By Rick Geffken |
LITTLE SILVER – A group that operates Little Silver’s historic Parker House was recently awarded nearly $8,000 through two matching preservation grants, one which will be used to restore a unique garden structure.
In February, the Monmouth County Historic Commission award the nonprofit Parker Homestead-1665, Inc. $4,700 to repair a sweet potato frame directly behind the Parker House. Consulting original building plans and pictures, Keith Wells, president and trustee of the organization, found the frame was in active use until about 20 years ago. He personally cleared brush and pumped ground water from the deteriorated wooden greenhouse constructed on top of a concrete foundation.
“As we researched what we had here, we discovered this sweet potato frame was unique in New Jersey,” said Wells. “Our contractor will soon start to rebuild it, using the original wood components as templates and the salvaged glass windows. We’re considering using it as part of the on-site community garden.”
Weather permitting the rebuild will be completed in time for May’s annual Weekend in Old Monmouth, sponsored by the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the Historical Commission.
Sweet potatoes were not actually grown to harvest in the frame, explained Wells. The Parkers would plant thousands of “slips” or young sweet potato plants in the soil inside the frame during late winter and early spring. An attached heater, improvised from spare farm machinery parts, pumped hot water to keep the plants alive through colder days and nights. “The Parkers never wasted a thing,” Wells said with a smile. “Old equipment was repurposed continually. We have a barnload full of old metal farming equipment.”
Once the young plants were established, the Parkers sold them to other farmers for replanting.
Parker Homestead-1665, Inc. also received a $3,000 General Operating Support or GOS grant from the state which, when matched with foundation funds, will be used to offset ongoing utility and insurance bills, as well as fund programming events like last year’s recreated 1864 baseball game held on the field in front of the house.
Wells expressed delight when he was notified of both awards. “These generous matching grants will help us continue to be a more active, modern organization and a true community resource.”
As the name indicates, the Parker House, located at 235 Rumson Road, was built in 1665, and is one of the earliest permanent farm residences in Monmouth County. Wells believes it may be the oldest homestead continually occupied by one family in the entire United States – 330 years of Parker descendants lived and farmed there. The last was the eighth generation’s Julia Parker who died without heirs in 1995. In her will, she deeded the remaining family 10 acres, home and outbuildings to the Borough of Little Silver.
“Name an event in American history up to 1995. The Parkers were living in this house when it happened, not necessarily directly involved but knowing and talking about it and experiencing the times around these events,” said trustee Liz Hanson. “The Parkers were active drivers in shaping what Little Silver has become. Physically, through their land donations, spiritually with their strong (but evolving) religious beliefs and politically, for their financial support for the institutions they made happen.”
Melissa Ziobro, another trustee who teaches at Monmouth University, is particularly excited about the symbiotic relationship that has developed between the Homestead and the university. “The Homestead has really become a learning laboratory for students interested in history and archaeology as they participate in digs,” she said, like the upcoming one on March 23.
The Parker Homestead -1665, Inc. is run by a volunteer board consisting of four trustees which manages the Parker home, barns and 4.5 acres of land which is leased from the borough. “The Parker Homestead is a beautiful site, sitting on top of that rolling hill,” said Little Silver Mayor Bob Neff Jr. “It doesn’t just benefit the borough, but also the whole state. It has tremendous cultural, historic, academic and aesthetic import.” Neff is happy to point out that, “The Parker Homestead foundation raises funds through grants and events, taking the burden from the Little Silver tax payers.”
An Antique Show & Flea Market April 22 kicks off a full slate of spring and summer 2018 events at the Parker Homestead. Free to the public, nearly 100 vendors will display a wide range of goods from fine antiques to household items, used toys and more.
“We don’t want to be a museum, but rather a community resource with an historical foundation,” emphasized Wells.
This article was first published in the March 22-29, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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