The Franklin Inn-Van Liew Homestead in the East Millstone district of Franklin Township tells the story of the history the township from the earliest Dutch settlers, through the American Revolution, to the Canal era and the emergence of commerce, to its functioning as a thriving place of business in the 20th century.
The Franklin Inn was erected in several phases and is today a Federal Style building with Dutch vernacular roots. The first phase of construction (c.1756) was a two-bay, one-and-a-half story, Dutch farmhouse—the westernmost section of the present-day building. The second phase, which added three additional bays, occurred shortly thereafter, and documentary evidence suggests that a kitchen wing was added on the eastern end before 1810. The Delaware & Raritan Canal opened in 1834, and by 1836-37, a third and final expansion converted a private residence into a two-and-a-half story hotel to accommodate canal trade.
Still standing today, but hidden within the enlarged Franklin Inn, is the 18thcentury Dutch farmhouse constructed by Cornelius Van Liew that housed British and American soldiers during the American Revolution and witnessed the building of a canal, the reconfiguration of a road, and the emergence of a village around it. Despite flooding due to Hurricanes Floyd and Irene in 1999 and 2011 respectively, the building retains remarkable integrity, particularly in the interior, which boasts original framing, wainscoting, and a Dutch oven and door.
The Franklin Inn is designated as an “important contributing building” in the historic district of the Village of East Millstone, which is listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places. It is also a contributing building to the Delaware & Raritan Canal Historic District, and the federally designated Millstone River Scenic Byway.
The Franklin Inn is privately owned, but a history of partnership with non-profits has helped protect and steward this building. The Blackwell Mills Canal House Association restored the building’s exterior and first floor with private donations, and from 1992 to 2009, they operated a successful used bookstore in the inn, from which the proceeds were used to maintain the building.
Then, in 2009, fate dealt the Franklin Inn a one-two punch. Franklin Township was prepared to purchase and preserve the building, but the historic structure report they commissioned revealed wood rot and insect infestation in one corner. The building was found to be unsafe and was subsequently condemned by the township. Simultaneously, the land surrounding the building was tested and declared contaminated by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJ DEP). Municipal purchase of the property is now on hold pending further contamination testing and soil sampling; If the land on which the building sits is also verified to be contaminated, the related liability could present a major obstacle to the future acquisition of the property by a body interested in preserving it. However, at this point, even further sampling is on hold until funding can be obtained.
The Franklin Inn-Van Liew Homestead is a landmark in limbo. As the various conditions that might impact this property play out, the building sits, vacant and waiting for repairs and use. While currently in fair condition, the building is showing signs of deterioration that will only worsen rapidly if it remains unoccupied with utilities shut off.
A friends group, the Franklin Inn-Van Liew Homestead Association, has formed and is determined to secure the future of their namesake. The group is working with Franklin Township, the property owners, and NJ DEP to clarify next steps and options involved in contamination testing, remediation, and completion of the necessary repairs. Preservation New Jersey supports this volunteer effort and urges the interested parties and others to mobilize together to save this significant remnant of early Somerset County.
Susan Goldey, President/Secretary
The Franklin Inn-Van Liew Homestead Association, Inc.