News from the Somerset County Board of County Commissioners
Shanel Y. Robinson, Commissioner Director Sara Sooy, Commissioner Deputy Director
Melonie Marano, Commissioner Paul Drake, Commissioner Doug Singleterry, Commissioner
March 25, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
History-Making Public/Nonprofit Partnership
Preserve the Historic Past while Looking to the Future
A Partnership for the Restoration and Preservation of Howe Farmstead
FRANKLIN NJ – Somerset County and the Somerset County Historical Society are developing a unique partnership that will enable the Society to lease and restore part of the pre-revolutionary war era Howe Farmstead, located on Colonial Park. On March 9, the Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution authorizing the county and the Historical Society to enter into the lease agreement.
The idea was sparked when David Brook, who works with the Somerset County Historical Society, approached Commissioner Melonie Marano and indicated the nonprofit was very interested in restoring the Howe home and asked if the county would be willing to partner with them.
“We moved on this idea very quickly. The generosity of the Howe family is what gave us a large portion of Colonial Park and Howe Athletic Field. By deeding their property to the county as open space, Dr. and Mrs. Howe saved a major section of Franklin Township from development and gave us a crown jewel for generations and generations to come where people can recreate, dogs run free, and athletes play in the fields,” said Commissioner Melonie Marano, open space liaison. “I can’t even imagine how different Somerset County would be today if we did not have Colonial Park.”
The Howe Farmstead, 70 acres in all, includes a farmhouse, wagon house, large English barn, chicken house and a “hired man’s” house. The Somerset County Historical Society is looking to lease and restore the farmhouse, which has been vacant for a few years, with the help of grant funding.
“We are humbled by this opportunity to put our money where our mouth is and walk the talk. This is a pivotal moment in our history as an historical society to be able to expand our reach in the greater Somerset County area,” said Rikki Lynn Hauss, a trustee of the Somerset County Historical Society. “Not only is this a pre-revolutionary home but it is also the story of how the Howe’s not only made this their home but made it adaptable from the minute they took ownership until we were able to pick up where they left off.”
Dr. Eugene and Lois Howe, who met at age 7 in a one-room schoolhouse in Kansas, moved their family to Somerset County in 1947. Having grown up in a farming community, the Howes looked for a place where they would feel most at home. They found that place in the northern section of Franklin Township. Years later, Eugene and Lois Howe created a living trust in which they deeded their property to Somerset County as open space, now known as Colonial Park.
“I am heartfelt in my gratitude for the generosity of the Howe family on behalf of all our residents and park visitors. Especially this past year, when we were all couped up in our homes and the only place people really could go out was to the parks,” said Commissioner Marano.
Dr. and Mrs. Howe did even more for preservation than deed their land to Somerset County as open space. To some they are considered the father and mother of the historic preservation movement in Franklin Township.
“I knew the Howes personally when I was involved in the Meadows Foundation back in the 70’s. They were the nicest people you would ever have had the privilege to have known,” said David Brook, former member of the Meadows Foundation. “Gene and Lois also were staunch advocates for historic preservation. They helped to found the Meadows Foundation and were responsible for the acquisition of the Van Wickle House, Blackwells Mills Canal House, the Hageman Farm, the Wykoff-Garretson House and the Van Liew-Suydan House.
“I think it’s safe for me to say that none of these well-known historic structures and properties would be standing today if it weren’t for the Howe’s willingness to contribute financially and physically to rally the resources and the community members to stand up for the value of historic preservation,” said Brook. “I think this initiative represents a new beginning with a new model for success by bringing together the County with a respected nonprofit to establish a new partnership for preservation and community development.”
“We want to thank everyone involved for their dedication. This unique partnership is beneficial because restoration initiatives like this cannot be done alone,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Sara Sooy. “It’s such an important part of Somerset County to make sure that we maintain our historic sites and keep reinvesting in that.”
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