Old Mill History

[From ‘Local History Sketches,’ Allentown Messenger dated September 25, 1913]


Probably but few of those who where at the scene of the recent fire on the property of Wesley B. Burtis where aware that the framework of the large barn that was so dangerously near the smouldering fire is the oldest piece of carpentry in Allentown. It was formerly the gristmill built by Nathan Allen, in 1715, and for whom our town is named.


An inspection of the interior of the building shows that all the timbers were hewed, as was the custom of those times, the marks the adze being plainly visible on the huge oak beams overhead and in other parts.


Nathan Allen built his mill on a site only a few steps northward from the present mill. Around the structure there were soon erected a store, tavern, blacksmith shop and other kinds of business places, and also several dwellings.


It seems certain that the place had taken the name Allentown before 1730. On May 7, that year, appeared a vendue notice in the American Weekly Mercury, of Trenton, stating that 3d of June following “There will be exposed to Sale, by way of Vendue, to the highest bidder, the plantation that Isaac Stelle now lives on, near Allen-Town, within 200 yards of Nathan Allen’s Mill.” A description of the property then follows.


Between the proprietorship of Nathan Allen, who died in 1737, and that of Abel Cafferty, who purchased the property in 1835, there had been twelve owners of the mill property. During the early part of the Revolutionary War, while military operations were being carried on in this portion of the State, the mill was being operated by Joseph Haight [Colonel in the Burlington militia and likely purchased by him on behalf of the State], who came into possession of the premises in 1776, and he no doubt frequently furnished flour and feed for use of the patriot forces in the town and the neighborhood. It was in the spring of 1778 that a regiment in command of Colonel Flowers was stationed in our town, as is shown by a letter from General Washington to that officer, now preserved in the military archives of New Jersey. The letter is addressed “To Col. Benj’n Flowers or his deputy at Allen Town.” A possible relic of the time of the military occupancy of our town was the digging up, a few years ago, of a cannon ball only a short distance from the location of the old mill. [On the morning of June 24, 1778, the British army occupied town after canon fire dispersed patriot forces.]


In the basement of this old building had been built, by Abel Cafferty, a kiln for drying corn. During the Irish famine, in 1845, this kiln played a very useful part and was in almost continual use. At times it was worked both day and night in order to help fill the demand for food supplies to be sent the starving people of Ireland. In case of its future need, the corn kiln was removed to the new brick mill, where it remained until only a few years ago, when it was taken away to make room for mill operations.


For 140 years the pioneer mill of Nathan Allen served well its purpose. But our growing population and the improved methods of milling demanded a larger and better building to properly carry on the increasing business. It was in 1855, therefore, that Abel Cafferty decided on the erection of the present brick mill, the bricks being made at a clay bed on his property.


After the completion of this building, he had the old mill taken down, and the well-preserved timbers of the framework were utilized in the erection of the commodious barn mentioned at the beginning of this sketch.


The founder for Allentown’s original mill was a descendant of George Allen, a Quaker of Massachusetts. Because of persecution for their religious faith, several of his family came to Monmouth county, some of whom became quite noted. Among these was Jedediah Allen, the father of Nathan. He was a member of the colonial assembly in 1703, and is frequently mentioned in ancient county records.                                 Charles H. Fidler