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The Journals are the premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and advertising in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Feb 24, 2021

Exploring the Historical Haven of the Covenhoven House

By: Lori Draz

Freehold is home to some lovely historic properties and sites. Covenhoven House stands at 150 West Main St. in Freehold. The white and green home, with its unusual fish scale shingled exterior, was built in 1752 by William and Elizabeth Covenhoven, a fifth-generation Dutch family originally from the New Amsterdam area. The couple raised 10 children in a one-room house on the property, but after the children had grown, the couple received a large inheritance. Despite being in their 50s, they used the inheritance to build the large two-and-a-half story home that incorporates a rarely seen combination of Georgian and Dutch designs. That inheritance must have been sizable as the stately home is rich with details and amenities like chimneys built into the side walls, dentil molding, a stoop with an overhang and pilasters flanking the split front door. The interior also had many fine furnishings and art.

The couple lived happily in the home until the Revolutionary War. In May 1778, the troops of the British Army under General Henry Clinton were moving from Philadelphia to New York City. The British Army’s marches were often cruel and destructive, and the soldiers made a habit of pillaging valuables from the homes of the innocent citizens they occupied. Eventually the troops entered Monmouth County and Clinton decided to stop at Monmouth Courthouse (in present day Freehold). While they burned most of the homes along the way, the general decided to stay at the well-appointed Covenhoven House for three days prior to the Battle of Monmouth.

Upon hearing that the British were coming, Mrs. Covenhoven, then 74 years old, buried her china and plates and hid her furniture in the neighboring woods in an attempt to save them from being stolen by the British. Clinton became suspicious when he noticed the lack of furniture in what was obviously a wealthy home, and he forced her to return the items to the house, where they were eventually stolen. The only thing that was given back to her was the family Bible.

Bernadette M. Rogoff, director of Collections of the Monmouth County Historical Association, has done extensive research into the property. She wrote, “I’ve always admired Elizabeth Covenhoven for her tenacity in staying in her home while the British approached. The British army burned many houses along their route to Sandy Hook, including those of Elizabeth’s neighbors in and around Freehold. Elizabeth, however, chose to stay in her house – most likely to try to save it if she could. Her bargaining with General Sir Henry Clinton failed, and she was forced to turn over her possessions, but Clinton did leave the house standing when he and his troops departed on June 28, 1778. The house has a good deal of its original woodwork still intact, and the second floor bedroom has the original blue-and-white painted decoration, a very rare surviving example of this artisanal technique.”

As you tour the home, you will notice the airy design and many architectural details. Be sure to see the rare and beautifully hand-painted Dutch kas, which is a cabinet for storing linens. The kitchen has a large hearth with an iron crane from which pots were hung as well as several windows and a Dutch door.

Another curious feature is the placement of the home. All homes face the roadway, however it’s actually the back of the Covenhoven House that faces the road. The home was originally built to face Burlington Path, which later became Route 537 or Main Street.

Covenhoven House passed through many owners and was saved from demolition more than once. It was acquired by Monmouth County Historical Association in 1966 whose members restored it from 1968 to 1970 to create and refine its present appearance.

While tours of Covenhoven are still prohibited, you are welcome to walk the grounds and, of course, to donate to its preservation by visiting MonmouthHistory.org.