Now that the once proud ConvaTec buildings have been razed to make way for the new Montgomery Township municipal complex, what will happen to a small family cemetery of tilting headstones from the 1700s?
The remains of Dutch settler Abraham Stryker (1715-1777) and his immediate descendants have rested on the property, located off Orchard Road near the Route 206 intersection, for hundreds of years.
“We have an obligation to maintain that cemetery,” says Donato Neiman, Montgomery Township administrator, emphasizing that “we would do it anyway.”
Meanwhile, local residents with the last name of Stryker wonder if they may be related to the early settlers buried in the plot.
William S. Stryker of Rocky Hill says he’s unsure whether he descended directly from Abraham Stryker or a relative who also helped settle Montgomery in the 1700s. But, he says, “I’d like to find out!”
”It’s something I want to get my kids into,” Stryker adds. “It’s pretty unique for a family to have been in one area for so long.”
In addition the Strykers, the Montgomery area has Skillmans, Gulicks, Voorhees, VanCleefs, Van Dorens, Van Dykes (or Vandycks), Vanpelts, Van Shoicks, and Vanderveers — all bespeak direct Dutch descent.
The small, fenced Stryker burial plot is well maintained, considering its age, and contains the skeletons of the earliest settlers of Montgomery — the Strykers — who appear to be related to the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, or New York City as it is now known.
Even after the English wrested control of that promising port from their rivals in 1664, Dutch immigrants continued to arrive. One of these – with a major connection to both New York and Montgomery history – was Jan Stryker, spelled “Strӱcker” in the old style.
STRYKER FAMILY IN AMERICA
“The Strӱcker family is of remote antiquity in Holland,” wrote William S. Stryker of Trenton in his detailed 1887 study Genealogical Record of the Strӱcker Family. “All the several branches of the family in the United States, whose names [have] been often changed and written Stryker, Strӱcker, Striker, Stricker, are derived directly from this old Dutch parentage.”
Jan Strӱcker (1615-1697), patriarch of the American branch, was born in the Dutch village of Ruinen and emigrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City) with his wife and six children in 1652. “Leaving behind him all the privileges and rights which might be his … in the old world,” his descendent William wrote, “he sought to start his family on new soil in habits of industry and honesty.”
Jan is credited as having led the founding of the village of Midwout on the western end of Long Island. Today, it is the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, known for its deep Dutch history.
One his sons, Pieter (1653-1741), made a significant investment in 1710 when he purchased 4,000 acres of land in Somerset, New Jersey, from the Aerson brothers. They, in turn, had received it as a patent deed from the Proprietors of East Jersey (the major land-holding consortium for that half of the state).
Pieter Stryker stayed in the New York City area and never lived on his Somerset land. But his sons Jacob and Brant did, as did four children of their brother Jan. Among these four was Abraham Stryker.
STRYKER FAMILY IN MONTGOMERY
Abraham, a great-grandson of the patriarch Jan, was born in Flatbush on August 4, 1715. In May 1740, he moved with his wife Ida Ryder Stryker to what is now Montgomery Township. Abraham Stryker died on April 4, 1777 and was probably the first person interred in the burial ground off Orchard Road now associated with his name.
“It was not unusual to have burials on a family farm in those days,” notes Montgomery administrator Neiman. The laying out of the beloved was done at home as part of life’s patterns. The deceased was then buried away from the farmhouse but close enough for the grave’s care.
The adjacent farm at 88 Orchard Road has long been known as “the Abraham Stryker farm.” It’s unknown whether its farmhouse was built by the first Abraham or by his son of the same name (1752-1827, also interred in the family plot).
The center section of the now-expanded Stryker farmhouse, currently home to the Princeton Center for Yoga & Health, is probably of mid-1700s origin as are surviving main structural elements of the barn.
The Montgomery News is headquartered in what was probably the farm’s carriage house.
Montgomery was among the Somerset settlements which, in the 1760s, began petitioning for official status as separate townships. When the first Montgomery Township meeting was held in Rocky Hill on March 2, 1772, Dutch-Americans were well represented: Hendrick Vandike was elected town clerk; Thomas Skillman, “Collector [of revenues] and Overseer of the Poor;” and William Stryker was named as a freeholder.
The Abraham Stryker farm expanded south to Bedens Brook through additional land purchases. It passed to the next Abraham Stryker who, with wife Anne, transferred it to their son Abraham, Jr. on December 28, 1813.
At some point, the site of the new township center and the burial ground, was detached from the original Abraham Stryker farm. This eastern acreage was probably deeded to Vorhees family members who had married with Strykers (perhaps after 1854, the year of the last known burial in the cemetery). Abraham’s original farm eventually passed to a D.P. Styker; his property line is cited in late 19 century deeds as a major western boundary between the two grounds.
In 1897, grief came to the separated parcel. Records at the Somerset County deeds office in Somerville show that it was lost in a foreclosure brought by the Camden Safe Deposit & Trust Company, acting as trustees for one Thomas B. Parker, against a group of 18 persons, including 12 Voorhees and two Strykers. Presumably the defendants had borrowed against it and were unable to repay Parker’s loan.
But Stryker-Voorhees ties to this land stayed strong. In 1961, the parcel was purchased by Norman H. Voorhees of Skillman from the estate of Carrie S. Opie, then its owner.
And in October 1963 – 55 years ago – came a new chapter in its history, transitioning from agriculture to research.
Norman and his wife Christine officially transferred title to Princeton Research Lands, Inc., a development entity they had formed. It was a wise move: In the 1960s, American family farms began to fade in the face of corporate agriculture, with the land becoming hugely valuable for development.
On July 2, 1985, a new owner – and a new protector for the Abraham Stryker Burial Ground – arrived in the person of Robert Tuschak.
Tuschak, a Somerville-based developer, purchased the property from Princeton Research Lands, Inc. He formed Headquarters Park Associates, a business and research condominium development, and erected two large buildings on the site.
But what of the old graveyard, in the shade of venerable trees but figuratively in the shadows of these 20th century structures?
Starting in 1979, local resident and historian Walter C. Baker undertook an intensive survey of area cemeteries, the results published as the invaluable booklet Family Burying Grounds, Montgomery Township, Somerset County, New Jersey (published by the Van Harlingen Historical Society and revised most recently in 1993). He documented the Abraham "Strycker" Burial Ground and Tuschak’s thoughtful treatment of it.
“For the age of the cemetery, the monuments are in good condition,” Baker reported. He added (with some forgivable spelling errors) that “Mr. Robert Tuchek, principle developer of the park, had the cemetery cleared of all brush and briers and erected a treated wood picket fence to site the cemetery and to deter damage to the area and the monuments.”
Headquarters Park was acquired by E.R. Squibb, the major pharmaceutical firm, in December 1988. Twenty years later, it was transferred to ConvaTec Inc., a global medical research firm which became a Squibb affiliate.
Then, in August 2017, ConvaTec sold the property to the Somerset County Improvement Authority in preparation for use as the new Montgomery Township Municipal Center.
The Abraham Stryker Burial Ground is just one of many historic cemeteries in Montgomery-Rocky Hill. How many? Their number is not certain.
Baker documented 23 family plots plus additional church, institutional, and large private cemeteries. Montgomery administrator Neiman knows of 13 in the township, three of which the municipality maintains, he says, “in the absence of any family or other caretakers.” (In addition to the Abraham Stryker burial ground, there is one on River Road associated with the Beekman, Vanderveer, and Campbell families and one near Burnt Hill Road associated with the former NJ State Neuro-Psychiatric Institute / Princeton North Developmental Center.)
Also, when Baker originally examined the Stryker plot, he noted that there was “considerable space between monuments suggesting that several early monuments are missing.” All this calls for a new investigation of the historic Montgomery-Rocky Hill graveyards by some enterprising researcher.
“People become reverential, as they should be, about these plots,“ says Neiman. “You respect those who are buried there, and there’s a lot of history there.”
“It’s special what we have here,” William Stryker agrees. “It’s something we should be proud of.” ■
[The writer thanks Kim Galatro, Barbara Vaning, Elaine Weidel, and Candy Willis of the Van Harlingen Historical Society; the staff of Mary Jacobs Library; and Dan Calhoun and June Staats for heir help during this article’s research.]