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Historian Visits Somerville Historic Sites to Shed Light on Mysteries of Tombstones and Cemeteries

Grave marker of Harmanus Barkaloo, 1788, in the Middaugh family plot, on the grounds of the Old Dutch Parsonage in Somerville. Credits: Hillary Murtha

SOMERVILLE, NJ - Historian Mark Nonesteid will speak at the Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic sites at 1 p.m. Oct. 29 about burial customs and still-extant graves dating from the 17th century and reveal the cultural patterns that reflect the history of our cultural beliefs as a community.

 Why did Colonial Americans carve skull-headed angels on their loved ones’ tomb stones? When did cremation begin? How did the design of burial grounds change over time? When did brown stones give way to white marble?

How did cemeteries function as parks and places of amusement, as well as resting places for the dead? What health reforms took place in the 19th century and what was their impact on the New Jersey cemetery landscape?

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Nonesteid is co-author of New Jersey Cemeteries and Tombstones: History in the Landscape, member of the Association for Gravestone Studies and staff member of the Middlesex County Cultural and Heritage Commission

He will provide the answers to many of those questions.

The program is free of charge.

The Wallace House, built in 1776, served as George Washington’s winter headquarters during the Middlebrook Cantonment of 1778-1779. The house was the country residence of retired Philadelphia merchant John Wallace; Washington rented the use of half the house for himself and his staff and paid Wallace $1,000 for the use of his house and furniture.

During his stay, the General hosted foreign dignitaries and planned strategies for the spring military campaign. The house is fully restored and furnished with period furniture.

 The Old Dutch Parsonage was constructed in 1751, by the congregations of three local Dutch Reform Churches. The house was occupied by the Reverend John Frelinghuysen and his family until his death in 1754. His successor, the Reverend Jacob Hardenberg was the principal founder and first president of Queens College in New Brunswick, now Rutgers University.

 Both sites are administered by the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, and are open to visitors Wednesday through Sunday. The Wallace House and Old Dutch Parsonage are both listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

 The parking lot entrance and interpretive center for the sites is located at 71 Somerset St.. For directions and more information about the sites, visit

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