.
Visitors can get the full picture, history and folklore of Hope by participating in a walking tour offered by H.O.P.E. from June until October.
It is a nice full-day outing, where you can get a little bit of fact and a little bit of gossip, said French.