Old-time Allentown Butchers

(Originally published in the Allentown Messenger dated August 17, 1911)


The present day method of conducting a meat business recalls the times when butchers bought all of their stock on the hoof from farmers in the surrounding country, many of whom then devoted a large portion of their land to grazing. From the farm the animals were driven to the establishments of the local butchers, where they were slaughtered and dressed ready for the market.


One of the old-time butchers of Allentown was Joseph Waker, who conducted a large business at his place on the street that now bears his name, his residence being that now occupied by H. E. Gullick [#12, at the corner of Maiden Lane]. In addition to his local trade Mr. Waker also had a stall in the Old Green Street market house at Trenton, where he was to be found three days every week. This, in the winter season, was strenuous work, was he was obliged to start from home long before daylight so as to be in Trenton in time for early market customers.


Upon his retirement from business Mr. Waker was succeeded by his son Joseph M. Waker, who remained for a time at the old stand and then removed to the premises now owned and occupied by W. R. Forsyth. Here he remained until 1862, when he gave up his business to become an officer in the Fourteenth Regiment New Jersey Volunteers, which was then being recruited near Freehold.


Jacob Waker, a brother of the above and father of Charles Waker, now residing near Newtown [Robbinsville], was also in the meat business during the 70’s, his shop and residence being on the lot now occupied by the Baptist Church [Library]. In 1878 he disposed of his property to the Baptist Society and in the following year the present edifice was erected. Mr. Waker afterward removed to Ocean Grove.


Another well-known meat dealer of those days was John Rogers, otherwise known as the “Captain.” His residence and place of business was on Main Street, on one of the properties afterward owned by John S. Hulse, who had the dwelling and outbuildings torn down and the present ones erected. The premises now owned and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Wesley Burtis. The Captain, like his Waker Avenue neighbor, also had a stand in the Trenton market house.


William Bunting, grandfather of H. D. Bunting of Allentown, was another of our local butchers who carried on a business for a long time, most of it being on the premises now owned by Mrs. Elizabeth Bunting, on Church Street [Barber Shop]. He gave up business about 1860, when it was purchased by his son, the late David M. Bunting.


The latter afterwards built up a large trade and became famed for his make of sausage, large quantities of which were shipped weekly to Philadelphia, Freehold, Red Bank, Farmingdale and Ocean Grove. It was before Mr. Bunting relinquished his business that a change in the matter of meat supply was being gradually brought about. Owing to the shipment of western meat here many farmers began to cease the raising of cattle for home consumption, and it finally resulted in our local butchers having to buy their entire supply of dressed meat from wholesale dealers in the cities.


Mr. Bunting, on ceasing to continue his meat trade, was succeeded by his late son the late Amos A. Bunting. The latter, owing to ill health, was soon obliged to give up the business which had been carried on so long at the same stand by father, son and grandson.


Charles Davis, who was employed for over forty years in the Bunting shops, states that many fine cattle used to be brought to them by our farmers; that one of the most famous raisers of such animals was the above Captain Rogers, who, after giving up the meat business, devoted his time to farming and raising of cattle, his farm land being located near town, on the road to Windsor.


Two extra large steers, each weighing 2,000 pounds, where once received from Ellis Hendrickson. But by far the largest one, Mr. Davis says, that was ever brought to the Bunting shop was raised by George Wildes, of Arneytown [Myrtle Bank Farm], the animal tipping the scales at the enormous weight of 4,000 pounds.


Other raisers of good beef about here were Harrison Wright, Bennington Gill [Eglinton], Wilson Miller, John W. Burtis, James Hankins, Gilbert Lowrey, Doctor Canfield and Richard Ridgway. But the business of grazing cattle hereabouts long since ceased and our farmers gave their attention to the cultivation of crops for which there was more demand.


Joseph Lawyer, who was a hatter by trade and was in that business here during the 30’s, afterwards became engaged in butchering on his farm at Sweet Fern Hill, near Allentown, on the Shrewsbury Road [Rt. 524]. During the 50’s, Mr. Lawyer’s meat wagon could be seen travelling about the neighborhood; his coming being announced by the sound of sleigh bells, a string of which was always to be seen about the neck of his horse.


From a set of books of Mr. Lawyer’s which have been preserved, it is interesting to note the meat prices then prevailing. It is found that sausage was running about 12 ½ cents per pound; beef from 6 to 10 cents, while other meats show a like reduction from present prices.


The above mentioned Joseph Waker was a native of Germany, and while a lad had the honor of seeing the great Napolean as he was riding at the head of his army through one of the German provinces. Mr. Waker came to this country while yet a youth and afterwards became quite successful as a business man. He reared a large family, one of his daughters becoming the wife of the late Abel Cafferty [former Mill owner].