Green Brook Historical Society


The Green Brook Historical Society of Green Brook Township seeks to preserve the history, architecture and heritage of the township for future generations. The society gathers historical documents, photographs, and artifacts; preserve, record, and archive historical records; and educate residents about the rich history of the township through publications, displays, and other forms of communication. The society will encourage participation in this effort from educational institutions, community groups, and other interested individuals.

Vail-Trust House Preservation Project

Supported by Somerset County Historic Preservation grants, the GBHS and the township CHHP committee are working to restore the Vail - Trust House on Greenbrook Road. The eastern section of the house, which dates from the mid-1700's, is believed to have been built by one of the township's earliest settlers - Thomas Vail (1733 - ). His younger brother, Stephen Vail, Jr. (1739-1808), built a grist mill and a house on Green Brook Road just east of the Vail-Trust House in the early 1760's.

Their father, Stephen, Sr., and his brother John had each inherited half of their father's 275 acre plantation in 1732. The tract was divided by a lane that is now Warrenville Road. A few decedents of the Vail family still live in the Green Brook area.

The Vail - Trust House is list on the National and State Register of Historic Places. For more information on the Vail-Trust House, see Historic Houses.

Vail Family Relatives include President Obama

The Vail family has a long history in this part of New Jersey and counts among it's notable relatives:

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) statesman and inventor.

Stephen Vail (1780-1864) developer of the Speedwell Iron works in Morristown.

Alfred Lewis Vail (1807-1859) inventor of the Morse code and the first telegraph system.

Theodore Newton Vail (1845-1920) creator of the AT&T monopoly.

Montgomery Ward (1844-1913) developer of Chicago's first mail-order business.

President Obama (1961- ) 44th president of the United States.

Dr. John Vermeule House

Renovations are almost complete on the house built circa 1800 by Dr. John Vermeule. The house displays English, Dutch, Georgian and Federal architectural styles. There are nine rooms in the house. At the rear of the house, original stone steps lead down into the dirt-floor basement, which has wooden cages for supply storage. The large attic covers the entire length of the house and provides usable work space and storage facilities. A servants' staircase winds up to the second floor, separate from the main entrance staircase to the family quarters on the second floor.

John's father was Adrian Vermeule, a Revolutionary War scout and dispatch rider. Dr. Vermeule was one of the first doctors in this rural area. After Vermeule property ownership ended in 1824, there were numerous tenants and owners, including Vail, Voorhies and lastly Mundy. Quakers lived and worked on the property in the mid 19th-early 20th century. The property operated as the Grotto Dairy Farm, through the mid 1960's. The house has had few renovations through the years, preserving a unique glimpse into post-Colonial life.

In 2009, Green Brook Township acquired the property through its Open Space Trust Fund. The Dr. John Vermeule House is listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places. For more information on the house, see Historic Houses.

Green Brook History Trail Project

The purpose of the Green Brook History Trail is provide public access to Green Brooks Township's beautiful Open Space acreage, to offer a recreational facility, and to educate the public about the area's rich history. Because the completion of the Green Brook Township History Trial is expected to take many years, proposed project has been divided into three, distinct phases: western, central, and eastern. Phase I will focus on just the western portion of the trail.

When fully constructed, the Green Brook History Trail will link together four historic sites along the First Watchung Mountain in Green Brook Township: two Revolutionary War beacon sites, Washington Rock State Park, and a Pre-revolutionary War copper mine. The six-and-a-half mile trail will traverse the southern side of the mountain through heavily wooded, mountain preservation-zone land, much of which is owned by Green Brook Township and designated as Open Space.

The History Trail will run between the two beacon sites, Quibbletown Gap to the northeast and Lincoln's Gap to the southwest. The Revolutionary War signal beacons were part of a communication network located in northern and central New Jersey. General Lord Stirling directed the construction of the network in March of 1779, under orders from George Washington. The beacons consisted of a pyramids of logs fourteen feet square at the base and sixteen feet high. The bonfires were used to muster local militia units to confront attacks by British forces.

Just to the west of Quibbletown Gap, the new trail will cross Cardinal Lane, an existing hiking trail providing access to Washington Rock State Park. Washington Rock was used by General Washington in the spring of 1777 as a lookout and defensive position during the first Middlebrook Encampment. After the war, it became a popular spot for celebrations and day trips. Cardinal Lane was constructed in the mid-nineteenth century to accommodate visitors traveling by stage coach to-and-from the Plainfield train station. Today it is a popular hiking tail running up the mountain.

To the southwest of Warrenville Road, the History Trail will run just below the Cox Copper mine that dates from the mid-eighteenth century. The mine entrance is closed, but its location can clearly determined by the large mound of tailings from the mine. There is also a smaller mine just to the east and a long trench to the west (probably for draining the mine), which still has water flowing from it. The site is located on property owned by Green Brook Township.

The southwestern terminus of the trail is the site of the Lincoln Gap beacon. The site was the location of an artillery battery during the 1777 Middlebrook Encampment when General Benjamin Lincoln's troops were located on the mountain ridge. The site is at the intersection of Morning Glory and King George Roads, and overlooks the old King George roadbed.

Hikers seeking to extend their walk can cross Morning Glory Road and continue along the lightly-traveled Hillcrest Avenue (Bridgewater Township) along the top of the ridge. The road passes by the 1779 Middlebrook encampment site (on the State and National Register) to Vossler Avenue and Wayne's Gap Encampment site. The area of the ridge occupied by General Wayne's troops is now part of the Somerset County's Washington Valley Park.

William Marsh Rice

From his humble beginnings as orphaned child, to a Texas tycoon, and then to the victim of a bizarre murder plot, William Rice was certainly one of Green Brook's most interesting residents. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1816, Rice made his way to Houston by 1839, just three years after the city was founded. As an import-export merchant with a shrewd business sense, his fortune grew along with the town as he expanded into banking, real estate, and oil. By the eve of the Civil War, he was one of the richest men in Texas.

Sometime after the Civil War, he provided funds to his sister and brother-in-law, Charles McKee, to purchase property in New Jersey. The 78-acre farm was located in Green Brook, along Greenbrook Road between Cramer Avenue and Mountain Parkway. When Charles died in 1878, Rice received title to the farm and built a large mansion on the property.

By 1885, Rice was involved in a legal dispute over part of his fortune. Before she died, his first wife made up a will disposing of half of Rice's money. Under the community property law in Texas, where the couple had been living, she was entitled to half of his assets. Rice countered that he was actually a resident of New Jersey, although he also spent time in New York City were he owned an apartment on Madison Avenue. Since he only visited Texas for business to oversee his far-flung investments, he claimed that all the money rightfully was his. See Resident Profiles for more.

Lillian (Ford) Feickert - Green Brook’s Iron Lady

When Lillian Feickert and her husband moved to Green Brook in 1908, the area was still part of the Township of North Plainfield. Lillian purchased the historic Ephraim Vail house on Greenbrook Road from Abram Vail, Ephraim Vail’s son. The property included a 64-acre tract that ran from Greenbrook Road to the top of the first Watchung Mountain and a water-powered cider mill with 3 acres on the south side of the road.

Six years earlier, Lillian had married Edward Foster Feickert, a 28-year-old banker from New York. The couple had initially moved to Plainfield, where Edward had joined the newly formed Plainfield Trust Company. During the next several years, the company flourished, along with Edward’s career, and he quickly became vice-president of the bank, which was re-named the State Trust Company.

For the first few years, Feickert spent much of her time tending to her new house and surrounding gardens. Following the tragic death of their infant child several years before, she had occupied herself with volunteer work for her church - the Grace Episcopal Church of Plainfield – and a number of women’s organizations. As the wife of a successful banker, she appeared to be headed for a quite life of obscurity. But just twelve years later, Feickert was to become a major player in New Jersey politics, as well as the first woman from New Jersey to run for the United States Senate. See Resident Profiles for more.

Other Projects

The GBHS and township CHHP committee have a number of other projects underway, including the acquisition of old photographs and artifacts from the Green Brook area and recollections from longtime residents reflecting on an earlier life in the township. The society would greatly appreciate assistance from township residents, or former residents, that have interesting photographs, artifacts, or stories that they would be willing to share with the community.

The society would also appreciate the help of volunteers who would be interested in working on one of the current projects, or have ideas about additional projects. Of particular interest would be individuals with and interest or expertise in history, architecture, construction, advertising, or event planning.