Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A New Museum Forges Ahead: The 1760 Joseph Turner House

A New Museum Forges Ahead: The 1760 Joseph Turner House
Written by NJ Historian

Two years ago this October, the Solitude House Museum in High Bridge, New Jersey closed. Built in 1712 as a Germanic style stone home, Solitude House was part of a 10,849 acre parcel of land that would become the Union Iron Works. The Union Forge Heritage Association (UFHA), the site's caretaker, had worked to meticulously restore the first floor of the home, perform upgrades to its utilities, and make repairs to the exterior. This dedicated group of volunteers worked tirelessly for ten years at the site. In 2012, a dispute over the organization's lease renewal with the Borough of High Bridge ended their relationship and the museum closed. Upset, but not discouraged, the UFHA immediately began searching for a new property to call their own. Fortunately for them, a new opportunity existed only a few miles away in Union Township.

Much like Solitude House, the land that the Joseph Turner House occupies was also part of the 1742 Union Iron Works tract. The Iron Works were owned by William Allen and Joseph Turner, Philadelphia businessmen. The Turner House, constructed about 1760, is believed to be part of the Union Iron Works and was likely later used as a tenant house for the adjacent Union Farm. The original section of the structure was two bays wide (smaller right side of the house) and two stories tall, consisting of four rooms and a large cooking hearth. It was built of stone walls and hand-hewn timbers, covered by a cedar shingle roof.

After the Iron Works ceased operations in 1781, the property was divided and Joseph Turner became the owner of the Union Farm West, which included present-day Jockey Hollow Farm and the 1760 Joseph Turner House. Joseph Turner was born in 1701 in Hampshire, England. He came to America as a young man in 1714 and settled in Philadelphia. Records indicate that he was a sea captain in 1724 and a businessman in 1726. In 1729, he was elected to Philadelphia's City Council and Pennsylvania's Provincial Council in 1747. Turner was in business with Chief Justice William Allen. Through their partnership, Turner entered into trade agreements and iron mining and manufacturing. Allen and Turner purchased a furnace along Anderson's Brook (now Spruce Run). In 1742, they combined multiple land holdings to create the Union Iron Works, which remained in operation until 1781. Joseph Turner died two years later, at the age of 82, in Philadelphia.

Interior of the 1760 portion of the Joseph Turner House.
After Joseph Turner's death. the property was inherited by his nieces, Margaret Oswald and Elizabeth Allen Oswald Chew in 1784. Elizabeth Oswald was the daughter of William Allen and became the second wife of Benjamin Chew. Benjamin Chew, born in 1722, was a prominent Philadelphia lawyer, head of the Pennsylvania Judiciary System, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Chew was a close family friend of Joseph Turner and represented him in land disputes. Chew was held political prisoner at the Union Farm in 1777 until after the British forces left Philadelphia. After the war, he remained influential in government and was close personal friends with George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. After Chew's death in 1810, the property passed to Benjamin Chew Jr. and Samuel Chew.

In the 1830s, Charles Carhart acquired the farm property and constructed an addition in the Greek Revival style. The addition consisted of a two-story, three-bay, side hall addition, which included a grand parlor and foyer on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second floor. The front entrance door with side lites and transom is recessed between pilasters under a broad entablature. Two doorways on the first floor and one on the second floor were cut in between the walls of the old and new sections of the home, unifying it.

From 1830 to present day, the turner House endured changes and alterations, but impressively has survived essentially intact and retains many of its interior features including wide-plank floors, trim work, chair rails, mantels and fireplaces. The house passed onto Daniel Carhart and Charles W. Carhart. After the Carharts, it was owned by William Huddelson, Carl Lester, and Robert Halvorsen. The construction of Spruce Run Reservoir in 1961 ended private ownership of the property. The State of New Jersey acquired the land and the house, using the property as a residence for employees of the State. In 2012, the Union Forge Heritage Association learned of the property, which had vacant for many years. It was in need of repair and facing demolition by the State of New Jersey. The UFHA entered into a twenty-five year agreement with the State of New Jersey to utilize one acre of property and the house, allowing them to restore the property to its former splendor.

Early 19th century barn at the Solitude Heritage Museum property.
Upon having access to the house, the members of the UFHA began the task of cleaning, repairing, and making the interior suitable for visitors. Plaster walls were repaired, the interior painted, and electricity problems corrected. The area around the house was cleaned of brush and debris. The goal of the UFHA is to restore the exterior of the house to its 1830s appearance, around the time of the Greek Revival addition. The vinyl siding will be removed, period-correct trim and shutters will be installed around the windows, and the asphalt shingle roof will be replaced by slate. The modern front porch will be removed and replaced with a replica of the original Greek Revival porch using historical records and photographs. The early nineteenth century barn toward the front of the property is also slated for restoration. Once complete, the barn will become the Solitude Cultural and Environmental Center.

In just two years time, the UFHA has remained true to their mission of preservation, history, and interpretation. Despite their setback in 2012, the organization has proven resilient and remains a vital component of the community. Many special events and programs are planned for the future thanks to dedicated volunteers with a passion for preserving the legacy of Iron Works in Hunterdon County.

Additional photos of my trip to the 1760 Joseph Turner / Solitude Heritage Museum on Pinterest

For More Information
Union Forge Heritage Association Facebook Page

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Well done. For even more history, come visit the museum!

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