Apple-Tree House
Jersey City
Where Lafayette and Washington ate under the shade of an Apple-Tree

From Historic Houses of New Jersey by W. Jay Mills, 1902
Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2002

Photos taken by George Eisenman in 1967

The Apple Tree House is located at 298 Academy Street, just a few blocks from Journal Square

About a hundred yards away from the Sip Manor, and just off Bergen Square, on what is now known as Academy Street, is an imposing stone dwelling, covered with aged ivy vines. It used to be called, by the early residents of Bergen, Apple-tree House, owing to the fact that Generals Lafayette and Washington dined under the shade of a great old appletree in its orchard when planning the retreat through the Jerseys. The house was then owned by Hartman Van Wagenen, a member of a prominent Bergen family, whose descendants retain it today. At the time of its erection, in the seventeenth century, it was one of the largest buildings in the village, and although slightly modernized in the first half of the nineteenth century, is still a fine specimen of an old Dutch homestead.

General Washington often stopped in Bergen during the first year of the war. There is a tradition that he presented a lace handkerchief to a member of the Van Winkle family when visiting the Stuyvesant tavern, at the foot of Glenwood Avenue. This time-kissed dwelling today, peering from behind aged vines and gnarled shrubs, seems to call out to the passers-by, “Look at me, I am the last tragic bit of the Bergen of true Dutchmen.” The Tuers and Dey houses are also said to have been visited by him, as well as the famous “Three Pigeons Inn,” which the brave Sergeant Champe rode past on his wild-goose chase after the deserter Benedict Arnold. But there is abundant proof that Washington did stop with Lafayette at the Apple-tree House, and there are many mute relics in existence, cut from the wood of the tree which sheltered them, that would tell us the story if they could.

Nothing is known today of the manner Van Wagenen entertained his distinguished guests. Presumably one of the dishes that his “black wenches” (The legalistic sin of slavery was commonly practiced throughout New Jersey during Revolutionary Times. It took the enactment of the 13th Amendment to eradicate slavery in New Jersey.)served them was the delicacy of oyster-crabs stewed in wine, a Bergen viand of which, according to an early resident of Paulus Hook, by the name of Granny Cutter, Washington was very fond. This quaint character, a market-gardener’s daughter, who died many years ago, and is only dimly remembered by the oldest citizens, used to relate how, on the day of the Father of his Country’s inauguration as first President of the United States, she spent the morning securing oyster-crabs, which were ordered for the great chief's dinner. Many other interesting tales she told, which are still repeated, of the time she sold her cock-a-nee-nee, or taffy sticks, under the hazlenut-trees which grew on the site of the City Hall of New York. The spot was then a gathering-place for dealers of all kinds. Peddlers of knick-nacks, flower-women with stands of growing plants, and fruitvenders. Bananas were practically introduced to New Yorkers there, the fruit selling for one dollar a dozen.

Side view showing porch column and multiple scrolled brackets

Seen from the back
The Van Wagenen apple-tee obtained quite a sentimental interest in the succeeding years. It was blown down and uprooted by the great gale of September 3, 1821, which did much damage to the farms throughout the State. People came from all over the surrounding country to obtain pieces of its wood, to be made into treasured souvenirs. Many trinkets were whittled out of its branches by the clever youths of Bergen, and numerous must have been the apple-tree presents exchanged at the following Kerstija, or Christmas-time.

In 1824, when General Lafayette had arrived in America and was the hero of the hour, several of the public-spirited citizens decided to present him with a cane cut from the wood of the famous apple-tree, when he passed through Bergen on his Jersey tour. He reached the junction of the five roads about noon-time of the twenty-third of September of that year, followed by his suite and a cavalcade of prominent New Jersey officials. His coach, drawn by six white horses, was the famous vehicle presented by General Washington to Mayor Varick, and his approach was the signal for the loud cheering of a large majority of the inhabitants of Bergen, who had assembled to welcome him and see their cane presented by good Dominie Cornelison, the pastor of the old Bergen church.

Wander back o’er the years with me and gaze on the forgotten company. The multitude of Dutch people in their primitive dress thronging the roadways and perched on farm wagons and the roof and balcony of the HalfWay House, where the sign of the White Swan swung on its rusty hinges; the soldiers in their brilliant uniforms with brass buttons flashing when the sun finally burst through the dark clouds; stately Governor Williamson on his large bay horse; and then the grand old Lafayette, bowing right and left and gracefully acknowledging the salute of the humblest urchin there. Now Dominie Cornelison steps forward with the cane, which has been elegantly mounted with gold, and bears this inscription: “Shaded the hero and his friend Washington in 1779; presented by the corporation of Bergen in 1824,” and a silence falls on the crowd as he begins the following address:
General, In behalf of my fellow-citizens I bid you a hearty and cordial welcome to the town of Bergen, a place through which you traveled during our Revolutionary struggles for liberty and independence. Associated with our illustrious Washington, your example inspired courage and patriotism in the heart of every true American. You, sir, left your abode of ease, affluence, and happiness, to endure the hardships and privations of the camp. To enumerate your martial deeds is at this time unnecessary, yet they awaken and call forth our warmest gratitude. As a tribute of esteem and veneration, permit me, sir, to ask the favor of your acceptance of this small token of respect, taken from an appletree under which you once dined and which once afforded you a shelter from the piercing rays of noonday ; and although it possesses no healing virtue, may it still be a support. And may you, sir, after ending a life of usefulness and piety, be admitted into the regions of everlasting joy and felicity.
First floor hall and stair, showing Doric pilasters framing the doorway and closet

Front parlor on the first floor, showing wall papering above chair rail and the fireplace with Doric pilasters and plain entablature
Draw nearer now, as the marquis is voicing his thanks in low and rather quavering tones, and all will want to remember hearing the great man speak, although a few present are not very familiar with any but their own Holland tongue. Very soon all will be over, and in the words of some faithful reporter on the Sentinel of Freedom, “the cavalcade now resumes its march under the loud and hearty cheers of the inhabitants of the ancient village.”

Over the dusty road with its many bridges it slowly creeps through meadow and bogland filled with autumnal flowers and foliage, on to Newark, where, filling the common, a vast concourse is assembled, and gayly dressed girls stand by a decorated floral bower, ready to sing these verses, composed for the occasion by a local poet:

“Welcome! Freedom’s favorite son,
Welcome! friend of Washington;
For though his sun in glory’s set,
His spirit welcomes Lafayette.

“Welcome! Friend in adverse hours,
Welcome! to fair Freedom’s bower;
Thy deeds her sons will ne’er forget,
Ten millions welcome Lafayette.’’

On Lafayette’s return from his Jersey tour he is said to have visited Apple-tree House, and from the many trees in old Dutch gardens credited to his planting, he must have spent at least a day with different admirers in Bergen.