The Lore of the Chicken Farmer

Morgan Memories – The Lore of the Chicken Farmer

1960’s Henderson House – West Side

Looking at the Western Side of the Robinson/Henderson House from Camille Thomas’ Backyard on Midland Avenue, Circa 1964. Photo Courtesy of Camille Thomas.

There are two lores from when I was growing up in Morgan which are still with me to this day, these decades later.  The first has to do with the hanging of a spy named Abe Mussey at what became known as The Old Spye Inn on the south side of present day Route 35.  The second was that if you trespassed on the Chicken Farmer’s farm, he would shoot you with rock salt. I never encountered meeting rock salt first hand and longtime Morgan resident Paul During questions whether it was even really true.  He lived right near the chicken farm and he never got salted, either.  In fact, anytime he ran into the chicken farmer, whose real name was Raymond Henderson, Mr. Henderson was always very nice to him.

The chicken farm was located on the north side of Robinson Place between Dodd Place to the east and Midland Avenue to the west.  There were houses on the eastern side of Midland Avenue between the street and the farm.  Mr. Henderson owned what we all called “The Woods,” which was one of the most special aspects of growing up in Morgan – more on that in a bit.  When you traveled southbound on Route 35 and wanted to get to any of the streets on the north side of it, you would make the jughandle around Kozy’s / Club Bene onto Old Spye Road then cross over Route 35 onto Tyler Street.  As you were crossing 35, you would see trees at the end of Tyler.  On one of my trips to visit my mom in the late 90’s, instead of trees, I saw new houses.  More on that in a bit, too.

According to an article from a September 1995 back issue of The News Tribune (TNT) newspaper, provided to me by Morgan resident Mr. Daniel Salvaggio from his personal collection, the Henderson Chicken Farm house was built circa 1908 by Dr. Benjamin A. Robinson from Newark.  The house was built as a summer getaway place for the Robinson family.  On a personal note, my grandparents purchased our Morgan Avenue property overlooking Raritan Bay for building the house I grew up in from the Robinson family. I don’t know when Dr. Robinson purchased the property from what used to be the Morgan Family estate.  It might have been in 1893 when most of the Morgan Estate was sold off in an auction or it might have been afterward.  This is where living in the area and having access to the land records would help!

1990’s Henderson House – East Side

Looking at the Eastern Side of the Robinson/Henderson House from the Bay Side, Circa 1995. Photo Courtesy of Pamela Sorenson via Paul During.

The News Tribune article discussed memories of summer times at the house by Dr. Robinson’s granddaughter, Dolly.  The article mentions that the upper rooms of the house had great views of Raritan Bay.  Dolly was likely talking about the windows which can be seen in the above photo of the east side of the house.  Daily summer events were typically walks in the woods, playing on or swimming at the beach, and renting boats from Lockwood’s. The Lockwood family is still very much an integral part of Morgan.  Their Lockwood Boat Works, located on the north side of Route 35 with docks connecting to Cheesequake Creek, is still a great place to put your boat.  Morgan Beach was just a short walk from the Robinson house. The child magical “woods” was right out the front door!

The Robinson family sold the farm to the Henderson family after Dr. Robinson died in 1935 and the Henderson chicken farm came about a short time after that.  For decades, many people bought chicken eggs from the farm.  I don’t recall my family ever purchasing eggs there though.  I used to deliver The News Tribune to the house of the Henderson farm and I don’t recall ever seeing or hearing the chickens. However, according to another TNT article, the farm was still in business as of April 1985 – well after my time as a “paper boy.”  Mr. Henderson and his wife are pictured in the article though Mrs. Henderson’s first name wasn’t listed (her first name was Pauline). In the article, Mr. Henderson is quoted as saying, “Right now I have between 300 and 400 chickens.”  The article continued on stating, “Most are leghorns, but 75 are his favorite Rhode Island Reds.  He favored leghorns nowadays, he explained, because people seemed to prefer white to brown eggs of late.”

This April 1985 article was written to announce that even though Mr. Henderson had sold 15 ½ acres of the woods (which included the land on and around Little Suey and Big Suey/40 Horses) to a housing developer from Sayreville, who was going to build 47 houses “on the plot, overlooking Raritan Bay,” eggs would still be sold at the farm. The total size of the property sold by the Robinson family to Mr. Henderson was, according to the previously cited 1995 TNT article, estimated to be “about 15 acres… but the property was gradually sold, leaving only a two acre parcel today.”  At this time, Mr. Henderson sold all but the 2 ½ acres above Robinson Place and between Midland Avenue and Dodd Place.

The 1995 TNT article was written to announce that the remaining portion of the farm had been sold, likely due to the passing away of Mr. and/or Mrs. Henderson, and the 1908 mansion was going to be torn down before the next summer to make way for present day Watson Road and 10 houses to be built on it.

1990’s Henderson House – North Side

Looking at the Northern Side of the Robinson/Henderson House, Circa 1995. Photo Courtesy of Pamela Sorenson via Paul During.

I recall massively tall trees on the east side of the chicken farm on Dodd Place from sled riding excursions down the street.  It was a perfect slope for it.  These trees possibly could have been planted by the Morgan family in the heyday of their estate in the late 1700’s or early to mid 1800’s. I also recall the curved gravel driveway leading into the farm which branched off about midway down the north side of Robinson Place.

In both cases, the newspaper articles indicated that the developers would “leave the trees, wherever possible.”  That didn’t seem to happen.  Even today nearly 20 years after the first development started, there are nowhere near the numbers of trees or the density of trees which were present when the development began.  I recall with regret seeing many small trees on tree crutches next to the houses when the houses were new.  Guess people want yards without big trees but wouldn’t you think that mature trees would yield higher resale values?

Prior to the development of the Henderson property in the late 1980’s, wandering on the trails into “the woods” was a childhood ritual in Morgan.  I was extremely familiar with three trails, some of which can be seen by viewing the 1979 map of the area on the fabulous site HistoricAerials.com. Search for the intersection of Tyler Street and Robinson Place in South Amboy, NJ. There was a trail between the hills Little Suey and Big Suey which went along the ridge of the hill. This was an adventurous trail to hike on since one wrong move would have you tumbling down the hill. Another trail I used often went between the north part of Dodd Place, along the east border of the chicken farm, and connected with the trail originating on the east side of Midland Avenue at Norton Street.  My aunt/uncle/cousins lived at this point and their boxer, Max, would often break free and wander over to our house.  I often had to bring Max back home and used the trails to do so. Most, if not all, of the kids growing up in Morgan would venture into the woods on both these trails as well as other trails near Jesse Selover School.  Their nostalgic reflections blanket Facebook. These trails also vanished with the development. What remains today is a much smaller section of woods.

According to a July 1995 TNT newspaper article, the developer who raised the Robinson/Henderson house was going to “have a professional photographer take pictures of the home and turn them over to the Sayreville Historical Society.”  It would be great if someone at the Sayreville Historical Society would be kind enough to find these photos for us.

So, now we know why Robinson Place is named Robinson Place.  What I still wonder about is why I never saw or heard any of the chickens at the farm when I delivered newspapers to the farm house?  Perhaps they were all busy crossing Robinson Place?

12 thoughts on “The Lore of the Chicken Farmer

  1. Charlie Frank

    Yes, there were chickens Mr Raymond Henderson would drive his big black Cadillac with no back seat so he could transport his eggs. (He always baught old Funeral cars)
    He would come to our gas station (Ernie Frank’s Texaco) on the south bound side of RT.35 at the jug handle across from Tyler street
    to drop off eggs for us to sell for him. I currently live in Tennessee but I have fond memories of growing up in Morgan, Those were the good old days !

    Reply
  2. Margaret Teliszewski Morgan

    One of my chores as a child was to purchase eggs at the chicken farm. I would walk to the farm, coins in hand, which I would leave on the wooden porch in exchange for eggs that were left there. Sometimes I would see Mr. or Mrs. Henderson. I remember them being kind and friendly. There was a large berry bush along the path leading to the farm, and I really enjoyed picking and eating those berries!

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  3. Bill Therien

    I grew up across the street from the chicken farmer on dodd pl I can remember my mom sending us kids to get eggs from the chiken farmer and yes he did have chikens and i never heard or saw him shoot rock salt at any body. The woods were are stomping grounds we made forts and played there all day long.

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  4. Anne Emond Teliszewski

    I loved going to get eggs from the farm sitting on there porch and watching the chickens. Also loved sleddinfg dowm dodd place with the challenge of avoiding parkrd cars. Great fun.

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  5. Bill Love

    Thanks for those great pics of the old Henderson home! I too loved playing in those woods, and am so thankful that the ‘Chicken Farmer’ allowed us to wander his property so freely back in the sixties. Few landowners would allow anything like that today. Heck – they’d have it thoroughly fenced off and ‘No Trespassing’ signs everywhere for fear of lawsuits from injuries kids might get there. Those skinned knees, twisted ankles, and skin tears on briar bushes were what helped build character and durability in kids of our generation! I feel sorry for the youth of today who don’t have access to such wild areas to explore and play. I recall us kids testing our bravado by seeing who’d creep down a path westward toward the Henderson house from the top of Dodd Place to see who’d go furthest and risk those fabled shotgun blasts (which I also never saw). I think I remember Mr. Henderson erecting mesh fences at both ends of the path between Dodd Place and Midland Ave. later as the age of mini bikes came and that old walking path became a thoroughfare for them. I think some rotten kids tore those barriers down almost immediately. I never had a mini bike, and hated the idea that box turtles might get squished by those zooming through on them. I wish I could say thanks to old Mr. Henderson for all the grief we caused him. He was certainly a very tolerant person, all things considered. In our more mischievous early teen years, kids (including me) would ‘borrow’ wood from his abandoned rear chicken coop for our underground huts in those woods. He caught us doing that once, and I remember him saying that those old doors and planks “were like gold to me”. I also recall hearing that fire trucks occasionally fell into the holes we dug as underground forts while they were fighting woods fires. Your father, ‘Pammie’ , probably had to deal with them with the Morgan Fire Dept., eh? I still vividly remember him running down Dodd Place to the fire station when the alarm went off. He had to be among the most energetic of the volunteers there! Thanks again for the memories.

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  6. Bill Love

    One more tidbit associated with Mr. Henderson’s woods: In the mid or late 1960s, friends and I were playing ‘army’ in the woods near the old ‘Big Suey’ hillside when someone noticed some glass buried in the dirt. We started digging and soon had a treasure trove of old bottles – presumably an old dump site far out in the woods at the time. Some bottles were broken, but many were not. I recall thick-glassed milk bottles being the most common, but the one little gem that I personally found was by far the coolest of all — a 3-inch long, triangular-sided, blue-glass beauty with only the word ‘POISON’ in raised letters on one side amidst raised cross-hatching. It was obviously meant to be a warning that could be felt in the dark, or noticed by someone with impaired vision. Presumably there was a paper label on one of the other two sides explaining what was in it. I photographed it before donating it to my friend Heyward Clamp for his great Edisto Island Serpentarium on Edisto Island, South Carolina, specifically to go inside the canebrake rattlesnake exhibit that featured a dump heap of other bottles near a country homestead as that species might be encountered in the wild. When I didn’t see anything of blue glass in the pile, and because it would seem so appropriate, I sent it to him to add to the display even though I hated to part with my boyhood souvenir of Morgan. I haven’t been back to see it there, but I’m sure Heyward has it partially buried up front with the ‘POISON’ facing outward for visitors to admire. Hopefully Verne James will add the photo of the bottle when he has time.

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  7. morgannjadmin Post author

    This comments section doesn’t seem to allow the posting of photos – can’t post the photo of the blue poison bottle. When I figure out how, I’ll post it.

    Reply

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