From the Allentown Messenger dated July 10, 1913, Charles H. Fidler writes about the building that used to exist on the southeast corner of Waker Ave. & Main St.
The store building on the corner opposite the Farmers National Bank now owned by James H. Graham [and former mayor], and which has recently undergone a renovation with a greatly improved appearance, has been occupied in the past by many tenants, and various kinds of business have been carried on within its walls. It stands on the site of a former old-fashioned red building with a hip roof that had been erected long before the Revolution, and was probably one of Allentown’s oldest houses.
A portion of this old structure was occupied by Lawrence Hendrickson as a tailoring establishment. He afterwards became proprietor of the hotel next door (now the Union), and which he conducted for many years as a temperance house.
During the time the old building was standing on the road to Imlaystown had not been laid out, travel from Allentown to that place having been by the way of Coxes Corner.
The present store building was erected about 1835 by Eseck Robbins, who was a cooper [barrel-maker], his shop being the next dwelling on Waker Avenue, the same now occupied by the families of Charles Nelson and Thomas Field.
The first tenant of the new store was William Imlay, who removed his drug and hardware business there from his former location further down Main Street. He was also the postmaster, and for many years the post office was located there.
At the date above mentioned the silkworm craze was spreading through this country. One of those who became greatly interested in the matter was Mr. William Imlay, who invested largely in the cultivation of mulberry trees [large specimens still front the Newell House on Main St.], the leaves of which were required for the worm’s food. He then had the upper floor of the store building fitted up for a cocoonery, and for some time was quite successful in producing silk cocoons, which found a ready sale. But overproduction of mulberry trees finally caused the bubble to burst, and many who invested their surplus funds in the new enterprise lost all.
After the retirement of Mr. Imlay from business, in 1847, the place was occupied by John Robbins, son of the above Eseck, who opened a general store, he having previously abandoned the cooper business, in which he had engaged with his father.
During all his life John Robbins was a strong advocate and worker in the cause of temperance. His father, who had also enlisted in the cause, was among the first members of a society known as “The Allentown Temperance and Sober Society,” it having been formed [by the Presbyterian minister’s wife, Maria Frelinghuysen Cornell] with 58 members. It is recorded that this was the first temperance society formed in the State of New Jersey. During Mr. Robbins’ occupancy of the building a portion of the upper story was used at different times as a photography gallery and the quarters of a young men’s debating club.
The small apartment on the first floor was once the office of our townsman, the late Judge Chillion Robbins, who here began his legal career. He afterward removed to Freehold, where he continued his practice. It was also in this building that the late John C. Vanderbeek entered his mercantile career, he having been a clerk in the store of William Imlay above mentioned. Upon retirement of the latter he purchased his stock of drugs and hardware and commenced business for himself in another part of Main Street.
Since 1847, and up to the time of the purchase of the property by Mr. Graham, the place has been used successively as dwelling, general store, trimming store, law office, barber shop, real estate office, shoemaker shop, laundry, tailor shop, billiard saloon and the for the second time as a photograph gallery.