Volunteers help the Parsonage look as pretty as a picture from the past or prettier

Photo courtesy of the Union Township Historical Society
Volunteers recently gathered at the the Caldwell Parsonage to spruce it up.

UNION, NJ — The historic barn at the Caldwell Parsonage in Union, which serves as a museum and home of the Union Township Historical Society for more than 60 years, recently got a fresh coat of paint and a new lease on life.

Last month, UTHS members and friends gathered together for some team work as they painted the exterior of the barn and later enjoyed a barbecue to celebrate their hard work.

The previous day, Union resident Meridoc “Doc” Burkhardt, who plays the part of the Rev. James Caldwell, for whom the parsonage is named, had prepped and scraped the barn to ready it for painting.

The barn, which was built in the mid-19th century, was once a carriage house. The stairs to a hayloft, which is now used as the second floor of the UTHS’s tool museum, were added by the UTHS in order to more easily accommodate visitors.

The parsonage, located along Caldwell Avenue, was the home of Caldwell, a Presbyterian minister and well-known supporter of the Patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. His wife, Hannah, was killed inside the house in 1780 by British soldiers during the Battle of Connecticut Farms. Caldwell was shot a year later by an American soldier.

Before Union became a township in 1808, the area was called Connecticut Farms and received its name from settlers hailing from Connecticut’s farmlands.

Caldwell and his wife, who lived at the parsonage with their nine children, spoke out against King George III and the British government’s policies. This angered the British, prompting them to put a price on his head and those of his family members.

As the Battle of Connecticut Farms headed into town in June of 1780, Caldwell told his wife to prepare to leave the parsonage along with the children, and to meet him in nearby Springfield.

Hannah refused, and just hours later was killed by a British soldier, who shot her in front of her children. The parsonage was later burned to the ground, and a new Colonial structure built in its place.

When the war was over in 1782, Connecticut Farms Presbyterian Church constructed the present parsonage building and continued to use it as a home for its pastors until they constructed a building closer to the church.

According to Burkhardt, the group spent about 12 hours working on the barn.
“I worked a couple of hours the day before,” Burkhardt told Union Leader in a June 20 email. “Then the Arminio clan arrived early that day to begin the prep and scraping work,” he said of UTHS vice president David Arminio,and UTHS president Barbara LaMort, Arminio’s sister.

LaMort, president of the historical society, told the Union Leader that the barn may still be inhabited.

“When NJ Paranormal did one of its investigations, they picked up readings on their K-2 meters and other devices,” LaMort said in a May 22 email.
Tom Beisler of the UTHS told the Union Leader that the original barn on the property was destroyed decades ago.

“The actual barn was where the neighboring houses are and was probably demolished 70 to 80 years ago,” Beisler said.

According to LaMort, there is more work to do, which means another excuse to get together for some good old-fashioned fun.

“They worked for about five hours that day, but didn’t finish,” she said. “So there has to be at least one more barn-painting party.”

In 1982, the Caldwell Parsonage was added to the National Register of Historic Places.