Sons of Liberty Farm
Liberty Corner, NJ
The Colonial-era farmhouse was 'modernized' in 1927, including the shed addition on the rear, with indoor bathroom, and upgraded electric service. The house remains virtually unchanged since the 1920s, retaining its porcelain electric sconces, 'Swirl' plaster on the living room walls, green and cream paint on the woodwork, and Art Deco patterned linoleum on the floors!
The Farm was purchased from the Josiah Allen estate by John W. Richardt, his wife and three sons in 1928. John Richardt was blind, and made his living as a piano tuner. As the piano was replaced by radio as family entertainment, John adapted by becoming a radio repairman in the 1930s, and then a television repairman in the 1950s. Amazingly, John built the barn on the property in the 1930s -he was still blind, remember!- but he was most noted for his ham radio Amateur License W2VJZ, and his 650 foot tall transmitting tower.
Irwin Richardt ~ A One-Man Crusade
Irwin was best-known locally for his simple, primitive way of life, his refusal to concede his convictions regarding government 'interference' - even going to jail on several occasions!- and for his hand-lettered signs and billboards warning his neighbors and passersby of the evils of large government that no longer obeyed the precepts set forth in the Constitution.
Please read below the well-written obituary published in the Bernardsville News:
‘End of an Era’ in Liberty Corner
Lifelong Bernards Township farmer Irwin Richardt, 78, dies following long illness
By W. JACOB PERRY Staff Writer December 28, 2006
BERNARDS TWP.Irwin L. Richardt of Liberty Corner, whose colonial-era lifestyle and tireless crusade to uphold the nation’s founding principles made him a local celebrity, died on Friday night, Dec. 22, after a long illness. Mr. Richardt, 78, had been suffering from prostate cancer and died in his sleep at about 8 p.m. at the Somerville Road home of Andrew and Kelly Dietsch, two friends who had been caring for him for about a month.
A bachelor, Mr. Richardt lived in an 18th century farmhouse at his boyhood home, the 22-acre Sons of Liberty Farm at Allen and Somerville roads. He also owned a farm in New York’s Adirondacks.Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 29, at the Fellowship Deaconry Chapel at 3575 Valley Road in Liberty Corner. A viewing is scheduled at the chapel at 10 a.m. that day followed by a committal service at the Sons of Liberty Farm.
Mr. Richardt was a maple syrup farmer who for 40 years gained local renown for quoting the founding fathers and crusading against what he saw as unjust taxes, intrusive laws and government control. A student of the U.S. Constitution, he derided taxes and regulations as violating the 13th Amendment, which prohibits involuntary servitude.
Though a soft spoken and devotedly religious man who gave tours of his farm to school children, he made his points in strong, provocative language in scores of letters to this newspaper, statements at public meetings or on hand-painted signs at his farm. For many years, a large sign at the corner of his property read, “That U.S. flag represents one thing, the U.S. Constitution. Obey it or be cited for treason.” He also held regular bonfires on New Year’s Eve and on the birthdays of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and Andrew Jackson, among others, even though he was often fined for burning without a permit. One year he held his own version of the Boston Tea Party by burning government-issued cheese.
‘A Unique Man’
Some township officials viewed him as a nuisance or a crackpot, but many others respected or even admired his principled if unorthodox approach. “He demonstrated that there really was a role in society for a man who was independent and who rigorously held his position and articulated his views, which he did well,” said former Township Committeeman Bill Allen. “He stuck to those ideas, and at a strong price to himself,” Allen added. “I had a great deal of admiration for him. “He was a unique man – probably as unique as any I’ve ever known. I’ll miss him. “He represents a vanishing species – people who hold very strong views that differed from most of his fellow citizens but he sticks with them.” Former Police Chief Charles J. Fortenbacher had known Mr. Richardt since 1936, having been two years behind him at Liberty Corner School. “He was a very intelligent person,” Fortenbacher recalled. “He was different, a little eccentric, but we were friends. He stood on his principles and I have to admit, a lot of his principles I agreed with. “This is the end of an era, it really is.”
Mr. Richardt’s decision in later life to travel by bicycle – itself resulting from his principled stance against automobile insurance – made him one of the area’s most recognizable figures. Easily distinguished by white hair tied into a small ponytail, he could be seen peddling briskly on virtually any main road in town throughout the 1990s. Mr. Richardt’s life was essentially an open book, with his many letters to this newspaper touching not only on his views but on his travels and encounters with people. He was generally known by his first name, and even those who did not know him would often talk about whatever “Irwin” was up to. His uniqueness landed in him the “Weird N.J.” book, published by Barnes & Noble in 2003. In a two-page spread, he was referred to as “a self-described Jeffersonian constitutionalist” whose “mind and lifestyle seem to be a throwback to the late 1700s.” He also broadcast his views on a ham radio, and through that venue, made friends throughout the Northeast.
Mr. Richardt grew up on a farm that his parents purchased in 1928 from the estate of Josiah Allen (1843-1906), for whom Allen Road is named. His father was a blind piano turner who became well known locally.
In a 1982 interview with this newspaper, Mr. Richardt cited his father as influencing his views on limited government. “My father almost worshipped Jefferson,” he said. Initially, he had a television and radio repair business, but he left that pursuit in 1968 to farm his land, where he tapped syrup from maple trees.
Mr. Richardt’s political activism was apparent by the late 1960s. One of his early crusades was against the school district’s plan for what he called “public” sex education. In a pattern that became familiar, his arguments quoted the founding fathers and cited passages in the U.S. Constitution. But he was seldom on the same wavelength with public officials. In July 1969, then-school board member Richard Hancock protested, “We are elected to administer a school district, not to be lectured on Jefferson once a week.” Mr. Richardt also tangled with officials over taxes. Although he qualified for a farmland tax assessment, he didn’t believe in providing receipts for his farm produce. As a result, for the better part of 40 years, the township would annually deny the assessment, and then Mr. Richardt would appeal to state Tax Court and win a lower assessment.
One of his more celebrated battles involved automobile insurance. Through the 1980s, he drove around in a converted 1955 school bus that was painted red, white and blue, with a quote from Thomas Jefferson on both sides and a picture of George Washington in one window. But Mr. Richardt refused to take out auto insurance, maintaining that being forced to buy protection from insurance companies was unconstitutional. For years, whenever police would stop his bus and ask for insurance credentials, he would hand over a Bible, saying it was the only protection he needed. He was convicted of driving without insurance in March 1986, and as a result he was sent to the Somerset County Jail that December to serve 100 days. That sentence was later reduced to 65 days for good behavior, and he was released in February 1987. He remained opposed to auto insurance and apparently never drove again.
He also fought the township over its attempts to condemn strips of his “sacred” land for road improvements, first in 1989 when Allen Road was widened, and again in 1999 when Somerville Road was widened. Although he had no known record of violence, Mr. Richardt alarmed township officials with his letters against the Somerville Road project, in which he said anyone who seized his land was guilty of treason and deserved to be executed. The letters were turned over to the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, but no action was taken because the language was general in nature and targeted no specific individuals.
Nevertheless, in October 1999, Mr. Richardt was jailed for several days after he allegedly interfered with the road project by tossing surveying stakes off his property. The arrest generated widespread sympathy, and in the Nov. 2, 1999, general election, he received an unprecedented 532 write-in votes for the Township Committee. Mr. Richardt was subsequently fined $455 in Municipal Court, but not before stating his peace. At one point, he told the court that many people had offered him tips on how to “beat” the system. “I am not here to beat the system,” he declared. “I am here to restore the system.” The township wrote out checks to Mr. Richardt to compensate him for the land lost to both the Allen Road and Somerville Road projects but out of principle, he refused to cash either one.
In recent years, as Mr. Richardt became increasingly conscious of his mortality, he focused on efforts to preserve his farm after his death. Through the years, he scoffed at developers’ offers that would have made him a millionaire. He once said that selling his farm would be like “selling my mother.” In the fall of 2004, he announced plans to preserve the farm by turning it into a “farmer patriots” memorial park in which about 30 gravesites, including his own, would be spread around to prevent development. Although state officials said he would need an approval, Mr. Richardt characteristically said he was going ahead anyway. He held a public ceremony to bury the ashes of a friend, Claude Poli, on the property, but never buried any actual remains. Mr. Richardt was adamant that the farm not fall into the hands of the government, even as parkland or dedicated open space. He was equally insistent on not selling to corporations, and turned down overtures from churches and schools because they had incorporated for tax purposes. In his last interview on Monday, Dec. 18, he said legal arrangements to preserve the property were still in progress.
Mr. Richardt is survived by a brother, John W. Richardt Jr. of Hackettstown, and two nieces, Sharon Richardt of Hackettstown and Cheryl Richardt of Fort Monmouth. He was predeceased by a brother, Robert Richardt, who was killed in service during World War II. Mr. Richardt was a virtual encyclopedia of quotations, but two in particular were known to be among his favorites. One was from Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The other was from Mr. Richardt’s hero, Jefferson, who said, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”
Be sure to visit ** Liberty Corner ** for information regarding an upcoming documentary film on Irwin Richardt, as well as further information and news clippings.
A Few Highlights of the Estate
Auction conducted May 2007
by Col. Matthew Lieb at www.NJauctions.net.
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