Recently, Howell Farm director Pete Watson was given an early draft of the letter he had never seen before. The letter was written by Inez Howell to Richard Coffee, who was instrumental in the creation of the Mercer County Park System. Here's an excerpted version of the letter:
February 23, 1974
I am offering the farm as a gift from Charley and me to Mercer County to be used as a Living History Farm, hopefully by 1976, where the way of living in its early days could not only be seen, but actually tried by the public, especially children—gathering eggs in a homemade basket, watching them laid or a hen setting, or hatching; shearing a sheep and carding the wool; spinning and weaving, and washing clothes in the creek (or WATCHING washing.) Building a fire (from logs you chop) and preparing and roasting a hog on the spit. And eating it along with Indian corn grown the way the Indians—Lenni Lenapes—did it. All this and more, under supervision, of course.
Moore’s Creek runs thru the farm, where boys are always getting in some Huck Finn fishing in the spring. A wildlife refuge might be good in the NE corner, where the land is not tillable and has a rather steep rock formation that boys and girls. too, like to climb. It is woodsy, giving some privacy to the Ferb Roeblings whose land adjoins ours. There are deer all over the farm (and the area.) We have been renting hunting privileges for both bow and arrow and gun seasons. The deer, particularly, get out of hand without it. There is much small game, pheasants, some red foxes, ducks—all wonderful to have. So maybe our farm could keep them in the wildlife refuge somehow.
The farmhouse was built in three eras—the oldest with 18” walls of native stone with clay for mortar. (Our Central Jersey clay is extraordinarily fine—Trenton’s world-famous Lenox china, and the Maddock sanitary ware that heralded the end of the outhouse—but the farm should have one.
Each era of the house had its big fireplace; the bases are still there, but smaller fireplaces with nice materials have been built into them. Each era has its own winding stair, with varying degrees of pioneer simplicity, to a more leisurely decorative grace.
There is much history to be researched, seeming to offer an opportunity to students of all ages to earn credits as well as learn firsthand that no man—nothing—is self-sufficient unto itself, but that study of the past not only helps him understand himself, but helps avoid in his lifetime some of the pitfalls of the past and to build toward a better world for those coming after.
The farm is presently rented to a fine young family, Dr. Sancho. If they could be persuaded to stay on as tenants and open it to the public part-time it might add a 5th dimension to the historic value—he is doing experimental research with Santa Gertrudis cattle to adapt them to colder climate than their native tropics—the world could have better beef a whole lot cheaper—it could be a big thing. And it’s a beautiful sight—the cattle grazing in that beautiful valley.
There are still many descendants of families who came to the area several generations ago—the three Hunter brothers, full of fascinating tales of long ago. The Woodens and many others. And I hope some day children will be sleighriding and see animals mate and give birth; swing on a grape, and sow grain and scythe it, wild blackberry picking and black walnut gathering at picnics, and hold hands, and steal a kiss, and help the farmer’s wife with her chores and her vegetable garden and her eggs for sale. And the barn itself—the rugged individualist, with pigeons in its belfry and maybe bats, too (a real belfry, it is, and many a story about it) and barn swallows swooping in and out of the barn—with its animals (and because of the animals)—and what else can YOU add? Have a contest? Old and young could enter in, thinking up the old time things they would like to have on the farm.