By JOHN T. WARD
Starting out in the early 1700s as a single-room domicile, it grew out, and up, outlasting all but a few homes in the nation it preceded. Eight generations of Parkers warmed themselves in rooms framed by hand-hewn timbers – when they weren’t working the surrounding land, or harvesting ice from the pond just off the front porch.
“These people weren’t rich, or aristocrats,” Little Silver resident and preservationist Keith Wells said of the Parkers, who arrived here from Rhode Island in 1665. “They were just farmers.”
That simple fact may be lost to the thousands of motorists who have passed by in recent decades, perhaps aware only that the stately home on Rumson Road in Little Silver was for some reason “historic,” an entry on national and state registers of such structures.
But on Sunday, December 22, for the first time ever, the public will get to see the inside of the Parker Homestead, now entering what Wells and others hope is an era of significant repair and restoration. redbankgreen got a sneak peek, of course.
The house, strikingly handsome on the outside, is timeworn on the inside. Much of it, including the entire second floor, will remain off-limits to visitors Sunday, though those sneaking a peak around door frame or stair rail will see how much needs to be done to make it a showcase.
Starting under late Little Silver Mayor Susie Castleman in 1996, when the home was deeded to the town upon the death of its last occupant, Julia Parker, steps have been made to prevent the structure from deteriorating. There’s a relatively new roof, and air conditioning for climate control. All the home’s furniture, books and extensive farm records have been stored in the nearby 150-year-old borough-owned Bates House.
While the restoration of the house has yet to begin, some repairs have been made, and led to impressive finds, including a large hearth dating to about 1721 that was all but covered over by a wall. A sitting room with a collapsing plaster ceiling recently yielded carefully cut joists and floorboards to a bedroom above.
Now, along with Jen Pardee and Bob Sickles – whose family is a branch of the Parker tree, and whose food market is on land long tilled by the clan (his 85-year-old father still does) – Wells is a trustee of Parker Homestead 1665 Incorporated, the entity that will lease the property from the borough and oversee the restoration work.
Starting next spring, the trust expects to begin restoring three red barns out back, thanks to $500,000 in Monmouth County grants and matching funds.
Sunday’s tour, which runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is an opportunity to give the public a sense of what needs to be done to the house, and what might be accomplished.
But it is also a chance to fulfill Julia Parker’s request that the estate be used to educate future generations about the history of the American family farm, said Wells, a retiree who has lived in the borough for 38 years, and whose ancestors arrived in Monmouth County on the same boat as brothers Joseph and Peter Parker in 1665.
“They were very devoted to their family, they were devoted to their community and they were devoted to their religion,” said Wells, noting the presence in the house of an organ that was once used at the nearby Embury United Methodist Church. “There’s just an old-fashioned sense of values here that we would like to project.”
The Parker Homestead is at 235 Rumson Road in Little Silver, adjoining the entrance to Sickles Market.