I had been sent the notice that the County of Morris, New Jersey was having a two-day Open House of many of their historical sites for touring and for special events for a program entitled “The Pathways of History: Museum and Site Tours of Morris County, NJ”.
The “Pathways to History” event takes place every May
The weekend event spread to small museums, historical homes and cemeteries all over the County with walking tours and lectures at various sites. Having never been or even heard of many of these sites, I was interested in visiting as many as I could for my blog, “VisitingaMuseum.com” which is here on WordPress.com as well.
I plotted my two days of the event and tried to organize the trip so that we could see as many sites as we could. The event asked the sites to open one of the two days as…
On the second day of the Morris County, NJ “Pathways to History’ tour, I was on my way back to Morris County for a second day of adventure. My first stop on the tour was the Ayres/Knuth Farm (The Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation Inc.), a former working farm just off Route 10.
The main farmhouse on the Ayres/Knuth Farm
Not only was the site open for touring but they also had a mini car show with antique cars and fire trucks owned by some of the members. Seeing some of these Model T Ford’s and Steam Engine Fire Trucks in perfect condition shows American quality motorship at its finest.
What I liked about the farm is that it had been a working farm up until the last fifty years and showed the progression that the farm took in its almost 100 years in the county. The farm itself dates back to pre-Revolutionary War days with the farm being purchase in either 1735 or maybe 1759 by Obadiah Lum. The property itself was settled and developed by Daniel Ayres, who was born in New Jersey in 1778 (The Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation).
The Ayres-Knuth Farm and the outer buildings
105 acres of land was given to him by his father-in-law, David Garrigus upon the marriage of his daughter, Hanna in 1803. His son, William took over the farm in 1856 upon the death of his father in 1856, changing the farm to add husbandry and fruit cultivation. When William retired in 1896, none of his children wanted the farm and it was sold. Changing hands many times, it was bought by Martin and Anna Knuth in 1906. The farm was taken over by two of their children and it remained in the family until the 1990’s upon both of their passings. In 1996, the Township of Denville purchased 52 acres of the original farm and it is now managed by the Ayres/Knuth Foundation Inc. (The Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation).
On this clear and sunny Sunday morning, it was fun to walk around the former working farm to see how it developed. Both families learned to modernize and add to the operation. I was able to tour the smaller tenet farmhouse (built in 1895), the barn (built in 1895 (and the various outer buildings like the chicken coops (built in 1895), outhouse (built in 1930) and the Smokehouse (built in 1825). The small well was built in 1797 and was the oldest structure left on the property.
What I found interesting is that there still are tenant farmers on another tract on the property still working the land and the property is protected by grants from Morris County. So, it still is technically a working farm. A lot of care was taken to preserve the farm as is and the volunteers told me that there were plans to fix up the other buildings. The Tenant House needed a lot of work and was run down but the main Farmhouse had been renovated and was closed that day.
Most of the farm has either been sold off or is being utilized but the core of the farm buildings can be toured, and it is interesting to see a working farm in New Jersey that dates back to the 1700’s and was still active until the mid-1990’s. That is longevity. Still is a step back into the past to see how a working farm once thrived along with the changes that came with the development of Morris County in the late 20th century. The area still has the rural feel, and the well-maintained property is a glimpse into our rural past.
The History of the Ayres/Knuth Farm:
(From the Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation Inc. site):
The Ayres/Knuth Farm has a long history not just in the County or State level but in the country. It is believed that the farm was formed around 1759 but could be as early as 1735. It was located in the Franklin section of Denville. Obadiah Lum purchased 180 acres and built the first forge and sawmill on the Den Brook. Lum purchased the property from Thomas and Richard Penn, the sons of proprietor, William Penn with financing from Colonel Jacob Ford, who owned extensive land including mines in Morris County. Franklin developed into one of the primary agricultural hubs of Denville due to the high quality of soil of the area and proximity to numerous towns with markets where the crops could be sold.
The Ayres Farm was first settled by Daniel Ayres who was born in Middlesex County in 1778. His mother was Anna Jackson, who was the daughter of General Joseph Jackson, who was known as the founder of Rockaway. Daniel married Hanna Garrigus, the daughter of David Garrigus, who was a prominent landowner in Franklin and owner of the Franklin iron forge. In 1803, David Garrigus conveyed 105 acres to his son in law.
Daniel died in 1856 and his son, William Ayres took over the farm. In 1860, he expanded the farm to 300 acres and practiced a mixture of husbandry and a cultivation of different grains. They also raised sheep for wool and cows for butter. He built the existing farmhouse in 1855 and in the 1860’s built the Tenant House for hired hands in the expanding farm. Over time the farm grew to 500 acres.
During the economic depression between 1873-1879, William Ayres adopted to the changes in the market and shifted the focus of the farm to dairying, poultry and vegetable farming. He also sold lumber to the railroads and expanded into fruit cultivation particularly apples, peaches and pears.
William Ayres retired from the farm in 1896 and since none of his children wanted to take over the operation, the property changed hands several times until 1906, when Martin and Anna Knuth purchased the farm and moved in with their five children. They kept the tradition of husbandry and fruit cultivation and a mix of vegetables as a truck farming operation.
The farm faced a lot of tragedies in the 20th Century with the death of Martin Knuth in 1935. Between a destructive fire in 1936 and a lapse of insurance, the barn was not rebuilt. With an economic Depression going on in the 1930’s, the farm was largely reduced to a subsistence-level truck farm operation. Anna Knuth died in 1950 and her two children, Frank and Sue took over the operation. Both remained on the farm until their deaths in the 1990’s. They grew a variety of crops and produced eggs that were sold locally.
The farmhouse was not electrified until the 1960’s and indoor plumbing was never installed. In 1996, a few years after the deaths of Frank and Sue Knuth, the Township of Denville purchased the nearly 52 acres of the original Ayres/Knuth Farm and the property is now managed by the non-profit Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation Inc. The site now houses a series of historical buildings that is maintained by the foundation that are part of the original farm.