Early DevelopmentAttracted by rich soils, farmers began settling in the area around Jacobs Creek as early as the late 17th century. The agricultural landscape and heritage they established defined the region's unique identity.
Prior to 1690, few settlers established themselves north of the Falls of the Delaware (at present day Trenton). By the end of the 17th century, however, settlers of European descent from Long Island and East Jersey had begun to flood into the Hopewell area. This influx would continue unabated until the Revolution. These new farmers clear-cut most of the existing forests and began cultivating the land. In the process, they established large farmsteads which became family seats that persisted for many generations. Gradually, however, as the population expended, so did demand for arable land. The large farms established during the early Colonial period were subsequently subdivided into increasingly smaller farmsteads. Often this was done in order to provide each of a family's sons with his own tract of land.
Washington at Jacobs CreekBy the time George Washington's troops marched down Bear Tavern Road in late December of 1776, the landscape they would have encountered was characterized by expansive, open farm fields dotted by scattered farmsteads. Although isolated strands of trees would have existed in farm wood lots and along the banks of the creek, it is unlikely that the forest would have been as extensive as it appears today. Most of the first growth forest would have been cleared for agricultural purposes, to supply lumber for homes and barns and wood to fuel the winter fires.
This early clearcutting would also have resulted in extensive erosion, particularly around Jacobs Creek. Although it is unclear exactly what the water level of Jacobs Creek was during this period, or how three hundred years of agricultural practice and residential and commercial development has affected erosion and water flow along the creek, it is likely that the water levels at this established ford were generally shallower than they appear today.
After the RevolutionIn the century following the Revolution, the life and landscape of Hopewell remained largely unchanged. Although agricultural production and natural farmland drove many settlers west in search of better land and opportunity. Transportation and industrial developments that altered the landscape of other parts of the nation did not dramatically impact the Hopewell area, as many of these "improvements" were integrated relatively seamlessly into the existing rural landscape.
(Inscription in the box on the left) Colonial FarmsteadsDuring the Colonial period, there was remarkable consistency in the layout and features of the region's farmsteads. Every farm contained a nucleus of buildings and other features arranged around a farmyard. Settlers chose sites with shelter from wind, rain and flexaling, a nearby source of potable water, and solid, elevated ground. Farmhouses were situated facing south to take advantage of the warmth of southern exposure during cold winter months.