80 The Voorhees House
Every building in Blawenburg has stories to tell. The Voorhees House, built in 1870, was the last of the original houses built in the village before all construction took a several-decade pause. As you will see, this house has several stories to tell.
Before 1818, local Dutch farmers unofficially referred to the area that would become a village as Blaw’s Mill or Blawenburg. There were only undeveloped lots and farmland in the so-called village. The old east-west road that bisected the land where the village would be was improved and named Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike. Almost all the land along the turnpike east of the Great Road to Mountain View Road, the main part of the village today, had been owned by the Covenhoven family since 1753.
The turnpike offered an alternate route from Philadelphia to New York with ferry crossings along the Delaware River at Georgetown (Lambertville). The improved road yielded more traffic by horses and stagecoaches, and the time was right to divide the land and make some money from its sale. Covenhoven’s son-in-law, William Griggs, built the first house/business, Blawenburg Tavern, on the John Covenhoven estate, in 1818. It was located close to the intersection where the turnpike and Great Road crossed, a logical spot for a business. He and his wife operated the tavern for several years.
In 1830, Griggs sold land so the Reformed Dutch Church of Harlingen could build a church that local farmers and others had wanted for many years. The church was built and operated as the Second Reformed Dutch Church of Harlingen for two years. In 1832, it separated from Harlingen and became the Reformed Dutch Church at Blawenburg.
This wasn’t the only land sale opportunity that Griggs saw in the village. In 1832, he divided the land into building lots in the main part of the village from the crossroads of Great Road and Blawenburg-Belle Mead Road east to the property where the old parsonage was built across from the new church. In addition to the church and residences, these lots provided land for a school, a store, and a blacksmith shop.
Most of the original village lots were sold to members of the Voorhees, Nevius, and Whitenack families. By 1870, there weren’t many lots to choose from when widow Mary (Martha) Stryker Voorhees, age 51, needed a new home for herself and her family. They had previously lived in Blawenburg where her husband, Abraham Voorhees was believed to be a farmer and carpenter. He passed away in March 1870, leaving Mary and four children. Ellen (24) and John (16) had left home by 1870, and Sarah (21) and William (11) remained with Mary. It isn’t clear what happened, but Mary likely sold the farm. This would give her sufficient means to build a new house. There were many Strykers and Voorhees family members living in or near Blawenburg at the time, so it seemed like a logical move for Mary to build a small house in the village.
She approached Martin Nevius, who held two of the remaining lots in the center of the village, and they were able to buy one of them to build their house. Nevius had acquired the land from the estate of the Griggs family in 1867 and turned over his investment in just three years. Nevius was a member of the family that settled one of the three core farms in Blawenburg in the mid-1700s. The Nevius farm transferred through inheritance to the Van Zandt family in 1811.
When the house was built, Mary had enough money to buy two more lots behind their house. Today, this deep back yard adjoins Hobler Park.
The Voorhees house, 1988
Ursula Brecknell described the Voorhees house in the 1988 village application for the State and National Registers of Historic Places as, “a diminutive two-story framed structure, three bays wide, with entry to right, offering a room and hall plan. The foundation is of rubble stone, roof of slate. Walls are clapboarded, with cornerboards. A narrower 2-story wing of two rooms to floor, single file, extends as west ell (an addition behind the main front room), with flatroofed-open porch along one side.”
Like many structures of its time, there are building elements such as windows and beams that appear to have been used from older buildings. It was common to use these elements to save money in construction.
Today, the houses in the village represent a potpourri of architectural styles, but the style of many of the original houses seems more like those you would see along a town street rather than a rural road. The fashionable Voorhees house, like many in the village, is close to the road, and it was the last house built in Blawenburg for several decades. It was also the youngest house among the original dwellings to be included in the Blawenburg Historic District. It wasn’t until the 1920-40 period that new housing was built to keep up with the growing population.
The Voorhees house sold and resold several times over the years, but one special resident stands out for his call to duty. Larry Cohen was an English professor at Middlesex Community College in the 1980s, and he was a man of diverse interests. His belief in law and order led him to voluntary service in the Auxiliary Police Department of the City of New York. When he had time available, he would travel to New York City and help the NYPD with traffic and event control.
According to Wikipedia, “The New York City Police Department Auxiliary Police is a volunteer reserve police force which is a subdivision of the Patrol Services Bureau of the New York City Police Department. Auxiliary Police Officers assist the NYPD with uniformed patrols, providing traffic control, crowd control, and other services during major events. Over 4,500 Auxiliary Police officers contribute over one million hours of service each year. The NYPD Auxiliary Police program is the largest Auxiliary Police program in the United States.”
On January 29, 1989, Auxiliary Sergeant Cohen and his partner, Auxiliary Sergeant Noel Faide, were investigating an abandoned vehicle on the side of the New England Thruway in the Bronx when they were struck by a drunk driver and killed. This was a very sad and atypical event for the Auxiliary Police Department. Larry and his partner are two of nine auxiliary volunteers who have died in the line of duty in the NYPD.
This was a very sad time for his friends in Blawenburg, especially his wife, Georgia Cohen and his dear friends, Nat and Valerie Hartshorne. Hundreds of police officers reportedly attended his funeral service.
Georgia kept the house for many years after his death, but finally sold it about six years ago to local contractor Frank Drift. His son, Jim Drift, completely remodeled the house while retaining its historic look and feel.
As you can see, the Voorhees’ house has quite a history, not just in the era when it was built, but also in more modern times.
The Voorhees house today.
1. The Voorhees house has been sold twice since it was remodeled. The current residents love both the house and the property.
2. There were many Voorhees living in and around Blawenburg, including in this blog author’s house, which was built and owned by Cyrenius Voorhees. There are over 70 people with the Voorhees surname buried in the Blawenburg Church Cemetery.
3. Abraham Voorhees was the son of John Voorhees and Elenor Thompson. Mary (Martha) Stryker was the daughter of Abraham Stryker and Martha Polhemus. They married in October, 1842.
4. In 1860, the Voorhees family had a black man living with them. Thomas Martenns is described as an apprentice in the census.
5. You can see information about Larry Cohen on the NYPD Officer Down Memorial Page. It’s nice to see that people still remember him many years after his death.
Learn more by reading related blogs.
Blog 13–The Covenhoven/Stout Plantation
Blog 15–Blawenburg Tavern
Blog 23–A Church Comes to Blawenburg
Blog 27–Annie’s House (Cyrenius Voorhees house)
Blog 69–Blaw’s Mill
Brecknell, Ursula C., Blawenburg Nomination Form, National and State Register of Historic Places, 1988.
Interview – Ann Hartshorne Allen
U.S. Census, 1860 and 1870. http://www.ancestry.com
Voorhees house 1988 - Clem Fiori
Auxiliary officer patch - https://www.wikiwand.com/en/New_York_City_Police_Department_Auxiliary_Police
Voorhees house today–Andy Garcia
Copyright © 2022 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.