An advertisement written in Polish and published in the Polish weekly newspaper caught our grandfather’s attention. Farms in Readington Township, New Jersey were being subdivided into smaller, more affordable parcels of farm land. More importantly, you could buy a farm with a dollar down and a balloon mortgage that would not be due for about 5 years. Jozef Mirota had been working as a Fireman in the coal mines of western Pennsylvania since his emigration to the US in 1906. Another five years would mean 13 years working in the mines, risking his life every day putting out coal fires.
The deed to the farm, which comprised about 15 acres was subdivided from the former Adrian H. Pickle farm. Jozef signed the Indenture on August 19, 1914 with a $1 good faith deposit with the legal promise to pay a mortgage of $2200 on or before January 1, 1920. (Source: Book 311 of Deeds, page 374. Hunterdon County Clerk’s office, Flemington, NJ). The Deed was granted by Kline Realty & Improvement Company, New York, NY and that firm also held the mortgage. According to local historian, Stephanie B. Stevens, the Kline Realty mortgages came with 6% interest. The prior land owner, Adrian H. Pickle (1834-1897), was the son of Abraham Pickell (1809-1876) and Elizabeth (Eliza) Wycoff Voorhees (1808-1891). As Adrian H. Pickell had died around 17 years earlier, I assume the deed may just never have been transferred to other members of the family who continued to live on the farm. Some day I’ll get back to the Hunterdon County Courthouse and look that up. Or perhaps census records may provide a clue as to who was living there, if anyone, between 1897 and 1914. Many members of the Abraham Pickell family are buried in the Pickell Family Cemetery on Mountain Road. The family spelt the name alternately Pickell/Pickel/Pickle.
My first five years were spent in this farmhouse. I would have stayed there forever but my parents wanted a place of their own. They built a small house at the edge of the farm, where we could still run up the lane to spend as much time as we wanted with our grandfather. Pickell Mountain and the surrounding fields, woods, and streams were our playground. My brothers, sister, and I were encouraged to run free all day long, as long as our chores and homework were done (or close enough to done to appease our easy going mother). I can’t imagine what our childhood would have been like if Jozef and Zofia hadn’t struggled so hard to purchase and keep the farm viable through the Depression years and through their old age so that their grandchildren could enjoy it too. Our Mirota cousins, who grew up in Brooklyn, used to spend many weeks during the summer while they were growing up on the farm, and so it was a special place of theirs too. Our grandfather, who had outlived his beloved wife, died when my siblings and I were still in grade school. Our memories of him are intricately tied to his farm and his unconditional love for us. The Mirota farm house and all of the out buildings were torn down in later years by subsequent owners who wanted a more contemporary home. Unfortunately there is no law against destroying old houses and barns. To be fair though, this was not the first house on this farm. An earlier home, a stone house, built by the Pickell family was built and taken down long before this farm house was built. The corner stone of the original house (and an old photograph of the house) was provided by my mother to the Hunterdon Historical Society in the 1960s.
When I think of the farm, I envision it as it was in the early 1950s and ’60s, like it looked in this photograph taken in late fall or early winter. Except in my memories, the trees are always in full leaf and the Rose of Sharon near the kitchen window is in bloom.
Local historian Stephanie B. Stevens has written an excellent book about the Polish community of Whitehouse Station, “For a Better Life: “A History of the Polish Settlement in Readington Township.” D&M Printers. Copyright 1990. Whitehouse Station, NJ 1992. It may be obtainable by inter-library loan or by contacting the author.