Thursday, March 22, 2012 West Windsor sets a summer opening for restored farmstead

It's not an announcement on preserving a new piece of land. But, having lived in that area for several years, I am familiar with the writer's comments on West Windsor's (way too many) shopping centers, highways and modern subdivisions. There are still some very, very nice parcels there, however, including here.
WEST WINDSOR — This township of shopping centers, highways and modern subdivisions can still lay claim to a piece of its past — a big piece, in fact.
Officials say they are very close to finishing a 15-year project to restore a farmhouse property from the 1750s that will offer a step back in time for legions of school children, tourists and history buffs.
The historic Schenck Farmstead on Southfield Road has had a makeover that includes a renovated carriage house, the installation of a one-room schoolhouse moved from another location in the township and rebuilt, and, now, the creation of an education center inside a big barn on the property.
Outside the idyllic homestead that brings to mind thoughts of lemonade and porch swings on warm summer afternoons, the grounds are filled with antique farm machinery, on display for young and old inquiring minds alike.
The barn, once its contents are reorganized, will offer a wealth of other historical items. 
“When we talk about sense of communities, I want people to not only understand the history of West Windsor, but understand the environment, the natural resources we have in West Windsor,” Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said. “It’s not just demographic or human side. It’s also the environment we live in.”
The work to improve exhibits and offerings at the Schenck house was the fruit of hard-working volunteers and hundreds of thousands of dollars, township officials said.
Steeped in the township’s agricultural history, the farmstead will also be available for weddings and other gatherings.
The gravel entrance gives way to a small sea of farm equipment from the Civil War up to the 1930s. The rusted remains are a reminder of a self-sustaining time when plows were pulled by horses and the barn’s oak beams were masterfully sawed by hand.
The environmental education center is currently being designed inside a portion of the renovated 3,700 square foot red barn by Redmond-Jones and Associates, a Swarthmore, Pa., firm that provides services for museums and other organizations.
Last week, town council approved a resolution to pay Redmond-Jones and Associates $7,500 to develop the concept and design phase of the environmental project at the Schenck barn. The funds come out of the township’s capital improvement fund, business administrator Robert Hary said.
West Windsor land use manager Sam Surtees has been in charge of the renovations to Schenck since it began. And while commercial projects in West Windsor tend to take years, that wasn’t supposed to happen with the Schenck Farmstead.
“I didn’t think it would take this long,” he said.
Surtees gives credit to Hsueh and council for their “slow patience to get it done right,” he said.
The center will display artifacts that date back to a time when farming was a part of everybody’s life, Surtees said. The West Windsor Historical Society and Environmental Commission have been in charge of tagging each item for display.
The environmental center will share space with the artifacts room, where a replica of a general store with historical items like an old cash register, a sales ledger dated July 1900, and a glass case with other treasures will be open to the public.
Additional improvements to the Schenck Farmstead include work done on the 528 square foot carriage house, which is adjacent to the barn, and improvements to the 704 square foot first schoolhouse of West Windsor.
The schoolhouse was originally located on Clarksville Road, opposite the current Maurice Hawk Elementary School, before it was moved to the Schenck Farmstead in the mid 1990s, Surtees said. Much of the original wood had deteriorated, and 80 percent has been restored. Inside, old-fashioned school desks with ink wells are lined in a row, facing a chalkboard and American flag.
Much of the original framework dates back to 1880-1890, Surtees said.
West Windsor Environmental Commission liaison and landscape architect Dan Dobromilsky, said the barn was reconstructed a few years ago, to include electric and a heating and cooling system. Bathrooms and the environmental center are expected to be added by this summer, he said.
Tours of the Schenck Farmstead to be offered on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. are expected to begin this summer.

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