Web Exclusives: Under the Ivy
a column by Jane Martin paw@princeton.edu

Nov. 2, 2005:

Out 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 suburban sprawl?

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 roll.

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 ’36.

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 1970.

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 paw@princeton.edu