Van Bunschooten house is link to Wantage's colonial past

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:13

    WANTAGE-As Wantage celebrates the 250th Anniversary of its founding, efforts are underway to preserve and maintain one of the township's oldest historic treasures.  Members of the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution recently launched a major fundraising effort to make critical repairs needed at the Elias Van Bunschooten house and museum. Located on Route 23, the Van Bunschooten house is an original Dutch Colonial home built in 1787. It was originally owned by Reverend Elias Van Bunschooten, who for forty years led the local Dutch Reformed Church congregation.  The house remained in the hands of the Van Bunschooten family for many generations and was the core of a 1,000-acre farm. In 1971, the Chinchewunska Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution bought the house to operate as a museum. The DAR is appealing to local organizations and individuals to help meet the expenses of maintaining the home. The most pressing need is a new, $70,000 roof to replace the decaying cedar shakes now on the house. According to DAR Corresponding Secretary Barbara Sauve, the house also is in desperate need of major structural repairs. Sauve said that architects and historic preservation specialists are working with the group to save the house and preserve it for many future generations to enjoy and appreciate. Built of sturdy post and beam construction, the home features a center hall design, with Dutch doors on each side. DAR member Murial Robertson, who has given tours of the home for more than 13 years, explained that "the Dutch doors were very important because you could open the tops to get some air and keep the bottoms closed to keep the pigs and chickens outside." The house was insulated with boards sawn at the sawmill on the Clove Brook, which was the family's major source of income at the time. Robertson's tour shows visitors an exposed section of wall in Van Bunschooten's small master bedroom.   The walls are nearly four inches thick with wooden plank insulation. Robertson feels that if all the insulating planks were removed, a second home could be built with the wood.   One of the proudest accomplishments of the DAR chapter is the fact that the Van Bunschooten house is believed to have the largest collection of furniture original to the home of any historic home in New Jersey that is open to the public.   After the Cooper relatives learned that a museum had been opened at the house, many post-revolutionary war furniture items previously used in the home began to make their way back to Wantage Township. One cousin contributed a parlor suite, a sofa, two love seats, two Empire sideboards, and a Federal Hepplewhite sideboard along with side chairs. Another cousin added a Sheraton style table.   Many other items are featured in the museum's collection including family portraits, bed warmers, chamber pots, clothing, linens, china, and an original musket used in the Revolutionary War. The property, now trimmed to 6.5 acres, also includes an outdoor Greek Revival-style privy with multiple seats and a small herb garden planted around the exterior, which Robertson said helped to mask the odor.  One recent visitor had a personal story to share with DAR members. Dean L. Benschoter of Algona, Iowa is a ninth generation descendant of Rev. Elias Van Bunschooten. Benschoter visited recently while traveling in the area for his wedding anniversary. Benschoter said he became aware of the museum after speaking with two cousins on the East Coast. Seeing the museum and his relative's possessions took Benschoter on a journey of discovery, "further back than I can even dream of going."   "We didn't really know much of our family's past before Iowa, this goes four generations further back." Benschoter said. "And I did not realize we had a reverend in the family." Benschoter said he was surprised to find his relatives were affluent. Van Bunschooten established the first scholarship at Queens College, which is now Rutgers University. The scholarship for those studying for the ministry is still in existence today, Robertson noted.  The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and Places, and the museum is open from 1-4 p.m. on Thursday's and Saturdays from May 15-Oct. 15. The museum can also be opened by request for for history/genealogical library research or for groups, including organizations and schools. To make arrangements, contact Muriel Robertson at 973-875-5335 or or Barbara Sauve at 973-875-4058 or