From Crosswicks to Cabbagetown (Part 1 of 2)

Former Star Ledger writer,Henry Charlton Beck’s “More Forgotten Towns of Southern New Jersey” was first published in 1937.  Although criticized by other historians for his sources, Beck’s folksy narrative is alluring and often thought provoking. In his later year’s he resided at Hillcrest Farm, presently Washington Township’s history center.


Many worthy stories have been written about the neighborhood of Crosswicks, Allentown, Imlaystown, and Cox’s Corner. The historical importance of these towns and the roads connecting them, colored by accounts of skirmishes in the Revolution, has been immortalized by many scholarly writers.


However, since our chief concern is with “lost towns” or villages which have lost their earlier identity in one way or another, we must use an approach that is quite different. Our history is not the revision of material which has already merited the attention of those whose who are scholars of events and dates. Ours is a history remembered by those we have talked to or, in some cases, those to whom priceless folklore has been handed down. Such information has been in grave danger of being lost forever.


So let us talk for a moment about the wandering cannon ball of Crosswicks, what good old Quakers were doing with their penknives while waiting for the Spirit to move them, that road which has hairpin turns because it was an Indian trail following a creek and finally, the little hamlet which has protested ineffectually against the name of Cabbagetown, by which it has been known since long before 1834 [site of the recent widening of Old York Road near I-195].


To linger in the vicinity of Crosswicks—called “Crossix’ by natives who have inherited the first English pronunciation—is quite worth while. There is a charm that clings to the town with venerable houses and that splendid meeting-house, one of the largest in Southern New Jersey and home of Chesterfield Meeting.


In the New Jersey Gazetteer of 1834, which follows Thomas Gordon’s History, it is explained that the Crosswicks Creek on which the town is located, gets its name from the Indian word, Crossweeksunk, meaning “a separation.” In the subsequent description of the post-town, it is disclosed that there were: “…from 40 to 50 dwellings, a very large Quaker meeting house and school, four taverns, five or six stores, a saw and grist mill” and that “the village is pleasantly situated in fertile country, whose soil is sandy loam. Near the town is a bed of iron ore, from which considerable quantities are taken to the furnaces in the lower part of the county [perhaps Imlaystown, most of lower Upper Freehold was known as Crosswicks in the early eighteenth century].”


There are more dwelling now but otherwise Crosswicks is much as it always was. Cabbagetown, however, is glorified beyond its present-day distinction: “… hamlet of Upper Freehold township, Monmouth county, on a line between that county and Middlesex [now Mercer], 17 miles from Freehold and 12 from Trenton, contains some half dozen dwellings, a wheelwright, smith and joiner’s shop.”


The wheelwright, smith and joiner died many years ago and presumably no one carried on their trade at the road junction which the tiny village boasts. One will look in vain for evidence of their shops today, unless a rickety shed we saw, and that no one knew anything about, was the remains of one of them. While quoting the old-time authority it would be well to give Mr. Gordon’s estimate of the Imlaytown of his time against the Imlaystown of today: “It contains 12 or 15 dwellings, a grist and saw mill, tannery, one tavern one store, wheelwright and smith shop.”


Imlaystown has many more houses now although it is not one of those communities which boasts any remarkable increase in ratables from year to year.  Allentown a century ago was much more imposing than Imlaystown, more impressive, perhaps, that it is today. “It contained from 75 to 80 dwellings, a Presbyterian Church with a cupola and bell, handsomely situated on a hill on the West; an academy, two schools, one Methodist Church, grist mill, saw mill, and tilt mill on Doctor Creek, and saw mill on Indian Run, below which, at a short distance west of the town, is a cotton manufactory [at Spring Mill  behind Allentown-Yardville Rd.].  A considerable business is done in town.”


All that is hidden from many eyes in the present day. Too often travelers hurry through, unmindful that although the schools are shut up, academies gone, churches a bit weather-beaten and old mills and manufacturies mere holes in the ground, foundations were laid in and about them for what is happening now and what lies ahead for tomorrow. Such is the fate of Allentown, Imlaystown, and Crosswicks, although the State Commission on Historic Sites has distinguished the Crosswicks area with a roadside inscription [on Rt.130?]: “Crosswicks creek, three miles east of this point, was the scene of a skirmish June 23, 1778.”


When General Clinton and his Redcoats were retreating toward New York, the patriot militia destroyed the bridge across the creek. Job Clevenger was killed as he cut the last piece of underpinning. There was considerable excitement, several exchanges of fire by the militia and the invading soldiers as well as the discharge of small field pieces, all of which makes the background for the story of the wandering cannon ball (to be continued).


Part 2


Several years ago a reporter went to Crosswicks to write and article about the old meeting house and the legend of the cannon ball, said to have lodged in the meeting house wall. Everybody said the ball was there, that it had been written about before and that most people knew the story. But the reporter discovered that the ball was not in the wall and reported that the legend was a pretty one, but unfounded.


The day we trudged through slushy snow to browse in the Quaker outpost, built in 1773, a young man who accompanied us from a garage across the street pointed to the ball, about as big as a small-sized grapefruit, imbedded in the wall between two upstairs windows.


“That’s funny,” we said. “We know a reporter who came here two years or so ago and said the cannonball wasn’t anywhere in evidence, that the story was a fake.” “Maybe the ball wasn’t here then,” our informant suggested. “Now, listen,” we said, “the story was supposed to be that the ball crashed into the wall in a skirmish at the bridge down there. That was in the Revolution. What do you mean, maybe the ball wasn’t here two years ago?”


“They put it back since then,” the man told us soberly. “You can see the plaster around it from here. It was this way: One of the residents up here was a trustee of something. He thought the ball was much too valuable to leave it where the Revolutionary cannon fired it. He had it gouged out and took it to his home where he guarded it.


“Maybe the other trustees didn’t think much of the idea but they didn’t do anything about it. They waited till the old chap died. That wasn’t long ago. Everybody agreed that the place for the ball was where it had been for over a century so they went and got it and put it back. They got a stone mason to do the job. That’s why the ball wasn’t here when the reporter was, see?”


Before we went down to the bridge itself, a thirty-year-old structure that was erected beside an old-fashioned covered span that was later removed, we borrowed a key in order to see the well-preserved paneled interior. The quiet of the lovely place would have been otherworldly except for the smell of old books and dust. There was something impressive, however, in the realization that here on the wooden benches, up in these galleries, apart from the world outside, generations had sat since those pioneers who had been linked with earliest beginnings of New Jersey.


We made a real discovery in the men’s half of the downstairs assembly room. In the midst was a huge stove which saw service at that time and perhaps still does. A large box-like and unbelievably solid article, the name “Atsion” appears on the face. Unquestionably this stove was constructed of Jersey bog ore down at Atsion, old Atsiyunk, when the furnace there was going. The stove was the first of its type we had ever seen and the only one known to be in use, although we have been told that many farmhouses of the area work them.


There is a framed letter hung near the stove, stating that it cost eight pounds, four shillings and ten-pence, and that Stacy Potts was named to collect the costs from members of the meeting. The date seems to have been 1772 and if it was, this stove has been on duty since that time. The furnace towns which made stoves near by went down about 1810.


There is no difficulty in telling which is the men’s side of the assembly chamber. Up in the gallery, on the backs of benches and on the deep window sills, are the carved initials of long ago. K.F.N. carved his in 1838. B.C. made his mark in 1793, G.L. in 1819, and a host of others at various times before and since. There are no initials on the women’s side. They didn’t carry penknives and, obviously, paid greater attention to what was going on.


The old oak on the corner of the meeting-house lawn was there, they say, when William Penn visited various meetings in New Jersey, among them the Chesterfield Meeting. Seedlings of this tree were planted, according to information on various other inscriptions in the meeting rooms, by Richard DeCou and Herman Conrow, when the 150th anniversary was celebrated in 1923.


Another building of unusual interest in the vicinity is the Presbyterian Church at Allentown, whither we took our way via the bridge near which the bloody skirmish took place. The congregation was organized in 1725 but we were not prepared for such an historic revelation by two old gentlemen who told us they had been in Allentown since “the Lord Himself was there.”


There are many rhymes for epitaphs in the ancient cemetery behind the church and several stones have the sinister skull and crossbones of the markers at Topanemus [north of Freehold]. Such old-stock names as Horsfull, Pullin, Hay, Barcalow, Cowenhowen, Hepburn, and English are to be seen high on the promontory overlooking the lake. The church building goes back to 1756, was rebuilt in 1837 and enlarged in 1858.


Cabbagetown may have lost its original vegetable aspect but it has gained another. Most people call it New Canton, now. It consists of a cluster of houses, of which the largest [the former John Henry House] boasts brick and frame construction obviously more than a century old [actually two], falling into ruin. Cabbagetown was named for cabbages, we were assured, but no one knows who called it that long enough for the name to appear on older maps.


We had the good fortune to find William Hendrickson, for 37 years the principal of Imlaystown School, in the general store and post office there. The post office consists of a caged compartment as large as that assigned a cashier in a chain store.


Mr. Hendrickson said that Imlaystown is the only Imlaystown in the United States, although confusion arises sometimes because Emley’s Hill is three miles away. “The Imlays,” said Mr. Hendrickson, “trace their ancestry to Scotland, the Emleys to the Indians [family feud?]. That old farmhouse over there was the first of any importance in the town and replaced an earlier structure, built of logs. It is occupied now by Allen F. Hendrickson, Sr. Peter Imlay was the first settler here and, when you are in Georgetown, ask for the Peter Imlay who lives there now. He is a lineal descendant, proud that there is a Peter Imlay on the scene after all these years.”


We mentioned that it was rather curious that the main street of Imlaystown had so many twists and turns, despite so much traffic, however unwanted, being thrust upon it. “That’s natural enough,” said Mr. Hendrickson. “The first road was an Indian trail which followed the top of the bank along the winding Buckhole Creek [despite U.S.G.S. quads, just a tributary, the Buckhole is further downstream]. The trail was the first street here. The Imlay’s were always aristocratic. Refused any part of the Imlay farm, newcomers were compelled to build their homes on that one street or along the other creek bank.”


Days when limeboats used to come up Doctor’s Creek as far as Yardville are gone [to ship the rich fertilizer mined near Hornerstown]. With them, old Hogback Landing has disappeared. Even Hayti, pronounced Hay-tie here, forgets its palmy days on the old Amboy line in the meaningless station name of Shrewsbury Crossing [where the railroad intersects Rt. 524].