Under the Ivy
a column by Jane Martin email@example.com
Nov. 2, 2005:
in the country
A New Jersey farm has raised generations of Princetonians
Drive south on New Jersey’s Route 525 through Bernards Township
toward Route 78 – which will start you on the way to Princeton
if you make the right turns – and if you pay attention, just
before you get to the 10 stoplights and the Starbucks and Gymboree
and the Marriott, you might catch a glimpse of a handful of cows,
grazing peacefully behind their evergreen shrubbery barrier.
You could easily make the trip daily for years before you noticed
the cows. But once you did, you’d be hard-pressed not to wonder:
What are they doing here, isolated among the encroaching
The answer leads to English Farm – and to Princeton.
“The University has been a big part of my life for
as long as I can remember,” says Abby English ’04.
In fact, the University has been a part of her family’s
life for much longer than anyone can remember. In 1837, James English,
known as “Dominie,” a recent graduate of Princeton Seminary,
was sent to lead a new Presbyterian congregation in the small village
of Liberty Corner, New Jersey, about 20 miles north of Princeton.
He oversaw the building of a beautiful new white clapboard church,
married one of his parishioners, and settled into a house on his
wife’s family’s farm, not far from the church.
The family never left.
Dominie and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Jobs, had four sons. Two
went to Princeton, then known as the College of New Jersey: James
R. English 1861, whose grave marker reads proudly, “Lawyer,”
and his brother Nicholas Conover Jobs English 1865. While Nicholas’
tombstone does not mention his occupation, he too was a lawyer,
practicing in Elizabethtown for many years.
In 1890, Nicholas’ son, William Hall English, a freshman
in the Class of 1894, died of appendicitis. Nine years later, William’s
brother, Conover, graduated as part of the second class of the officially
named Princeton University. Conover gave the first gift to Annual
Giving in honor of his father, whose name sits atop that historic
In 1908, Conover married Sara Elizabeth Jones, whose grandfather,
Elias Decou Woodruff, was in the Class of 1804, and great-grandfather,
Aaron Dickinson Woodruff, was in the Class of 1779, extending the
Princeton connection back almost 100 years. Conover and Sara then
sent two more sons to Princeton, Woodruff ’31 and Nicholas
Woodruff and his wife, Carolyn Barton English – still farming
the land in Liberty Corner – had five children, four of them
Princeton alums: Woodruff II ’69, Barton ’72, Elizabeth
’75, and Carolyn ’77. The fifth, Virginia, might have
gone as well, had the University accepted women for the Class of
That’s four successive generations of English brothers to
attend the University, and, so far, one generation of sisters. Bart’s
daughter Tess is awaiting word as to whether she will be a part
of the Class of 2010, continuing, with her sister Abby, that new
English family tradition.
While Abby has lifelong memories of attending Reunions –
running back and forth between her grandfather’s and father’s
classes – she says it wasn’t until her sophomore year
that she really grasped the significance of her heritage. “When I
moved into my sophomore room in Holder Hall, I learned that
not only my father, but my grandfather, lived in the exact same
entryway,” she says. “I actually remember looking through
old books at my father’s house over Christmas break,
and finding a letter dated April of 1929 and addressed to Woodruff
English, 8 Holder Hall, Princeton, New Jersey.” There were
smaller Princeton connections, too, such as the Elizabeth English
’75 Trophy that goes to the most valuable female hockey player
each year. Named after Abby’s aunt in recognition of her role
in establishing women’s hockey at Princeton, the award reminds
Abby of how far women at Princeton have come.
Throughout the years, while generations of Englishes were attending
Princeton, they were also maintaining two other family traditions:
the practice of law, and the tending of the family farm. Like his
father and uncle, Conover English became a lawyer, and at the turn
of the 20th century joined an established Newark law firm, McCarter
and McCarter, as a junior partner. Today, McCarter and English is
one of New Jersey’s best-known and most influential firms;
both Woodruff and Nicholas English practiced law there throughout
their careers. Abby is working at a law firm in Washington, D.C.,
and hopes to start law school next fall.
But it’s the Liberty Corner farm, the Englishes agree, that
has kept them together all these years. Woodruff’s children
spent their summers there while growing up in nearby Summit, and
it’s still the place where the family gathers for reunions
and holidays. Carolyn English, who lives there and has been running
things for 15 years or so, explains that after 250 years as a large
crop producer, the farm has shifted its focus to become a more community-based
enterprise. The English Farm opened a produce stand about five years
ago, has animals on display, offers hayrides and pumpkin picking,
hosts field trips, and holds a “History Day” once a
year. The family is dedicated to maintaining the farm as a viable
business, and one way of doing that is to educate the public about
the history of farming in the area.
So if you follow those cows across the pasture – or, more
practically, drive around the pasture to Lyons Road – you’ll
discover a bright yellow-and-red sign marking the English Farm.
The sign points to a winding gravel driveway, between a house and
barn that stand in exactly the same spots they did more than 100
years ago. Park behind the house, and take a peek at the bunnies
and the pot-bellied goats gamboling in their cages by the old ice
house. There are pigs to gawk at, fresh corn and tomatoes for sale
in the summer, and in the fall a hayride will take you not only
to pick a pumpkin, but to survey the land that has held the English
family for so long.
For more information, visit www.englishfarm.org.
Jane Martin 89 is PAW's former editor-in-chief.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org