Bucks County Herald

Bridget Wingert: Happy to Be Here

An old mill has a new mission

The Prall House was built in 1794 by John Prall Jr. It is part of the Prallsville Mills complex in Stockton, N.J., Hunterdon County.

The Delaware River Mill Society describes itself as “not your run of the mill philanthropists and preservationists.”

Its mission is maintenance of the 10-building complex that makes up the Prallsville Mills, which operated at the juntion of the Wickeckeoke Creek and Delaware River from 1720 until the 1950s. The complex, in Stockton, N.J., includes a grist mill, linseed oil mill, saw mill and granary, and stone houses.

John Reading, who arrived with Quakers from Staffordshire, England, in 1684, built the first mill on the site. In addition to owning 1,440 acres of land in “Mount Amwell,” he owned the ferry rights for the Delaware River crossing in Hunterdon County and he petitioned the Pennsylvania Legislature for a road opposite his property to link with his ferry at “Reading’s Crossing.”

Reading presented his daughter and her husband, Daniel Howell, with a tract of land about a mile square on the south side of the Wicheckeoke Creek and constructed a sawmill and a gristmill for them.

Daniel Howell bequeathed the grist mill and saw mill and 73 acres of land fronting on the Delaware River and Wickecheoke Creek, to his two eldest sons Daniel Howell Jr. and John Howell. In 1750, Reading’s grandson, Daniel Howell sold the mill property to Charles Woolverton, and his sons sold the mill property to John Prall Jr. in 1794, two years after he purchased land south of the mill from the Ely family.

Prall operated a stone quarry and fisheries that sustained the village as a commercial center. It had the ferry, stores, houses, mills and post office.

A succession of owners – Hoppock, Wilson, Kessler, Stover, Smiths – owned the complex until it closed in the 1950s, left to deteriorate. “It was put up for sale as an attractive site for townhouses,” the society website says. “A local resident, Donald Jones, purchased the site in 1969 and held it until the state could afford to purchase it, in 1973.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Prallsville Mills to its Register of Historic Places in 1973. The entire property became part of the Delaware and Raritan Canal State Park the next year.

To help restore the mills, local citizens formed the Delaware River Mill Society in 1976. They signed a long-term lease, which gives the society the responsibility to “restore, preserve, operate, maintain and interpret” the site.

The society has restored several buildings. The largest was the grist mill, then, a kitchen and office in a former lumber shed. The Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission works out of an office in the wagon shed. The Linseed Oil mill is an art gallery for local artists.

Possibly the most valuable asset of the restored site is its use as a community center. It’s an education space and a showcase for the creative community that generates revenue for the mill society.

Executive Director Beth Japchen filled me in on upcoming events.

River Town Radio Theatre, joined by the visual artist and musician Joe Coco of Riegelsville, Pa., will reconstruct Abbott and Costello, Flash Gordon, “Prairie Home Companion” and “The Maltese Falcon,” with music from Coco and Jim Roney.

“The Radio Theatre Troupe is an offshoot of The Book Garden in Frenchtown,” Robert Rando, director of the group, said. He welcomed the opportunity to perform at the historic mill.
River Town Radio Theatre got its start performing on WDVR, the public radio station in Sergeantsville, N.J.

The show is 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 10. Tickets are $10 in advance at prallsvillemills.org.
Musician turned novelist Robert Hunter will celebrate his first novel, “Relapse: A Love Story,” at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 14, also under the auspices of The Book Garden. Hunter is a Nashville recording artist best known for his alt-country-rock. He will perform songs from his latest recording, “Revival.” Tickets, which include a copy of Hunter’s novel, are $35. A portion of proceeds will support the Hunterdon Healthcare Foundation and the Prallsville Mills. Purchase tickets in advance at bookgarden.biz.

Almost three years ago, mill staff member Phil Gutis, now deputy director, was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. In honor of Phil, the mill is hosting a Purple Party June 21, Summer Solstice, as part of The Longest Day, an Alzheimer’s Association annual initiative. The plan is to turn the mill purple. (Purple is the color of the Alzheimer’s Association.)

The Purple Party will start at 6:30 p.m. and feature art, music by the Eastern Hellbenders, food and friends all rallying for funds to end Alzheimer’s. Tickets for the Purple Party are $45 and are available on the mill’s website.

Other events in the works include part of the speaker series, with Joe Donnelly, deputy executive director of communications, for the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, June 19, and a fundraiser for Lulu’s Rescue June 24. The mill holds ongoing tai chi and yoga classes and the New Hope Poets meet the second Wednesday of each month at the mill.

Good news comes with grants that help the society reach its goals.

It learned last week that the 1772 Foundation and New Jersey Historic Trust have awarded a $15,000 grant for beginning badly needed repairs at the Prall House, across Route 29 from the mills.

Combined with $15,000 in matching funds donated by the society’s members and sponsors, $30,000 can be invested in the property, Japchen said.

The house was built by John Prall Jr. in 1794 and turned over to his son, William Livingston Prall. It sits on seven acres that border a pre-Revolutionary era graveyard, and include a quarry pond.

“After years of struggling to keep the lights on, the mill society is now in a position to begin to tackle some of the seriously deferred maintenance,” the website says. The organization anticipates beginning repairs to the two front doors, windows and millwork and repainting of the windows everywhere it’s needed. The project is being overseen by Michael J. Margulies of Eclectic Architecture LLC.

The Prall House also needs a new roof and the repair of an outdoor stone wall. That’s the next project.


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