Philip Freneau House
Backstory and Context
The Philip Freneau House is a Federal style home located in what is now known as Matawan, New Jersey.
Deemed the "Poet of the Revolution," Freneau was a close friend of U.S. president James Madison as well as a publisher, editor, and key player in the Jefferson/Hamilton disagreements during the 1790s. He lived in this home, currently owned by Mike Chartier, from 1818 to 1824 as his last place of residence. Current owner Chartier maintains a website (PhilipFreneau.com) to share the history of the home with the public.
A glimpse at that site tells us that the current house is around 4,000 square feet, on a third of an acre at 12 Poet Drive in Matawan. It is across the street from the "Locust Grove," Philip's monument/burial place. The structure towers over other houses in the development in comparison.
How did the house come to be?
In 1686, Peter Watson worked off his indenture and bought acres of land from Thomas Warne, in what was then called "Warne's Neck," in the vicinity of "Mount Pleasant." Notably, the "industrious and hard working" Peter Watson ascended from being an indentured servant to a land baron.
In 1752, Peter Watson descendant David Watson's son-in-law Pierre Freneau (our Philip's father) built the "Mount Pleasant Hall" on David Watson's land. This is the same year that Philip was born. In 1762, Watson deeded the land to Freneau.
In 1818, Mount Pleasant Hall burned down and Freneau moved into a new structure built by the Leadbeater family. Both Freneau and Leadbeater died in 1832, preceding the "Leadbeater Farm" being sold to Tom Ryer, who renamed it "Magnolia Farm."
The property changed hands several times until in 2004 it was bought by the current owner, Mike Chartier. Mike Chartier notes that previous owners from the past couple centuries have taken extra precautions to ensure that the home stays in tact. Chartier says "It is in remarkable shape to the extent of being reinforced with steel I beams and concrete, so that its as solid as a bomb shelter. Vinyl siding with styrofoam insulation was added about 20 years ago over about 2 inches of wood exterior so that the house is extremely well insulated."
There is still some remaining rubble stone foundation in the basement, directly under the front door. The staircase is original pine wood. On the interior walls, there is remaining Federalist moulding around the doors. A original counter weight and chain mechanism is still beside one of the restored windows.
There are also Victorian features added by owners during that period. Chartier states, "Clarence Ware owned the property from 1918 until 1948, making further improvements as well as resurrecting and publicizing the Freneau connection to the property."
What has throughout its life been called Mount Pleasant Hall, Leadbeater Farm, Magnolia Farm, and Poet's Dream, 12 Poet Drive represents the beautiful evolution of a revolutionary-era home still truly functioning as a home to this day.