If you’re like me, you occasionally look up the addresses of ancestors to see if their homes are still standing; and if they are and they happen to be for sale or have sold in the not-too-distant past, you can get a glimpse inside, thanks to all those online realtor photos, many of which seem to linger long after the sale has been made.
Last fall I found a listing for the house my second-great-grandfather Francis Woodruff built circa 1845 in Elizabethtown, NJ, on what was then farmland and in what is now the town of Hillside. Frenchman Régis François Gignoux (1816–1882) painted the above scene around that time. As you can see, it must have been a very bucolic setting in the summertime; Francis and his family made a living off the land, something many living in that part of New Jersey today might find hard to imagine.
I contemplated flying up to NJ to take a look inside but scrapped that idea after all of us in the family contracted type A flu, an event we did not rebound from quickly. Of course, now I regret not getting up there—who knows when the house will be for sale again?
In any case, the house was sold, but many photos remain on Realtor dot com. To look inside, visit this link: Conant Street house. I wrote about this house once before in a post about my grandmother’s wedding in which I included this information from the six-page PDF Eight Colonial Homes, an undated publication put out by the staff of the Hillside National Bank:
A third Woodruff house, while appearing to be the same vintage as the others, was erected about 1845. […] …it is frequently the subject of artists’ paint brushes because of its picturesque setting. It was built by Francis Woodruff, a descendant of Enos Woodruff. A letter from Mathias Woodruff in 1843 to his brother, another Enos Woodruff, comments that he is planning to return from Louisiana to help his cousin, Ezra Woodruff, erect a house for Frank. The letter jokingly said in part: “Frank will want him to put up a house next summer. I have advised him to find out from the neighbors what kind of house he wants, sort of architecture, on which side to put the kitchen, dog house, pig pens. If all parties are satisfied, it will save a great deal of talk.” Oddly enough it was constructed sideways to the road, but when the Westminster section was developed by Edward Grassman in the 1930’s, Revere Drive was placed in front of it, so today it faces a street.
Having seen the interior photos, I can try to picture the family members living there and going about their daily lives. This is where Francis and Mary Jane Trowbridge raised their four children: William, Matthias, Emma, and Phebe. This is where William, who took over the farm, raised his six daughters with wife Wealthy Ann Angus. The house remained in the family until 1928, the year William (b. 1848) died. (Wealthy predeceased him.) By then the six daughters were married with children and living elsewhere. Farmland in Elizabethtown was becoming non-existent as the county’s towns expanded. The Woodruff farm was swallowed up and became part of a housing development in Hillside.
I now read some of my old posts in a slightly new light, better able to imagine the happenings inside the home—this is where Mary Jane got her small children up and dressed in the morning; these are the stairs the Woodruff children, grand-children and great-grandchildren ran up and down through the years; this in the fireplace Francis sat down next to to write his grown children letters while they temporarily lived elsewhere or where he retired to to read their letters—letters to and from William when he was out West sheep farming or letters to and from Matthias when he farming wheat in the Dakota Territory; this is the home in which a teen-aged William wrote letters to his uncles Trowbridge while they were serving in the Union Army; this is the parlor in which the family entertained guests and marked my grandmother’s wedding in 1908 and William and Wealthy’s golden anniversary in 1922, etc.
Of course, the house has been altered through the years, there’s no denying that, but original features remain as you can see in the photos—the wood flooring, the beams, the fireplaces, and the windows, including the diamond-shaped window in the attic.
It’s wonderful to see this house still standing after 170+ years. For that I thank all of its past and present occupants and all of those local citizens who through the decades have appreciated its important heritage.