Howell Living History Farm
How would you like to turn back time by, say, 100-plus years? Then visit the Howell Living History Farm, near Lambertville.
This isn’t a museum, a reenactment, or a historic tableau, but a working farm, where they do things the old-fashioned way: circa 1900. Visitors don’t so much witness a bygone way of life as experience it, aided by knowledgeable volunteers in charming period dress.
If you visit in winter, for instance, you can harvest ice blocks from a frozen pond and take part in maple tapping and sugaring. Come springtime, you can work in the garden, plant corn, and help tend the beehives. In the fall, it’s time to make apple cider, thresh wheat, and reap the corn that was planted in spring. All of this and much, much more done with people power, horsepower, and historic tools, like antique plows.
Be sure to tour the one-room schoolhouse and Revolutionary War-era farmhouse. There’s also a cemetery on the grounds, along with the remnants of an old blacksmith shop, a gristmill, and two sawmills.
The 126-acre farm has existed as a going concern since colonial times. In 1974, owner Inez Howe Howell donated the spread to the Mercer County Park Commission, in memory of her husband, Charley.
In a letter, she envisioned a place “where the way of living in the early days could not only be seen but actually tried by the public, especially children—milking a cow, gathering eggs in a homemade basket, helping to shear sheep, carding wool, spinning and weaving.”
Accordingly, all these activities are part of the busy calendar at Howell Farm, which is listed on the national and state Registers of Historic Places and is part of the Pleasant Valley National Rural Historic District, established in 1991.
One-day hands-on learning classes are available for kids and grownups (only $10 per person; children must be accompanied by an adult). Crafts are also very affordable ($3 to make a rag ball). Admission and parking are free. About 65,000 people visit in an average year, including 10,000 schoolchildren, says Kevin Watson, assistant farm director.
“In my experience,” says Watson, “it makes a lasting memory any time we can invite kids to collect the eggs, water the horses, and let the sheep out in the morning,” as children would do in the 19th century.
A highlight of our visit was an old-time baseball game, played by teams in vintage uniforms: slouch-style ballcaps, drawstring pants, striped knee socks, and bibs bearing their names: the Flemington Neshanocks and the Elizabeth Resolutes.
They played their hearts out to the cheers and good-natured catcalls of onlookers. Several times, players hit foul balls into a nearby cow pasture, and had to hop the split-rail fence to retrieve them, sidestepping a placid Holstein named Bright. Then they invited spectators to join in a pickup game.
A food stand served hot dogs, corn and potato salad, baseball cupcakes (white frosting with red-frosted stitching) and an old-fashioned treat: hot-milk sponge cake with orange buttercream frosting. Delicious!
Nearby, a volunteer sat at a wooden wheel, patiently explaining how to hand-spin yarn from raw wool. Another shared how to make rag balls. Later, a volunteer demonstrated cow-milking, with Bright’s cooperation.
Here are some upcoming activities at the farm:
- July 29-30. The Mercer County 4-H Fair & Wheat Threshing festival, the biggest event of the year
- August 5. The Honey Harvest. Meet the workers, drones and queen bee, and taste fresh clover honey.
- August 12. The Potato Harvest. Help the farmer unearth rows of potatoes for picking, then make potato chips from scratch.
- September 2. The 40th annual plowing match. Farmers are judged on their plowing and driving skills in an obstacle course (yes, adults and kids can try their hand at the plow!)
Also starting in September, get lost in the four-acre Corn Maze, a fundraiser for the nonprofit Friends of Howell Living History Farm.
Talk about living your purpose: during the Covid-19 pandemic, Howell Living History Farm produced 45 tons of food from its 45 tillable acres and distributed it to local families in need.
So, if you want to go back in time, far from the madding crowd, away from the yammer of social media, where the only traffic you may encounter is a horse-drawn wagon or a chicken crossing the road, Howell Living History Farm is for you.