May 29, 2024

Agrarian Heritage of West Windsor and Plainsboro Is Theme of Upcoming “Farm Day at the Museum”

COLLABORATIVE CELEBRATION: The Schenck Farmstead is the site of a festival on Sunday, June 2, a joint effort of the Historical Society of West Windsor and Plainsboro’s Wicoff House Museum.

By Anne Levin

Until a few decades ago, much of West Windsor and Plainsboro was taken up by acres of farmland. These fields and pastures have since been turned into housing developments, at a rate that can give area historians pause.

But remnants of the rural past still exist. In a first-time collaboration, two history museums will present “Farm Day at the Museum” on Sunday, June 2 from 1-4 p.m. at the historic Schenck Farmstead. The free festival will include museum tours, a petting zoo, crafts for children, agricultural demonstrations, and more.

“This is the first joint event we’ve had,” said Paul Ligeti, president of the Historical Society of West Windsor, which runs the West Windsor History Museum. That nonprofit and the Wicoff House Museum in Plainsboro are partners in the event. “It’s about time,” Ligeti added. “We share a school system, and are so close to each other. We’re very happy to see this come to fruition.”

Agriculture is the central theme of Farm Day. Visitors can tour several centuries-old historic buildings including the Schenck Farmhouse, dating to the 1700s; the Dutch-English Barn; the 1800s Parsonage Schoolhouse; and early 1900s Wagon House, each of which houses artifacts from the past.

The first inhabitants of the area were the Leni Lenape, who cultivated corn, beans, and squash. “The Lenape also used raised beds of soil to germinate seeds,” reads a release about Farm Day. “Weeding was practiced ensuring crop health, and fire helped clear forests and flush out prey.”

The arrival of Europeans in the late 1600s signaled the clearing of thousands of acres of forest, transforming them into farmland and adding stone and timber-framed houses, barns, and mills. Families in ensuing years cultivated fields of grains, expanses of fruit orchards, and more.

“Many crops were further transformed into end products such as flour, syrup, cider, and whiskey, often with the help of local mills,” reads the release. “Herds of livestock roamed the landscape in later years, with some larger farms boasting thousands of turkeys, hundreds of cows, and a variety of other animals – sheep, goats, chickens, and more Regrettably, this agrarian identity also incentivized the use of slavery, up until the mid-1800s.”

The Schenck Farmstead once had more than 800 acres of farmland. It was named after the Schenck family, who settled in the area in the 1700s and bought the specific farm in 1899. The property was donated to the township and opened as the West Windsor History Museum in 2002. The Wicoff House was home to Plainsboro founder and first Mayor J.V.B. Wicoff, and became the town’s history museum in 1995. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Historical Society of West Windsor includes members whose families have lived in the area for some 300 years. The festival aims to celebrate their history, while at the same time introducing more recent residents to its notable past.

“We have previously focused on having open houses, and talking about farming with the people who come to those open houses,” said Ligeti. “That’s great for those people who grew up with it. But we’re trying to be more proactive now in bringing people who normally wouldn’t come, and getting them invested in the history. I think the majority of West Windsor’s residents have lived here less than 15 years, and come from other areas. This is why we’re trying to bring them this history. Even if they’ve lived here for two days, it’s just as important as for them to know about it as it is for the people whose families have been here for centuries.”

Ligeti’s own family moved to the area in the 1990s. “But it’s my hometown,” he said. “I grew up with this history. The transformation, even though it is recent, is still history. It’s kind of a case study of how farmland is suburbanized.”

Plans are to hold the festival rain or shine. Register in advance at

“We’re hoping this will become an annual event, because there is a lot of energy out there about this. Everyone is excited,” said Ligeti. “The only thing that could be standing in our way is the weather.”