MacKenzie Museum & Library
Old Ardena Schoolhouse
MacKenzie Museum and Library History
427 Lakewood-Farmingdale Road, Howell, NJ
The building that houses the MacKenzie Museum and Library shares two identities: the two-room miller’s house from about 1805,
and the formal, Greek Revival miller’s house, about 1854. Although there were many owners over the years, two families brought more notoriety to the property.
The 1850 Federal Census says Isaac Nesbit was a miller living in Howell Township, NJ. He acquired 3 acres that included a mill and dwelling property in 1854. His brother, William, also a miller, contemplated moving to the property but the two-room miller’s house couldn’t accommodate his large family. The larger, formal Greek Revival section was added to the house.
The architectural features included a well-lit foyer, with a Greek Revival door surrounded by a transom and sidelights, as well as a decorative open staircase. The front of the house was an I-style with one large room on each side of the foyer. The original downstairs room continued its life as a kitchen with the cooking hearth and tight-winder stairs used by servants. The original upstairs room was divided in two. The added upstairs had 4 bedrooms.
During the years when Isaac and his brother, William were in business together, and even after, the Lower Squankum Mill was known as Nesbit Mills. The 1860 Census indicates that Isaac and William were neighbors. Isaac was a farmer and William was a miller. It is likely that Isaac and his family were living across the road on the farm, and that William and his family were living in the previously extended miller’s house.
Over the years, both Isaac and William were very active in the Township of Howell. During the Civil War, William was instrumental in raising troops to fill the quotas of his township, and after the war, he spent time and money bringing home, to family and friends, the bodies of those who had been killed and buried on distant battlefields. By 1873, the brothers had moved on to bridge and road building.
In 1873 Capt. William Prickitt acquired 3 tracts of land in a Sheriff’s Sale, containing a dwelling house a gristmill and miller’s house, formerly owned by Isaac Nesbit. Isaac’s obituary of July 1897 read, “He came from Mercer Co. about 35 years ago and bought a Mill property at Lower Squankum, now owned by Capt. Prickitt.”
Capt. Prickitt retired to the farm with his family and lived on the West side of the road. and J. Marshall lived next to the mill. The Capt. put every effort into the cultivation of his land. The dairy on Gilman Farm had a long-standing reputation for the quality of its milk and extreme cleanliness. As a result, he was encouraged to open a canning factory which gained the same reputation. The cannery continued until 1920 when it was destroyed by fire.
While still alive, the house and grounds on the west side of the road were given to Capt. Prickitt’s daughter, Louise, who had always lived with him. The house and grounds on the east side of the road [MacKenzie House] were bequeathed to his daughters, Jennie Warner Patterson and Annie Gilman Linson, when Capt. Prickitt died in 1929.
By 1940, the daughters sold the mill property and miller’s house to Greta Sackett,
who, in turn, sold all in 1956 to Jessie and James MacKenzie. The State of NJ bought the mill property, as it was preparing for highway construction. And by 1980, the bridge and ramps for I-195 were put in. The last owner, Jessie MacKenzie, as one of the original incorporators of the Howell Historical Society, gave her home to Howell Township in 1982, to be used as a Museum and Library. In 2020 the newly founded Howell Heritage and Historical Society purchased the house from the township, in order to refurbish and reopen the MacKenzie House Museum and Library to the public.
Old Ardena Schoolhouse History
corner Old Tavern & Preventorium Rds, Howell, NJ
An earlier, smaller Ardena School was built in 1835 on the north side of the current County Route 524, Adelphia Road, east of Vanderveer Road. It was replaced in 1855 by this building, across the street from the present-day Ardena Baptist Church. It was where church services were held until construction on the Church was completed in 1861.
During its time of operation, it was the parents’ responsibility to hire and pay the teacher to work in the schoolhouse, so not everyone had the opportunity to obtain an education. Since Ardena only had a single room for instruction, which was typical of the era when the sprawling rural township of Howell had up to 12 one- and two-room schools, all levels of learners were taught together. This encompassed a great range of ages and the older students would often times work independently or help the younger ones during the school day.
Although from today’s perspective the schoolhouse appears limited in space and amenities, during the time of its operation, it was standard with what students had at home. There was an out-house for restroom use, glass windows, and a single stove used as a source of heat for cold days. However, for the sixty students in the classroom, attending school was a privilege and one must remember that these conditions were typical for the time.
Unlike modern day school systems that require 180 days of school for students, during the time of the Ardena Schoolhouse, there was only a 130-day school year. This was due to the fact that the individuals in Farmingdale and Howell relied on agriculture to survive. Since many of the students worked on their family farms, they would often have to miss class or leave early in order to help at home. Even with these circumstances, children were still given the opportunity for an education and improving their lives.
When Howell’s Ardena Consolidated School opened in 1938, the individual district schools were no longer needed. The old building was sold to an adjacent neighbor, Roy Matthews in 1939 for $300, and it became storage for his carpentry tools. In 1946 he sold it to Victor Griffin, who moved it to Burlington Road, in the East Freehold section of Freehold Township, where it was used for his carpet-making business. He painted it red, but then didn’t like how it looked, so had it covered with aluminum siding.
In 1973, there was a push by the Howell Historical Society to preserve the building. The Historical Society was able to purchase the Old Schoolhouse for $3,000, and paid $1,400 to have it moved mid-summer of 1974, and $650 to prepare the foundation to put it where it stands today at the corner of Old Tavern and Preventorium Roads.
Almost two years more were needed to raise more funds, and volunteer labor, to complete the work of putting up a new roof, adding the belfry, and refurbishing the entire building.
The original pot belly stove was donated by Leroy Matthews, as it had not made the trip to Freehold, and was placed back in the schoolhouse. The original bell was located in Ohio, and the original chalkboards built in the school in 1906 were still in place. Though the desks were not originals, they were purchased from a Lancaster, PA farmer, likely made around 1900. A dedication of the Ardena Schoolhouse was done on July 3,1976 as part of the Bicentennial celebrations, and Howell’s 175th year of founding.
The main purpose of the relocation and refurbishing of the Ardena Schoolhouse by the members of the Howell Historical Society, was to preserve something from the old generation, to pass on to the new generation. Moving forward, the members of the current Howell Heritage and Historical Society wish to continue that spirit, and again, prepare the schoolhouse to be open to public visitation.