In 1738, the Staats family of New York purchased land here, a large triangular plot of 305 acres, terminating at the Raritan River. Two years later, Macheltie or Maghtel and Hendrick Staats built a two-room house on the property, and began the family farming enterprise. The farm passed through family hands to John Staats, who provided the property to his son, Abraham Staats and his wife Margaret when they married in 1770. Soon, the American Revolution would unfold around Abraham and Margaret as they expanded their family and the original home.
During this colonial era, farming was an important occupation: In 1790, farmers in America comprised 90 percent of the population of nearly 4 million people. Farming was a necessary and difficult enterprise, requiring the clearing of land and the nurturing of plants and livestock in challenging and unfamiliar conditions. The labor for this grueling work was divided between free settlers, indentured servants and farmhands, and slaves who were brought to the American colonies.
Here In New Jersey, Bergen and Somerset Counties had the highest number of settled Dutch. Settlers brought seeds from Europe, and introduced such crops as clover, alfalfa, timothy and European fruits and vegetables. They also became familiar with Native American foods such as maize, sweet potatoes, squashes, pecans, maple sugar, tobacco and cotton. Africans introduced sweet sorghum, melons, okra, peanuts and more. Farmers relied on oxen and horses for heavy work with wooden plows, and farmed with handheld tools like the hoe, sickle and flail. The robust agriculture of family farms in New Jersey eventually led the state to become known as The Garden State!
Farming required specialized buildings and operations to store and process food for family use as well as for sale at market. By 1890, with increased mechanization, farming had become more efficient. Farmers now accounted for less than half of the American labor force, at 43 percent, with an average farm size of about 136 acres.
Here at the Staats,’ farmstead, family history reflects that national trend. Remnants of their farm life can be found in old foundations and family records, and help tell the story of their enterprise – as well as the evolution of agriculture from colonial to modern times. Staats’ inventories, wills and other documents show a variety of produce and livestock, including wheat, flax, onions, cider, potatoes, corn, rye, hay, oats, turnips, hogs, turkeys, horses, bulls, calves, cows, and more.
Some of the early buildings on the property included the large barn, which was located behind the Staats Farmstead sign. Today, only the preserved stone foundation of the barn remains. The two-story barn likely dates to the late 19th century and was the largest of the farm outbuildings. At the rear was a one-story stable with rubble walls, which featured three stalls and wooden feeding troughs. A large room to the north may have served as a tack room, where saddles and harnesses were kept. A photo from the 1890s shows one of the last members of the family to live here, Cornelius LaTourette, feeding turkeys at another barn and feeding shed. Those structures no longer exist.
To the left, beyond the driveway, are the few remaining stones left from the foundation of a smaller barn, thought to have been used as a wagon or carriage house. The building was of Dutch construction.
Behind that is the 19th century Corn Crib, a roofed building, with slatted wooden sides, and a base that was raised off the ground. Corn cribs were designed to store corn and protect it from intruders and rodents after harvest. Adopted from the native Americans by the European settlers, a typical early design featured slanted walls, like the Staats corn crib.
Another important outbuilding was the Smokehouse. The Staats’ smokehouse, located across the parking lot from the large barn, is a small, houselike structure, sided in clapboard, with a gable roof, one door and a dirt floor. It shows charring inside. Smoke houses served as both preservation and storage. After cold weather set in, hogs would be slaughtered and the hams and other cuts salted for up to six weeks, to draw out moisture. Then, the pieces would be placed in the smokehouse, where a fire would slowly smolder, smoking the meats for two weeks or more. This process produced dried, preserved cuts of meat that could age for up to two years before use. The smokehouse was secured to prevent thieves or animals from accessing the food – and sometimes the meats were also peppered to discourage pests. The Staats’ smokehouse, constructed with nails, suggests a late 19th or early 20th century date.
The large barn foundation, corn crib and smokehouse have all been preserved through Somerset County grants.
The largest building on the property today is the Abraham Staats’ home, named after a member of the Staats’ family who lived in the home during the American Revolution. Abraham and Margaret raised five daughters and a son on the farmstead. Following the deaths of their father in 1821, mother in 1822 and sister Margaret in 1821, the children, and their descendants, continued to work the farm and expand the family homestead until 1935, when the home was sold out of the family.
As the farm was divided among family members, parcels were sold off for a variety of reasons and the original 300 acres decreased over time. One of those parcel sales helped establish the area in which the borough of South Bound Brook was created. Today, the home sits on six-acres, including borough “greenway” space along the D&R Canal, which was built in the early 1830s.
While the property is no longer used for farming, the story of this Dutch family’s arrival in the New World, assimilation into the colony of New Jersey, and role in the birth of a new nation and growth of their local community is a familiar and fascinating one, played out in villages and towns across the United States.
Thank you for coming to learn about their story, and please enjoy the rest of your visit!