Local Organizations Partner to Save the True Family Farmstead in Skillman

True Farmstead (Image Source: www.ssaamuseum.org)

The Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum (SSAAM) and Sourland Conservancy have joined forces to purchase and save the historic True family farmstead in Skillman, N.J. 

The property was originally owned by an African American Union army veteran who worked as a farmer after the Civil War. In 1891, after his death, his wife Cordina married Spencer True, a descendant of the former slave Friday Truehart. Interestingly, Truehart had gained his freedom in 1819 and became an early African American landowner in the Sourland region. Spencer and Corinda made their home on the farmstead, which originally included the land on which the National Historic Register-listed Mt. Zion AME Church stands today. Spencer and Corinda donated the land for the church in 1899 after the original church, built around 1866 on the Sourland Mountain, burned down. Mt. Zion AME Church welcomed its African American congregants until 2005, and now serves as the home of the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum.

SSAAM advisory board member Patricia Payne, a descendant of Friday Truehart and Spencer True, grew up visiting her grandparents on the family farmstead. There was a time, she recalls, that she knew every inch of the landscape of trees, ponds, and trails that surrounded the property.

“We grew up on a five-acre farm,” Payne recalled, referring to the True family farmstead. “We had plenty of gardens. They raised peaches and apples and sold greens from the garden. They certainly had huge collards, and greens and tomatoes, and whatever else they grew, and my father’s favorite, Jersey white corn. He loved Jersey white corn. They literally trucked all these green groceries down to Trenton. It was a big deal to come all the way from Hopewell/Skillman and truck it down to Trenton.”

“For generations, my family was all about central New Jersey,” Payne said. The True family has lived in central New Jersey for five generations, beginning when Friday Truehart’s enslaver brought him to Hopewell from South Carolina. Closely connected to the tight-knit African American community that lived on and around Hollow Road in Skillman, the Trues remained on the mountain and in the Hopewell Valley until Payne and her cousins dispersed to go to college and live elsewhere.

Descendants of the True family sold the adjoining farmstead to the Normile family in 1994. With the recent purchase of the farmstead and recombining of the parcels, the True family story has come full circle.

“Sourland Conservancy is proud to have played an important role in the preservation of the Mt. Zion AME Church and formation of SSAAM, and is now very excited that the True farmstead joins the land co-owned by the Conservancy and SSAAM on Hollow Road in Skillman,” said Dante DiPirro, president of Sourland Conservancy. “In terms of the ecology, visitors will be able to get to know the Sourlands better by learning about the forest, water, animals, birds, and other resources. We want visitors to come to enjoy a rich and enjoyable  experience and leave with a better understanding of the region and a new-found passion for enjoying, cherishing and protecting it.”

To learn more about SSAAM and their work, visit www.ssaamuseum.org.