May 01, 2017

Historic Walnford

By Lori Draz

One of the most wonderful things about historic places in Monmouth County is how they continue on as living sites. Thanks to countless volunteers, historic societies, and the Monmouth County Park System, there are many preserved and very active sites with exciting programs that give visitors a time-traveling experience.

One such place is Historic Walnford, in the 36-acre historic district at the heart of Crosswick Creek Park in Upper Freehold Township. It’s a little off the beaten path, which adds to the charming experience of visiting this complex of a country estate and former mill village, dating back to the pre-revolutionary war era. It offers a real glimpse into the social, industrial, and technological history of life and agriculture in Western Monmouth County.

At the center of the site is the main farmhouse of Richard Waln, a prosperous Quaker merchant who purchased the property in 1772 and began living there with his wife Elizabeth in 1774. He refused to take sides in the Revolutionary War because, as a Quaker, he was a pacifist. He was classified as a Tory and arrested on July 21, 1777. He returned home in August 1778, and was arrested again. Finally, he was allowed to live in his home after petitioning Governor William Livingston. Reading about Waln’s fascinating personal life is well worth your time, as he went on to become of the nation’s earliest and most passionate abolitionists. For now, however, we will discuss the property.

The earliest features of Walnford were its gristmill and sawmill; necessities to support the farming community it would become. The whole of Walnford included three mills, blacksmith and cooper’s shops, a large two-family brick house, five tenant houses, farm buildings, 100 plowed acres, and two orchards. Walnford’s mill and agricultural fields supplied much of the Philadelphia region and local markets with goods for nearly 200 years. Son Nicholas Waln and his wife Sarah Ridgeway took over Walnford, all while the property, productivity, and prosperity of the complex expanded. At its height, it had nearly1,300 acres and about 50 workers that were housed and fed. There were lovely formal gardens near the Crosswick Creek and an active dairy farm. It also housed a complete array of other farm animals and even a post office. The property stayed in the Waln family for 200 years. Eventually the last members of the family, Richard Waln Meirs and wife Ann Weightman Meirs, sold the property to Edward and Joanne Mullen. The couple restored the home with careful attention to historic detail and generously donated this historic site to the Monmouth County Park System in 1985.

The park system operates the property and offers a string of events throughout the year, so it’s always a fun trip. This May, Walnford has two great reasons to visit:

Saturday, May 6 from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. – A Quilting Bee

This is hands-on history, as novices and experienced sewing participants all sit together to work on a quilt. You can also just watch. As the group works together, tales of the olden days will be shared along needlework tips, allowing the quilting bee to create a sense of community as lovely as the quilt.

Sunday, May 21 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. – Walnford Day

The whole Walnford compound hums with activity as you see firsthand what busy life was like in the original days. Costumed skilled woodworkers and blacksmiths will teach and demonstrate their trades, the gristmill will be grinding flour action, women will explain the housework and roles they played, and you can explore cellar to attic in the main house to appreciate historical innovation through engaging, family-friendly free fun.

Historic Walnford is open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. after the summer season. The mill offers demonstrations on the weekends in the summer. Group tours with a private tour guide can be arranged and there are handicapped ramps for access into the main building. The historic buildings are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

It’s located at 62 Walnford Road in Upper Freehold. Call (609) 259-6275 for the Historic Walnford House and (609) 259-5794 for the Ranger Station. To learn more, visit www.monmouthcountyparks.com.