“Allentown residents have long been interested in the history of their community, old names and old families, but I am one up on them this week. Not even the oldest living resident can recall what I am about to relate. As a matter of fact, not even the oldest living resident living at the time the century turned would have been able to remember this Allentown landmark, long ago abandoned as a meeting place for the town’s citizens.
“There was once a market house in Allentown, standing in the center of Main Street, and situated so that carriages and pedestrians had to circle it on either side on their journey through town. Only the grandfathers of the oldest residents living at the turn of the century would have remembered it, because the structure was torn down about 1810, when Abraham Lincoln was one year old. Yet, before it was hauled down and carried away, it had stood on that site for almost 50 years, and was the place citizens patronized to buy clothing, food and other wares. I imagine, ‘meet you at the market house’ was a common expression in those days.
“The significant part of this story, however, is yet to come. When the market house was destroyed, a cannon ball was found there which came into the possession of the late William Imlay of Allentown, and was kept by him and his descendants as a valuable relic in the old Imlay mansion. The cannon ball was reported to have been fired in the Revolutionary War by American militiamen.
“And that brings up still another sidelight to this story. I’m just full of all kinds of information this week, aren’t I? Well, I’ve started in on the dim, dark past of Allentown, so I might as well continue. Hope I don’t unearth any skeletons.
“Allentown, I’ll bet you didn’t know, figured prominently in several incidents of the Revolutionary War. New Jersey war records show the name of Allentown appearing in a number of military dispatches of commanding officers. For instance, in the early part of 1778, Allentown was occupied by a force of American militia under the command of Col. Benjamin Flowers. A letter addressed “Col. Benjn. Flowers of his deputy, Allen Town” was written by General Washington and dated “10th March, 1778.” It is interesting to note the difference in the spelling of the town then. It almost suggests there once was a man by the name of [Nathan] “Allen.”
“The most imposing military display in the village was when the British under the command of General Clinton passed through the place just before the battle of Monmouth. According to a diary found on the body of an English officer killed in that engagement, the army arrived at Allentown on June 24, and remained there until 4 o’clock in the morning of June 25.
“An interesting incident connected with Clinton’s march through Allentown was when the troops stopped at the home of Dr. James Newell, which stood at the site of the Baptist Church [Library], to seek treatment for an injured soldier.
“I suppose it is fairly obvious that several men from Allentown and vicinity would have been members of the Monmouth militia. Among those who held commissions in the Second Regiment were Col. David Brearley, Major William Montgomery and Capt. James Bruere, all of Allentown.
“Communication in those times with the outside world was by stage coach, one of which passed through Allentown twice a week on its trip from Burlington to South Amboy, and was the only route for passenger travel between Philadelphia and New York [doubtful]. An eyewitness wrote for posterity (that’s us) that on one occasion the wheel of a passing stage ripped into a corner of the market house, and passengers were delayed two hours while a new wheel was installed. Incidents such as this no doubt contributed to the market house’s demise. I was estimated that in the year 1790 about 2,000 travelers used this stage line. [The market house’s ‘stepping stone’ is presently located in front of Boro hall.]
“This subject if very interesting to me, and I hope, also to my readers. I shall continue this excursion into Allentown’s Revolutionary War past with just one more story, if I may. My source: a letter written by Joseph H. West of Hamilton Square to the editor of the Allentown Messenger, and published in the Messenger of December 10, 1908.
“The American militia was encamped in June, 1778, somewhere near the Yardville creek. A drawbridge was across it, and at the approach of the British the militiamen attempted to destroy the bridge so the enemy could not pass. The British ordered some light troops to drive the Americans from the bridge but the American cannon opened fire on them. The men cutting away at the timbers backed away backed away all they could under the extreme shelling, and then retreated, leaving only one timber holding up the bridge. It appeared as if the British were certain to cross. The site of the skirmish was, according to Mr. West, where the M.E. Church now stands…
“To continue the story, a young man named Clevenger ran back, determined to ruin the bridge before the British arrived. While enemy bullets whizzed and ricocheted all around him, he succeeded in chopping through the lone timber holding the bridge, and it fell with a splash into the stream. Clevenger leaped back and was running to join his cheering companions, when a ball struck him in the head and he fell dead in the high grass at the side of the road.
“The militia did not make much effort to dispute the passage of the enemy, and the British repaired the bridge and the next day passed on to Allentown. The Hessians went on up the creek, crossing at Waln Mills, where the officers had a feast of pig’s feet at the Waln house. The body of Clevenger lay where it had fallen until the stench from his decaying body attracted the villagers, and they buried him.
“And so endeth our excursion into Allentown’s dim, dark past. By the way, while I’m on the subject, how many know that during the years 1778, ’79, ’81, and ’83 the Court of Admiralty sat at Allentown to adjust the claims of parties for their prize money received from the sales of vessels and cargoes that they had captured from the British? The court met at the homes of Gilbert Barton and Joseph Lawrence. Mr. Lawrence was judge.”
[Allentown Messenger, May 2, 1963 by G. J. Gris]