William Green House at the College of New Jersey

Academic Fieldwork Uncovering Untold Stories and Potential for Preservation

2015’s PNJ 10 Most Endangered List

Ewing Township, Mercer County
By Rikki Massand

Students at TCNJ this semester have worked on an ethnographic film for a class project, revealing some untold histories related to the William Green House. President of the Friends of William Green Farmhouse Anne McArthur was interviewed by students on April 20, and she discussed its structural conditions needing to be addressed and steady guidance from a TCNJ faculty member, Dr. George Leader.

William Green House

Student Nick Wexelblatt said his group’s research has unearthed documents that ties an indentured servant to the House. Last year he found a manumission document from May 2, 1808 noting the same owner who had indentured servants, and the hot question remains whether or not slaves were kept at the Green House property.

“We know outside of this property, other members of the same family were slave owners. Another document we found is an advertisement for a runaway slave, also from May 1808. We’ll continue looking into the scale of this because the House is the last structure related to the Green farm still standing,” Wexelblatt said.

His fellow students are creating a website about this interdisciplinary academic preservation project. This semester’s work builds on submissions by dozens of students in prior class years.

At TCNJ, ideas have continually come forth for the Green House’s potential.

Student Meeting at the William Green House

“Students are looking at the structure from different humanities’ perspectives and utilizing film, podcasts and different forms of media. The House has a special, interesting history – not just of the Green family as its occupants and owners. We are investigating untold stories of indentured servitude and enslavement in New Jersey. Students are compiling material – scanning/digitizing artifacts and historical documents – to share stories as we uncover more of the property’s history,” Professor Leader explained in an April 25 interview.

He says in 2020 efforts were reinvigorated by faculty committee meetings, “to start thinking about the property and project from a multidisciplinary angle.” Hundreds of documents still need to be examined, but “everything so far points to the Green House as a major site representing a history of early enslavement in New Jersey.”

Leader has been at TCNJ for nearly 10 years, and Anne McArthur noted that he’s the catalyst for this property’s current use in academic endeavors, and its potential. Leader found boxes in the Sociology & Anthropology Department containing artifacts from the 1970s described on the building’s National Register of Historic Places nomination form. The Friends then donated funds toward an exhibit case for their display in the Sociology department’s lobby.

Buildout is evident on TCNJ’s campus including the new student housing, solar panels and parking areas. To date no program for the Green House has been decided on. The pandemic also delayed progress in researching the property.

Signage at the William Green House

“Everything the Friends works on comes forward through Professor Leader’s involvement as the college owns the building and property. Following the 10 Most listing the Friends chose to keep the public aware of this estate’s significance plus updates on the campus. With TCNJ’s new president (Kathryn Foster) we’re hoping new ideas and goals can be picked up,” McArthur explains. Several Friends members are descendants of the Greens living elsewhere.

Repurposing the Green House at TCNJ will be brought up again, with any new findings from excavation as a possible driver.

“It begins with our on-the-ground investigations at the House and its landscape. Hopefully, fieldwork helps inform what might be the best reuse – first, we want to recover all the evidence. With any such projects an engagement process involving TCNJ faculty and students, the local community, the preservation community, and experts in field study must take place, and it would require dedicated fundraising plans. We do not want to rush this process; we’re on track for doing fieldwork and research well, and in time we will get there,” Leader said.

In summer 2022 the College of New Jersey will host its first-ever course as an Archaeological Field School on the Green House, open to those studying at TCNJ and elsewhere, from July 27 through August 10. Professor Leader says historical archaeology around the Green House will offer field study, “using hands-on techniques as we excavate the property.” The last archaeological dig at TCNJ with the public present was held in 2019, with reenactors.

This summer students will perform tasks for artifact recovery, examination and analysis, which Leader has aimed for to continue uncovering the full history of the William Green House.

“We will end the course with a public day of archaeology – members of the public are welcomed on-campus to see the archaeology taking place and to hear about the Green House’s history. We’re excited to see something this special moving ahead, for both the educational and community-oriented goals,” he noted.

Author, content strategist and historic preservation activist Rikki Massand serves in municipally-appointed roles as chairperson of the Montgomery Township Landmarks Preservation Commission and as the township liaison to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Commission.

In December 2021 Rikki completed a certificate in Historic Preservation from Rutgers Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities, building on degrees he previously earned at Columbia University and Quinnipiac University while examining historic buildings, land use and planning policies and tourism potential in New Jersey.

Rikki’s passion as a regional historian and local advocate in preservation is integrated into an 18-year journalism career. He’s the Associate Editor of his hometown Montgomery News in Somerset County, and he covers Hunterdon County government, nonprofits and economic development for Flemington-based media. Rikki’s work has also appeared in print titles including China Daily, amNew York, Syosset Advance, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News and more.