History of the Ayres/Knuth Farm

The Ayres/Knuth Farm

Ayres/Knuth Farm was located in the Franklin section of Denville. While Franklin had strong religious and community ties to Rockaway, of which it was originally part of, it was a distinctive village centered where Cooper Road crosses the Den Brook. It is believed that around 1759 (but possibly as early as 1735) Obadiah Lum purchased 180 acres in Franklin and built the first forge and sawmill on the Den Brook. Lum purchased the property from Thomas and Richard Penn, sons of proprietor William Penn, likely with financial backing from Colonel Jacob Ford, who owned extensive land, including mines, in Morris County. In 1774, John Cobb, Thomas Brown, and Stephen Jackson built a second forge, and by the time of the Revolutionary War, Franklin had developed into a settlement of around twenty families. The first schoolhouse opened around 1777, and a second, larger one replaced that one around 1816. In the nineteenth century, the forges and mills in Franklin generally did not prosper due to competition from larger operations in other sections of Rockaway, Dover, and Boonton, and due to the fact that the Morris Canal did not pass through Franklin. Instead, Franklin developed into one of the primary agricultural hubs of Denville.[2] This was due to the high quality soil and the village’s proximity to numerous towns with markets where crops could be sold.

The Ayres/Knuth Farm property was first settled on and developed by Daniel Ayres. The grandson of Irish immigrants, Daniel Ayres was born in Woodbridge, Middlesex County in 1778. His mother, Anna, was the daughter of General Joseph Jackson, who is known as the founder of Rockaway. Daniel married Hanna Garrigus, the daughter of David Garrigus, who was a prominent landowner in Franklin and owner of the Franklin iron forge.

On May 10, 1803, David Garrigus conveyed 105 acres in Franklin to his son-in-law, David Ayres. Daniel’s wife was pregnant with their first child at that time, and he likely built a house (location and form unknown) for his growing family at the site. The couple would go on to have five children. Hanna Garrigus died and Daniel then married her cousin, Mary Garrigus, and had two children with her. While the size of the overall property has changed over the years, the core of the farm property remains intact today.

Daniel was trained as a shoemaker but went on to become a successful farmer at his Denville property, expanding beyond just subsistence farming. The 1850 census indicates his farm property was valued at $2,500. Daniel died in 1856, and his son, William Ayres, took over management of the farm property. As a young man William Ayres had left New Jersey and traveled to Minnesota before purchasing a share of a farm and saw mill in Illinois. William returned in New Jersey around 1850 to settle his affairs, but because of his father’s ailing health, he ended up staying in Rockaway to take over his family’s farm. Daniel Ayres died in 1856, and William fully inherited the Franklin farm property.

The 1860 agricultural census reveals the first documented information about the about the type and methods of farming at the Ayres’ property in Franklin, which represented a microcosm of New Jersey’s agricultural trends during that time. In 1860, William Ayres’ farm consisted of approximately 300 acres, one-sixth of which was under cultivation. The Ayres practiced mixed husbandry with a focus on the cultivation of grains, particularly oats and Indian corn, and to a lesser extent buckwheat, rye, and wheat. They also raised sheep for wool and to a lesser extent raised cows for butter. Small amounts of fruit and honey were sold for additional income. Poultry and swine were limited, and likely only raised for use by the family. This is fairly representative of agriculture in New Jersey during the first half of the nineteenth century, which experienced a strong growth and resurgence. This was due in part to major advances in farming practices spread through educational publications and agricultural societies and fairs, and to new farm equipment made available because of the Industrial Revolution. As seen at the Ayres’ farm, during the mid-nineteenth century, grains and grasses were the primary crops, and cattle and sheep were profitable livestock.

William Ayres married Phoebe Smith, and the couple would go on to have eight children. William’s mother, Mary, also lived with the family until her death in 1875. Based on architectural evidence, and because of the large size of the family and their domestic help, it is believed that the existing farmhouse was constructed around 1855 as a large addition to the earlier dwelling his father had built. William is also thought to have constructed many of the outbuildings that are still extant today. By the 1860s, William’s farm operation had increased to the point that he needed to hire full-time farmhands. He hired two German laborers and built a small residence for them immediately behind his own. This tenant house allowed the Ayres family privacy, yet its close proximity allowed William to oversee his employees. During his tenure, William continuously increased the acreage of the farm, and at one time owned over 500 acres.

During the second half of the nineteenth century, agriculture in New Jersey underwent significant changes, due largely to competition from large farms in newly-settled western states, massive urban migration, and the economic depression of 1873-1879. The farmers that were able to survive and prosper during this period employed progressive agricultural methods. William Ayres’ farming practices during this period accurately reflected these agricultural trends.

William practiced mixed husbandry like his father, but his flexibility and willingness to diversity and experiment, allowed him to continue to profit during this transitional period from 1850 to 1880. During this period, expansion of the railroad resulted in sheep and beef cattle being transported into New Jersey from western states and therefore a decline in the state’s market for these livestock. Savvy farmers, including William Ayres, decreased and eventually eliminated raising sheep and instead shifted focus to dairying, poultry, and vegetable farming. As William decreased his sheep, he increased his dairy heard and his milk and butter production. He also pursued poultry farming, albeit on a smaller scale; the two existing chicken coops date to the last quarter of the nineteenth century, reflecting William’s pursuit of poultry farming. Also due to competition from new western states, wheat and other grain production rapidly decline during this period. Accordingly, William Ayres completely eliminated his wheat production by 1880 and greatly decreased production of other cereal grains.

During his life, William Ayres pursued varied interests beyond traditional agricultural methods, which also helped him prosper during times of agricultural transition in the region. By 1880, despite the recent economic depression, William’s 400-acre farm was valued at $17,400, a significant increase from $2,500 in 1850. For example, he sold lumber from his property to the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company and the Erie Railroad. He also pursued extensive fruit cultivation, with particular interest in apples, peaches, and pears. His father had established a small family orchard, and William greatly increased that to around 400 trees in 1880. He also operated a water-powered cider mill along with his son, George. In the late 1860s, William built a cider mill along a small stream at the southeastern end of his property (near present-day Route 10). George, William’s oldest son, took over responsibility as distiller once he reached adulthood. However, George died in 1893 at a young age, and the cider mill operations appear to have ended with his death.[3]

William Ayres retired in 1896 and moved to new home he had built for his wife and himself. It is unknown why none of his surviving children took over the family farm, but the property sold several times in the decade after William’s retirement. Between 1896 and 1905, the property changed hands six times, likely purchased as an investment by people not interested in actually living at the property. Then, in 1906, Martin and Anna Knuth purchased the former Ayres farm, and their family would retain the property for nearly ninety years.

Martin and Anna Knuth emigrated to the United States in 1882 from West Prussia at the height of German immigration during the nineteenth century. They left Germany it is assumed for both economic and religious reasons. The Knuths were knowledgeable farmers and brought smart
agricultural practices with them when they settled in Rockaway. They first lived in the Union Hill section of Rockaway on property at a higher elevation that was rocky, and therefore, less productive. Their purchase of the former Ayres property in Franklin was an improvement. The couple had five children when they purchased the property and a sixth was born soon after they moved there. The Knuths’ first three decades in Franklin on the farm were highly prosperous, and they paid off their mortgage by 1915. Martin Knuth was known to be a progressive farmer who, much like William Ayres, was not afraid to diversify and experiment with different farming ventures to make a profit. In the early-twentieth century, agriculture in New Jersey, including in Morris County, decreased, as urban areas steadily grew and moved into previously rural farming areas. The state’s agriculture was largely divided into three main areas: dairy, poultry, and truck farming, but most farmers practiced a combination of the three, including a variety of crops for truck farming. Martin Knuth practiced mixed husbandry including raising a variety of livestock, but his practices were focused on growing a mix of vegetables as a truck farming operation. His products were trucked to Newark for sale, but were also sold at local markets including Dover, Denville, and Rockaway.

Like William Ayres’ cultivation of fruit and operation of a cider mill. Another interesting feature of the Knuth’s farm was an advanced hydraulic ram system for delivering water to the house and outbuildings, an engineering achievement that functioned until the 1990s.

Martin Knuth died in 1935, and the farm suffered tragedy the following year. The farm property insurance lapsed, and a lightning strike to the main large dairy barn caused a destructive fire. The Knuth’s losses were estimated at $50,000 and includedthe barn, over one hundred tons of hay, a large amount of rye and barley, animals and carriage collection a car, a truck, and a cow. With no money available to replace the barn, with the loss of the dairy cows the large barn was not rebuilt. It is presumed a smaller building used as an ice house was moved and converted for use as an office barn with a few stalls. Faced with the losses from the fire and the economic depression of the 1930s, the farm was largely reduced to a subsistence-level truck farm operation. Anna died in 1950, and her two children, Frank and Sue, took over operation of the farm.

Neither Frank nor Sue Knuth married, and the two remained on the farm until their deaths 1990s. Frank Knuth grew a variety of crops and produced eggs, which were sold locally. He also was a skilled hunter and sold furs for profit. He supplemented his income working as a maintenance man at the local Greystone psychiatric hospital. The farmhouse was not electrified until the 1960s and indoor plumbing was never installed. In 1996, a few years after the deaths of Frank and Sue Knuth, the Township of Denville purchased nearly 52 acres of the original Ayres/Knuth farm. The property is managed by the non-profit Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation, Inc.


Overall Farm Site

The Ayres/Knuth Farm property is located between Cooper Road and Route 10 in Denville. The property is owned by the Township of Denville and is comprised of 51.8 acres extending in a northwest–southeast direction. The approximately northwestern one-third of the property is used for recreational fields, the center one-third is under active cultivation, and the southeastern one-third contains the historic farmhouse, outbuildings, ruins, and wetlands. The highest point of the property is near its center.

The complex of historic farm buildings (the study area) is positioned just off of Cooper Road. A semi-circular gravel drive accesses the property from Cooper Road, and the buildings fan out around the driveway. The grade overall gradually slopes to the south and east. A vegetative buffer defines the grassy area around the farm complex. The Farmhouse is located close to Cooper Road at the east side of the driveway. The Tenant House is located directly behind the Farmhouse. A concrete walkway leads from the rear of the Farmhouse east to the Privy. Between the Tenant House and Privy is the stone foundation from the former Icehouse and Office, which was relocated. The Garage and Relocated Icehouse and Office/Barn are located on the south side of the driveway. Chicken Coop #1 and the Smokehouse are located behind the Garage. A modern stone well is located immediately east side of the Relocated Icehouse and Office/Barn, and the Corncrib is located to its west. The Relocated Icehouse sits on a portion of the foundation from the former banked barn that burned; however, the foundation extends south and west beyond the Icehouse, as the barn was much larger. A large stone ramp from the banked barn remains immediately west of the foundation and south of the Corncrib. Chicken Coop #2 is located south of the foundation. The Carriage House/Barn is located close to Cooper Road at the west side of the driveway.

A former farm road is visible in the landscape at the south edge of the farm complex area. This road connected the farm with Route 10, and today exists as an embanked path through the woods. The roadway crosses over a stream, which historically was dammed for an ice pond and powered a distillery and hydraulic pump system that fed the farm. To the east of the road along the stream remains a stone stream house, the stone foundations from the distillery, and stone walls from two dams. To the west of the road along the stream are remains of a twentieth-century trout pond and stone walls from a dam. This area is not part of the primary study area but was observed by the project team for its historical and interpretive value.


[1] This section summarizes the historical information found in the Preservation Plan for Ayres/Knuth Farm prepared by Mark Hewitt, AIA in 2004, and the National Register nomination prepared by Cynthia Hinson, which was listed in 1998 (NJHPO ID #378 / NR Reference #98000598); refer to these documents for a more in-depth explanation of the history and development of the property.

[2] National Register Nomination, page 10.

[3] Refer to the Archaeological Site Management Plan Ayres/Knuth Farmstead, Denville Township, Morris County, New Jersey prepared by Hunter Research, Inc. (Ian Burrow, Ph.D., RPA), November 2007 (Revised May 2008) for additional background and significance on the cultural landscape development of the property. Of particular note the discussion on the waterpower ruins; and the farmland and its potential link to prehistoric discoveries by Arthur Peach. (Appendix


Chronology of construction

The chronology of construction of the site as a whole is based on the existing architectural fabric and historical research. Although not all changes are known, the following is a summary of significant changes providing an outline of the site’s evolution since construction.


Original farmhouse construction

Daniel Ayres received 105 acres of land in the village of Franklin, including the present-day Ayres/Knuth farm, from his father-in-law. He likely constructed a house on the property around this time, which may have been located immediately in front of the existing farmhouse.

Early-19th Century

Barn construction

Large banked barn constructed; some sources indicate it was one of the largest barns in Morris County.


Smokehouse construction

The smokehouse was constructed.


Carriage house/barn construction

The carriage house/barn was constructed.


Daniel Ayres dies

Daniel Ayres died and his son, William Ayres, took ownership of the farm property.


Tenant house construction

The tenant house was constructed.


Chicken coop and icehouse/office construction

The chicken coops were constructed.

The icehouse/office was constructed.


William Ayres moves

William Ayres retired and moved to a new house separate from his farm property.


Farm changes hands

The farm property changed hands approximately six times.


Knuths acquire farm

Martin and Anna Knuth acquired the farm property.

Early-20th Century

Additions and subtractions

By this time the north (original) section of the farmhouse was removed.

By this time, the northern bay was likely added to the Carriage House/Barn.


Garage/privy construction

The garage was constructed.

The privy was constructed using material fabric from an earlier privy.


Martin Knuth dies

Martin Knuth died.



A massive fire destroyed the main barn and damaged adjacent buildings.

The former icehouse/office was relocated and converted for use as a barn in place of the one that burned.


Frank/Sue Knuth take ownership

Anna Knuth died and two of her children, Frank and Sue, took ownership of the farm property.

Mid-20th Century

Corn crib constructed

The corn crib was constructed (post-1936 but pre-1957).

Mid-20th Century

Frank/Susan Knuth die

Frank and Susan Knuth died.



Denville Township purchased around 52 acres, including the historic core of the Ayres/Knuth Farm.


Placed on the State and Federal Historic Registers

The Farm is placed on the State and Federal Historic Registers.

Donate to the Ayres/Knuth Farm Foundation

All donations of money and materials are tax deductible under the private, non profit status provisions of US IRS code 501(3) and are used in their entirety for the Ayres/Knuth Farm, Denville, New Jersey.