Morgan Memories – The Lore of the Chicken Farmer
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!
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.
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?