Mendham’s Chicken Coop

By Alice Lazzarini

Blackberry cottage“How’d ya’ like to visit a lady who lives in a chicken coop?” my dad asked me one day. Since he once introduced me to a lady who carried on conversations with her husband whose ashes were perched in an urn on her mantle, my thirteen-year-old brain didn’t think it terribly strange that he would also know a lady who lived with chickens. I pictured a musty smelling shack, straw-strewn, with wide slat boards and a little old lady crawling through a rusted fence to shoo chickens off their roost and gather her morning eggs.

So, off we went one Sunday afternoon in our new, green 1952 Chevrolet: my mom and dad, my little sister and I. We drove from Morristown, out Rt. 24 into the heart of Mendham; then we turned left on Hilltop Road and left again on Talmage Road. Sure enough, there perched sideways was an unusually long, trailer-shaped building.

The “chicken-coop” lady turned out to be none other than the artist, Lucille Hobbie, a teacher and administrator for the Newark School of Fine and Industrial Arts with whom my dad taught evenings. (The lady with the talking urn also taught art at the Newark School!) Lucille greeted us at the door with a huge smile and served us milk and cookies as she showed off the unique renovations made to the tiny, fifteen-foot-wide home that she and her husband occupied. When we said our goodbyes she planted a loving kiss on my cheek.

Moving to Mendham years later, I just had to know whether the chicken-coop story had been embellished for my benefit. A Google search yielded my first clue: an article from the Dec 31, 2009 Daily Record entitled, “Mendham home that began as a chicken coop boasts Gilded Age touches of elegance.” I set out to re-explore the neighborhood curiosity.

“There are six chicken-coop houses,” said Ferebe Conchar, current resident of the property’s farm house. A builder had bought them in the forties, relocated them to their present location, and used reclaimed mantles, architectural moldings, and the like from mansions that were being demolished, turning them into charming cottages like the Blackberry cottage attached to an original silo.

Lucille Hobbie eventually moved from Mendham into Heath Village in Hackettstown, but she lived – and worked – into her nineties. Lucille was self-taught and produced many award-winning drawings, prints, and paintings of historic sites (see “Historic Sites of Morris County, New Jersey”). The couple who bought Lucille’s chicken coop told me that they had found some of her art work after she left, which the husband delivered to her. Lucille would continue to send them cards made from her art.

Among Lucille’s well-known works are the Wick House, Acorn Hall, the General Cooper Grist Mill in Chester, and our own Phoenix House. Two of my favorites have to be her unique perspective from the gravestones behind Hilltop Church and her rendering of the Victoriana of Trinity Park from my previous home, Mount Tabor.

3 thoughts on “Mendham’s Chicken Coop

  1. Priscilla L. Owens

    I grew up with Lucy and Al as my neighbors and frequent cocktail/dinner guests at our home on Talmage Road. Lucy and my Mom were friends and school mates so our families were in constant touch. I have several paintings and lithographs as well as numerous Christmas cards and notes which I cherish. Lucy was a unique person and she and Al were the most delightful couple. Where ever Lucy was there was laughter and risque language, she was one of a kind and a wonderful person. Her art work is unique and I will always appreciate what she left to me and my family. Your story is just a glimpse of a very special lady and her talent. I hope that others will enjoy it forever.
    Priscilla Lowery Owens, Tomball, Texas

    Reply
    1. park1place Post author

      Priscilla, I’m so glad to hear from you about dear Lucille. My dad talked about his many friends in the art world, but she stands out as one of his favorites. Thanks for sharing this:)

      Reply

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