Peter and Lily Taylor, with their daughter Abby, are the eleventh and twelfth generations to live on “River Side Homestead Farm” since their ancestor, Joshua Wright, purchased the land on August 9, 1720. Today, besides the vegetable and fruit that have always been part of the farming operation, the current owners, Peter and Lily Taylor are assisted by the Friends of the Taylor Wildlife Preserve that helps manage land eased to the state of New Jersey as the Taylor Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established by Peter’s grandparents, Joe and Sylvia Taylor in 1976 and protects, forever, 85 acres of the farm from development.
The New Jersey Agricultural Society presented Joe and Sylvia Taylor (Peter’s grandparents) with a Century Farm Award in 1982. The following account is based on the brochure from that event.
The original tract of land that Joshua Wright bought in 1720 consisted of 1,000 acres in Chester Township and included one full mile of Delaware River frontage. The land stretched all the way from the river to Burlington Pike, which is now Route #130, and from Swedes Run on the north to Union Landing (where manure barges from Philadelphia were unloaded) on the south.
Shortly after 1720 the land was farmed by the family. Joshua Wright’s son, also called Joshua, and his grandson, Joseph Wright, lived together on the land and began the farming operation. Their crops consisted of vegetables and fruit, and hay and straw for the horses and cows. By 1776, Joseph had sold 300 acres north of Taylor’s Lane to a Charles Haines.
Joseph’s sister, Thomasin, married Jacob Merritt and their daughter, Sarah, married Dr. Edward Taylor in the late 1780’s, thus starting the Taylor legacy on the land. Dr. and Mrs. Edward Taylor’s son, Edward, and his wife, Esther, in 1832 became the first Taylors to live in the old family home (the white house), which was built by Joseph Wright and is still in use today.
Both the nearby railroad and the river have played important parts in the story of the farm. In 1833, two acres of land were sold to the Camden and Amboy Railroad and, for a while, trains arrived daily from New York with passengers making the rest of the trip to Camden by mule-drawn stagecoach. Edward fed and stabled the mules at Taylor Station.
The Delaware River had an even greater influence on the farm life and operation. For years the river was the highway by which Taylor farm crops were sailed to Philadelphia markets, and manure made its way by rage from city stables to the fields and orchards at Taylor’s Lane. Farm wagons were driven over the river bank and down the gravel shore into water up to the horses’ bellies and right to the side of the market boat. Watermelons, cantaloupes, apples, peaches, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and firewood were loaded n the boats fro the trip to the market. If the wind failed, the boat was propelled with big sweep oars aided by the tide.
John Gardiner Taylor, Peter Gardiner Taylor’s great, great, great grandfather, sailed the market boat “Gem” for years and sold his own crops from the wharf in Philadelphia from the 1880’s to 1910. Gardiner made many improvements on the farm, building a second house in which Peter and Lily live today, and also greatly improved the riverbank by adding as stone facing, making it easier to maintain. Gardiner’s wife, Rebecca, planted a white swamp oak tree which is today among the other larger trees on the farm.
The family homes and the main barns and farm buildings have always been located on a 12 1/2 acre section along the river known in old records as “The Island”. The Indians must have frequented the island, as arrow heads, stone axes and stone fishing sinkers are still found on this ground.
Gardiner’s son, Howard G. Taylor, Sr., was born on the farm and his contribution to the operation was the establishment of a small commercial dairy and also his work with poultry from the 1890’s to 1911. He sold milk, eggs and cheese and is known for developing the popular strain of Taylor’s Standard Pole Lima Beans.
In 1911, Howard G. Taylor, Jr., Joe’s father, graduated from Haverford College and took over the operation of the farm. Under his supervision, the peach orchards were developed and a roadside market was established in 1921, which served as an important outlet for fruits and vegetables known for their quality and freshness. The roadside market operated until Howard Jr.’s death in 1967. Howard Jr. also improved the Taylors Standard Pole Lima Beans.
Joe (Joseph) was born on the farm and had lived there all this life until his passing in 1991. After graduating from Haverford College, he worked for 38 years as an elementary school teacher and a principal of schools in the area, including Westfield Friends School where his great granddaughter, Abby Taylor, is now a student. During this time, Joe was also a part-time farmer. Upon his father Howard’s death in 1967, Joe took charge of the farm operation where he grew fruit, vegetables, hay and straw as they were in the 1720’s. He began the pick-your-own model of distribution on the farm, as well as the organic farming which is a practice to this day.
In 1975, the Taylor Wildlife Refuge was dedicated as a permanent open space conservation easement consisting of 85 acres. The refuge includes all the marshland, a large section of the riverfront (at Wright’s Cove) and some prime farm fields. Development rights on the land were given to the New Jersey Natural Lands Trust, an agency of the State of New Jersey, so that this land would be protected from development forever. The Taylors still own full title to the land and are very proud to have the refuge on which over 180 species of birds have been found and all kinds of animals roam freely. A non-profit association called the Friends of the Taylor Wildlife Preserve was formed in order to maintain and manage the wonderful trails and space. Among other things, they were responsible for posting very informative trail signs for hikers to be able to become more familiar with the land. The public is always welcome to come and share the beauty of nature. Schoolchildren, nature groups and Audubon Society members are frequent visitors to the farm.
Peter has fond memories of working on the farm, alongside his father Harold, grandparents Joseph and Sylvia as well as many siblings, cousins, uncles, aunts and friends. Peter, Lily and Abby arrived from Canada where Lily, and their daughter, Abby, were born. Peter and Lily met in Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica and were married in Toronto, Canada shortly after. They lived there for over 15 years before deciding to move to the farm. Peter’s aunt and uncle, Kitty and Takashi Mizuno were managing the pick-your-own organic fruit and vegetable business until Peter and Lily’s arrival in 2013.
A new generation of Taylors will continue the tradition of sustainable farming, nature appreciation, and of welcoming family, friends and newcomers, to share in the beauty, history and peace that abounds here.