In Basking Ridge there is a 23 acre park called the Sons of Liberty Farm. The story of how it came to be is the story of Irwin Richardt , one of the most colorful characters the East Coast has even known.
He was born in 1928 and lived in Basking Ridge his entire life. During that time the town evolved from a small rural community into a very wealthy upscale suburb. As the town got bigger, it expanded the infrastructure including the roads. Then the town council made a big mistake.
It tried to take a piece of Irwin’s land.
Unfortunately, the farm was on the corner of what had become two main roads, and the town government decided to widen one of them. Most of the land owners were happy to take the money the town offered for a piece of their property. All except Irwin. He refused to sell any part of the property. Eventually the town went to court and through the use of “eminent domain” took a part of his land and made the road 10 feet wider. Of course, the town had to pay for the property. They issued a check for the fair value of the land. All Irwin had to do was show up at town hall and get a very sizable check. He never did.
Irwin had never been a fan of government even before then, but after that he hated, absolutely hated the town council. Irwin was sure it would just be a matter of time before they took more and more of his land until there was nothing left. He was determined that would never happen.
He started by writing directly to members of the town government what they considered “threatening” letters. They even had him charged with a crime and took him to court. When the case got to court, the judge took one look at the letters and dismissed the case. What Irwin had done was to simply send direct quotes from parts of the Old Testament. Nothing added or deleted to the passages The government people took it as threats since Irwin had chosen the especially bloody and violent parts of The Bible to quote. No doubt that Irwin had chosen those particular versus on purpose; but there is no judge anywhere in the United States who is going to lock up a man for quoting The Bible.
After that Irwin tried to have his land declared an Indian Reservation. He claimed that he was an American Indian and that as an official reservation his land could not be touched by local government. The flaw in that argument was that one look at Irwin would show anyone that he was of Nordic stock, with bright blue eyes and pale pale skin.
Irwin hated any intrusion by any form of government. He objected that the State of New Jersey said he had to have insurance, so he got rid of his car. It is not an easy thing to get around in New Jersey, but Irwin did it on his bicycle. Residents of the town got used to the sight of this old man with his long grey hair pulled back in a pony tail riding his bicycle for miles to buy supplies and groceries. It was on old bike onto which he had fashioned a basket with a cross on the back.
He was a loner most of his life. He never married and never built up his property. He liked a simple life. Given the location of his property he could have sold it at any time for millions of dollars. Instead he continued to live in an old wooden house. There is a small pond on the property, and on hot summer days passers-by could see Irwin floating peacefully in an inner tube around the pond.
Irwin considered himself an old fashioned conservative. On the property right next to his is a nudist colony. Some modern “conservatives” might rant against that, but Irwin’s feeling was that what people did on their own property was their own business.
The biggest scare Irwin ever gave the town government was when he ran for Town Council himself. After years of fighting them he decided to just get them voted out. He didn’t win, but the vote was very very close.
Irwin died in 2006 at the age of 78. He had no family, so he left the land to a neighbor. The neighbor donated it to the town with the proviso that it be turned into a park and preserved exactly as Irwin had left it. The town accepted the offer. So in the end, Irwin beat the town government after all. Not only would his farm be preserved forever, but the town government would have to be paying to do it.
Some people called Irwin a fighter for individual rights and some just called him a crazy old man. But everyone agrees that the town will be a little less interesting without him.