The Life of Irwin Richardt

Irwin Richardt - The Patriot of Liberty Corner - Mr. Local History

The Patriot of Liberty Corner

Sons of Liberty sign from Irwin Richardt

“Those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin.

“Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” Thomas Jefferson


Welcome to Irwin on the HAM Radio (Click Player)

Irwin Richardt speaks Listen to Irwin throughout the article as he broadcasted from his HAM radio back in the early 21st century. For those who knew Irwin, it’s really amazing to hear his voice

Irwin Richardt (pronounced Rick-art) was born in 1928 and grew up on the Sons of Liberty Farm, lived in an 18th century farmhouse at his boyhood home, the 22-acre Sons of Liberty Farm located at Allen and Somerville Road in the Liberty Corner section of Bernards Township, New Jersey. He gained local notoriety for his colonial-era lifestyle, his maple syrup, his tributes to the founding fathers, and his crusades against what he saw as unjust taxes, intrusive laws and government control right up until the time of his death in 2006. We’re honored to look back at the life and times of who we are calling “the Patriot of Liberty Corner.”

Honoring local patriot Irwin Richardt – His Memorial Day Letter – 1997

Early Years

Irwin Richardt was born on August 6, 1928 and grew up on what was known as the Sons of Liberty Farm. The Richardts lived in an 18th century farmhouse at his boyhood home, the 22-acre Sons of Liberty Farm located at Allen and Somerville Road, and tapped maple syrup from trees there. He gained local notoriety for his colonial-era lifestyle, his tributes to the founding fathers, and his crusades against what he saw as unjust taxes, intrusive laws and government control.

An early image of the Richardt family home in Liberty Corner, New Jersey. The home dated back to the late 1700’s when it was owned by Josiah Allen

The Farm was purchased from the Josiah Allen estate (1843-1906) 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 1930’s, and then a television repairman in the 1950’s. Amazingly, John built the barn on the property in the 1930’s -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 left the repair business in 1968 to farm his land, where he tapped syrup from maple trees.

The Colonial-era farmhouse was ‘modernized’ in 1927, including the shed addition on the rear, with indoor bathroom, and upgraded electric service. The house remained 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!


Irwin Discusses His Father

Irwin Richardt speaks Irwin talks about his early life and about his father over the HAM radio in 2004

Irwin’s two brothers John William Richardt Jr. and Robert (Bob) Richardt also lived on the farm. Because the father was legally blind, the government gave John Sr. a choice; one of the brothers would have to go to war, the other could stay behind to care for his father. Irwin’s father decided that the older one would stay, but the middle brother, Robert, would go to war. Robert was killed November 12, 1944 in service during World War II.

Headstone on the Sons of Liberty property honoring Irwin’s brother Robert C. Richardt who died in WW2 on November 12, 1944.

John left the Liberty Corner farm where he was a self employed Civil Engineer who passed about a year after Irwin on April 9, 2007 at the age of 84. He’s buried in Hackettstown, New Jersey.


Irwin on the HAM Radio

Irwin Richardt speaks Listen to Irwin as he broadcasted back in 2003 about President George HW Bush’s war.

According to Irwin, “My father almost worshiped Jefferson.” Richardt quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying the small landowner is “the most precious part of a free state,” and is adamant that the farm not fall into the hands of the government, even as parkland or dedicated open space. You’ll find out later in the story how tragic this statement became. And he took his message to the airwaves.

One of Irwin’s Ham radios that later also got him in trouble with the FCC for not having a “proper license”. Carl Brutananadilewski
wrote saying, “I miss his old buzzard transmissions on 7290” All 75 meter Amateur Radio AM’ers on the east coast USA knew of Irwin Richardt and his W2VJZ handle.

According to his friend Don W2DL, he was a person of deep convictions and made them known through provocative conversations around 3885Kc, on AM. When his CQs were unmet, he would sometimes lock his transmitter on and leave the mic open. Listeners could then hear him doing the dishes, and occasionally would hear a set of wind chimes as he would whistle a tune of some kind in the background. When I first began listening to “ham” radio right after it was permitted following WW II one day I heard this loud, clear signal on 10 meters, it was Irb’s father, John I believe. At that time Irb was maybe 14 or so, and his brother, Hammie (John) who I think is two years older were being raised by their father, a single parent – and, incidentally, blind. I can’t for the life of me remember Irb’s father’s call, W2 (of course) something, but no matter (maybe W2GZJ ??). Almost every day I would listen to him, and the straight talk he always produced.  I am not completely sure about this. I do know that Irb earned his license first, maybe in 1946 or so, followed probably two years later by his brother Hammie, who was assigned W2WIY. Hammie is a very different person than Irb, but both of them have a solid sense of what is right, no matter what the consequences. Of course, at times what is right for Irb is not necessarily right for everyone else, but at least he has a set of convictions, and isn’t afraid to let anyone else know what they are. I very much admired his father, and it is easy to see where Irb gets his values from and why Irb would never consider selling the family homestead, because his blind father built it and by inheritance he became it’s keeper. 

Taxation

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 Richardt would appeal to state Tax Court and win a lower assessment. 

To him, taxation violated 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. 

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. 

The School Bus

Through the 1980’s, 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.

We’re still looking for a good photo of the bus, but you can see it in the background of this auction photo from 2007.

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. 

The Bicycle

When the bus was no longer an option, Richardt shifted his transportation to a three wheeled bicycle.

Irwin’s famous trike but it is missing the flags and the messages he’d put on the bike. (2007 auction photo)

The blue tricycle with baskets on the back, Richardt was often seen riding around town. 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 1990’s. 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.

The Farm

According to Kathryn Reusse Peer, a local resident, “Every late winter he would invite school children to his farm to observe “sugarin’ off” as he tapped his maple trees and made syrup. He lived a simple life. He was a kind and gentle soul, but fierce in his religious and political beliefs.”

The 1989 Township Election

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.

Irwin gets a visit from the BT Police in 1989 during the “Somerville widening” incidents. Source: Debbie Weisman

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 piece. 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. Richardt stated, “I am here to restore the system.”

Irwin’s Darker Side

While many remember Irwin’s iconic libertarian behavior, there are those that remember the darker side of Irwin’s behaviors. Not everything Irwin did was positive. There are numerous stories around bigotry, homophobia, and lawlessness that led some members of the public despising his behavior and tactics. Local Bob Cramer wrote us to tell us one such story. “When my younger brother died and his obit said , he leaves behind family and long time companion John . The following week he wrote letter to the editor in the Bernardsville news saying that my brother would burn in Hell . Screw you Irwin, you homophobic asshole.”

Others remember the swastika Irwin had painted on the Grand Union with other messages as well. “Irwin wouldn’t have been tolerated in today’s society,” said a resident that wanted to remain nameless. “He sometimes would go way overboard in his tactics. I for one was not a fan of Irwin.”

Letters to the Editor

Willie Dade, Irwin’s UPS Delivery Man wrote in stating; “While delivering UPS in Bernard’s Twp. I would run into him from time to time. I told him the first thing that I did when I bought the Bernardsville News, was to turn to the letters to the editor, to see if he had a letter in there. He would give me a copy of his newest letter, sometimes even before he submitted to the paper.”

Checks in His Desk Drawer

Though eligible for Social Security, he refused to accept it, maintaining that dependence on government is a form of slavery. “I had personally been to Irwin’s house and saw the desk that contained the checks,” said Brooks Betz, a local resident. “I had heard the story and once asked him about it. He said, go look for yourself. It was true.”

Irwin’s desk was a treasure trove of iconic items. You can see the typewriter he often wrote to the Bernardsville News, the TV, a second ham radio, and of course the desk that held the social security checks that he never cashed.

“Weird New Jersey”

In 2003, Irwin’s uniqueness landed him on a two page spread in the popular cult book Weird N.J. Below is an exerpt of the article who referred to Irwin as a self-described Jeffersonian constitutionalist.

Page 1 of the 2003 Weird New Jersey Irwin Richardt story.

Passing

Irwin died in his sleep at about 8pm on Friday, Dec. 22, 2006 at the age of 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He passed at the Somerville Road home of Andrew and Kelly Dietsch, two friends from the nearby English Farm who had been caring for him. Funeral services were held at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 29, 2006 at the Fellowship Deaconry Chapel at 3575 Valley Road in Liberty Corner.

After the funeral, while Irwin was not allowed to be buried on his property, he was finally laid to rest behind the Liberty Corner Presbyterian Church. Not what he had hoped for for sure.

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 grave sites, including his own, would be spread around to prevent development. Although state officials said he would need an approval, 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.

A photo that was shared with Mr. Local History of Irwin Richardt next to what is was HIS planned burial site.

Neighbors had mentioed that when the property passed on to Andrew Dietsch he was unable to afford the tax on the value of the property. So with no other choice, he entered discussions with Bernards Township officials on possibly acquiring and preserving the property.

Richardt quoted Thomas Jefferson as saying the small landowner is “the most precious part of a free state,” and is adamant that the farm not fall into the hands of the government, even as parkland or dedicated open space.In 2008, Bernards Township purchased from the estate of Irwin Richardt with $3.1 million in Open Space funding.

Irwin Richard Headstone
While this photo was taken on Irwin’s property, the stone’s location is currently unknown. It is NOT at his burial site.

After negotiations, on September 23, 2008, The Bernards Township Committee announced and passed a resolution; “upon adoption, authorizes and directs the Bernards Township Mayor and Township Clerk to execute the contract between the Estate of Irwin Richardt and Andrew Dietsch, Executor of the Estate, and Bernards Township for the Township’s purchase of the Sons of Liberty Farm property, for an acquisition price of $3,100,000.

The Liquidation

Before Irwin’s house was torn down, the township held an auction on the property where you could find anything from transistor tubes, to the actual bus he drove for years and his bike.

On May 5, 2007, the life of Irwin Richardt went on sale to the public. Here’s what was put up for sale:
HT-4B Hallicrafter Transmitter, Hammerland HQ-170, Johnson viking ranger, 2 Hammerland SP600, 2 Hallicrafter sky champion & 4 Heathkit DX100 & 1 DX100b, Apache TX-1 Ham Radio’s + others, tube
Testers, Oscilloscope’s, Tubes , Tubes & more Tubes, Gilbert & Westminster, Ansonia mantle clocks, D4 Caterpillar Bulldozer, John Deer, Combine #30, Allis Chalmers WD Tractor, JD 5 Bottom Plow,
Lightning rod & glass ball, Tilt wagon Cart, Boc Cart, Antenna’s, Shure & Astatic Microphones, Oak rocking chair, Writing table, Table, 2 oak desks, Sleds, Bicycles, Milk cans, Oak book shelf, RCA victor
Trans. world radio, Police alarm radio’s, Zeppelin toy, TV’s, CB’s, Royal type writer, Heller & co. 3Gal. Jug, Jefferson – constitution – school text – Religious ,Poetry & gen. Books, Gone with the wind script, Old bottles, Some China & records – Partial estate – mainly radios & Acc.

The Sons of Liberty Park

Following the dedication ceremony for the Sons of Liberty Park and the new Liberty Elm, Mayor Scott Spitzer led over 50 walkers on a health hike through the Sons of Liberty Park.

2010 township dedication of the Sons of Liberty Farm public park.

Mini-Documentary

During Irwin’s later years, a local filmmaker, Don Gehan, had been compiling a documentary on Irwin Richardt, “Liberty Corner.” Gehan volunteered some interesting information (See below)

A great video called “Liberty Corner” produced back in 2004. Credit: Don Gehan at Liberty Corner Film

The Signs

Irwin would often update his billboard sign on the corner of Somerville Road and Allen Road in Liberty Corner.
Irwin’s sign was restored in 2014 by a local Eagle Scout’s Andrew Josling of Boy Scout Troop 54 in Bernards Township

In 2014 – a local Boy Scout troop participant got involved in the Irwin Richardt story. “I wondered about its history,” said Andrew Josling, 17, a township resident and Boy Scout with Troop 54. “The sign was getting a little hard to read, the paint was chipping. ”Today, the sign is freshly painted and has a new trail leading up to it, thanks to work that Josling and others completed this month as part of his quest to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. Photo – Two months of planning led to actual labor on the weekends of May 10-11 and 17-18. It was a true team effort involving Josling’s father, Paul, his grandfather, Donald, his mother, a dozen or so other members of Troop 54 and some of their parents.


Final Word (Audio Message)

Irwin Richardt speaks Listen as Irwin’s last words, we leave you with a person who decided to defend Irwin and his message back in 2005. It says it all.

Do you have a Irwin Story?

IF YOU’D LIKE TO ADD TO THE STORY, PLEASE CONTACT US AND WE’D BE GLAD TO SHARE YOUR STORY TO THE PIECE.

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