Hopewell Valley Historical Society unveils educational signs

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From the Mount Rose Distillery to the hamlet of Marshall’s Corner and the Hart’s Corner schoolhouse, the Hopewell Valley has a long and colorful history – and the Hopewell Valley Historical Society wants residents and visitors alike to know about it.

That’s why the society has installed educational signs at key historic spots in the Hopewell Valley. The signs include period photographs and an explanation of the site’s historic significance.

Two of the signs, at Woolsey Park and the nearby Hart’s Corner schoolhouse, were unveiled at a special ceremony last week. Woolsey Park is on Washington Crossing-Pennington Road, and the Hart’s Corner schoolhouse is down the road at the intersection of Washington Crossing-Pennington Road and Scotch Road.

Historic signs are also in place at the Mount Rose Distillery on Pennington-Rocky Hill Road, and at Marshall’s Corner on Route 654, near Route 31.

The fifth sign will be in place soon at the site of the former St. Michael’s Orphanage on Princeton Avenue at the edge of Hopewell Borough. The property belongs to the D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Money for the signs came from a bequest from the late Catherine Hoch, who was interested in Hopewell Valley history, and a grant from the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

“This (sign) project has been very much on our minds, to lay out the history of the Hopewell Valley to the citizens and anyone traveling through here,” said Larry Kidder, president of the Hopewell Valley Historical Society.

“It is part of (the society’s) outreach into the community. There is a lot of good history here,” Kidder said, as he unveiled the sign at Woolsey Park.

Kidder acknowledged the contributions of the late David Blackwell, who was active in historical groups in Hopewell Township, including the Hopewell Township Historic Preservation Commission. Blackwell had been appointed to the newly created post of Hopewell Township historian a few weeks before his death earlier this year.

Kidder also mentioned the contributions of Richard Hunter of the Hopewell Township Historic Preservation Commission.

In response, Hunter said the commission was aware of the sign project and was “thrilled” to be able to assist in it.

Maximillian Hayden III, who sits on the Hopewell Township Historic Preservation Commission, also acknowledged Blackwell’s contributions. Blackwell was instrumental in renaming Alliger Park to Woolsey Park.

“I think this is the start of a beautiful thing. We will get more signs. Hopefully, we will do a really good job of telling people about the story of the Hopewell Valley as a region,” Hayden said.

Hopewell Township Deputy Mayor Julie Blake, who was on hand for the sign unveiling, agreed. She said the signs mean “we can validate what we have told people” about the history of the Hopewell Valley.

That history starts with the 167-acre Woolsey Park, which is part of the original 218-acre tract George Woolsey acquired around 1699 from the West Jersey Society. Woolsey came to the Hopewell Valley from Jamaica, Queens, N.Y.

Six generations of Woolsey descendants farmed the land until it left the family’s hands in 1929, making it one of the longest tenures of a single family on land in Hopewell Township. The remaining acreage was purchased by Hopewell Township in 1998.

The one-room Hart’s Corner Schoolhouse was built in 1906 and was the sixth in a series of schoolhouses in that part of the township dating back to 1770. It was used as a school until the mid-1960s and then in later years, it was used as a meeting place, office space and as the office for the township’s superintendent of roads.

The village of Marshall’s Corner developed around the intersection of three early 18th century roads. Originally known as Furman’s Corner, it became Marshall’s Corner after William Marshall opened a general store around 1820.

There was a schoolhouse, the general store and a blacksmith shop in the village’s heyday, but all that remains is the Furman-Larison House, which is an early 18th century house, and six houses from the 19th century and early 20th century.

All that survives of the Mount Rose Distillery is a brick building close to the road, which may have been used for storage and office space. The property belongs to Hopewell Township.

Farmers would bring apples to a distiller, who would convert most of the crop into cider and sometimes into apple whisky or brandy. The Mount Rose Distillery was in operation for about 100 years, until 1920, when Prohibition shut it down.

St. Michael’s Orphanage was opened in 1898 by the Catholic Diocese of Trenton. At its peak in the 1930s, the orphanage housed as many as 450 children. The trend toward foster homes reduced the number of children over the years, to 56 children when the facility closed in 1973. The building was demolished.