History of Lambertville, New Jersey
In 1703, William Biddle, Jr., John Mills and John Reading, acting for the Province of West Jersey, negotiated with two Indian Chiefs, Himhammoe and Copponnockous, for the purchase of the township of Old Amwell, which was ceded to the Province, to the lasting satisfaction of the natives and the Province as well. This Council, in their permission for the sale, strictly ordered the three commissioners to go to the "Wigwam" of Himhammoe and there have the deed properly executed and the lands marked off; also, a like treaty with Copponnockous, who held possession of the more westerly portion af the original tract.
This tract contained about 150,000 acres, and was purchased for 700lbs, then divided into proprietary shares of five thousand acres each, of which Benjamin Field took his portion in two lots, one of three thousand acres, fronting on the Delaware river, from Lambertville, southward, thence east, and the other, two thousand acres, in and around Ringoes, of which Field conveyed a smaller tract of two hundred acres, to certain land speculators in succession.
John Holcombe, a resident of Abbington township, Philadelphia county, Pennsylvania, on the 16th of November, 1705, purchased three hundred and fifty acres of land of Richard Wilson, of Bucks county, Pennsylvania.
This land was in New Jersey, and was that tract south of Alexsauken creek, bordering the Delaware river on the west, and Coat's line on the south, extending through the city of Lambertville, between Delevan and Jefferson streets, and extending easterly from the river to a distance of about one and one-half miles.
The purchase was made on this wise: First, he leased the tract of land for the sum of 5 shillings, and for a release paid 100 sterling per acre.
As the township of Amwell had only been purchased from the Indians two years before, his purchase as a, resident owner ranks him among the earliest in all this region.
John Holcombe was married to Elizabeth Woolrich, of Abbington, Pa., according to the order of "Friends," as the minutes of the Abbington meeting will show, on fourth month, twenty-eighth day, in the year seventeen hundred and seven.
To them were born six children, three sons and three daughters. The sons were John Samuel and Richard. John died a young man, unmarried. Samuel married Eleanor Barber, and had seven sons and two daughters.
Dr. George L. Romine, Dr. Frank Larison, Alexander H. Titus ancl others of the Holcombe family, who are residents of the town at the present time, 1902, are the lineal descendants of Samuel Holcombe.
Richard was married twice, his first wife being Mary Harvey, his second, Ann Emley, by whom he had two children. The first, a son, whose name was John, lived near Lambertville. His death occurred in 1851, at the family homestead, which is now known as "Washington's Headquarters," from the fact that this "Commander" was entertained there during his short stay in this vicinity, in 1778.
In 1731, nearly thirty years after its purchase from the Indians, this region was still a "howling wilderness," and still inhabited by the Indians. The forests were infested with "Wolves, Foxes and Panthers." But civilization was advancing, and the Government put a price on their heads for their extermination.
Between the years 1720 - 1730, a young man, from the eastern part of the Province, more in quest of fortune than of fame, came here and settled along the banks of the “Delaware,” and constructed a “Hut” in which to dwell.
He was, evidently, both shrewd and enterprising. Seeing his opportunity, he embraced it, by buying an extensive tract of land and beginning traffic with the Indians.
The shortest and most direct route between New York and Philadelphia was the “Indian Path” through the forest to the river, along whose banks he had his “Hut,” and tradition tells us that, at this time, he was the only white man in this region.
In 1732 this man applied to King George II. for the exclusive right of a ferry three miles above and the same distance below his “Hut.”
This he obtained, calling it “Coryell’s Ferry,” from his own name (which was Emanuel Coryell), a. name it retained for eighty years, and one that was notable in history during the Revolution.
In that same year (1732) he built a commodious and ( for the time) imposing stone house, which was an Inn for the traveling public.
The house now owned and occupied (1902) by the heirs of the late Griffith Williams is on the site of the original “Ferry House.” It was a very pretty location, as the ground sloped to the creek.
The canal and canal banks are responsible for its present elevated perch.
An addition was built to the “Ferry House” in after years, which was left standing for some time after the original was razed, and was leased to tenants.
Mr. Sydney Blackwell tore down the addition and built the present edifice. It also contained a tablet on which was cut the date, 1749. (Mr. Daniel Gallagher is authority for this last statement, as he saw the tablet and date when Mr. Blackwell was tearing it down.)
Tradition says that the “Hut” was the tavern until the “Ferry House” was occupied, and that its location was on the corner of Main and York streets, on the site where the Episcopal Church now stands.
1732 seems to have been an eventful year in Emanuel Coryell’s history, for it was in this year his son Cornelius was born.
Emanuel Coryell died when comparatively a young man, being less than fifty years of age, and was buried in his field in sight of his late dwelling, the “Ferry House.”
Four sons survived him, and in the division of his real estate the heirs apportioned the burial plot in which their father was buried to be a “Grave Yard” for his descendants forever. It is the same on which the Presbyterian Church now stands.
It seems to be a singular act of neglect that in this “Grave Yard” no stone marks the resting place of the first white resident and founder of this city.
His sons and grandsons also were remark-able for longevity.
A coffin-shaped stone, hewn from the granite of his own “Goat Hill,” records the names of two of those sons. Cornelius, about whom I have previously spoken, died in the hundredth year of his age, being ninety-nine years and six months old.
His brother Ahram’s record on the same stone is ninety-one years.
John Coryell, a grandson, died October 31st, 1861, in the ninetieth year of his age.
It may interest some of my readers to know that a modest monument marks the resting place of George Coryell, son of Cornelius, who died in this city in 1850, aged ninety-one years.
He was a fellow a fellow-Mason with George Washington in the Masonic Lodge at Alexandria, Va., and, as is stated on the monument, the last survivor of the six men who laid the “Father of his Country” in his tomb. Lest some one question the historic accuracy of this statement, it should be mentioned that, as a member of the lodge, next in degree, Mr. Coryell was called on to take the place of one of the six pall-bearers selected -- (Lieutenant) Moss, who was taken ill.
Mr. Coryell was a personal acquaintance of George Washington, through connecting circumstances in his youth, and through his influence was induced to go to Alexandria, when he eventually married the daughter of Commodore Hamilton, U. S. N. Here he continued to be a resident citizen until he was an aged man and retired from all business.
His family all gone, he then returned to his native home to spend the remnant of his days among his remaining kindred.
The writer was well acquainted with Mr. Coryell, and talked with him about George Washington’s funeral, knowing that he had been one of the bearers on that occasion.
He told her that after the body had been lowered in the grave, with appropriate ceremonies, each member of the lodge drew from his right hand his glove and threw it on the coffin.
The writer attended Mr. Coryell’s funeral, and not a glove was thrown in the grave, but his brother Masons, with the ceremonies of their order, threw on his coffin a little branch of evergreen.
The Rev. Dr. P. O. Studdiford delivered very impressive services on that occasion.
During the summers of 1776-1777, when Washington was retreating through New Jersey, and watching the movements of Lords Howe and Cornwallis, to prevent their seizing and occupying Philadelphia, Cornelius Coryell, the son of Emanuel, made himself useful to Washington, both as a guide and in every other way possible.
The army was divided into three cantonments, the middle one coming to Coryell’s Ferry.
Redoubts and batteries were cast up on the Pennsylvania side of the river.
Washington reconnoitered and tools observations from the hills and prominent surroundings. T’here is a flat rock near a spring on “Goat Hill,” known as “Washington’s dining rock,” on which he is said to have dined on one of these occasions. Also another on the south side of the same hill called “Pinnacle Rock,” from which the most extensive view could be taken. The western shore of the “Ferry” performed a very prominent part in the history of 1776, both in collecting and secreting boats all along the Delaware, as well as sheltering them behind the small island of “Malta,” one and one-half miles below the “Ferry.”
In these boats the loyal troops were conveyed across the icy “Delaware” at “McKonkey’s” on Christmas, and surprised and captured the enemy at Trenton on the following day, December 26th, 1777.
Cornwallis had previously heard of boats being collected at “Coryell’s Ferry,” and sent spies up on the Nevi Jersey side, but they saw nothing to verify the report, and dared not cross the river and face the frowning batteries on that side.
Nearly every foot of the shores of the “Ferry” is full of interest to the student of historic lore pertaining to the Revolution as enacted here. The whole section abounds with incidents connected with the Colonial and Revolutionary days.
At Coryell’s Ferry, on the Pennsylvania side of the river, it is said that Washington, with Generals William Alexander (Lord Stirling), Green and others who were in command of the troops at that time, planned the “Battle of Trenton,” which we have already mentioned.
General Benedict Arnold (The Traitor) was at Coryell’s Ferry, June 16th, 1777, and from there wrote to General Washington. On the 29th of July, 1777, we find the honored and lamented Alexander Hamilton, then a Captain of Artillery, writing to the Honorable Robert Morris from the same place.
Colonel James Monroe, afterward President of the United States, was also quartered at a farm-house a little below the Ferry, 1776.
In June, 1778, when the British evacuated Philadelphia, to avoid being caught in a trap, Washington broke camp at “Valley Forge” and came to the Ferry, crossing over into what is now Lambertville. His soldiers camped in an orchard, which is now one of the business portions of our city, viz., the northeast corner of Bridge and Union streets.
While here General Washington penned the following letter to Major-General Arnold:
HEADQUARTERS NEAR CORYELL’S, June 22d, 1778. To Major General Arnold,
SIR: -- I leave the honor to inform you, that I am now in New Jersey, and that nearly all of the troops have passed safely across the river, at Coryell’s. The latest intelligence I have, respecting the enemy, was yesterday, from Gen. Dickinson, who said, they were, on that morning, at "Mount Holly" and at "Morristown," but that he has not been able to learn what route they would take from thence; nor was it easy to determine the matter from their situation. They will either proceed to South Amboy, or by way of "Brunswick." We have been a good deal impeded in our march by rainy weather. As soon as we have cleaned the "arms," and can get matters on train, we propose moving towards Princeton, in order to avail ourselves of any favorable occasions that may present themselves, for attacking or engaging the enemy. I have the honor to be writing to Major General Arnold. GEORGE WASHINGTON.
When the soldiers again took up their line of march, it was through a valley, between two heavily timbered hills. That valley is now known to us as "The Hook." The road was at the foot of the north hill, crossed "Swan’s Creek," then ascended the "Old Saw-mill Road" to the high ground, or "Farmers’ Highway," which was a steep ascent. Following this route the army reached "Hopewell," where they again rested. The onward march from there was to "Rocky Hill," "Kingston," Cranbury, and then to Monmouth, where they overtook the enemy and fought that memorable battle, June 28th.
The statement regarding the army while here is unquestionably correct, as the writer heard it from the lips of an aged man -- the son of Captain George Coryell, and grandson of Emanuel, at whose house some of the officers were entertained, he being at the time a lad presumably twelve or fourteen years of age.
Washington, with other officers, was quartered at Richard Holcombe’s, in the ancient mansion we know as "Washington’s Headquarters."
It is said that just previous to their departure a council of war, lasting two hours, was held with the officers and General Greene, under an old apple tree at the rear of the "Mansion," and it is further stated that in that house Washington wrote his letter to Arnold.
Abram and John Coryell, two of the four sons of Emanuel, were at that time the proprietors of the "Ferry," Abram on the Net Jersey side, and John on the Pennsylvania. These brothers conveyed the army across the river; also furnished commissary supplies and forage for the horses, for which they were paid in Continental money, which was never redeemed, in consequence of which these men were greatly impoverished.
Mention has been made of the "Old Sawmill Road," the location of the "Mill" from which the road derived its name being where Mr. Harry Montgomery’s house now ( 1902) stands. The old slanting wall, over which the water flowed from the mill, was still there in the writer’s childhood days; also the mill-race, the north bank of which was supported by large oaks and beech trees. The dam was gone, but about where it had been was a "Mineral Spring," with a depth of four or more feet, and having a millstone encircling its top, with its waters strongly impregnated with iron. [The writer has often. drunk of this water.] When undisturbed, a scum covered the surface, and the stones near by, together with the drain from the spring, were always covered with a heavy, rusty sediment.
In. 1776 we find plenty of evidence that this region was fast becoming a farming district, and that the people were quite thrifty.
There was a, small "Grist-Mill" at the head of the "Falls," run by one Jonathan Pidcock (an Irishman), also a small saw-mill on Swan’s creek, about one-half mile distant from the river.
Just on the outskirts of our town is now stored, in two large reservoirs, the water from that creek, this being the water-supply for the city of Lambertville.
The tailor and the shoemaker of those days not infrequently plied his respective trade in the house of his patrons; this, perhaps, being done both for convenience as well as economy’s sake; while the schoolmaster took turns boarding at the homes of his patrons.
At the time of the Revolution there were but four conimodious houses in, the hamlet -- “The Ferry House,” Captain George Coryell’s, Richard Holcombe’s and George Tanner’s. Tanner’s house was located on the south side of Coryell street, along the river bank. To this house was attached -- on the west side -- a storehouse for the storage of grain and other merchandise. The Delaware being the highway for the interchange of commerce between Easton and Philadelphia. and the surrounding country, made it very profitable for this man who lived so near to it. Through this medium a large business was done, during the war, the produce being conveyed to and fro on large canoe-shaped boats, called “Durham boats,” from the name of the place where they were first built.
These "Durhams" were propelled by sails and setting-poles, with a long steering oar at the helm.
Immense quantities of lumber were rafted down the Delaware annually from the Lehigh and Upper Delaware. Now a raft on the river would be a curiosity. The destruction of the forests, as well as two canals, has tended to rob the river of much of its earlier copious water flow.
The oldest houses now standing are the “Washington Headquarters” and the Bellmont House, which latter was built by Judge John Coryell in 1797, where he commenced his married life
There all his children were born, and from it he buried both his wives and his father, Captain George Coryell.
The yard and surrounding grounds extended as far back as Coryell street.
Since then stories have been added, and extensions and additions have been made, thus changing its appearance entirely.
The old store-house on the southwest corner of Coryell and Main streets, is said to have been built at the same time as the Judge’s house.
Coryell street is the oldest street in our city. It is recorded that it was opened by Judge John Coryell in the year 1802, at which time a few building lots were sold. This street extended from Main street to the river. The ground east of Main street to the foot of the hill was known as "Bog Meadow;" the water course from there to the river, in wet times, being through what is now Perry street. A small stone bridge with one arch crossed Bridge street about the center of Dr. Lilly’s lot. The first house built on Coryell street at that early date was erected by Dr. Richard Kreusen, who died in 1807, aged forty-nine. (His successor was Dr. John Lilly.) Kreusen’s widow, with her son and daughter, occupied this house until all were deceased. Opposite their home was the residence of Joshua Anderson. A brick dwelling was built on this site, in 1846, by his son, John H. Anderson. This house is owned at the present time (1902) by Mrs. Helen Matthews.
Another building lot on which a comniodious frame house was erected -- by whom it is unknown -- was located midway between what is now Union street and Anderson’s property. The house was purchased by Mr. Brannon, a brother-in-law of Dr. John. Iilly.
On the southwest corner of Union and Coryell streets was built a frame residence, known to the writer as the “Yellow House.” No doubt it was a very pretty dwelling when occupied by the original owners, as it had the appearance of having been well finished inside as well as out.
The next mentioned is the property of Mrs.Thomas R. Fidler, which has undergone many changes. The date of building and original ownership are unknown to the writer.
Another frame dwelling on Coryell street was owned, and occupied until his death, by a very aged man, named Charles Pidcock, a native-born citizen of this community. This house adjoined the present property of Mr. Jacob Heins.
The stone house on South Main street, at the foot of Goat Hill, was built by Jacob Coryell, son of Cornelius and grandson of Emanuel.
There is no known date of its erection, but it is supposed to be coeval with the Bellmont House, if not older. At the present time this house is owned by Mr. Samuel Case.
"Tanning" was the business carried on by Jacob Coryell and his sons.
The water-supply for the use of the "Tanyard" came from a small brook which flowed down between Cottage and Goat Hills. This "Tannery" was in operation until a later date than 1840.
Qn the northwest corner of Main and Coryell streets was a dwelling and storehouse,.supposed to have been built in 1805 by Emley Holcombe, who for many years kept at this place a store -- for general merchandise.
In 1812 the building of the Delaware bridge was begun, it being finished two years later, at a cost of $69,000. As this bridge was to make a new road or street, Captain John Lambert commenced the erection of a new "tavern," the present "I,ambertville House." This was a well-conducted and respectable "hostlery," which he kept himself until his death. The "Ferry House" was then closed, and became a private dwelling.
Judge John Coryell sold to Doctor John Lilly a lot of land from the "road" (Bridge street) to Swan’s creek on the south, said lot extending to Franklin street on the east, and to Main street on the west.
On this lot he built a brick residence fronting Bridge street. A broad path led up to the front door, which was covered by a commodious portico, and was reached by a flight of steps. There was another high porch on the south side, to the right of which was the basement-kitchen. What is now called Lilly street was the doctor’s private driveway and entrance to his office, kitchen, etc.
His barn, carriage-house, wood-house, “sty,” etc., were opposite, and near enough to the home.
The ground sloping towards the creek was cultivated for domestic purposes.
Building lots were sold from his land on the east side of Main street to Solomon Landis and David Naylor.
The residence, described briefly in the above, is now owned by Mr. John Lilly, having undergone many changes since it was first built.
The next two oldest houses on Bridge street besides the Lambertville House, were built by Jacob Smith and Philip Marshall. Marshall’s old home is now owned by the Catholic Church as the "Sisters’ Home," while Jacob Smith’s house is just opposite.
The residence now owned by Randolph Everett (1902) was built in 1830, by William Biles, who died there October, 1833.
Samuel Hill built the house now occupied by Doctor George L. Romine, but the date of its erection could not be learned; and Samuel Stryker built, in 1827 or ’28, the storehouse and dwelling next jt, now occupied by the Catholic priest as his residence.
The four brick houses opposite the depot were erected in 1830 by William and Dennis Hall. The contracting carpenter, who also did the work, was Jacob Chamberlain. The masons were James Appleton and William Hansell, the fine plasterers being "Andy" Kirkpatrick and John McConogy, Irishmen.
Sometime about the year 1830 there were two schools for boys -- these accommodating both boarders and day scholars were kept by two clergymen, Rev. Mr. Culp, Baptist, and Rev. P. O. Studdiford, Presbyterian, where the higher branches of education were pursued. Suspended students from Princeton who were far from their homes were often sent to Rev. Studdifard’s school until their terms of suspension had expired. This school they termed "Botany Bay," which at that time was a British "penal" colony.
In 1812, the Honorable John Lambert, U. S. Senator during Jefferson’s Adminstration, applied to the Post-office Department for a post-office. His petition being granted, he named the village “Lambertville,” and his nephew, Captain John Lambert, became the first postmaster
The Coryells were very indignant at the name given, for they considered it a usurpation of their rights, and, in consequence, refused to accept it, calling it “Lambertsvillainy” instead. Their side of the village they called Georgetown, there being three prominent men living there, named, respectively, George Hoppock, George Tanner and George Coryell; but it was all in vain. The post-office “Lambert’s Ville” gained the day. Previous to that time letters sent to friends here were addressed:
“Coryell’s Ferry, Pa.,
Amwell, New Jersey.”
When the town was incorporated the letter “s” was dropped, and it is now the City of Lambertville.*
* The name of John Lambert appears in the records of State and country as well as those of his native town. He was a member of the Legislature and Council of New Jersey, and at one time acting Governor. He was also a member of the House of Representatives, and, as we have stated above, United States Senator during Jefferson’s administration.
In 1817 the Presbyterian Church was built. This structure was made of bricks, which were burned on Main street, about forty yards north of the First Ward School House, at the foot of Mt. Hope. The timber used was hewn from the woods, being contributed to a large extent by the country people. Mr. Studdiford said the massive beams were indeed a sight to behold. There were two front doors to the building, but no vestibule. Inside a gallery extended round three sides -- the north, east and south -- while the pulpit was on the west. This was very high, being reached by a flight of stairs with a door at the bottom. That the pulpit occupied this "lofty" position was probably for the convenience of the worshippers in the gallery.
The collection which was taken up in a black pocket, which was attached to the end of a long pole. This, with other “conveniences,” was kept in a closet under the pulpit stairs. No carpeted foor nor cushioned pew adorned this church; nor footstool -- unless it was a personal convenience to some individual -- and no paint on the pews, save on the top, where was a strip of molding painted red, and that was always so moist in the summer time that if the worshippers happened to lean against it they were sure to carry away with them the marks of the paint.
(The above is an accurate description of the "First Church" in the city.)
On the fourth of July, eighteen hundred and twenty-six, just fifty years from the time of the "Declaration of Independence", there occurred a celebration of that event in this church. Over the pulpit hung a "Spread Eagle" made of moss, while from a circular centerpiece in the ceiling was suspended a large cedar bush filled with bright colored "holly hocks."
The writer, being at that time less than five years of age, was allowed to attend the celebration, in company with an older sister, but she had neither eyes, ears nor understanding for anything but that "beautiful cedar bush," which to this day stands out fresh in her memory.
Mr. Samuel Kinsey, of New Hope, read the "Declaration of Independence," and an appropriate song for the occasion was sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne," with a chorus to each verse, beginning "Just fifty years ago."
The father of the late Dr. Breed, of New Hope, was one of the singers, if not the soloist, on that great day. He was, presumably, a prominent member of the church, and memorial tablets to himself and his family may be seen in the old graveyard on the north side of the edifice.
The farmer, who with his family, attended worship, was seldom out of his place.
In summer he wore no coat to church, but a nicely laundered shirt of bleached muslin, an equally nice Marseilles vest, linen trousers and a clean straw hat completed his "Sunday-go-to-meeting" outfit.
In 1825, nearly eighty years ago, five disciples of Christ, earnestly desiring to enjoy the blessings of church relationship, according to the New Testament teachings, resolved to unite in the formation and constitution of the Lambertville Baptist Church.
The first church meeting was held on the twelfth of February, 1825, at which time it was resolved to erect a house of worship, and a committee was appointed to procure subscriptions for that purpose. Having been successful in their efforts, work was begun, and on June the thirteenth the corner-stone of this edifice was laid with appropriate exercises; and the house being completed the following October, was dedicated to the worship of God.
The church was a very neat structure, being built of stone, and rough-cast. The roof projected over the porch, which extended the entire length of the front, and was supported by four large pillars, they also had the same rough coating as the building proper.
Like the Presbyterian Church, there was no vestibule, but two front doors, through which entrance was effected into the main room. Under this room was a basement, divided into two compartments. The one to the west was always used for a school-room, while the east room was put to such use as the occasion required.
About the year 1812 two English families, named respectively "Frost and Fennel," and related to each other, came to the village. There being no vacant houses just then, they took up their abode in this east room until they could find better accommodations. To the school children on the other side these people were a great curiosity. The women made thread lace, while the children, very much interested, watched them through the windows.
The process of making the lace seemed quite complicated to those onlookers. The work was done on a round cushion, made so by stuffing it like a bag. This cushion was supported on a trestle, while to it was fastened a strip of per-perforated horn filled with pins, which looked like those we use for ordinary purposes. From the cushion hung pendant bobbins, filled with the thread, the pattern, no doubt, being traced on the "horn," of which we have already spoken.
In the fall of this same year 1829 these people bought a live hog for slaughter, the “butchering” taking place in the yard. “Necessity, the mother of invention,” came to their aid at this time. After the death of the animal they improvised a gallows, on which it was suspended, but not having the conveniences for scalding off the bristles, as is the custom in America, they procured a bundle of straw and singed them instead.
Mrs. Frost had considerable difficulty in purchasing supplies for the family, not being familiar with the names we call the articles in this country.
On one occasion she accosted a man with “‘Mon dear,’ where do you get ‘treacle’? I have been to every store in the place, and ca-ant get a bit.” “Go ask them for molasses,” he replied, "and you will get ‘treacle.’”
India rubber shoes at that period had never been heard of, and Americans plodded through the mud and snow in thick leather foot coverings. These women, in bad, sloppy weather, wore on their feet an iron ring, a few inches in height, fastened on the shoes, which they called "Pattens." This raised their feet from the snow and mud.
Having given a brief description of these people and, what seemed to the inhabitants, their eccentricities, we again turn our attention to the interior of the upper room, which I will try to picture to your imagination. From the entrance to the rear of the church the floor had a steep and awkward ascent. Why it is not easy to imagine, unless the architect suited his plans to the fashion of the times; since all the women of that day wore bonnets with immense fronts, and crowns in them, proportionately large to accommodate the high-back comb then in vogue. Had it not been for the elevated floor, those sitting in the middle and rear of the church would never have been able to see the minister while he was preaching.
The pulpit occupied a position in the front of the church, thus enabling each one who entered to see those who followed, without turning round, as is done, sometimes, by the curious.
There were a number of supporting posts or pillars in the audience room, extending to the ceiling, which were adorned with a sort of hanging candlestick, composed of a strip of tin, with a hole in it, to hang it up by, a semi-circular dripping-pan with a fluted edge, and a little tin tube in it, to hold the “tallow-dip.” No snuffers having been provided, one young lady, who had recently become a member of the church, commenced her Christian work by taking with her a pair of scissors, and, as it became necessary, clipped the wicks on her side of the church. This was in 1838 and later, but previous to that time evening services were seldom held.
The “Choir,” or “Foresingers,” as they were then called, consisted of three or four men, who chanced to be the "Deacons." These men stood in front of the pulpit and faced the audience, the leading "foresinger" lining the verses of the hymns in a very solemn manner. This was clone so all the congregation could sing, as there were only a few hymn-books.
The church was heated by two sheet-iron stoves, set in a box of sand. The fuel used was "Stone Coal." Stovepipes extended from the front of the building to the back, where the chimney was located, being held in position by wires, fastened to the ceiling. These pipes served in part as heaters.
The collection was taken up in the same kind of apparatus as that used by our Presbyterian brethren. The "Stone Coal," as it was then called, and which we have merely mentioned, was brought from the coal regions of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, on "Arks," there being no other means of transportation at that time. It came in immense rocks, pieces being chipped off for use by means of a large sledge-hammer.
It was burned in churches, stores and other large buildings, but not until a much later date did it become a domestic and household fuel. Mr. Jacob Smith, a blacksmith, and the father of the late "Amos Smith," was the first one to use it in his forge.
"The Arks," on which the coal was conveyed to market, were never sent back, but were sold for the lumber they contained.
The first pastor to take charge of the Baptist Church was the Rev. Samuel Trot, who divas called in connection with the Harbourton church, preaching at the latter every alternate Sunday, as did also the Rev. P. O. Studdiford, who served both Lambertville and Solebury. This arrangement gave a preaching service to the citizens of Lambertville every Sabbath morning.
Mr. Trot received for his services to this church a salary of one hundred and twenty-five dollars a year. He served for a period of four and one-half years, when he resigned.
On the 5th of January, 1832, David B. Stout was called as pastor. He remained five years, resigning April 16th, 1837. When he became the pastor the membership numbered but nineteen; when he resigned it had increased to eighty-five. Under the ministry of the former pastor, Mr. Trot, the church had become somewhat leavened with "The Old School" Theology, which did not advocate Sunday-schools, missions, ministerial education, etc. This was distasteful to many until the feeling culminated in something like a division under Brother Stout’s pastorate. The majority of the members, however, held to the doctrine denominated "New School," while a number of the opposite way of thinking called for letters of dismissal, and united with the " Harbourton " and other " Old School " churches.
During the year 1835 it was resolved to enlarge the edifice. This work was begun in July and finished the following October, the cost being about three hundred and sixty-five dollars, and the alterations a "botch."
In 1830 the late Dr. Samuel Lilly, a boy of fifteen, came from New York city to visit his uncle, Dr. John Lilly. When the time of his visit had expired, his uncle, finding he had enjoyed himself so well, asked him if he would like to make his home here, to which he promptly replied in the affirmative.
From that time the uncle’s house became his home until his death.
Although only seventeen years of age at the time the town was visited by the "Cholera Epidemic," he was an invaluable assistant to his uncle John.
About the time of his visit ( 1830) the "Stone-house" (on the hillside), which later became the hospital for cholera patients, was in course of erection. The rafters were in place, but the house was unshingled, when Samuel (boy-like) one Sunday climbed to the top, and, seating himself on the rafters, proceeded to take a view of his surroundings, also to count the number of buildings he could see. Just previous to his death he related this circumstance to the writer, and told her he had counted just one hundred buildings in the village.
It is said that just below the "Falls" there stood a "Stone Tavern," where the watermen " were wont to halt and "refresh" themselves after encountering the perils of "the Rocks" in the Delaware. This tavern was also a great place for card-playing, drinking and fisticuff fighting. As one side of the building was set against the hill, that side of the roof sloped down to the ground.
Late one night a jovial party had assembled there for their "usual enjoyment," when some boys procured a "black ram," led him up the roof and shoved him down the chimney. The animal gave a loud "Bah," sprang for the door, upset the table, and struck consternation in the hearts of the gamesters, who fled for theirlives (likewise the sheep). Ever after, these people believed they had indeed seen his "Satanic Majesty" materialized, "for they had a glimpse of his hoofs and horns," so they said. At a very early period the "Hamlet" was called by the disgraceful title of "Bungtown." Why this term was given to it has never beenvery clearly defined.
At the foot of Coryell street were the wharves, where boats received and unloaded freight, which was often stored in Tanner’s store-house. It is asserted that on one occasion a barrel of whiskey was left on the wharf for a short time, when some miscreants stole the contents from the bung-hole, either to get gloriously drunk on the spot or for future use.
As early as 1760 it was called by this name, for we find that the arbitrators, in apportioning the real estate of Emanuel Coryell to his heirs, awarded to his son George the "Bungtown" lot, said lot starting from Church street and extending to Delevan, which makes the above story seem plausible, as to the origin of the name, which clung to it for many years.
In 1832 the construction of the Delaware and Raritan canal was begun.
Two superintendents, Captain Andrews and Captain Mason, had general control of the work from Bool’s Island to Trenton, and probably all the way to New Brunswick. These men sub-let small sections to competent contractors.
Just below the present rubber mill on Main street a village of small shanties for families and large boarding shanties sprung into existence, and emigrants poured in by the shiploads.
Distressed creatures they were, too, these men and women, carrying on their backs and heads all their earthly possessions, and looking like Bunyan’s Pilgrim, fleeing from the City of Destruction. They also brought with them a pestilence.
Quarantine restrictions evidently were not, at that time, what they are at the present. The epidemic of "Asiatic Cholera" broke out among these people, spreading, not only through the town, but to the outlying districts.
One Sunday three men were walking from Bool’s Island to the town, when, on nearing it, one of the number was suddenly stricken with the dread disease. His companions hurried him, with all speed, to the doctors, and from there he was taken to an Irish boarding house, located on the southeast corner of Main and Lilly streets, but the terrified inmates refused him admittance, so he was carried to the barn and made as comfortable as the circumstances would permit, but he died in the course of a few hours. The next morning his companions took his clothing and whatever blankets had been used about him, carried them on long poles across the meadow and buried them back of the Baptist Church on what is now Ferry street.
This was the first case. The entire community was dreadfully alarmed, as they had ample cause to be. The late Ashbel Welch, then a young civil engineer in the employ of the Canal Company, at once took an active part in organizing a Board of Health, procuring hospital accommodations and providing a "Potter’s Field" for the burial of its victims. The stone house on the side of the hill just opposite the lot owned by Mr. John Lilly stood in the same unfinished condition as his father, when a boy, had found it. Workmen were at once set to work to finish it as rapidly as possible for the admission of patients, and nurses were procured. A great many of the floating homeless were taken there, and perhaps many others, but it is not known that one cholera victim left it alive, and one of the nurses (a colored man) died at his own home.
The children on the streets shunned all the emigrants as well as any dirty-looking people. The doctors and the Board of Health issued precautions, both as to diet and cleanliness. To the dirty and dissipated, when stricken, it was, without fail, fatal, and such victims lived but a few hours after being taken with this dreadful disease. Multitudes were buried in the Potter’s Field, the location of which was on the south side of the Rocktown road, a little below the farm now owned by Mr. John Lilly, on land which he purchased recently ( 1901 ), and on the verge of a small gully.
Nor were the residents of the town exempt from this dreadful plague. A little indiscretion in diet or exposure would very often result fatally. Even "Cholera Morbus" became epidemic, it being so nearly allied to cholera, and not infrequently caused death. Surely this year (1832) was one of terror and gloom to the inhabitants, and depression seemed depicted on every countenance, as each one felt he might be the next victim. In the year 1849 and 1854 the town was again visited by this plague, many dying; but there was no comparison in the death rate either time to that of 1832.
In the spring of 1834, as work on the canal was in progress at Bool’s Island, a riot, which seemed to have been the outcome of an ancient feud, broke out between two factions of the Irish --the "Corkonians" and the "Fardowns." These rioters did not use knives nor shotguns, but whatever ammunition they could lay hold of the most easily. One Sunday afternoon news came from the island to the townspeople of a murderous affray up there, and the militia was sent for. They appeared on the scene of action the following morning, but the rioters had by that time quieted down. Still, these men, although few in number, looked very imposing in their blue uniforms with red trimmings, and their presence had a good effect on the two factions.
Of course the soldiers had many funny adventures to relate. One story they told on their return was to the effect that when they arrived in sight of the "enemy" the "Captain" of the militia, being a timid man, turned to his men and said, "Don’t they always pick off the officers first?" and on being answered in the affirmative, he replied, "Then, I guess I will get back in the rear." The militia consisted of about half a dozen soldiers, for the writer saw them leave the town, so one can imagine how ridiculous must have been the leader’s reply. Finding they would not be needed, the militia returned the same evening, bringing with them, however, two or three prisoners, who were put, for safe keeping, in an unused wheelwright shop on Main street, a guard being placed at each door and window to prevent their escape.
Later they were reprimanded very severely, ordered to keep the peace, and finally dismissed, after which there were no further outbreaks.
On the 8th of January, 1841, occurred the greatest freshet the Delaware has ever known. Although the writer remembers very distinctly every incident connected with this most disastrous flood, such an accurate account of it, from the pen of some Lambertville resident, not known, was published in the Hunterdon Garette the day following that a copy of said letter is found below:
LAMBERTVILLE. January 8, 1841. (Friday Evening.)
RAPID RISE IN THE DELAWARE RIVER -- GREAT DESTRUCTION OF
This has been a day of general excitement throughout the village and neighborhood, and doubtless will be long remembered. We have just returned from witnessing a scene that no pen can adequately describe. At an early hour this morning we heard the roaring of the waters and hastened to the scene of destruction. The river was then filled with floating masses of timber, etc., consisting principally of piles of lumber, logs, and fragments of buildings. The river was then rising at a rapid rate, and continued to rise until ahout three o’clock, when it appeared to be at a stand. It is now some five or six feet higher than was ever known before by the oldest inhabitants. The canal had filled rapidly, in consequence of the river breaking in above this place, and threatened destruction to that part of the town and to the extensive mills, etc.. on the Waterpower. The citizens were preparing to leave their houses, when the large waste-weir, opposite Holcomb’s basin -- about half a mile above the village -- by the force of the water, gave way; which seemed providential -- else the consequence might have been serious indeed, if the canal had given way in the town. The lumber-yards, storehouses, mills, etc., and other property situated along the river were in imminent peril throughout the day.
About half-past ten o’clock, fears began to be entertained for the safety of the New Hope Delaware Bridge, as the river was then nearly up to the floor.
The ice and drift-stuff increased, and struck the piers and timbers of the bridge with tremendous force. Large coal-boats, heavy saw-logs, and cakes of ice were lodging against it, and had forced apart one or two of the piers on the Jersey side. About eleven o’clock we heard the astounding cry, from many voices, that Centre Bridge was coming down, as we anticipated.
All eyes were fixed upon two large massive pieces of the bridge, which were seen floating down a short distance above, by the resistless current, in terrific grandeur. The feelings of the spectators, at that moment, were deep and thrilling and may be imagined, but cannot be described.
One of the pieces struck about midway, with an awful crash, passed through, and carried away one of the arches of the bridge. The other soon followed, and took with it another arch, on the Jersey side. The Jersey pier soon gave way and the third arch followed, and lodged a short distance below. Thus one-half of this noble structure, which has stood the freshets for nearly thirty years, has been suddenly carried away. The other part on the Pennsylvania side still remained
when we left, although much shattered. * * * If the river should take a second rise, the consequences may be still more awful. To describe the scenes we have witnessed to-day is painful in the extreme.
One instance relating to the flood is worth describing:
At the time "Centre Bridge" gave way, Mr. Fell, who had engaged to attend to the receipts of toll at that place during the temporary absence of the gatekeeper, was crossing over the bridge for that purpose when it floated off. Fearing danger from the crushing timbers overhead, and seeing a portion of the roof of the bridge floating near him, he succeeded, by the aid of a plank, in reaching it and freeing himself from the main body of the bridge. At this place an heroic effort was made to rescue him from his perilous position by Messrs. Hiram Scarborough and William M. Jones, using a bateau, but they failed to accomplish their purpose. Mr. Fell passed under the bridge, here lying flat upon the ’float," and was severely scratched and bruised by being raked over by the floor of the structure. On he went, down this swelling flood. At this time Mr. Henry Fell, his nephew, reached New Hope from Centre Bridge on horseback, and was advised by Mr. William H. Murray and others to take the river road on the Jersey side. This he did. Mr. Murray mounted a spirited steed and was determined to follow Fell over the same route, but so greatly was the bridge here endangered that his friends entreated him not to attempt to cross it, Dr. Corson even grasping the bridle reins with a firm hand. A lash from a halter-strap upon the sides of the spirited animal made him plunge so excitedly that to hold him was next to impossible, and he dashed away with his rider at a rapid pace. Water was then floating inside the bridge, and some of the planks of the floor were, perhaps, moved from their places, and in at least one case, where the horse made a leap of about ten feet, the planks were gone entirely. He got safely across, however, and joined Henry Fell on this side, barely in time to escape the collision of the Centre Bridge wreck with the Jersey end of the bridge here, when one-half of this time-honored structure between the two States was swept away.
Messrs. Murray and Fell, on horseback, dashed along the river-side; but at Goat Hill the road was impassable, and they had to take a circuitous route to follow the man they were so eager to see saved.
They had to change horses once or twice, the fields traversed being temporarily quagmired by the torrents of rainfall. The swift current bore the helpless man in the river in a very winding course, first near to one shore and then near the opposite shore. He had exhausted his strength and given up hope, when below Yardleyville a man named Nicholas went out in a boat and rolled Mr. Fell into his frail craft (he being unable to help himself) and took him to shore. The two horsemen mentioned arrived and helped to transport him to Lambertville. Excitement on both sides of the river was intense.
In this city eleven persons belonging on the New Hope side were "necessarily detained." Signal guns were fired, and large transparencies that could be seen across the river gave in large letters the information "All Are Safe."
The next day the "Sojourners" here took a boat and went to within half a mile af Centre Bridge. Three men ventured in the first trip across, including William H. Murray and Hiram Scarborough. They pulled hard on the oars, came near capsizing, and landed in Phillip’s Eddy.
As soon as possible after the rescue a horseman bore the glad news to Mr. Fell’s family at Centre Bridge. After being satisfied that his friends were apprised of his safety, he then retired to bed and took a refreshing sleep, and, as soon as safety would permit, crossed the river and returned to his anxious family. Mr. Fell liberally rewarded the man who saved his life.
Five bridges between Easton and Trenton were swept away by this freshet, and four of them were behind Mr. Fell. His escape under such conditions was indeed miraculous.
It is probable that a small majority of our townspeople know that James Wilson Marshall, the King of Gold-finders, was, from his infancy until twenty-four years of age, a citizen of Lambertville, and that it was he who blazed the way to California in 1848.
In the fall of 1834 Marshall left this city and went West, first to Indiana, then to Illinois and subsequently to the "Platte Purchase," near "Fort Leavenworth," Kansas.
Here he bought a farm, but, owing to malarial attacks, he was compelled, in a few years, to sell out.
About that time people had begun to talk about the fertile valleys and broad rivers of far-away "California," so on the first day of May, eighteen hundred and forty-four, he, with a train, consisting of one hundred wagons, set out for the almost unexplored West. After a weary journey, full of adventures and vicissitudes, the party reached California in June, eighteen hundred and forty-five, and camped at "Cache Creek," about forty miles from where Sacramento now stands.
Here the adventurers parted to continue their journeyings in different directions. Marshall and a few others going to Sutter’s Fort, El Dorado county, California, where Marshall went to work for General Sutter. His life at this fort was an uneventful one, until the summer of ’46, when the Mexicans, hearing that a large body of American emigrants were crossing the plains, resolved to prevent them from entering California, and what was known as the "Bear Flag War" was fought, Marshall taking a prominent part in all the engagements of that short war.
When, at last, in March, 1847, the treaty was signed by which the independence of California was secured, Marshall procured his discharge from the "Volunteer" service, and returned to Sutter’s Fort.
Before the breaking out of the war just referred to he had purchased two leagues of land on the north side of Butte creek, in what is now Butte county. When he returned he found that the majority of his stock had either strayed away or been stolen. However, he did not waste his time in vain regrets, but set about to formulate a plan to retrieve his fortune.
Having decided to go into the lumbering business, he fixed upon "Coloma," in El Dorado county, as a good location for a saw-mill. Sutter agreed to furnish the capital for this enterprise, and Marshall was to be the active partner.
The articles of partnership were drawn up by General Bidwell, and work was begun on the mill in August, 1847. (It was on the eighteenth of January, the following year, in the race of that same mill, that he made the discovery which accomplished, financially, the ruin of both General Sutter and himself.) The gold in California was not of itself the most valuable find in that astonishing commonwealth. This naturally attracted immigration, and the in-flowing population found the climate and the soil of the country just as rich as its gold mines. Real estate which had been bought for fifty dollars was sold, thirty years later for one million.
At one time, it has been asserted by one who professed to know, Mr. Marshall was worth at least one hundred thousand dollars, but his generosity had no limit. He gave to all who asked of him. As he had no business qualifications, sharpers took advantage of him, and when shrewd business men came in and built up the little town of Coloma, Mr. Marshall was soon cheated out of all his property. His money he had given away, or lent it where it would never be returned. His property rights were ignored by "squatters," his horses were stolen, his cattle and working oxen slaughtered by hungry miners, until all was gone. There was no law to protect him from the depredations of these men, and when, at last, there was some "appeal," the rascals had left for parts unknown.
It has been said that Marshall was a man of great peculiarities. He certainly was a man with varying moods, being sometimes free and friendly with his associates, while at other times he was morbid and ill-tempered. He was very visionary and a firm believer in Spiritualism.
The following quotation from a letter written by him to a friend in Lambertville goes to show how keenly he felt the lack of faith in those he had trusted. He says: "When I think of the past, and look over the list, God forgive me if I have but little or no confidence in Man." Be it told to the shame of the State of California and the nation that he, by whom the great discovery of gold was made, who himself became bankrupt, although he enriched the nation, in gold alone, one billion dollars, James Wilson Marshall, at the age of seventy-four years, was permitted to die in a county hospital, because he was homeless and penniless, when he should have been liberally pensioned by the government.
A few years ago there was erected at Coloma, California, a monumental statue of Mr. Marshall. It presents a very striking appearance. It is ten feet high, weighs 65o pounds, and is made of zinc. The figure is in an easy attitude. In the right hand, which is close to the body, is a large nugget of gold, and the left hand is extended, with the forefinger pointing downward to the historic mill-race, where the gold was discovered.
In 1868, when the present Baptist Church edifice was commenced, Mr. Marshall furnished a specimen of the gold to be placed in the corner-stone of that building, his father and mother being two of the five constituents of the first church in 1825.
History of Hunterdon County
County Government in New Jersey is organized around the semi-legislative Board of Chosen Freeholders, the elected administrative officials of the County. The term FREEHOLDER, as applied to a County Official, is derived from a practice in medieval England. There, a Freeholder was a person who held certain rights in real property. Only Freeholders were eligible for membership on the County Governing Body. This conception followed the English to the shores of New Jersey, and the County Governmental Body became known as the Board of Justices and Chosen Freeholders. The Justices of Peace who joined with the Chosen Freeholders in forming the Board, were appointed rather than elected by the popular vote, as were the two Freeholders chosen from each municipality in the County. The legislature in 1798 abolished the Board as constituted. A Board of Chosen Freeholders composed of one elected representative from each municipality in the county, who assumed the powers and jurisdiction of the old Board of Justices and Chosen Freeholders. The proper qualification was later dropped, but the title was continued. In 1902, permissive state legislation allowed a county to change the composition of its Board of Chosen Freeholders from one member representing each town and township to that of three to nine elected members for the County at large.
Hunterdon County has been governed by the above forms of County Government during the 275 years of its existence. Among the men of distinction that have served as Hunterdon's Freeholders and Justices are William Trent, for whom Trenton is named; Phillip Ringoes, early trader and settler in Amwell Township; Colonel John Mehelm, Colonel Thomas Lowry, Colonel Isaac Smith, Colonel David Schomp, all of Revolutionary War fame; John Hart, signer of the Declaration of Independence; and U.S. Senator John Lambert.
The minutes of the Board of Justices and Chosen Freeholders of Hunterdon County begin with the May 1739 meeting as recorded in a leather-bond volume, and are continued to the present date. Much of the information recorded reflects the condition of affairs and the thinking of the people of Hunterdon County throughout the years. In the beginning, the Board met once a year in May at the Hunterdon County Courthouse. Occasionally, a special meeting would be called at another place. When not meeting in the Courthouse, the Board generally met at a tavern convenient to the location requiring the attention, such as a bridge site.
The early Freeholders served without pay, which they "looked upon as a grievance," in 1792 that the sum of shillings 6 pence per meeting be allowed for expenses for each member in attendance.
The First Courthouse and Jail for the County, built about 1720, was located in the center of Trenton. The governing body met once a year and transacted business in the Courthouse in Trenton. In March of 1780 an act of the New Jersey Legislature enabled the governing body to meet in the John Ringoes Tavern in Amwell, for the convenience of the County's inhabitants. In May 1790 the Legislature was petitioned to hold an election to fix a place where a Courthouse and Jail should be built for Hunterdon County. The election was held in October, and Flemington was chosen as the location. Mr. George Alexander, an innkeeper, offered a half acre of his land for the first Courthouse and Jail. It was erected in the summer of 1791. This structure burned in February 1828; arson was suspected.
The historic Courthouse was rebuilt on the same site in May 1828, using some of the stone from the original building for the Jail portion at the rear of the Courthouse. The Jail was enlarged in 1925. A new Jail was built recently, located a block north of the Courthouse on Park Avenue. It is unusual in shape --- round, with a bright blue roof.
One of the distinguishing features of the historic Courthouse is the bell located in the cupola. It was installed with the building of the Courthouse in 1828, and was used to announce the holding of court or to announce that a jury had reached a verdict. The Courthouse was first lighted by gas, replaced by electric in 1894, again replaced by gas, then back to electric in 1927. Steam heat replaced the fireplaces in 1893. When the Courthouse was rebuilt following the fire in 1828, a corner-stone containing a Bible, the laws of New Jersey, a brass plate upon which was engraved the year of erection, the name of the architect, building committee, etc. and was all placed during a ceremony. In May 1813, the Flemington Aqueduct Company erected a trough in front of the Courthouse for the public to water horses, cattle, etc. In 1901, the Flemington Women's Club installed the present granite drinking fountain "for the convenience of man and beast".
Capital punishment by hanging has been recorded in Hunterdon County. In March 1907, Governor Stokes signed a bill outlawing hanging in New Jersey as the penalty for first degree murder, substituting electrocution. In April 1907 a jury found John Schuyler guilty of a first degree murder committed in January of that year. He was sentenced to die on the scaffold on June 28, 1907. It looked as if New Jersey might have its last hanging in Flemington. As a scaffold borrowed from Mercer County was being prepared, the execution was stayed. The penalty was later commuted on appeal.
In January 1935, in this century-old Courtroom, Bruno Hauptmann was tried for the crime of the fatal kidnapping of the son of Colonel Charles Lindbergh. The dramatic trial attracted world-wide attention. Hauptmann was found guilty and was electrocuted in Trenton. The witness chair from the trial can be seen in the left corner in front of the railing at the front of the main Courtroom.
In 1790, the Hunterdon County Freeholders met at Alexander's Tavern in Flemington. They decided that an election should be held at Meldrums Tavern in Ringoes to determine a location for the County Courthouse. Flemington, the County Seat for Hunterdon and parts of what is now Mercer County, was chosen to house the new Courthouse. Though little more than roads intersecting in the wilderness, Flemington was the intersecting point between Trenton, Philadelphia and New York.
The original Courthouse was begun in 1791, involving more than one hundred people in the effort. Asher Atkinson was superintendent of the construction. Fieldstone was brought in by farmers, cut by masons and erected by local laborers. Three years later, the building was completed on the site of the historic Courthouse. Symbolizing the new County Seat, the building was two stories and measured sixty by thirty-five feet. For thirty-seven years it served as the center of commercial and judicial life in the County.
Lawyers from all over the County crossed its threshold, some well steeped in judicial law and others with limited schooling, who studied under a local lawyer's patronage. One well-known attorney of the day was Thomas Potts Johnson, whose portrait hangs on the south wall of the main Courtroom above the retired jury chairs used in the Lindbergh trial. Admitted to the bar in 1794, Johnson had originally been a carpenter before reading law under his father-in-law Richard Stockton of Princeton. A story is told of a dispute that arose between Johnson and his opponent regarding a point of law. His adversary remarked in a derisive manner that he could not be taught law by a carpenter. Johnson rose to address the Court. 'May it please your Honors, the gentlemen has been pleased to refer to my having been a carpenter. True - I was a carpenter - I am proud of it, so was the reputed father of our Lord and Savior. And I could yet, given a block of wood, a mallet and chisel, hew something that would very much resemble my colleague's head. True, I could not put in brains, but it would have more manners.'"
On February 13, 1928 luck suddenly changed as fire attacked the Courthouse from within spouting flames from every window against the midnight sky. On that cold wintry night, it was soon evident that the building could not be saved. The best they could hope for was to save the Court's records and the surrounding buildings. Prisoners were quickly evacuated and housed nearby at an inn. The next day they were moved to the Somerset County Jail, and the Court set up temporary quarters at the Methodist Church.
Several committees were formed before final plans were determined for the rebuilding of the Courthouse. Salvage from the first building was utilized, and work began within the year to create the solid, imposing structure we see today. The corner stone was laid May 7, 1828, and the first Court Session was opened by Judge Ewing on May 7, 1829.
The large white structure, with towering columns and commanding crowning lantern, resembles a Greek temple, appropriate for this temple of justice. Lawyer Nathanial Saxton was responsible for the design, which is primitive Classical Revival Architecture with both Greek and Roman influence. The classic structure shows its shiplap clapboard gable to the street, topped with arched windows in the south-mounting lantern. A colonnade of four massive Doric Columns soars to the height of the body of the building. An old jail and keeper's rooms are to the rear. Offices were on the first floor of the Courthouse with courtrooms on the second and the grand jury room on the third floor.
In the 1870's, when the neighboring Hall of Records was built in the Italianate style, brackets were added to the Courthouse; but basically the original play has been adhered to. Thomas Capner was the superintendent of the completion of the 1828 Courthouse, which was built at a cost of $13,513.86. The land on which the two Courthouses have stood was given by George Alexander, with additional land donated later by Charles Bonnell.
Climb the front steps of this impressive civil building, enter the front hall, and step back in time to a country Courthouse. The front hall houses a display relating to the famous Lindbergh Kidnapping Trial. On the wall are copies of historic documents. There are pictures of missing persons including children. Beside them are the photographs of wanted felons, a strange and sad contrast. Along the hall were the Clerks and Sheriff's offices and a Law Library, which was open to the public. Opposite the Law Library was a room that in 1935 served as the central press room for the trial. Here, eagerly awaited news on the trial was sent out by wire to the waiting public throughout the country and the world. Continuing to the rear, if you turn to the right, you can look out to see the entrance to the old Jail and the passageway outside where crowds stood to see Hauptmann brought from the Jail to the Courtroom. At that time, the guards were leery of such crowds and brought the prisoner by an inside passageway to a holding cell on the second floor.
Compared with the old Jail Cells, this holding cell seems like a palace with its gray paint and stainless steel facilities. However, it still has it own claustrophobic atmosphere and the ever-present bars speak solemnly of the dreaded reality of crime. At the top of the stairs, on the first floor, is the back entrance to Courtroom #1, or the Criminal Court. Here Hauptmann was brought, as was anyone on trial for criminal offenses. Climbing one more flight to the second floor you find Courtroom #2 or the Civil Court, where domestic violence, corporate and civil cases were tired. Step inside Courtroom #2 to see the original spectator benches used in the Criminal Court during the Lindbergh trial. At the front of the Courtroom are the Judge's Bench, Defense and Prosecuting Desks and the chairs of the Jury. A civil hearing has six jurors and two alternates. A criminal trial has twelve jurors and two alternates, except for murder trials both parties may agree to have fourteen jurors and two alternates.
A trip through the old Jail is both revealing and frightening. On the second floor were three work release holding rooms for prisoners, four to a room with a central bathroom and kitchen - small, but bearable. On the floor below, things quickly went from dreariness to bearable. To the right of the front entrance was the guard's office, with an opening for talking and a small lock-up box, where an officer must leave his gun. That security measure was to prevent a prisoner from snatching the gun while being locked up. To the left was the room where the unflattering mug shots were taken. Behind that was a cell where a prisoner could talk with his lawyer, or a visitor could communicate through an opening. Further in were two rows of eight cells. Each is incredibly small, with just enough room for a bunk and facilities. Each cellmate had lost his right to privacy. The entire cell was open to watchful eyes of the guards, who walked up and down outside. Suddenly, the breath of fresh free air seems essential, and you feel a huge weight lift from your soul as you leave this incarceration area. No longer in use, the Jail once housed forty to forty-five inmates. A new County Jail has been built on Park Avenue.
Return to the front entrance of the Courthouse, and climb the curving wooden stairs to the second floor and the main Courtroom. Enter through the wooden doors to the Courtroom. A simple, yet historic, room stands before you. The mahogany pews, railings, jury chairs, and desks of the judge, clerk, defendant, and prosecutor are all here. The red drapes, carpeting and center aisle lead you forward to the basic legal system of the Country.
The American Flag and the County Flag stand solemnly and pridefully behind the Judge's chair. Fans slowly turn overhead, seeming to move the air of doubt, sorting through the clutter to the truth. A door on the left is for the court officials and the one on the right opens to the Judge's Chambers. A small rear balcony is supported by four Doric columns. Here, during the Lindbergh Trial, members of the press sat ready to rush news to the world. At the front far left of the room is a row of now empty chairs, which were used by the Jurors during the Lindbergh trial. Also inside the railing, on the left, is the witness chair used during that same trial. On the far right, just outside the jurors' railing, is what looks like an old-fashioned high chair. It is an antique chair used by the security guard to watch over the jurors to be sure they do not give or receive signals or information from anyone or talk to each other.
Judge Thomas Witaker Trenchard's portrait hangs to the left of the Judge's desk. He sat on the bench during the Hauptmann-Lindbergh trial. The "Trial of the Century", as it was called, brought great attention and notoriety to Flemington. People came from everywhere to view this saddest of spectacles. The victim, Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr., a small, innocent twenty month old, had already lost his all too short life. The defendant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, who never stopped swearing his innocence, was on trial for his life. No one except the child, the defendant, or the murderer will ever know the real truth. This remains a great topic of discussion, interest and debate among the residents of Hunterdon County.
The Union Hotel and every possible room in town were full of spectators, among them such celebrities as Jack Benny and Robert Ripley. During the six weeks the trial was underway, it was covered by top radio commentators of the time, Lowell Thomas, Gabriel Heatter, and Walter Winchel and writers Damon Runyon, Dorothy Kilgallen and Adela Roberts St. John. This building, which has witnessed human drama on all levels from the famous to the obscure, is now listed on the Historic American Building Survey. As part of the Flemington Borough Historic District, it is also listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.
A new Hunterdon County Justice Center has been recently occupied. In the spring of 1994 a ground-breaking ceremony was held at the corner of Capner Street and Park Avenue, for the construction of the new 115,000 square feet Hunterdon County Justice Center. In June, 1996, after much press and public speculation on the need for and architectural value of the new court house, the Hunterdon County Court offices moved in. This grand 3-story structure now houses 5 court rooms (with a potential of adding 4 more) has offices for the Judges, Prosecutor, Family, Criminal and Civil Case Management Units, Trial Court Administration, Probation Department, Law Library, Grand Jury Suite, Sheriff's Office and Surrogate's Court. Located adjacent to the Hunterdon County Jail, an underground tunnel is being constructed to escort prisoners directly from the jail to holding cells at the Justice Center.
State of the art security equipment has been installed for the safety of not only the judges and other court employees, but also for the general public. As you go through the main entrance, you will find at least two Sheriff's Deputies waiting to greet you. All bags are search and/or scanned and you must enter through a metal detector. There are security cameras in all the Courtrooms and hallways and at each exit and at the main entrance. Even employees are restricted to access of certain areas of the building. Each employee is issued a security card that is to be used to access certain areas of the building. If this card is not programmed to allow access to the area, the employee may not enter without an escort from a Sheriff's Deputy or another privileged employee.
Installed throughout the New Justice Center is artwork contributed by local artists and residents. The wide hallways provide a perfect place to view the many different scenes of the County as interpreted by these artists.