In our imaginary travels around Ewingville, we have quietly paddled the “river of time” upstream to a point roughly one hundred years ago, to peek at what this rather quaint area was like. The township neighboring the state’s capital city was hardly “sleepy,” but it was surprisingly far more rural than it is today.
We find ourselves in the heart of Ewingville, in the first decades of the 20th century, at the crossroads of what is now Pennington and Ewingville roads.
Ewingville is relatively populated and busy, with a tavern/hotel/post office, several homes, the remains of a soon-to be-demolished driving track not too far away, and a trolley track along the Pennington-Trenton Highway (Pennington Road). But a short distance from that crossroads is still very rural farmland.
Wandering east along Ewingville Road from the intersection at Pennington Road, we head downhill towards the Shabakunk Creek.
This road has also historically and fittingly been known as Shabakunk Road. We leave behind the Ewing Hotel, the horse barns for the driving track, and several homes belonging to local residents, including Abner Hunt, Alf Lanning, and William Cadwallader.
At the bottom of the hill we cross the bridge over the Shabakunk Creek. A short distance uphill from the creek is the old red brick Ewingville Schoolhouse, which replaced an earlier wood frame schoolhouse.
It served children from nearby farms, in grades one through seven, up until 1914. In Land Along the Shabakunks, author Robert Reeder Green describes his recollections of his time in grade school there: “The school building was heated by a pipeless coal fired heater in the basement. Some of the older boys’ job was to stoke the fire from the large coal bin. Cold or rainy days the furnace area was a congested place for the older boys at lunch time.
“They would toast their sandwiches on the handle of the long iron poker. Some of the boys trapped muskrats along the creek, and at noon lunch hour they would go in behind the furnace and skin them.”
But the old, 19th-century one-room schoolhouses (and muskrat-skinning stations!) were rapidly becoming outmoded. By 1914, a new, four-room schoolhouse, eventually to be called Lanning School, was being constructed on Pennington Road south of the Ewingville crossroads, and would open in the Fall of 1914.
However, the Ewingville Schoolhouse remained standing, and in fact still stands in 2019—now a residence, significantly updated and changed, but still maintaining some of the original exterior features.
Across the road from the red brick schoolhouse is the Fred Wenzel Farm.
Again, author Reeder Green describes his memories of that farm: “I would see Mrs. Wenzel many times on my way to and from the school… She was always busy as farm women mostly were, not only with inside and kitchen work, but out of doors chores, such as carrying firewood, weeding the garden, and feeding the ducks and chickens, of which they had many.
“I knew Mr. Wenzel much better, because he was out around the building or in the fields working a team of horses or cutting firewood… He was a rather small, plump man, very erect and very active and spry. His fair complexion, with rosy cheeks, made his white hair and short clipped mustache stand out snow white.”
The farm consisted of a one-and-one-half story frame house, a barn, several outbuildings, “a long pig pen and fenced hog lot, as Mr. Wenzel raised many pigs for market,” an apple orchard, a meadow for cows and horses, and “three or four fair-sized fields on which he raised corn, wheat, hay, etc. Of course, he plowed, cultivated and harvested with teams of horses, as there were no tractors in those days.”
Mr. Reeder Green also reminisces about hours spent diving from the Ewingville Road bridge into one of only a few pools in the creek deep enough for diving. A favorite swimming hole, kids would swim and dive there, with an occasional car passing every hour or two.
The next time you’re sitting at the light at the end of Federal City Road, try to imagine the area as it was one hundred years ago!