Historical preservation is nothing new for Kay Reed, former tax collector for West Windsor Township. She grew up in the vintage 1730 John Abbott House at 2200 Kuser Road in Hamilton Township, where New Jersey’s state treasurer during the American Revolution, Samuel Tucker, sheltered funds under his care.
Under the Green Acres program, initiated in 1961, Reed says, “My parents lobbied to restore the house” and “were instrumental in having it saved.”
Following the family interest in historic preservation, Reed, currently treasurer of the West Windsor Historical Society and one of its five founders, has helped preserve the Schenck Farmstead, at 50 Southfield Road, formally called the Historical Museum of West Windsor at Schenck Farm.
Open to the public one Sunday a month, the Farmstead will hold its annual special holiday open house on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 1 and 2, 1 to 4 p.m.
The public is invited to see the decorated farmhouse (which is decorated for the holidays), carriage house, barn and one-room schoolhouse on the property. Docents wearing period clothing will answer questions.
Reed, who worked as the township’s tax collector for 28 years before retiring in 1991, first noticed the Schenck Farmstead when she was involved in a town project to create a historical map showing present developments along with farms that had once occupied the same land.
“There were so many farms that disappeared, and the town was interested in knowing what was here first,” she says.
As she and her husband, Clifford— born in Dutch Neck on a farm that grew potatoes, corn, wheat and barley— watched developers come in, take the land and let the farmhouses and barns go, Reed remembers that she used to say to Max Zaitz, who owned many farms in West Windsor, “We’re going to lose another farm.”
And one of those times Zaitz asked her, “Do you want a farmhouse for the historical society?” She of course said yes, and in early 1991 he and his family gave the house to West Windsor Township. Years later, he also donated the surrounding 117 acres and the barn and the carriage house.
The farmhouse, circa 1730-50, was originally one-and-a-half stories, with only one room and a sleeping loft. An addition was added in the 1830s, and the original wing was raised to two stories in 1905.
Today the main floor includes a kitchen with a reproduction of a cooking fireplace, a dining room and a parlor. Upstairs are two bedrooms set up with furniture from the early 1900s, donated by Amelia Dougherty, who lived in the home that had also belonged to her parents. Hers was one of five houses on the property purchased by American Cyanamid, but she and some other homeowners were allowed to remain in their houses.
“She knew we were working on the house, and we were very fortunate that when she passed she left us the furniture,” Reed says.
West Windsor resident Mary Schenck and her husband shared the farmhouse with her in-laws, each couple living in a separate part of the house, which was common then, Reed says.
The newest addition to the property is a replica of the windmill that used to be on the farm, built over a three-year period by E&R Pumps and Windmills in Bethel, Pennsylvania.
The windmill, used to pump water, Reed says, “ran the farm, and pretty much every farm had one.”
She mentions one windmill in Grover’s Mill that gained nationwide notoriety when, during the broadcast of Orson Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” when someone in the town allegedly misidentified a windmill with a storage tank atop it as a spaceship and caused a panic, with people fearing that Martians had landed.
A reconstructed one-room schoolhouse, located originally near Maurice Hawk School, is also on the Farmstead.
West Windsor’s one-room schoolhouses closed in 1917, when identical grammar schools at Dutch Neck and Penn’s Neck (near where Alexander Road meets Route 1) were built.
Also on the property is a Dutch/English barn, dating to the 1750s, has had several renovations and additions, most notably in the early 19th and mid 20th centuries. The township renovated it again in 2009, and a portion has been fitted out as an artifacts room.
Reed says that the generous donations of family heirlooms is “why the house and barn museum has become a history of West Windsor. We’ve always been known to say to people, ‘If you have something you’d like to save for your family, say you have a chair, school desks, or doll carriages—if I have the room, I’m very glad to save it.’” They are nearly full up on school desks from the 1900s—they already have 20.
Exhibits in the museum are varied: tractors and other farm machinery, marked with their ages and who donated them; the original big, heavy safe from the old town hall; a newly donated dollhouse from 1945 that belonged to Reed ( “I just thought it needed a home,” she says); and a number of quilts, all categorized in a notebook, including one from the now defunct Farm Museum of New Jersey.
The township also constructed restroom facilities on the site, enabling it to rent out the grounds for public and private functions.
Reed says that she would like to interest the West Windsor Board of Education in having schoolchildren come out to the house on field trips to learn the history of their town.
According to Reed, WW-P school children used to make annual trips to the Farmstead, but the district has stopped the tours, citing a lack of funding.
Reed met her husband in the Hamilton Grange, originally a farmers’ association but now focuses more on community service, when she was a high school freshman.
She studied horticulture at Cornell University and said she has always worked part time in flower shops. The Reeds have sons in Birmingham, Alabama, Flemington and a daughter in Hamilton.
The Historical Society of West Windsor, whose main focus is maintaining the farmhouse and its outbuildings, would welcome new members, Reed says.
For more information on programs, special events, and exhibits hosted by the historical society or to volunteer, go to facebook.com/historicalsocietyofww.