Around the 1860’s, in the limited vicinity of Ewingville, Ewing [Presbyterian] Church and Shabbakonk Road, which he considers his ‘neighborhood,’ John Hendrickson recalls that there were from 20 to 30 houses. There were two blacksmiths (one next to the hotel), two wheelwrights, and a cobbler named Nathaniel Coleman. That cobbler was my great- great-grandfather, and he was also a horse dealer.
Thus Patricia Whitehead Stoner sets the general vicinity described in her reminiscence of Ewing, “Ewing in the Early Days,” written in 1940 as a project for her class at Trenton State College.
Coming from a family with deep roots in Ewing, she was able to interview family members as to their memories of Ewing well before 1940. Her cousin, John Hendrickson (probably in fact a cousin of her mother’s, as his descriptions are well in the past), provides many of the remembrances, as does her grandmother Jane Lanning Cadwallader (b. 1860), of life in and around Ewingville, or “Cross Keys.” Ms. Whitehead continues:
Mr. Hendrickson said that his ancestors had come from Holland and settled in New York. Thence they had come to Ewing, where the first Hendrickson had cleared the forest and built his house on the Shabbakonk Road [now known as Ewingville Road]. “The Cobbler of Cross Keys” (Nathaniel Coleman) built his house in 1835. [Other Coleman-Lanning-Hendrickson family homes were also built in the area, and some remain standing.]
All the children of grandma’s day went to the old brick school at the junction of the Federal City and Shabbakonk roads. Originally this was a frame building, but seventy years ago, it was rebuilt. What a time they had getting the money to build it! Jacob Hendrickson wanted brick, and the rest of the school board wanted a frame building. But Jacob won.
[The school/structure still stands today, a private dwelling. It is somewhat altered from its original form, but remains along the old Shabbakonk Road!]
Everybody paid their own tuition in those days. The teacher sent a bill to the parents and that was that. “We had the usual readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic, and studied from copy books, while sitting on long wooden benches,” said Cousin John, “all the grades in one little schoolhouse.”
There was a school at Birmingham (now Trenton Junction) [now West Trenton!], and one between Ewing Church and the railroad [where the current Scotch Road Plaza is], and numerous other little country schools. These were consolidated and closed when the Fisk, Reed, and Lanning schools were built [~ 1915].
“When we were “quitchuated,” (graduated) from grammar school, some of us went to the Trenton Academy [in Trenton],” said Cousin John. “We went by two-seated wagon or horseback, or ‘traipsin’ on shank’s mares’ [Google says this means ‘walking’—an unfamiliar idiomatic phrase to me!].”
I asked Cousin John to describe a typical day: “Well, it was time to get up at four o’clock,” he began, “then there was the milking to be done and breakfast to be eaten. After breakfast, I hitched up the horse and wagon and delivered 125 quarts of milk. Then I put the horse up and went to school – the Trenton Academy, that was. I was 16 or 17 years old as I remember. I took English and chemistry and algebra and the three Rs of course. I was a well-educated boy in comparison to some of my farm chums.”
It’s humbling to think that at this time, roughly the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, when the vast majority of Ewing was individual farms, that this scenario of farm chores before school was likely the overwhelming norm for students. Our students today have other challenges, to be sure, both COVID and pre-COVID era challenges. But milking the cows, delivering the milk around town, and then riding/walking to school in Trenton, attending classes, getting home and then keeping up with studies makes a very full day!
We’ll spend more time with Patricia Stoner’s reminiscences again next month.
If you have a family member’s remembrance of life in Ewing, we hope you’ll consider sharing it. Contact Helen at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a story to share.
Helen Kull is an adviser to the Ewing Township Historic Preservation Society.