The Van Veghten House, both a NJ State and National Historic Site, may be one of the best kept secrets in Somerset County. Situated at the back of an industrial park off county road 633, also known as Finderne Avenue, it can't be seen from the road. Now a stately two story brick home, a residence has stood on the north bank of the Raritan River through 300 years, since it's first owner, Michael Van Veghten, bought acreage from the East Jersey Proprietors and built a home from bricks used as ballast on the trading vessels in New Brunswick. One of 5 surviving homes in the county used by Washington and his officers during the Middlebrook Encampment, the house currently serves as the headquarters of the Somerset County Historical Society. The present structure evolved from the first house built by Michael Van Veghten, ca. 1720. The lower section on the left in the accompanying photo is the older portion of his home. It still contains the original open hearth kitchen.
Michael Van Veghten settled in Somerset County in 1685. In 1694, he acquired 836 acres of land on the north side of the river. A prosperous Dutch farmer, he built a Dutch Reformed Church near the bridge over the Raritan that was known as Van Veghten Bridge. Michael's son, Derrick, inherited the property after his father's death and expanded it to meet the needs of his family. The glass in the windows of his addition reflect his prosperity in 12 over 12 panes. The brickwork clearly shows the additions. In the photo you can see the line created when the second story was added.
Derrick "offered" his property for the use of the Continental Army and it served as headquarters for Quartermaster Nathanael Greene during the Middlebrook Encampment in 1778-1779, when 10,000 Continental officers, troops, followers and their animals descended on the county. Because they were late getting to the site, there was no room for them in the Watchung hills with the other units. So portions of the Pennsylvania Continental troops under "Mad" Anthony Wayne encamped on Derrick's fields, which encompassed the present town of Manville, during the winter layover. (There is an historical marker at the Manville library recording this. And the town's current Camplain Street, is a corruption of its original designation as Camp Lane.)
Much socialization occurred among the officers, their wives and their staff during this winter between Valley Forge and Morristown encampments. While in residence here, General Greene wrote a letter to Jeremiah Wadsworth describing "a pretty little frisk" held in the house on March 17, 1779. Throughout the course of the evening, General Washington danced with Mrs. Greene "upwards of three hours without seting [sic] down". When the spring engagements began and the troops moved out, the Greenes presented Mrs. Van Veghten with a mahogany tea table, in appreciation of the Van Veghten hospitality.
But Revolutionary events didn't end at the house. In ensuing years Derrick was arrested by the British and held for several days. Simcoe burned the church during his notorious second raid, and Rochambeau and his troops marched past the back door on his journey to Yorktown, Va.
After Derrick Van Veghten's death in 1781, the house passed through several families. From the 1850's through the early 20th century, the house was renovated several times. Although evidence of alterations can be seen throughout the house, the original wide pine planks still cover the floors of the second story.
In 1897, a German family, the Meyer's, acquired the house and property, which they farmed. During World War I, horses and mules being shipped to the front in Europe, would lay over at the farm before being sent to ports in New York and Philadelphia. The house was purchased from Bernhard Meyer in 1934 by the Singer Company. For a while the property was used as an employee recreation park. Later the property was sold for industrial development. Where once horses and sheep quietly grazed, roaring diesel trailer trucks now deliver to self -storage, manufacturing and county offices.
In 1971, the house, with one acre of land, was deeded to the Somerset County Historical Society by Singer Company and Mr. Stanley Rustic. The house was placed on the National Register in 1979.
Several severe storms with their ensuing flooding engulfed the property, causing serious damage. A marker on a tree near our parking lot shows the water level from Hurricane Floyd. Several grants from the Somerset County Historic Preservation Commission helped with repairs and restoration.
And the story continues. Our latest "change" occurred in 2016 when two museum rooms were opened in the oldest section of the house thanks to an Eagle Scout project.
Come and visit this amazing treasure. Finding it is just the beginning of the adventure!
Funding for the Somerset County Historical Society is provided, in part,
by the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State
through the State/County History Partnership Program Grant and administered
by the Somerset County Cultural and Heritage Commission.
Copyright © 2018 Somerset County Historical Society.
All Rights Reserved.