What’s in a Name

Local historian Joseph H. West in the early part of the last century wrote the following for the Allentown Messenger.  Both concern the use of historic names for the area’s villages and roads, an issue still being debated today.

 

Hungry Hill [4/28/04]

Very few persons are now living who remember when the whole section reaching from a hickory tree northwest of Newtown well on towards Allentown known as Hungry Hill. There is now nothing about the handsome little hamlet or the fine farms to indicate that the place ever deserved such a title, but the fact remains that for many years the name of Hungry Hill was not only submitted to but was the acknowledged handle of the whole section.

 

The locality was settled more than 150 years ago. The first owner after the Proprietors of the province was Augustine Gordon, but he was a land speculator and did not live there.

A successor of his was John Burnett, another land speculator. But in the year 1748 Thomas Cubberley, son of James Cubberley, whose land adjoined this section on the west, stepped over the Province Line and bought of Burnett 1,071 acres, paying about one dollar per acre for it. These acres included the site afterwards known as Hungry Hill.

 

The political name of this region was then South Brunswick Township, Middlesex county; two years later it became Windsor Township, Middlesex county; forty-six years later it became East Windsor Township, Middlesex county; in 1838 it became East Windsor, Mercer county, and fifty years ago [1854] it got its present name of Washington Township.

 

The original hamlet of Hungry Hill reached from near the hickory tree to the forks of the road. The tavern stood on the corner leading to the schoolhouse, and was known as Cross Keys tavern, and there are two or three houses less now than there were fifty years ago.

 

About the year 1820 the turnpike from Bordentown to Hightstown was laid out and built. This passed a few hundred yards southeast of the old village, and a tavern sprung up on the corner there, long known as the Jacques hotel. The tavern at the old place was last known as the Davis hotel.

 

In 1832 the Camden and Amboy railroad was put through, half way between these two stopping places. Nearly sixty years ago a hotel was built near the railroad – the present house – and there was a sharp rivalry for some years as to licenses, the old Davis house being finally closed. The Jacques hotel was continued till 1872.

 

The coming to the village of Israel C. Vorhies, in the forties, gave this place a fresh start, and the people began to chafe under the name of Hungry Hill. The old timetables of the railroad called it Hungry Hill down to 1848, though some of the shippers of peaches had their baskets marked “Texas,” but the old name hung on.

 

Just beyond the high bridge there was a semaphore signal tower, used before the days of telegraphy, and a bridge also spanned the track at the village crossing.

 

Tired of this homely and no longer appropriate name of Hungry Hill, a public meeting  was called and held in the late forties, and it was decided to name the place Newtown. A few years later when a post office was established there, there were objections to the name, it being so nearly like “Newton,” in Sussex county, and the name of Robbinsville, in honor of the then member of Congress, the late Dr. George R. Robbins, was selected as the name for the post office.

 

These two names for the pleasant little village and important railroad station lead to some confusion and should be remedied.

 

Nottingham Way [3/30/16]

Dear Sir – There is a tendency now to try to preserve names that will serve as reminders of early settlers and of historic events, and we should encourage movements of this kind.

 

The big tract of territory including more than half of Trenton and all of Hamilton township, many of the settlers coming from that shire in England. It was named that as early as 1678, in writings, and in 1686 was legally so named.

 

When, in 1842, the township of Hamilton was made out of the country part of the old township, it left as Nottingham only the populous part, that is, Trenton south of the Assanpink. In a few years this was annexed to the city, and the name of Nottingham was lost. Some seemed anxious to get rid of old things, and by common consent they changed the name of the old village, “Nottingham Square” to “Hamilton Square.”

 

It was to have something to remind us of our history that the Trenton authorities called the ‘Sylum road “Sullivan Way,” the Scotch road “Washington Way,” and a street “Lenape Way,” and a few years ago a number of persons, among whom was Chancellor Walker, Judge Gnichtel, our Freeholder Hendrickson and your humble servant, favored calling one of our main thoroughfares “Nottingham Way.” The Board of Freeholders took kindly to the request and passed the following about two years ago:

 

“Resolved that the names of the roads known as East Clinton avenue, Mercerville road, and the Mercerville-Hamilton Square road, beginning at the Assanpink creek, near the Empire Rubber Company works, and extending through the township of Hamilton from said point to Mercerville; thence to Hamilton Square; thence to Robbinsville and to the Mercer County line near Allentown, shall be known and designated as ‘Nottingham Way,’ and said road shall be so designated on all county maps of the county of Mercer.”

 

And so we have one of our fine thoroughfares named in memory of our pioneers.

 

And now will the Allentown borough commissioners kindly allow me to suggest that they continue the name through the borough? [With all due respect to Mr. West, its former name, Paine Street in honor of revolutionary war author Thomas Paine, would be preferred.] Grand name it is, and it perpetuates the memory or a grand, God-fearing people, who first put the plow into our soil.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph H. West.