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Conover-Updike House

2 Millstone River Road, Belle Mead, , 08502 Dated Posted: April 27, 2017


Circa Before 1804

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About This Old House

The Conover-Updike miller’s house is a two-story Federal side-hall house built before 1804 in Montgomery Township, a historic region settled in the first quarter of the eighteenth century. The house contributed to the registration of the River Road Historic Rural District.

Located 5 miles from Princeton University (and one mile from Princeton Airport), the property offers a peaceful sanctuary and venue for urban farming. The township is known for its excellent schools. Nearby Route 1 corridor provides convenient access to Newark Airport, New York and Philadelphia.

The house was built on a coursed rubble-stone foundation with a gable roof (reshingled in 1999), which covers a large, open, post and beam attic. The gable is parallel with the road and southward-oriented to Bedens Brook where mills once stood; a millstone from which remains on the property.

The original owner of the property, Hendrick Van Dyke (1743 – 1817), fought for eight years in the Revolutionary War, having been appointed colonel of the 2nd Somerset Regiment of militia raised by the Provincial Congress in Trenton, NJ on June 3, 1775. His service culminated in leading his troops in an attack on a British division at Bordentown during the Battle of Monmouth, June 28, 1778. He was later appointed a trustee of Rutgers University (1782).

It was enlarged (ca. 1860) by an Italianate addition which has a semi-hexagonal bay window with round-headed windows and paired similar windows above. The house features internal corbelled brick chimneys, with three fireplaces, including one marble mantel and one Federal mantelpiece with gouge work in the dining room.

Entry is through a double-leaf door with segmentally arched transom. The front porch features beveled Italianate posts on capped paneled bases.

The house is situated on a hill and is familiar to many people in the area; we often meet people who say \\\”you live there? I love that house!\\\” It is well above the 150 year flood plain; the 720 sq\\\’ basement is dry and includes a working sump pump. The house is shielded by large trees and features high ceilings and cross-ventilation which help keep it cool in the summer. The house is heated by steam radiators and the furnace was converted from oil to natural gas about 6 years ago; the underground oil tank was professionally removed and the site certified free of contamination. The house has been renovated room by room over the past 20 years (see photos). Remaining projects include the front porch, kitchen, laundry room, master bathroom and garage.

The property is comprised of block 22032, lots 1 and 2. Per the 1997 survey, it covers 159,065 square feet = 3.65 acres. The property adjoins a 4.1 acre green space on which the Montgomery barn is situated, and is bordered by a bike path along Bedens Brook.

The land has been managed naturally using only organic methods without any pesticides for 20 years. It is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and has been developed as a bluebird trail; Eastern bluebirds are now regularly seen on the property. Feeders and suet logs attract diverse bird species in abundance.

A sturdy and well-designed hen-house has supported a flock of free-range hens and the fenced-in goat shed provides a safe area for dogs (and goats) to exercise.

The house is surrounded by landscaped grounds that feature beautiful mature trees, including black walnut, butternut, oak, dogwood, cherry, apple and maple. Black raspberries have been cultivated and there are several raised flower beds and a three-bay cinderblock compost bin. A park-like grove with picnic tables and a fire pit provide a peaceful setting for gatherings of friends and family.

The detached four-bay garage is 20\\\’ x 40\\\’ and there is a an attached pump house (rebuilt in 2016) which accesses a deep well (not operational). The gravel driveway was landscaped, re-graded and paved with gravel and asphalt in 2016.

The property was sold to William Covenhoven (later Conover) in 1804 and subsequently purchased (1849) by Jeremiah Williamson Updike; the property \\\”was known far and near as Updike\\\’s Mills.\\\” Jeremiah passed away in 1885 and is buried nearby in Rocky Hill Cemetery.

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