Caretakers of the Land
Phillips Family (1737-1860)
In 1732, Joseph Phillips, a house carpenter of Maidenhead (Lawrenceville), New Jersey purchased 125 acres of land in Hopewell Township from the executors of the estate of William Bryant who had purchased the land from Daniel Cox.
On March 29, 1737 blacksmith John Phillips of Hopewell purchased the same 125 acres in Hopewell from Joseph Phillips of Maidenhead. It is suggested that John and Joseph were related, perhaps brothers. John's original farm included much of what are now the Howell Living History Farm and land bordering Pleasant Valley Road to the east of Hunter Road. John's house was probably located near the site of the 1890 Pleasant Valley schoolhouse and near the family cemetery that John established. John owned this and additional adjoining properties for 52 years. He died in 1789 leaving the farm to his son, Henry, who enlarged the land holdings.
In 1789 John Phillips died and bequeathed to his youngest son, Major Henry, "the Plantation on which I now dwell." During Henry's ownership, he and his brothers probably established their own farms on the family property. Henry lived in the house just up Pleasant Valley Road from the schoolhouse that is today known as the Birum house. During this period it is likely that the real beginnings of what is today Howell Farm occurred. It is likely that the oldest, stone section of the farmhouse was built for Henry the Younger while Major Henry continued to occupy what is today the Birum farm house. Any other early buildings, including a barn, have not survived. A stone wall or foundation found under part of the horse barn during restoration in 2001 may be related to one of the early buildings from this period.
In 1805 Major Henry Phillips died intestate and four sons, including Henry the Younger, became the collective owners of his 225 acres. Probably each had a de facto inheritance of part of the property. During his life, Henry Sr. had amassed extensive land holdings and his inventory showed him to be a man of substance.
In 1809 a deed transferring 79 acres and 6 perches of the original family farm to Henry the Younger was recorded beginning his 51 years of ownership. The three other brothers received title to their farms also. The farmstead with its two-story stone house with one room on each floor, now the oldest section of the Howell Farm house, was begun by either the elder Henry or his son. The younger Henry added the wagon house and the original two sections of the barn about 1840.
About 1840 Henry Phillips the Younger built the original two sections of the barn some 30 to 40 years after he acquired the farm and about 15 to 20 years before his death. The barn was therefore built during his full maturity and strength and suggests that he was continuing to prosper as a farmer. The first two sections were an English three-bay working barn for grain processing and a four-bay horse barn. It may be during this time also that the frame eastern portion of the farm house was built.
In 1857 Henry Phillips died intestate, leaving his heirs to hold the property jointly for three years.
In 1860 John Phillips, an heir of Henry Phillips the Younger, placed the farm in Orphans Court as part of settling the estate by selling the property. This allowed a number of heirs to share in the proceeds of the sale whereas they could not share in dividing up the property. In the previous generation there had been enough land to give each son a farm of his own. Now, such a division would have resulted in farms too small to be profitable. As a result of this sale Charles Miller became owner of the now 125 acre farm.