81 Mystery at the Old Tavern
Pete Lewis, one of our blog subscribers, contacted me recently to report that he lived in the Griggs house, aka, Blawenburg Tavern, for the first four years of his life with his parents, his sister Pat, and his maternal grandmother, Jenny Westervelt, widow of Peter J. Westervelt. He remembers the house and his experiences with remarkable clarity for being so young when he lived there. He wanted to talk with Annie Allen (See Blog 15-Blawenburg Tavern), who also grew up in the Griggs House, and me. We met, talked, and laughed about the differences between the old time Blawenburg and today. Pete also shared some pictures, which are in this blog. Thanks to Pete and Annie for being Tales of Blawenburg blog contributors.
People certainly change over time, and houses do, too. House owners have different interests and needs, so they make renovations, often changing the work done by previous owners. Blawenburg Tavern was the original house in Blawenburg. It was built by William Griggs, Esq., and it is a good example of how a house can undergo changes over the years. Architects have a saying, “Form follows function.” As its function changed, the Griggs house changed in form. Built in 1818, its original purpose was to serve as a residence, tavern, stagecoach stop, and meeting place for local politicians. In the 200+ years since, it has mainly served as a residence, and there have been changes to the structure.
Blawenburg Tavern as it looks today.
The Hartshorne family has lived in the house since 1960.
Many of the early Dutch homes were one-story buildings, so the Griggs house is a departure from the norm with its two-story construction. It was among the early homes to have a two-story, I-form, Federal style, which was becoming popular in Central New Jersey at the time. It is described in the nomination document for the State and Local National Registers as having a stylish door with a fanlight keystone arch transom above it. This style is repeated on interior mantle pieces. The architectural style is believed to be patterned after 18th century Princeton homes.
The Missing Addition Mystery
Not all mysteries involve murders or other criminal acts. When it comes to old villages, the houses hold mysteries that are sometimes hard to solve. Blawenburg is no exception.
The changes in the Griggs house over the years have led its present owners and others to wonder what was attached to the house originally. For many years there has been a story kicking around that the barn at the back of the property was once attached to the house. This would not have been uncommon. In the winter, it would have been convenient to tend to the horses in a building attached to your house, especially when the house was a stagecoach stop. Many farmhouses around the country have small barns attached or in close proximity. In the picture below, the two-story portion of the Hartshorne barn has a two-car open garage to its right. The old barn, not the garage addition, is purported to have been attached to the back of the house.
The old barn with a flat-roof addition to the right.
In this 1907 postcard of the Blawenburg corner, you can see the Griggs house on the left, and there is a one-story addition on the back of the house with a fireplace. (Arrow points to the addition.) If you look carefully, it looks like a white barn door is taking up most of the side of the addition. By the time this picture was taken, the old house was almost 90 years old, and horses and buggies were still in vogue. Note the horse-drawn carriage in the road and the hitching post for horses in front of the general store on the corner.
The back and side of the Westervelt house circa 1920.
It looks like the house is being renovated.
The Westervelts bought the house in 1920, and it was over 100 years old by then. Changes had been made or perhaps were being made by them. The one-story addition was gone, and there was a two-story addition on the back of the house. Sketchings of shutters were placed on the picture suggesting future changes to the old house.
In many old houses, the transition from outhouses to indoor plumbing was cause to put an addition on a house. This was the case in my house, the Cyrenius Voorhees house in the eastern part of the village, where a two-story addition put a bathroom on the second floor near the bedrooms. This may have been the reason for changes at the Westervelt house.
This is the front view of the Westervelt house near the same time as the previous picture. It does not seem to be under renovation as the back of the house appears to be.
You might think that the house was moved back from the road because the front yard is larger than it is today; however, it wasn’t. Georgetown Franklin Turnpike was not as wide as it is today, so the Westervelts had a sidewalk and steps down to the stone and tar paved road. There are shutters on the front and side of the house, unlike the picture showing the back of the house. A porch had been added to the front of the house, probably during the late 1800s when porches were in style. The 1907 postcard above also shows the porch on the house. Many of the porches on old Blawenburg homes have been removed.
The Hartshorne house today.
In this picture you can see the same two-story addition after more than 100 years. A one-story, wrap-around sunporch and kitchen addition were added.
Was there a barn attached?
So, what makes us think there was a barn attached to the house? Well, the easy answer is that it must be true, because so many people have said so over the years. This alone would prove nothing; however, there is evidence in the existing barn of wallpaper like you might have in a house. It isn’t common to wallpaper a barn, and no one is sure why this barn is papered. But we think it is the barn doors on the side of the 1907 picture of the addition that shows that a barn was attached. We wonder if the fireplace and wallpaper were to repurpose the barn while it was still attached to the house. Perhaps it served as a summer kitchen or workspace after it stopped being a stagecoach depot.
We conclude that the original attachment to the Griggs house was indeed a barn. It likely was built on the original house to provide visitors to the tavern a place to keep their horses. It could also provide a place to feed and rest horses that were part of the stagecoach circuit. It was common to change horses along a stagecoach route before they picked up another run to their next destination.
There are other mysteries of Blawenburg to be solved. Another of these also takes place in the tavern. There is story about a dentist having a practice in the Griggs house. We aren’t sure when it was or who the dentist was. We do know that the dental treatment in the 1800s was not something that you would look forward to. There have not been any signs of a dentist chair in the house, and no extracted teeth have been found.
Similarly, there is no evidence, but certainly rumors, of caskets having been stored in the barn behind my house. Since early wakes took place in people’s houses, it is feasible that someone who lived in my house could have had a casket business. One of the residents in my house, J. Van Horne Reid, was a carpenter who installed the tongue and groove ceiling (now replaced) in Blawenburg Church in 1892. There is a side door to the barn that we've been told was .
Stories, especially those involving mysteries, are fun, but proof is often elusive. While we may have solved the barn mystery at the Griggs house, that isn’t always the case with other historical mysteries. But often it’s the quest to solve the mystery that provides the fun.
1. Blawenburg and many other communities were much safer in earlier times. Both Pete and Annie reported that kids, even those as young as Pete, could wander around the community as they wished. Pete recalls that this led to some trouble, such as getting into the tar used to pave the roads. The tar truck was kept at the nearby schoolhouse overnight and was an irresistible attraction for kids. He still remembers the scrub down he got after that adventure.
2. The Westervelt house shown circa 1940.
Pete Lewis is pedaling his tricycle with this sister Pat behind. His mother’s sister, Aunty Berdie, is watching from behind the bushes on the right. Note the fanlight window transom over the door. Also note that there are no shutters.
3. While we don’t know who all the residents of the Griggs house have been, we know many of the families in the 20th century. We’d love to know the others who lived there.
1818 – ?, Griggs
1920 – 1942, Westervelt
1942 – 1959, Verbeyst
1960 – present, Hartshorne
Do you know of a mystery related to Blawenburg? Do you have old pictures of historic buildings in Blawenburg or stories about them? If so, please contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog 15, Blawenburg Tavern
Brecknell, Ursula C., Blawenburg Nomination Form, National and State Register of Historic Places, 1988.
Interview with Pete Lewis and Annie Hartshorne Allen
Blawenburg Corner - postcard
All other pictures in this blog were taken or scanned by Pete Lewis.
Copyright © 2022 by David Cochran. All rights reserved.