John Henry Built a House to Last


Found in the State Historical Commission’s library, the following oral-history interview about the former homestead of the Flock and Dey families, from the “Princeton Recollector” dated September 1978. Though originally illustrated, only the text follows:


There is nothing fonder to recollection than the home and haunts of childhood, and the sadness is profound when such familiar spots are destroyed through willful neglect or vandalism. One such sorry tale belongs to the ancient Henry House near Allentown, here recalled by Addie Flock Roszel and Wilson Dey, who grew up there, and Dey’s daughter, Mary D. Hayes.


AR “The house where I was born and raised was on what they call the Old York Road, near Allentown, between New Sharon and Canton. We called it Cabbagetown. I don’t know why; somebody grew cabbage there, I guess. Kids in the little country school used to say, ‘you come from Cabbagetown. Cabbagehead!’”


WD “New Canton was called Cabbagetown when I grew up. And this town they call New Sharon nowadays, that was Cattail. They didn’t know nothin’ else, when we moved here. Cabbagetown was never any more than a settlement of houses, but Cattail had a general store and church.”


AR “We had a very large brick house; there were enough bricks in that house to build three or four houses. The bricks were laid in patters – one brick would be plain, then the next would be a half-brick, glazed.”


WD “It was built with salt-glazed brick for decorations. Flemish bond. They tell me those bricks was brought back from England on sailboats.”


AR “According to history, the bricks the house was built with were made right on the farm. And my father said he believed that was true, because in one field he used to plow up bricks. Of course, they’ll work up to the surface with the frost.”


MH “When my father took over farming it about 1947, he started using a much heavier kind of disk for plowing, which went deeper into the ground than when they used horses. And he would forever be pulling brick out. That would be on the right-hand side of the main driveway in the little slough. Just to the right of the front door was John Henry’s name chipped in the bricks. And John Henry was the man who built the house originally. And I have the John Henry brick.”


WD “John Henry had a brickyard; I do know that. He was the man to run the brickyard. And that John Henry made brick for the Princeton Library [Bainbridge House], the Allentown Presbyterian church, several places around here. And he took the clay off of that farm. That’s what makes the holes in the farm; there’s two big holes in the farm. And where he had his kiln was right in the lane over home. You can plow down there and still go down to the foundations of it. Brick’s still there.”


MH “There was a tradition about the bricks from both that house and the Eglinton estate across the street coming from the same place. There were three houses near Allentown under construction at exactly the same time according to history. That’s been sent down generation after generation.”


WD “I know that three houses were under construction at the same time. The third house is still standing. As you come out of Allentown on the road to Robbinsville across the lake, it’s the first old place on the right. Similar brick. Similar construction. Everything is similar. We called it the Hamill place, because Mrs. Hamill’s the one who lived there. She told us that her grandmother told her that the three places were under construction at the same time. You see, in that time they didn’t put up a house in two days, like they do now.”


AR “That house stood during the Revolution and the British camped on the grounds before the Battle of Monmouth.”


WD “The British camped on the Monmouth County side of the road at Eglinton on the East side of the lane. That was on the way to the Battle of Monmouth. It was Clinton’s army that was up there. There used to be a sign at one time that said that Clinton’s army camped there overnight. You see that house was shelled during the Revolutionary War; that was hit by cannonballs, two of them.”


AR “The British shot a cannon in the attic. And they had the cannon-ball mounted and it hung on the outside of the door. That house in gone now, but I hear that the cannonball went to the Monmouth Museum in Freehold. That house was in Monmouth and ours was in Mercer, because the road divided it. Now in the brick part of our house you went in the front door and there was a big wide-open hall. And you could go out the back, see, under the stairs. And then to the left there was double parlors, as we called them. There wasn’t an archway between the rooms, as they used to make just living rooms with separate entrances. There were fireplaces both upstairs and down. That’s the only heat that they had. The fireplace was in the corner of each room. Well, now, the brick part of the house stood during the Revolution, but later there was evidently a big family of children, and they built a wooden part on. The wooden section was lower. You went down two or three steps from the brick part. And my mother used to say, ‘they didn’t think much about a woman, when they built that many steps.’ But I think she said the wooden part was 1858. As far as I know there was no date on the brick section.”


Found in the State Historical Commission’s library, the following oral-history interview about the former homestead of the Flock and Dey families, from the “Princeton Recollector” dated September 1978.


There is nothing fonder to recollection than the home and haunts of childhood, and the sadness is profound when such familiar spots are destroyed through willful neglect or vandalism. One such sorry tale belongs to the ancient Henry House near Allentown, here recalled by Addie Flock Roszel and Wilson Dey, who grew up there, and Dey’s daughter, Mary D. Hayes.


WD “It was built in three sections. There was a brick part. Then there was the wooden part alongside of it, and that was twos stories high. Then there was a kitchen, one story and a shed in the back that went all the way around the two-story frame section. And that was on the lower level. Every one of the rooms from the inside out kept going down. I think there was three steps going from the brick part to the two-story wooden part, and one step between that and the kitchen.”


AR “And that house was in my father’s family for five generations. The name was Flock. And I was born there, but I wasn’t married from there, because my father sold it a couple of years before. My grandfather was the oldest of twelve children; in those days they had large families. Of course, I don’t remember him, because he was the oldest one and he passed away the year I was born. But he had one younger sister, who lived to be quite elderly. She used to come and visit with us. She had been born and raised there. Aunt Jane Marion lived to be pretty long in years and she used to tell me of different things about the house – some very interesting.


“Now from Revolutionary days, I guess, my people were Baptists. There was no Baptist church in Allentown, but there was one in Hamilton Square. And being there was twelve children, her mother and father would drive there on Sunday, and leave the children at home. They didn’t go by way of Allentown; they took a back road. Well in those days the stairway was so gentle that there was a landing halfway to the second floor, where you could look out. And they used to station somebody there to see if father and mother was coming, and only then would they begin to clean up. Well, one time, Aunt Jane said, they thought they could make molasses candy, but they didn’t make it right. And then they saw the team of horses coming with mother and father. Well, the candy was so sticky that they gave it to the dog. He tried to chew it, but he couldn’t get it out of his mouth, and they got in a lot of trouble.


“That was a very lovely old home. My mother and father lived there and it was kept up. The when they became elderly and couldn’t carry on, they sold it. And Mr. Dey, the man that bought it, and his family lived there a long, long time.”


MH “After the Flock family lived in the house for approximately one hundred years, my grandparents bought it in ‘17, and it has been in our family for sixty years. My father was raised there.”

WD “I would have been seven that year we came up from Perrineville. Pop had a dairy farm down there. And he sold that and we moved here in the early spring. It was about the first of April 1917. I was born in 1910, when this area was really rural. You traveled by horse and buggy. You would see but one and two cars go up or down the road all afternoon. Now they go by in a steady stream. The York Road out here was just a two-rut road at that time. You couldn’t drive a car up and down here in springtime – it was all sand, mud. On the day we moved up here, from the road up to the house, the horses got mud on their bellies, and you know how high they are. That was what king of weather we had. Even on the York Road, there was two bad places where the horses went in to their knees.


“The whole place was remodeled when I was there; completely remodeled. Half of it was torn down, built onto, all covered with stucco; new roof, new hardwood floors all through, new plaster all through. It was all modernized in ’27. It took Pop a year, with three carpenters, a mason, electrician and plumber. That’s when the hot water heat was put in. I’m not sure if that’s when the power line went in, or not. We had a Delco 32-volt home system before that. The brick part was left intact, but it was covered with stucco. The stucco was tan, with various colored stones in it. After it was stuccoed, it looked like a brand-new house.


“There was a barn on the West side of the house, toward the woods. It was a big barn – a hundred and ten, a hundred and twenty feet long, and about thirty feet high. My father remodeled that barn around ’18, ’19, ’20. That barn went down in a tornado around 1942. It was the first part of September, maybe a little later than that. I stood out in the yard at my place across the road and watched it. It was evening. And when it touched down it cut a strip not a hundred yards wide. Came from the West. The field back of the barn was planted with wheat; it was fall and the wheat was up tall. And that tornado just cut a path through the wheat like a steamroller. And it left the wheat standing on both sides of it and didn’t bother it. It half the yard – the other side it never touched. It was that close.


“It hit the barn and wiped it out. Oh, hell, you’d see stuff flying up there for miles. Broke it all up. Disappeared. A lot of it stayed there, of course, but a lot went up in the air and went on. There was three places hit with that same tornado. It went through Eglinton across the road, and there it went right between the house and barn. Around our house it didn’t bother them. It really didn’t take too much out of the trees. Mother and father were there. And my brother and sister-in-law were visiting them at the time it happened. If I’m not mistaken it was on a Sunday afternoon. I believe it was, because we had no potato-pickers. If they had been in the fields, they would have gone to the barn for safety.


“My mother live there up until the early ‘fifties. That was the last time somebody lived there. It was left completely furnished, and no body even went into it for a number of years. Ten, fifteen years anyway. Because even if a car went in there and somebody saw it, they always went over or came and told us. And it was pretty well protected. But then somebody broke into it and started stealing things out of it. It was destroyed by fire about ’67, if I remember correctly.”


AR “For many years every Sunday afternoon my sister and I would take a drive. I would go and get her and we would go and see a cousin or go down some roads we wanted to ride over, where we had gone as kids. And one day we went by the old place and as we passed I said to my sister, ‘I can’t believe it!’ All that you could see standing were chimneys and part of the brick structure. And I asked someone what had happened, and they said, “vandals got in there and set the whole place afire.’ So now all we have are the memories.”