A History of Headquarters Mill

Friday, July 21, 2006
By Marfy Goodspeed

A few years ago, I wrote articles for the township newsletter, The Bridge, while holding the position of Township Historian. When Charles Frischman became Township Historian he took over the job of writing a regular column for the newsletter. When I stopped writing, I was working on a series about the mills of Delaware Township. The next mill in the series was to be the mill in the village of Headquarters, known variously over the years as Opdycke’s Mill, Tyson’s Mill, Holcombe’s Mill, Conover’s Mill, Carrell Mill and Headquarters Mill.

Now that The Post is up and running, it seemed like a good time to finish that series on the Mills of Delaware Township. Another good reason to do this is the effort being made by members of the Delaware Township Historical Association to document all the mills of the township.  I hope to discuss that in a future article.

- Marfy Goodspeed

HEADQUARTERS MILL

The history of the Headquarters Mill is a fairly lengthy one, so I will write it in stages. The earliest owners are described in this posting.

Location

You can find Headquarters Mill today on Zentek Road near the corner with Rosemont-Ringoes Rd (County Route 604).  This is the village of Headquarters.

Opdycke’s Mill

The original mill at Headquarters was probably the first mill to be built in what would later become Delaware Township, if we can rely on the date stone, which shows the year 1735. However, it is possible that the first mill in Prallsville predates this, and Prallsville was a part of Delaware until 1898.

The first property owners in Headquarters were Samuel Green the Surveyor, and his daughters and sons-in-law Benjamin Severns and John Opdycke. They had come from Maidenhead and Hopewell. Samuel Green owned vast tracts of land in the area and gave farms of four or five hundred acres to his two daughters and their husbands. Headquarters MillDaughter Sarah Green married Benjamin Severns in 1730, and daughter Margaret Green married John Opdycke in 1737. Both Opdycke and Severns voted from Amwell in the election of 1738. The earliest known building in Headquarters is the mill with its date stone of 1735. There is no way to tell whether the builder of the mill was Benjamin Severns or John Opdycke. They both mortgaged their farms in 1737, but the descriptions are so inaccurate, it is not possible to tell who owned the mill property. By about 1753, Benjamin and Sarah Severns left Headquarters and joined Sarah’s father Samuel Green who had moved north to Warren County.

This left John Opdycke and wife Margaret Green in possession of Headquarters Farm and Mill. John Opdycke was a descendant of Dutch immigrants. He was born about 1710 in Maidenhead (now Lawrence), New Jersey, the eldest of eight children, to Albert and Elizabeth Opdycke.  In the 1740s, Opdycke was establishing himself in the township of Amwell (of which Delaware Township was once a part), by registering his earmarks and by serving on juries. He served as Constable for Amwell Township in 1744, and had to advertise that a prisoner (one William Britton) had escaped his custody, and offered a reward of 40 shillings. In 1750, he was elected to the Board of Freeholders and held the position until 1753.

It is not certain where Opdycke was living before 1744. In that year, he built himself a new stone house south of the road to Ringoes (today’s Rte 604), across the road from the mill. The following year, 1745, he built or rebuilt a mill on the Wickecheoke near the Covered Bridge. Both the Wickecheoke Mill and the Headquarters Mill (known then as Opdycke’s Mill) were gristmills, grinding grain for flour, but it is likely that both had an additional sawmill on their sites. Flour and lumber were the two pressing needs of early settlers in the township.

In 1754 John Opdycke really got busy. He built a stone house near the mill at the Wickecheoke Creek (later known as Sergeant’s Mill). Initials over door ("J O & M O 1754") strongly suggest that this was his family’s home at that time. But the same year, he  rebuilt the mill at Headquarters (according to the date stone). He extended the mill westward, and created a new mill race.

One can’t help but wonder how Opdycke managed his mills. He was himself busy with other endeavors, as farmer, merchant and justice of the peace in 1757 and 1768. He had to have employed others to work the mills, and it is likely he used slaves. Dutch families in New Jersey commonly owned a few slaves to help with farm and domestic work. Millers were most likely to own at least a couple slaves. When he wrote his will in 1777, Opdycke bequeathed “a negro called Robbin” to his son Samuel.

Opdycke’s third house was the mansion house near the mill, which was built in 1758, according to the date stone. But it is not certain whether Opdycke actually lived there. If not, then it was occupied by whomever he hired to run his mill. He and the millers who followed him used the west side of the house (closest to Zentek Road) as a store.

All this building may have been an effort to provide for his children. John and Margaret Green Opdycke had nine children, the first being born in 1738 and the last in 1756. Of the nine, four were sons: George, Samuel, John Jr. and Thomas. John Opdycke Jr., born in 1753, was only 20 years old when he died. The others married and became mill owners, like their father. Samuel Opdycke took over the mill at the Wickecheoke; George owned a mill in Kingwood on the Lockatong; and Thomas, the youngest child, owned a mill further north on the Wickecheoke on today’s Old Mill Road.

The village of Headquarters was known as Opdycke’s Mill until it was sold to Joseph Howell in 1763. Why John Opdycke decided to sell the mill is not known. Perhaps he was more preoccupied with his other interests. The following year, he sold a tract of 250 acres in Sussex County, probably given him by his father-in-law, so perhaps he had a cash-flow problem. He and his wife continued to live across the road from the mill, on his farm which later became the home of Frank and Mattie Poulson Eppele (she a descendant of John and Margaret Opdycke), and later still the home of Tom and Rita Skeuse. Margaret Green Opdycke died on March 16, 1775. John Opdycke died a very wealthy man (his inventory was worth £2510), on August 10, 1777. They and most of their family are buried in the Opdycke cemetery on the grounds of their farm in Headquarters.

Tyson’s Mill

The new owner of the Headquarters Mill, Joseph Howell (born about 1715), was the son of Daniel and Mary Reading Howell, and grandson of John Reading, one of the first settlers in Amwell Township. Joseph Howell had a 250-acre farm near Prallsville for about thirty years, and then sold it in 1761. Not long after, he bought the Opdycke Mill property, and apparently mortgaged it to Thomas Pryor. But milling was not as lucrative as he had hoped, and soon he was taken to court for debts unpaid. The mill property was sold at public auction by the Hunterdon Sheriff. He advertised the sale in the Pennsylvania Gazette, and described the property thus:

“148 Acres of Land, situated in Amwell, noted for the best Wheat Land in the Province, bounded by Lands of John Opdike [sic], Richard Kitchen, . . . on which is a large Stone House, two Stories high, four Rooms on a Floor, a large Entry through the House, with Cellars underneath the whole; also two Overshot Grist-mills, supplied by Water from living Springs, a good Barn, Stable, Cowhouse, Milk-house, a fine young Orchard, an excellent Piece of Clover Meadow in front of the Dwelling-house which may be watered by the Water from the Mills in the driest Seasons; there is also a Frame House on the said Lands.”

Along with the mill property, the Sheriff sold the personal belongings of Joseph Howell, including beds, furniture, livestock “and sundry other Things too tedious to mention here.” Joseph Howell died the next year, at about age 55, probably still in debt.

The new owner of the mill property was Benjamin Tyson, who purchased it on May 1, 1765. With a new owner came a new name.  Some writers have confused the Headquarters mill with the one located on the Wickecheoke Creek. They were both at one time known as Opdycke’s Mill, but the one at Headquarters was known as Tyson’s Mill from 1765 to 1790. The earliest record available of Benjamin Tyson is his mortgage of the mill lot and two other lots in 1768. In 1770, "Tysons Mill" appears in the survey of the Sandbrook-Headquarters Road. Tysons Mill was a landmark. The Sergeantsville-Rosemont Road was often described in old records as "the road from Tysons Mill [Headquarters] to Opdyckes Mill [at the Covered Bridge].”

Benjamin Tysons family background remains a mystery. There were many Tysons living in Monmouth County at this time, and there may be a family connection there.  Unfortunately Tyson was not able to weather the financial storms that accompanied the Revolution, and had to mortgage his three lots a second time in 1776. He was frequently sued for debt between 1775 and 1796. In 1780 Tyson was taxed on 148 acres, 7 horses, 3 cows, a saw mill and a gristmill. The gristmill was the existing building near the house, and the sawmill was probably the ruined stone structure that stands by the Creek about 150 yards east of the gristmill. The remains of the building show remarkably fine stonework, most likely the work of John Opdycke.

By 1787, Tyson was obliged to sell two of his lots. But things only got worse, for in 1790 the mill lot (reduced from 46 acres to 26 acres) was auctioned at a Sheriffs sale and purchased by Thomas Opdycke, son of John Opdycke, Esq. A deed confirming this and conveying the dower right of Benjamin’s wife Elizabeth Tyson to Opdycke for 5 shillings is dated April 29, 1790. The same day, Opdycke sold to Tyson a 107-acre farm taken from the southern part of the old John Opdycke farm of 260 acres. The same day that these transactions took place, Tyson and Opdycke mortgaged their new properties to John Prall, who would soon become proprietor of the mill at Prallsville.

Benjamin Tyson died in 1807, without writing a will and leaving a meager estate. It is not known when his wife Elizabeth died, but it was after 1808, when Jacob Holcombe paid Elizabeth’s bill with Dr. John Bowne. Jacob Holcombe was the administrator of Benjamin Tyson’s estate. Holcombe’s daughter Mary married one Jonas Tyson (c.1760-c.1785), who may have been a son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Tyson.

One should probably not leave Benjamin Tyson without mentioning a story published in the Opdycke Genealogy concerning his activities during the Revolution. According to the Genealogy, whose sources were mostly oral tradition, Tyson was a Tory who supplied flour to the British troops. He was suspected by John Opdycke (whom the Genealogy described as a very warm patriot), and was arrested while carting both flour and gunpowder in flour barrels (presumably not mixed together). The Genealogy states that he was court martialed and died in penury. It is true that he died poor, but I have not yet found documentation for a court martial.

As to the name of the village, Headquarters probably came into use during or shortly after the Revolution. The Opdycke Genealogy claims that the name resulted from a brief stay in the area by George Washington, as related by a granddaughter of John Opdycke. I have yet to find any evidence that Washington came through Delaware Township. White Hall TavernHowever, the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 604 and the Lambertville-Headquarters Road was the site of a very old tavern, known as the White Hall Tavern, and it was there that the Amwell militia did its recruiting. It served, in effect, as a Headquarters for the Amwell militia. Or at least, some records seem to suggest it. Solid proof of either theory is yet to be found.

 There is much more to be said about Headquarters Mill, in a future posting.

Other posts by Marfy Goodspeed

2 Responses to A History of Headquarters Mill

  1. [...] an article I wrote about the Headquarters mill that first appeared on The Delaware Township Post on July 21, 2006. But like many writers, I can never leave well enough alone. Since Samuel Green figures in the [...]

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  2. [...] Modified from part of an article first published in The Delaware Township Post, July 21, 2006, as “A History of Headquarters Mill.” [...]

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