Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Day on the Farm in Harmony Township: Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead

A Day on the Farm in Harmony Township: Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead
Written by NJ Historian

Not far from the Delaware River in Warren County is an intact eighteenth century farmstead that almost met its fate with the wrecking ball a number of years ago. Since then, this site's rich genealogical history has been  slowly unraveled and has spurred involvement and visits from distant - and not so distant - relatives. Now called the Hoff-Vannatta farmstead, this property and its structures have been evolving since about 1755. Because of the actions of quick-thinking members of the local historic preservation commission and township historical society in Harmony, New Jersey, this farmstead's buildings have been stabilized and are in the process of being restored and interpreted so that visitors will have a greater understanding of the rich agricultural community that was once a routine way of life for residents in this western New Jersey county.

The early history of the property is somewhat cloudy and more difficult to trace, as not all deeds were recorded or retained. What is today the Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead was once part of a 1,250 acre tract of land owned by Joseph Kirkbride as early as 1714/1716. In 1763, the land was transferred to a John Van Nest, who applied for a tavern license in 1764. The most probable location was the stone house at the Hoff-Vannatta farmstead, as it was one of the only structures suitable for that purpose. The tavern may have continued until May of 1767, when John McMurtrie of Oxford Township applied for one and noted that no other taverns or public houses existed within eight or ten miles of the his proposed location.

In 1772, John Van Nest sold his property to John Hendershott. How long Hendershott owned the property is unclear and title for the property transferred to the Hoff family sometime in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The earliest recorded instance referring to the Hoff's ownership of the property is in 1811 during the sale of an adjacent parcel, bordered by "Hough's line." In 1837, the same line was referred to as being owned by John and Abel Hoff, indicating a joint ownership in the property, which would have numbered about 600 acres. Abel Hoff died in 1848 and the property was passed to his bachelor brother, who may have lived in the house with Abel's family or in the out kitchen on the property.

The Hoff farm was very prosperous. According to the 1850 agricultural census for Harmony Township, the farm of John Hoff is listed as 300 acres of "improved lands." The farm was worth $10,000 and farm equipment $400. The farm produced 350 bushels of wheat, 1,200 bushels of "Indian corn," 50 pounds of wool, 100 bushels of Irish potatoes, 300 bushels of buckwheat, 800 pounds of butter, and 300 tons of hay. Another John Hoff, presumably Abel Hoff's son, is listed as owning a farm of 100 acres, but had almost as much output and value as that of his uncle.

Circa 1820 out kitchen at the Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead.
In 1859, at the age of 85, John Hoff died a bachelor and bequeathed the property through his will to William M. Vannatta, his employee. It is believed that over time, William Vannatta had developed a very close friendship to bachelor John Hoff, and may have been viewed as a son to him. Despite objections from members of the Hoff family, William Vannatta received almost 300 acres of property.

William Vannatta was a prosperous farmer. He was born in 1811 and descended from earlier Dutch settlers to the region. In the 1860 agricultural census the farm is listed as 235 acres of "Improved land" and 95 acres unimproved. It was one of the largest farms in Harmony Township. The 1870 census indicates that at age 59, William Vannatta is retired from farming, owning property worth $40,000 and personal property worth $1,000. The farm was rented to various tenants through the ensuing years. 

William Vannatta died August 5, 1892, survived by his second wife Emily and his daughter Amanda Rosenberry of Pennsylvania. Amanda inherited the property upon his death and upon her death, the property was transferred to Jennie Rosenberry Bossard, her only heir. The Bossard family owned the property and rented it out to various tenants until 1960 when Jennie sold it to to Carl and Stella Hartung, who occupied and farmed the property. In 1967, the property was conveyed to a Roy L. Cameron. Nine years later, in 1976, Cameron conveyed the property with Carl and Stella Harung to Round Valley, Inc. of Clinton, New Jersey. One year later, Round Valley, Inc. conveyed a 122.853 acre portion of the property to William and Phyllis McGlynn of South Plainfield. Finally, the McGlynn's sold the farm property in 2001 to the State of New Jersey as preserved lands and access for the Highlands Trail. As part of the purchase, the State of New Jersey was prepared to tear down all the structures on the property. Upon hearing this, the Harmony Township Historical Society sprang into action to save the farmstead. Eventually an agreement for a long-term lease was reached between the State, Harmony Township, and the Historical Society.

The Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead in 2004. Photo courtesy of Michael Margulies, AIA.
The Historical Society was now the caretaker of a stone home, out kitchen, large bank barn, three wagon houses, a smokehouse and an outhouse. The main block of the Hoff-Vannatta farmhouse is four-bays and, two rooms deep. A second story garret is accessible by a narrow staircase off of what most likely served as the original keeping room of the house. This unfinished attic section would have served as additional sleeping quarters and used as storage space. To the east of the main block is a two bay, two-story addition constructed about 1810, as per the evidence found painted on a beam during an architectural survey of the building. The addition consisted of two rooms on the first floor; one transformed into a kitchen with a large open hearth, and a bedroom. A winder staircase next to the staircase brings the visitor to finished second floor rooms, a contrast to the open garret in the older main block. The home was constructed using Dutch, English, and German building methods. Its stone construction is typical to this region of New Jersey during the period of construction and should be noted for its fine craftsmanship. 

Not far from the home is a two-story out kitchen constructed circa 1820. This is a rare example of a surviving out kitchen in New Jersey. Other surviving out kitchens are located in Morris and Bergen Counties, but are much smaller and do not contain a full second floor. The out kitchen is constructed of the same type of stone. Inside, it retains its original cooking fireplace and bake oven. It is not verified, but possible, that this out kitchen once served as a primary residence for John Hoff when he and his brother Abel (and family) lived at the property. 

Toward the rear of the property is a bank barn, constructed in 1824 by Abel and John Hoff. This barn is one of the largest surviving examples in New Jersey. The lower level features two large root cellars built into the banked side of the barn. Large solid beams measuring forty-feet across hold up the second story of this timber structure covered on the exterior by vertical batten boards and plywood, awaiting further restoration. Lightly etched into a stone along the foundation is the date 1824. Dendrochronology testing confirmed that the wood used throughout the frame of the structure was harvested about that date.

1824 bank barn at the Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead.

In addition to the barn, three separate nineteenth century wagon houses were constructed on the property, demonstrating the prosperity and growing needs of the families living at the farm. The two wagon houses, only inches from the road, have been dismantled and are being moved away from the road so that they can be out of harm's way in case a wayward driver inches too close to the shoulder. As they are dismantled, timber pieces are being examined, repaired, and replaced in-kind, as some suffered significant deterioration and are not structurally sound to be reinstalled. The third wagon house was recently restored and now boasts fresh red paint on its exterior and inside houses farm machinery. Among the numerous outbuildings are a smokehouse and two-seat outhouse, both dating to the early twentieth century. Both are framed structures with cedar shake gable roofs and batten doors placed on the gable end.

In 2005, the Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead was entered into the State and National Registers of Historic Places, protecting it for future generations to experience. The Harmony Township Historical Society, in conjunction with the local historic preservation commission and township officials, have applied for grants from Warren County toward future restoration and preservation. These efforts have not gone unnoticed, as visitors and Vannatta descendants have come from as far as Arizona to visit this historic homestead. Many of these Vannatta descendents, with variations of the name, have helped members of the historical society fill in gaps on a very extensive family tree and discover new family connections. The creation of a historic site in Harmony Township allows the young and old to appreciate the agricultural heritage of Warren County and that of New Jersey, the Garden State. As time progresses, this site will develop a long-range plan for interpretation and visitors, which could include a possible living history farm aspect to it. For now, another historic structure has been saved from demolition and a determined group of descendants and interested citizens continue the long chain of ownership of this property, settled well before the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States.

Additional photos of my trip to the Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead on Pinterest

Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead Podcast (right click and choose "save target/link as" to save to your hard drive)

For More Information:
Hoff-Vannatta Farmstead on Facebook

Special thank you to Michael Margulies, AIA and William Van Natta for their help interpreting the lineage of the property and the architecture of the buildings on the property.


Very interesting!! Thanks for doing all that work! Lavonne Vannatta Franken

A brief Video history of the Vannatta family.

Wow! Wonderful detailed history of this historic site! Thank you for all your due diligence.

Here's a updated version of the Van Etten - Vannatta timeline in America.

A new version video of the early history of the Van Etten - Vannatta..

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