Historical Houses

The Vail Plantation
Samuel Vail (1678-1733) purchased 275 acres between Green Brook and the Blue Hills just before his death in 1733. In his will, he left half of the land to each of his two his sons, Stephen (1710-1777) and John. (1708-1758). The land was divided along a line that roughly follows Warrenville Road - the land to the east belonged to John and the land to the west belonged to Stephen. 

When John died in 1758, his Green Brook land was divided equally among four of his eight sons, John, Jr., Abraham, David, and Joseph. The remaining sons divided his plantation in Basking Ridge.

Two of the existing historic houses along Greenbrook Road can be traced directly to John, Jr., and Abraham.   

Stephen Vail had four sons. Stephen Vail, Jr. (1739-1808 ), built a grist mill and a house on Green Brook Road. While neither exist today, the mill race and and other artifacts still remain at the site. 

About 1794, Stephen Vail, Jr. and a number of his younger siblings decided to pull-up stakes and move further west. They first moved to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and by 1800, they had moved to Ohio.

Stephen Vail, Jr. is credited as being one of the founders of Middletown, Ohio. He built the first dam on the Big Miami River, which runs through the town, as well as a gristmill and a saw mill. Many Vail decedents still live in the Middletown area.
(click on image to enlarge)

Trust House circa 1738
The Vail-Trust House is an historic structure and surviving example of the vernacular building design and construction typical of the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. The east wing, which is comprised of two Dutch-framed, deep East Jersey Cottages, was constructed in the second half of the 18th century. The center segment dates from 1876, which is a gable-fronted, bracketed Italianate, two story addition that was built by local carpenter John Runyon for Herman Trust who acquired the farm in 1864. The west wing was added by Herman Trust's granddaughter's family in the 1940's. In 2008, the Vail-Trust House was listed on both the New Jersey State and National Register of Historic Places.

The Vail-Trust House is located on the eastern edge of an 80 acre tract situated just to the west of Stephen Vail's original farm. Gideon Marlatt of Raritan purchased the property in 1738 from Andrew Johnston, Andrew Hay, and James Alexander, who may have been acting as agents for Donald Cameron, the son of the original owner, Scottish nobleman Sir Even Cameron.

In 1747, Stephen Vail purchased the property from Gideon Mortall's estate. Stephen gave the Mortall property to his eldest son Thomas and a similar size tract from his original holdings, just to the east of the Mortall property, to his second son Stephen Vail, Jr. 

It is believed that Thomas Vail (1736-1792) built the eastern-most segment of the Vail-Trust House about 1760 and that Stephen Vail, Jr. (1739-1808 ), built a similar house just across the road a few years later. Stephen also built a gristmill along the brook on his property which continued in existence until the late ninetieth century. Traces of the mill race and other artifacts still remain at the site.

Stephen apparently wanted Thomas to remain on his farm, because at a monthly meeting of the Friends of Woodbridge, the 19th March, 1756, there was a complaint made that "Stephen Vail had employed a person in the place of his son who was prest to go to ye frontears in order to build block houses."

Thomas Vail married Mary Drake in 1758, who is said to have been a grand daughter of John Vail from North Plainfield, who in turn was his grandfather's brother. Thomas Vail lived and died in Green Brook and had five children. When Thomas Vail died in 1792, he left his property to his son Peter (1763- ). See Trust Farmstead Chronology.

About the same time, Stephen Vail, Jr. moved to Ohio with his family and left his house and mill to his eldest son Samuel. Samuel sold the house and mill to Benjamin Nicols, who in turn sold it to Stelle Fitz Randolph in 1811. About that time, it is believed the house that Stephen Vail, Jr. built was moved across the road and attached to the western end of the Thomas Vail House. 

In a 1940 interview with Miss Josephine and Mr. George Trust, Mr. Trust said that Herman Trust had come from Germany and purchased a home in California before moving to Green Brook. In 1865, Mr. Trust purchased the house from Conrad Egel, a brother-in-law, who lived in Middlesex. At the time, Egel told them that the house was about one hundred years old.

The Raritan Valley Hospital Association purchased the property from the Trust Family in 1962 and used the house as an auxiliary office. The Raritan Valley Hospital was purchased by the State in 1975.

In 2006, the Vail-Trust House, along with 4.73 acres of adjoining land, was purchased by Green Brook Township form the New Jersey State Department of Human Services. The acquisition price was just one dollar, but it came with two conditions: that the property would be maintained as a public park, and that the house would be restored and preserved. The site is bordered to the west by the Raritan Valley Hospital parking lot, to the north by Greenbrook Road, to the east by the Stephen Vail, Jr. gristmill site, and to the south by the Green Brook. The parking spaces abutting the property to the west are to be reserved for Township use as part of the agreement.


Lowande House circa 1800
(click on image to enlarge)
This 1894 image of the Lowande House was taken looking east on Greenbrook road from near the Sebring House. The house and barn at a distance is the Thomas Vail farm.

 
















 

Thomas Vail House circa 1840

The Thomas Vail House was built in the early to mid-nineteenth century just to the east of the Trust House. Parts of the house are believed to be much older. On a 1850 map of Somerset County, the house is identified as belonging to T. Vail. 

The house has sidelights and transom at front entry which is surrounded by later Colonial Revival style porch. The oldest part of house is 1 1/2 story building, 2-rooms deep, with stacked-brick construction.


1890 image












Jonah Vail House circa 1755
The Jonah Vail house was built about 1755 by John Vail, Jr. Jonah Vail was the grandson of John Vail, Jr.  

Since it was built, the house has been modified many times. The house has eleven distinct levels and numerous hallways. Most of the walls are brick-lined and the structural members are solid oak. The heavy oak beams are joined by wooden pegs which make a ridgepole for the roof unnecessary. It still has wide, random-width plank floors in some parts of the house. 

In June 1777, George Washington is said to have stopped at the Jonah Vail farm to inquire about a good place on the mountain to use as a "look-out." (See Green Brook History.)

Amos Vail, Jonah's youngest son, acquired the house in 1885. The 1890 image shows Amos and his wife from the right, and Kate Fitz Randolph and Amos' younger sister Isabella from the left. One of the two elderly women may be Jonah's wife, the former Rachel Pound.


1890 back view










(click on image to enlarge)

 

Shotwell House circa 1841
The Shotwell house was built in 1841 by Sidna and Edward Vail. Sidna Vail, the daughter of Jonah Vail, married Edward Vail, son of Joseph Vail, who lived next door. Sidna had been a student at the Green Brook School at the corner of Greenbrook Road and Warrenville Road in 1831. (See Schools)
 
When the two married, Sidna's father gave them part of his land to build a house. The "honeymoon cottage" was built flanked by the homes of their parents. Sidna and Edward celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary in this same house.
 
Some time in the early 1890's Mr. and Mrs. Walter Shotwell moved into the house. They were relatives of the Vail family.
 
When the Vail Hat Shop, which was located across Greenbrook Road, was torn down, part of the building was moved across the road and incorporated into the back of the house. The addition provided a new kitchen on the first floor and two additional rooms on the second floor.
 
There are two fireplaces in the house. The woodwork, latched doors, pegged construction, and wide floor boards are much in keeping with the houses built in that era.
 
The house has been well kept and nothing has been done to spoil the original design. The house is still a cottage-type home surrounded by lovely trees and beautiful grounds.



Joseph Vail House circa 1740-1973
 
The Joseph Vail house was built about 1740 by John Vail, Sr., and willed to his youngest son Joseph (1752- ). In John's will, his second wife Mary Laing was given five acres of Joseph's land on which to construct a new house. John's first wife, Margaret Laing, who bore seven of his nine children, was the older sister of his second wife.

In 1873, the house and farm was sold to C.&.S. Sandford. After several other owners, it was purchased by the Green Brook Baptist Church in 1951 and used as a church. In 1973, the house was knocked down to make room for the new church which currently occupies the site. (See November, 1973 newspaper article)

The house was constructed of oak timbers and the walls were filled with brick or "nogging" to provide insulation and fire protection. The original house had two rooms downstairs and a sleeping space above.



Ephreim Vail House circa 1755
 The Ephreim Vail house was built about 1755 by Abraham Vail. The house was described for many years as "the only two-story house on Greenbrook Road". This date is etched into the cornerstone of the home and can be clearly seen today.

Abraham, who died in 1824, willed the property to his son Ephraim, who lived in house until his death in 1878 at the age of 94. The last Vail heir to occupy this house was Ephraim's son, Abraham Vail, who died in 1909 and who is buried in the Burying Ground of the Quaker Meeting House in Plainfield. 

The Ephraim Vail house, rests squarely on its original foundations of native stone, supported by its massive, original hand-hewn beams in the cellar. It has lead a charmed life! One fire damaged the west wing of the house and destroyed part of the Colonial kitchen (now the dining room), but it did not affect the rest of the house. Another fire in 1969 gutted the interior of the house, but left unharmed the beautiful pine mantel and the original panes of glass in the living room. Much of the house has been restored to its original beauty and
 authenticity. It has been enlarge by the addition of a modern kitchen and dormers on the third floor to make room for a game room.











Sebring House 1734-1988
The Sebring House was built where King George Road crosses Green Brook. For the early settlers, King George Road (then called Baskingridge Road) was the main link between the Old York Road, which ran between Bound Brook and Quibbletown (New Market), and the settlements on the other side of the Blue Hills. 
The site was also the location of Matape's wigwam, which was a corner point of four of the original Indian purchases in central New Jersey. The Eastern purchase, which included Green Brook Township, was dated October 30, 1684. Its Western boundary was a line from the Sebring site North, following roughly King George Road to the Passaic River, and its Southern boundary followed Bound Brook to the East.

The Sebring site was of great significance for both the Native Americans and early settlers. The confluence of the Bound Brook and Green Brook just East of the site was just two miles upstream from the Raritan River. The road (or trail) to the North and South crossing the stream made it an ideal location for trade and for a mill. While the builder of the original house and first mill at the site is unknown, by 1788 the mill was owned by Samuel Vail, the youngest son of Stephen Vail, Jr. By 1833, the mill and house were owned by William H. Sebring.

The house was a traditional Dutch design. The fireplaces in these houses were usually large and built without jambs in order to accommodate a large family seated around the fire. The Sebring house had an exceptionally large hearth, and just next to it was a large "beehive" oven used for cooking.

The front entrance to the house was a divided Dutch door. The floorboards on the second floor rested on the heavy beams which the ceiling of the first floor. In addition to the main fireplace, there were four other fireplaces in the house. The house had a total of sixteen rooms and was built in three sections at different times. The West (left) section was the oldest and was a fine example of early Dutch architecture.

A very old stencil found in the hallway has been reproduced and used in the Victorian Parlor of the Scotch Plains Historical Society's Cannonball House which is located in Scotch Plains.

Over the years, the area around the house was the site of numerous mills, the most recent of which was owned by the Sebring family. The house was knocked down in 1988 to make room for a mini-mall.



Brokaw House circa 1765

The Brokaw house was purchased by Stelle Fitz Randolph from Asa Fitz Randolph the eldest son of Edward. Mr. and Mrs. John Egel purchased the property in 1855 from Stelle Fitz Randolph. The Egels lived in the house until 1868 when they moved to Iowa. The Egels sold the property to Peter Doyle. 

Mr. Brokaw bought the house and land when the Helen Brown Estate, formerly the "Rice Property", was sold at auction on May 16, 1917. At that time 150 acres called the "Green Brook Farms" were sold. There were thirty-six farms ranging in size from two to sixteen acres each.

Originally the Brokaw house faced Greenbrook Road but was back quite a distance from the road. In 1973, the house was moved from its original site on Greenbrook Road and turned to face Woodlawn Avenue. An addition was added on the left of the house facing Woodlawn Avenue in keeping with the original house. In the moving and remodeling, great care was taken not to make any unnecessary changes.

The interior and exterior walls of the original house are brick-lined. The dining room which probably was the kitchen before the addition was put on has a lovely fireplace. The woodwork, the random-width floors, and the general layout of the house puts it in the class of houses of the time in which it was built.

The property, on which the house sits, was part of Stephen Vail's original farm which was subsequently owned by Edward Fitz-Randolph. 




Burns House circa 1830
Built on property originally owned by the Vail family. A 1872 map shows that it was owned by D. Palmer. The Burns House was occupied by Mr. Fred Bruns when he owned "The Blue Hills Plantation."

This house was built at two different times. The original section on the west was the kitchen and living room with rooms above on the second floor. A large kitchen was added. It has a brick fireplace, cupboards and large ceiling beams in keeping with the original house. The original kitchen is now the dining room and contains a large fireplace and the original corner cupboards.

The large living room has been redecorated and most of the large porch which used to be across the front of the house has been made into a recreation room. The original part of the house has brick-lined walls, brick foundation, and pegged construction.





Blue Hills Plantation circa 1758
More images and information on the Blue Hills Plantation

The Blue Hills Plantation Restaurant was located at the corner of Greenbrook and Warrenville Roads. The original house was built by  Stephen Vail (1710-1777) son of Samuel Vail. The house was located on the Eastern side of Stephen Vail's plantation.






 

Mundy House circa 1770
The Mundy House is one of more interesting houses in Green Brook. A 1823 Mortgage document between John J. Vermeule (the great-grandson of Cornelius Vermeule) and James Vail (the grandson of John Vail of Green Brook), provides insights into its early history. The document states that the property on which the house is located was purchased  by Cornelius Vermeule (1716-1784) from John Laing in 1768. It also indicates that John J. inherited the house from his father, Dr. John Vermeule (1768-1813). 

The house was probably built by Adrian Vermeule (1741-1777) sometime between 1768 and 1770. Adrian was the eldest son of Cornelius Vermeule, and the father of Dr. John Vermeule. He married Elizabeth Field of Bound Brook in 1767. Adrian was an express rider for the Somerset militia who was wounded and captured near Quibbletown. He died in 1777 while being held a prisoner by the British at the notorious "sugar house" in New York. (See C. C. Vermeule, "The Revolutionary Camp Ground at Plainfield, New Jersey." )

The property originally encompassed 116 acres, running from just North of Green Brook to the foot of the mountains, and from Rock Avenue to Jefferson Avenue. In 1832, the property passed from the Vermeule's to James Vail and his wife Maria, and then in 1872, to Theodore F. Hay. This fact is confirmed by a 1872 mortgage document signed by Maria Vail and Theodore F. Hay. A 1850 Somerset County map shows that the house was owned by J. Vail, and a 1872 Warren map shows that it was owned by G. Hay. The relationship between G. Hay and Theodore F. Hay has not been determined.

The house is unique in that neither the interior nor exterior has been modified. The changes that have been made to the original design are a hot water furnace and a bathroom. The slate roof has also been replaced. There are nine rooms in the house along with many storage spaces. The house has both a front and back stairway, and in the attic you can see the hand-hewn oak beams butted together to form the ridge of the roof. There floors are made of wide, random-width planks. 

The house has four fireplaces. The one in the living room is Hessian carved and is exceptionally beautiful. The one above it on the second floor is also carved, but with a different design.

The basement has hand-hewn oak beams which are butted together to form first-floor supports. There basement is partitioned into many small areas perhaps to be used for storage.


Interhaven House circa 1868
The Interhaven House is a rare example of Gothic Revival architecture and it is one of the most unusual houses in the county. It was builder is believed to be Thomas A. Bennett who owned the quarry not far away.  The house was also owned by Clarence Smalley, the first mayor of Green Brook and operator of the quarry.

Little altered, the house features bluestone walls; brownstone sills, lintels, and quoins; a mansard roof with pointed-arch windows, and dormers; battens, brackets, and ornate iron cresting. Its interior retains heavily modeled newels, balusters, surrounds, plaster ornaments, and wainscoting.

The date of construction is said to be scratched into a plaster wall. 






Alexander Vail House circa 1800


 

 







Jacob Smalley House circa 1800


Asa Fitz Randolph House circa 1830