The heartland of the patterned brick style in New Jersey is Burlington County south and westward, but Somerset County’s Derrick Van Veghten House is an outlier. It lies well north of the group of Mercer County patterned brick houses, and was built for a Dutch farmer, rather than a Quaker. Its checker-pattern brick headers are black, not blue. There are no initials or fancy patterns such as the ones that many Salem County houses boast.
It is not exactly a patterned brick house today; instead, it might more accurately be described as a 19th century Greek Revival brick house with the remains of an 18th century patterned brick house as the southwest corner of the first story. If you glanced at the building while driving along the road that leads past it and deeper into an industrial area, you could miss the checkered bricks entirely. Documentation for the Historic American Buildings Survey speculates that there may have been a fire that gutted the house and that it was rebuilt afterward, but there is no firm evidence to support that theory.
The line between the house’s different incarnations is easiest to see on the south wall of the first story. On the west side of the door is checkered brick set in Flemish bond, while on the east side there is plain red brick set in common bond. The west windows have ornamental brick arches above them while the newer ones do not. The west end also retains iron beam anchors that are both functional and ornamental; this is a hallmark of colonial Dutch architecture.
Architecture is a language. If you know how to read a building’s structure and details, you can draw conclusions (or speculate) about the kind of people who built it, when it was built, and the ups and downs it has survived during its lifetime. In New Jersey, the patterned brick checker style is associated with Quakers of English origin, not Dutch settlers. I find myself wondering whether the original Van Veghten House was built by someone who had learned his trade in Salem County and then moved northward to Somerset County. These houses were a mark of wealth and Michael Van Veghten, who owned the original patterned brick structure, was a man of means who owned land in this part of Somerset County as early as 1694. Why did he choose this particular style for his house? Colonial New Jersey was an area where different cultural groups lived side by side and built in an assortment of styles. Perhaps Michael Van Veghten saw a checker-pattern house and decided he liked it.
Today the Van Veghten House is the headquarters of the Somerset County Historical Society and abuts the Finderne Wetlands natural area from its commanding perch above the north bank of the Raritan River.
For much more information about the Van Veghten House and its history, see the following links: