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        E 260 Ward Street Applegate.Gertzel Homestead

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Antony (1739-1806) and Sarah (d. 1829) Applegate built the original section of this home soon after they bought this farmland from John Flight in 1774. Once they cleared trees from the dense woods on the property, the Applegates built a "side-hall" house, in which all four rooms, two upstairs and two downstairs, opened onto a hallway that ran along one side of the house. These original four rooms still form part of the western wing of the house, which appears to the right of the front door in the above photograph.

Like most colonial farms in the township, the Applegates' was nearly self-sufficient. Their cows and chickens provided them with a fresh supply of milk, butter, and eggs. They raised livestock, such as pigs and cows, for meat. They also grew their own fruits and vegetables. Antony took wagon-loads of the wheat and corn they grew to local grist mills to be ground into flour for bread. Sarah made yarns for cloth by spinning wool from their sheep. Their descendants remembered that as the farm prospered, Antony and Sarah filled their home with fine linens, elegant claw-foot furniture, and a Lowestoft china tea set.

During the nineteenth century, the house underwent two significant renovations. Between 1835 and 1850, the Applegates' descendants turned the side-hall house into a center hall colonial by adding four rooms to the eastern side of the hallway (left, above). To blend the addition with the original section of the house, they also added Greek Revival doors and trim to the whole exterior A second renovation at the end of the nineteenth century moved the front door to the northern side of the house where it stands today. The front door bad originally faced Etra Road, the only road leading to the farm in the eighteenth century. Once the township built East Ward Street to lead to the new Ward Street Bridge (1897), the owners moved the front door to face Ward Street.

The farm came into the Gertzel family in 1917 when August W. Gertzel (d. 1933), a German American miner from Alabama, bought it. Gertzel soon became active in local politics and served on the township council. To ensure that the farmland is never developed, August's descendants have entered it into New Jersey's Farmland Preservation Program.

 

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Applegate Children c. 1860. Alessandro F. Mario painted this charming view of E. T. R. and Amanda F. Reed Applegate's children, Lydia R. and Williard, outside their family home in Etra (Monmouth County Historical Association).

 

 

The Village of Etra

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One of the first residents in this area was a local miller named john Cosinari who bought land on the Rocky Brook around today's Milford Road. Between 1770 and 1773, Cosman built a gristmill which could grind grains such as corn and oats into flour. Since the Rocky Brook could not provide a steady supply of water to turn the waterwheel at the gristmill, Cosman dammed the brook to create what we now call Etra Lake.

A village soon sprang up around Cosman's mill. By 1850, the village had houses and stores , as well as a blacksmith shop, a basket factory, a chair factory, and a hotel. In My First Decade (1840-1850), Gertrude Applegate Wyckoff Maxwell (1840-1939) describes a carriage ride in the 1840's to Johnson's Fulling Mill in the village. She explains that after shearing their sheep, farmers brought their sheep's wool to Johnson's mill, where it would be turned into "long fleecy rolls." Women would then spin the rolls into yarn for "long woolen stockings" [and] mittens

Gertrude's favorite spot in the village was Mrs. Lottie Skinner's bonnet  shop full of blocks and band boxes." She remembers that each spring, Mrs. Skinner carefully reshaped women's ''beautiful Leghorn and Dustahle straw bonnets" so  that they could be worn another year.  While the women visited Mrs. Skinner, the men tried on beaver hats at David Chambers' shop.  Beaver hats were useful, for men plucked  the fur from them to staunch the blood whenever they cut themselves shaving. Gertrude recalls that when the men gathered at Etra to discuss serious public issues, they looked rather "funny" standing in their beaver hats with fur on their faces.

Through most of the 1800's, the village was called Scrabbletown or Milford. After 1890, the village took the name "Etra" after its most prominent resident, Edward Taylor' Rosel Applegate (1831 - 1915). Applegate served as a judge in the Mercer County Court of Common Pleas and as a New Jersey Assemblyman.

 

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Etra School, 1911. 'these children pose in the schoolyard of the one-room Etra School. During the nineteenth century, the township built one-room schools at Etra, Cedarville, Hickory Corner, and Locust Corner (see 1875 Map of East Windsor Township) (Hightstown-East Windsor Historical Society).

 

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Mount's General Store and Etra Post Office, c. 1908. R.W. Norton's car stands outside Winfield Scott Thompson's (1850-1931) blacksmith shop on the north side of Etra Road opposite the Cedarville Road intersection. To the left is Charles Mount's general store, where the United States opened the Etra Post Office in 1890. Charles Mount served as postmaster here until 1894. His son, Symmes Mount, then became postmaster until the post office closed in 1933 (Hightstown-East Windsor Historical Society).

 

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1 Hidden Springs Road "Locust Retreat"

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This elegant Federal style home originally stood on Disbrow Hill Road at the eastern end of today's Etra Park. Brothers Richard (1741-1825) and Hezekiah (1750-1807) Mount built the oldest section of this home soon after their father Thomas (d. 1777) bought 308 acres northeast of Cosman's mill (see page 16). The Mount brothers built a one-and-a-half story building that probably contained four rooms.

In 1777, Richard purchased Hezekiah's share of the property and married Lydia Dey (1748-1804). Richard and Lydia's household quickly grew; in 1784 they reported fourteen whites and three black slaves living on the property

In 1800 the house passed to Richard and Lydia's daughter Ann (1770-1838) and her husband Samuel Ely (1771-1840). Ann and Samuel enlarged the home by adding a four room side-hall house along the eastern side of it. Like many homes built during the Federal period (1780-1820), the Elys addition included closets on either side of an internal chimney, as well as delicate moldings and a graceful staircase. Their addition runs from the front door to the left, Above.

After Elijah and Lydia Ann Hancock purchased the house in 1855, they named it "Locust Retreat" for the locust trees on the property. The Hancock's turned the side-hall house into a center hall colonial by replacing the original one-and-a-half story section with four new rooms and a full attic (to the right of the front door, above). Besides matching the Elys' Federal style woodwork and trim in their addition, the Hancock's also carefully reused many of the original floorboards and doors in the new second floor

The township bought "Locust Retreat" for Etra Park in 1981 from the Estenes family , who had bought the property in 1927. Frances and Michael Pane then bought the house and moved it to its current site (see opposite). The Panes have extensively rehabilitated the house to restore its original Federal firebox, hand-milled moldings and wide-board floors. The new terrace on the right of this photograph provides a wonderful view of the formal garden and hidden spring behind the house.

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Moving Day, September 7, 1981 - Having loaded the house from "Locust Retreat onto this truck, these men carefully guide the truck over the bridge that spans the Rocky Brook on Disbrow Hill Road (Pane Family Archives)

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The New Foundation, September 1981 Once the house arrived at its new site on 1 Hidden Springs Road, the builders placed it on blocks and began building a foundation beneath it (Pane Family Archives).

 

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