The Earliest Settlers In Allentown [Allentown Messenger 3/3/04]

Some of the Enterprises of Long Ago, together with General History (Part 1)


Among the early settlers of this part of Monmouth county was Wm. Montgomery, of Brigend, Scotland, who came to America in 1702 and settled on lands purchased from his father-in-law, Robert Burnet. The deed bears date May 20, 1706, in which “Robert Burnet of Freehold, in ye county of Monmouth, within the eastern division of Nova Cesaria,” conveys William Montgomery for “one hundred pounds current silver money, five hundred acres of land.” This estate, which was a short distance from Allentown [one-quarter mile east on Rt. 524 from Rt. 539], he named Eglinton, in honor of the ancestral home in Scotland. William Montgomery and Isabel Burnet were married on January 8, 1684, in Edinburgh, and their marriage settlement, which is in complete preservation, measures six feet in length. The original house is not now standing. The present brick mansion [destroyed by fire in 1974] was erected partly on its site prior to the Revolutionary war, and was built of bricks made on the property. Eglinton remained in the Montgomery family through four generations, the last one of the name who held the property being Robert Montgomery, who died in 1828. His granddaughter, the late Ms. Benington Gill, was the last of the family line to occupy the estate. The property is now owned by Daniel J. Wright.


Robert Burnet was extensively concerned in the Quaker settlement of East Jersey, and became one of the proprietors of that province. Margery Burnet, one of his daughters, married, in 1705, Nathan Allen, a son of Jedediah Allen of Shrewsbury. In 1706 Nathan purchased of his father-in-law 528 acres of land, lying on the north side of Indian Run, in what is now Washington township, Mercer county; and at the same time he purchased 110 acres on Doctor’s creek, and on both sides of the York road. About the year 1715 he settled and built a gristmill at the same place, which became the village of Allentown. Nathan (2d), son of Nathan and Martha Allen, married Sarah Lawrence. He inherited from his father the gristmill and plantation, while his brother Benjamin inherited the fulling- mill with two and a half acres, part of the same property. He died in 1718, leaving one son, Nathan John Allen, and in 1750 his executors sold the mill property, 238 acres, to Stoffel Longstreet. His widow, Sarah, afterwards married Thomas Lawrie, and old time merchant of Allentown. Benjamin, son of Nathan (1st), in 1748, sold the fulling-mill to Isaac Price, who owned it until his death in 1768. In 1771 it again became a part of the gristmill property. As has been before stated, this was removed and converted into a double dwelling-house. The mill property, since the time of its sale to Stoffel Longstreet, has been in possession of the following named persons: James English, Jr., purchased May 1, 1761; John Rhea (a Philadelphia merchant), June 1, 1767; Robert Rhea, August 12, 1774; Joseph Haight, November 4, 1776; Arthur Donaldson, March 12, 1779; Peter Imlay, March 2, 1781; Robert Pidgeon, January 22, 1788; John Imlay, November 14, 1792; Robt. Evilman, December 29, 1792; Aaron and George Steward, 1796. George soon after sold to Aaron, whose heirs (April 1, 1835) sold to Richard Bruere, who conveyed the property, April 2, 1845, to Abel Cafferty, who built the present gristmill.


Around Nathan Allen’s mill there were soon clustered a store, tavern, blacksmith shop and other kinds of business. It is certain that the place had taken the name Allentown before 1732. In that year Nathan Allen and Lewis Carree died. The latter, in his will, is mentioned as “Lewis Carree of Allentown, Merchant.”


As early as 1743 a tannery was in operation on the property situated at the rear of Mrs. Wilson Wright’s on [7] Main street, and extending for some distance northward. It was then managed by Moses Robbins, who had previously resided on what has been known as the Amos Miller farm, at which place also he had carried on the business of tanning. It was afterward in the possession of James Middleton and John Palmer. In 1839 George Middleton came to Allentown and became owner of the property, where he built up a large business. The buildings covered nearly an acre of ground and the tannery had a capacity of tanning 3,500 hides a year. After the death of Mr. Middleton, the business was no longer continued. It appears that this business was one of the first industries established in our town. At a still earlier date a tannery had existed at the rear of the property now owned by Elmer E. Hutchinson.


During the Revolutionary war there was a court of Admiralty created, for the purpose of adjusting the claims of parties for their share of prize money in the capture of British vessels. Many of these vessels were taken to Toms River, where with the cargo, they were sold at public vendue, and the captors then received their proportion of the proceeds from the Marshal. This court met several times at Allentown, at the houses of Gilbert Barton [Woody’s Café] and Benjamin Lawrence. The last session was held at the house of the latter in the early part of 1783, Joseph Lawrence, Judge.


The Allentown post-office was established January 1, 1796, and the following named persons have held the office since that time: Samuel Rogers, 1798; Richard L. Beatty, 1801; James Imlay, 1804; James B. Stafford, 1805; William Imlay, 1820; A. A. Howell, 1845; D. W. Bills, 1849; William C. Norton, 1853; J. C. Venderbeek, 1861; S. B. Bergen, 1885-1888; E. V. Bower, 1889; Charles Cafferty, 1897.


The Earliest Settlers In Allentown [Allentown Messenger 3/3/04]

Some of the Enterprises of Long Ago, together with General History (Part II)


The old Allentown Academy was the successor of a school which has been taught for many years under the care of the Presbyterian Church. The principals of the Academy were generally students at Princeton. Among the long line of insructors who have since followed, many of our residents will recall the figures of Huntington, Smith, Pratt, Spaulding, Karner, Ryerson, and Rowan. H. B. Willis was the last of those who taught in the building, which is now the Presbyterian Chapel. He was also the first principal of the present public school building, which was erected in 1876. In the Methodist Academy on Church street Misses Blair and White taught for a number of years, after which the building was taken for other purposes, and the academy project was never revived. The Madison Hall school, for most of the time during its existence, was taught first by William I. Brown, and afterward by Miss A. C. Spaulding, Miss White and Miss A. V. Comptom. Miss Mary Gill taught at times as assistant.


On the northerly side of West Main street just beyond the Trenton road, stood the for many years the “eight square” school house. Among the teachers who will be remembered by many of our people were Cornelius Vanderbeek, Jacob Forsyth, John Simpson, and Mrs. Betsy Thomas. The latter was the last one who taught there, and the building was torn down about 1855. During the forties a school house stood on the Imlaystown road, at the corner of what is now the Peter Wikoff farm, which was attended by several of our well-known townsmen, since deceased. Squire Brown was the last one to teach in this building. It was taken down previous to 1850. In addition to the regular public schools, our town has had in past years several small private schools. In 1820, and for some time afterward, Miss Mary Taylor taught in a one-story building owned by Dr. Holcombe, which formerly adjoined the dwelling know occupied by John Hulse.


About 1829 Misses Mary and Catherine Beatty were teaching in the brick dwelling adjoining that of the Misses Newell. They also taught in a building that stood on the property now owned by Dr. Johnson. This was afterward removed to Church street, and is now the residence of Mrs. Rebecca Flock. In the building that once stood on the R. M. Stout lot, near the corner of Main and Church streets, Miss Elizabeth Holcombe also had a school.


In 1873 a building was erected on Church street for educational purposes, and was known as the Ely Institute, at the head of which was Miss A. H. Peet. Both boarding and day pupils were received. In addition to the usual courses, music and drawing were also taught. The institute had a successful career for several years. It is now occupied as a residence by Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Ely.


About 1852 a building that included a steam sawmill and carpenter shop was built by John Bower, which stood some distance back from Main street, on the property now owned by Hillis Jones. Mr. Bower was then the leading builder of this neighborhood. Here for many years he carried an extensive business in the erection of buildings and the various lines of shop work. Some of his journeymen were afterward prominent builders here and in other places. One of them is now widely known as a mover of buildings of all kinds, and his skill in this business has given him a reputation in more than one State.


During the forties an iron foundry was in operation on Main street. It was located on what is now the Catholic Church property. The business was carried on by George Dolan & Sons, and was in existence for several years. The machinery was operated by the old-fashioned horse-power sweep. The operations consisted principally of small castings and repair work.


Before the days of ready-to-wear goods of all kinds one of the principal industries of our town was the manufacturing of boots and shoes. There were several shops engaged in the business, employing a number of hands. It was the custom with some to make up a large stock, and then start out with a load on a peddling tour through the country. One enterprising dealer always took a yearly trip to Toms River and on through the towns along the shore for some distance. Another custom of the times was for a farmer to purchase a stock of leather, and then have the shoemaker come and make a supply of footwear for the entire family.


The manufacturing of hats was another business that was carried on quite extensively. The establishment of George C. Meyer and Joseph Lawyer sometimes employed a dozen hands at one time. Mr. Meyer afterward carried on the business by himself, in a building which stood at the rear of his dwelling. Sidney Borden also carried on the business, at the same time as the above firm. Col. David Hay had also, during the twenties, engaged in this industry, in a building that stood where Mrs. D. M. Bunting resides.


It may not be generally known that a certain house on Main street, not now in existence [site of Brown Bear Antiques], was once a “station” of the “underground railroad” of ante-war days. The object of this secret movement was to assist the runaway slaves from the South in their efforts to reach Canada, where after they once crossed the boundary line, they were free men. The usual mode of operations here was elsewhere, was to bring the blacks to the said house by night, were they would be concealed during the following day and until after nightfall, when they would be forwarded to the next point, which was a village on the South River, near Amboy. From here they would finally reach their destination if all went well.

A certain well-known politician of our town at that time was known to be very active in this movement, but would never admit the fact when questioned concerning it. When running for office he strongly denied having anything to do with it even when face to face with men who had been associated with him in the work.


A lady resident of our town has recently told of an incident connected with her childhood days. She had been spending the day at the house referred to, and about dark had occasion to go to the cellar while rendering some assistance to one of the ladies. Passing through a door in a partition there was found a partly furnished room, and at a table were six negroes eating their supper. She little knew at the time that the people before her where fugitives slaves, and it was not till years afterward she learned that what had been seen was one of the methods of operating the so-called “underground railroad’ in the days of African slavery. 


Charles H. Fidler