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Courier News, Monday, November 26, 1973

"Piece by piece, house with a history is razed"

By Kenneth Best

GREEN BROOK - All that the people who have lived in the area know for sure is that it was an old house. Very, very old is the way they describe it. 

Now there is little remaining to the house on Greenbrook Road, as it has been razed, almost piece by piece, by its present owner, the Green Brook Baptist Church, to permit future expansion of the church. The Rev. and Mrs. Ralph N. Walter, among with others, have been doing the job themselves during their spare time.

"When we first bought it, I lived in half of it and had the church in the other half," The Rev. Walter said. After the church was built the house was used as a Sunday School until the present Sunday School wing was completed.

However, before the purchase by the church in 1951, information about the house is scarce and must be pieced together from a search of the land title, information by the descendants of the original owners of the property and architectural analysis by Plainfield architect Charles H. Detwiller Jr. 

The land was part of the original Vail family farm, settled by eight brothers who came from England on the Mayflower in 1620, and eventually made their way to Green Brook, the name given to the entire area along the Green Brook.

According to Miss Marjorie Vail, family historian of the Vails, Joseph Vail was born at Green Brook on the farm known afterwards as the Sandford Farm.

A land title search reveals that the land was sold to C.S.S.Sandford in 1873, and that after two or three transactions, was purchased by Charles Topping Inglee, a noted dog breeder.  According to Courier-News clippings of Jean Inglee's marriage to Edwin Megargee, who was a direct descendant of John and Priscilla Alden on her father's side. The Green Brook Baptist Church bought the land from the Inglee trust.

As for pinpointing the time when the house was built, architect Charles H. Detwiller Jr. of Plainfield feels that parts of the structure could go back to 1740-1760. "Part of it probably predates the Revolution," Detwiller said, "but it's hard to say without pretty extensive research both in documentation and in the construction of the house itself."

Examining photographs of the current state of the house and also a picture of the full structure, the history-minded architect said the oldest part of the house "was to the left of the most recent front door, where there are three equally spaced windows in the familiar pattern of Early New Jersey Farm houses."

Detwiller described these homes as containing a simple single center door flanked by a window on each side. The house would be only a single room, possibly divided in two, with a sleeping loft above.

Detwiller feels the curved porch and columns could have replaced the original simple, hooded type door found on another home on Greenbrook Road. "This curved porch was undoubtedly added in the 1920s," he said.

The architect also described the "nogging," or wall fillers, that can be seen and explained the function was for insulation and fire protection.

"I have no knowledge of the usages of the house other than as an old plantation house and subsequent residence," Detwiller said. "It could have easily have housed some of Washington's officers, many of whom were billeted in the area while he had his camp at Middlebrook in the winter of 1777 and 1778."

Although early maps of the area show several homes in the immediate vicinity as owned by J. Vail, it is interesting to note this passage from a 1918 edition of the Somerset County Historical Quarterly: "Mr. Joseph Vail and others of his family say: ... My grand-parents, Mary and Joseph Vail, were sitting in their house entertaining grandmother's brother, Edward Fitz-Randolph. They heard a knock, opened the door, and there stood a gentleman. He asked if there was an elevated spot anywhere around where they could take him to see which way the army was advancing .... He took him and they stood on what is known as Washington Rock."

The house is located on Greenbrook Road, almost midway between Warrenville Road and Washington Avenue, just a short ride on a white horse from Washington Rock.
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