By: Anastasia Marchese
The history of tomorrow is happening today, and many people who came before lived full and rich lives that continue to impact the present in profound ways. There are alot of people who are interested in keeping that history alive and continuing to see the connections between past and present while carrying their forbearers legacy into the future.
Here in Mendham, one of those people is Diana Orban Brown, who served as mayor in 2017. Orban Brown was also co-chair of the task force that developed the plan that has been proposed for an historic park at Pitney Farm. She has a wealth of information about Mendham’s history to share.
According to Orbin Brown, two of the most prominent, well known family names from Mendam’s past, are Pitney and Yardley. The Pitney family had ties to the town as far back as the early 1700’s and many generations of Pitneys had connections to the Pitney Farm part of which remains at the corner of Cold Hill and Ballentine Roads.
The farm was owned by the family from 1722 until 2013 when it was purchased by Mendham Township. Prior to the sale, the homestead on the property was the only house in Mendham to have stayed in one family since it was erected. It had housed 11 generations of Pintney’s.
Some owners lived on the property year round and at different times there was a variety of businesses headed there in addition to farming.
In 1834, the property passed from Mahlon Pitney to his son Mahlon Pitney II. Between 1834 till his death in 1863, Pitney II had a distillery in the farm which made applejack from the farm’s apples and operated a forge to make wrought iron which he transported to nearby cities for market. There is also a Cider Mill located on the property that still presses apples in the fall.
In the generations that followed the farm continued to function as an agricultural enterprise, with later Pitney’s adding peach trees and dairy herds at different times in their history.
Henry Cooper Pitney (1827-1911) served as Vice Chancellor of the Court of New Jersey as did his son Mahlon Pitney III (1858-1924). Pitney III also rose to serve on this nation’s highest court. He was appointed by President Taft as the 65th Justice of the United States Supreme Court.
While the Pitney family looms large in Mendham history, the name Yardley is more of a household name, because of the Yardley sisters who owned an estate on Mendham Road. They were of the Yardley cosmetics fame and fortune.
Orbin Brown cited an article by Kenhi Drewes, who lived on the estate from 1949-1963.
“I lived in the seven bedroom ‘guesthouse’ located in the rear of the Manor house…The sisters spared no expense in setting up the estate which included a dairy barn, green houses, chicken coops, a summer canning shed, an ice house, a standby generator, a fire protection hydrant system, an extensive water system drawing from seven springs feeding a large cistern and pumping arrangement feeding a 10,000 gallon pressurized water storage tank.”
Drewes then went on to write that around 1960 the Mendham Borough water system had to be replaced due to the wooden pipes collapsing. During that time, water was trucked from the Yardley estate to “meet the needs of the borough.”
The manor house on the estate was converted to a nursing home in the 1940’s and is now Alcott Manor, a senior boarding facility.
The Yardley’s and Pitney’s are just two of the many families whose history has impacted the history of Mendham over its 270 years as a town. Now as Mendham history continues to be made, it begs the question, “Which names will be remembered from this era of its history?” Only time will tell.