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Historic Pony Farm preserved in Bedminster


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
BEDMINSTER TWP. - A 13.3-acre property along Black River Road, which has been a significant part of township history since the years following the Revolutionary War, was permanently preserved in late December through a public-nonprofit partnership.

The Pony Farm- so named because Shetland ponies were once raised there - is located across the road from the McCann Mill Road intersection, within a bend of the Black River. Its preservation completes the protection of 228 contiguous acres of open space and farmland - and over 1,000 preserved acres in the immediate area.

The newly-preserved property includes meadows that are now public open space, and a century-old Sears Roebuck kit house that can only be used as offices for small, nonprofit environmental groups.

Bedminster Township and the nonprofit Lamington Conservancy jointly purchased the Pony Farm on Thursday, Dec. 20, from the Brady Foundation.

Everything the property touches and everything across the street from it was already preserved,explained outgoing Mayor Robert Holtaway, who advocated for the preservation. Now we have the Pony Farm and we're very pleased.

The Pony Farm is in the heart of the Lamington Conservancy's preservation area, so we were excited to be able to use a state Green Acres grant to help Bedminster Township purchase this historic property,said Alexandra Allen, president of the Lamington Conservancy.

The 13-plus acres are surrounded by preserved open space and add to the corridor of protected land along the Lamington River,added Allen.The preservation of this property made tremendous sense and is wonderful for the community.

We're very happy about what has happened here,said James C. Brady, whose family owned the land for four generations. There's a great history on this property.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the property was part of the farm owned by John Honeyman, believed to be a Revolutionary War double-agent who provided false information to the Hessians to help George Washington win the pivotal Battle of Trenton in 1776. Honeyman settled in Bedminster after the war and became a local legend.

Later, the land became part of Hamilton Farm, the 5,000-acre grand estate assembled by financier James Cox Brady at the turn of the last century. As its name suggests, the Pony Farm was the section of Hamilton Farm on which Brady's famous show ponies were raised.

Hamilton Farm covered parts of Somerset, Morris and Hunterdon counties and was one of New Jersey's largest working farms in the early to mid-1900s. Its heyday was brief, however, and much of the Hamilton Farm property has since been sold - including more than 1,000 acres for open space preservation and use by nonprofit groups.

The Brady Foundation approached Bedminster Township last summer about buying the Pony Farm, and New Jersey Conservation Foundation - which serves as land preservation advisor to the township - began working to secure funding.

Bedminster Township and the Lamington Conservancy each used state Green Acres funds toward the purchase, and the township also used funding from its municipal open space trust fund.

Holtaway said the Brady Foundation originally intended to demolish the house, leaving nothing but open space. Then it was brought to my attention that it was a (Sears Roebuck) craftsman house, essentially intact,he said.

Because of the historic significance of Sears Roebuck houses - which were sold in ready-to-build kits from 1908 to 1940 - Holtaway requested that the house be preserved. The Brady Foundation agreed to use funds that would have been spent demolishing the house to improve it instead. They installed a new well and septic system, and repaired the slate roof.

The township has rented the newly-renovated house to North Jersey Resource Conservation and Development, a small environmental nonprofit previously located in Flemington. The land surrounding the house will be open to the public for hiking and other passive recreation.

Michael Catania, president of Conservation Resources Inc. of Chester and an open space advisor to the Brady family for more than 20 years, called the sale a model transaction in today's open space environment.

For generations, Catania said, the Brady family has been a model of responsible stewardship of the land, as well as visionary conservationists, which has been a great benefit to the community and I salute their legacy.

Michele S. Byers, executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, also praised the Bradys' land conservation ethic. Thanks to their generosity, the Pony Farm is taking its place among Bedminster's preserved lands,she said. Not only is a scenic and historic view preserved, but the water quality in the Black River is protected by having no further building on the property.

Other preserved properties immediately surrounding the Pony Farm include 78 acres of riverfront land purchased from the Brady family in 2005, another 18-acre riverside property known as The Caves,and 119 acres of preserved farmland to the east.

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