While working on a history of the Sergeantsville Inn, I realized that this would be a good time to publish Egbert T. Bush’s article about the places that made Sergeantsville such an interesting little town. Mr. Bush did not have the advantage of adding photographs the way I do. These pictures come from the postcard collection of Paul Kurzenberger. (Note that Mr. Bush’s article is in italics; my comments are not.)
Sergeantsville, A Town That Outlived Its Original Name
Busy Village In Years Past, Still Maintains Its Reputation
Tavern Had Many Owners
by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon Co. Democrat, April 10, 1930
The old “Skunktown” of over a hundred years ago always deserved a better name. We are told that the malodorous name arose because many skunks congregated here at certain seasons of the year. This is evidently only a guess, and a rather bad guess at that. Skunks are not gregarious animals, and do not gather in great numbers at any season. You will make a better guess somewhat like this: Somebody established here a market for skunks’ pelts away back in the early days. The accumulated and accumulating pelts made the place so odorous that some wag could not resist the temptation; so he called it “Skunktown,” and, as is quite likely to be the case, many others followed his sarcastic suggestion.1
Be that as it may, there were many Sergeants here and in the vicinity. It was only natural to tack “ville” to the name and give us the pleasing name of “Sergeantsville.” This name appears to have grown into the hamlet, and it was officially confirmed in 1827, when the post office was established at “Sergeantsville.”
Another writer has claimed that the name was chosen when the post office was about to be established in 1827. Supposedly, a meeting of residents was held in which a vote was taken to decide between the two most prominent families in town: the Sergeants and the Thatchers. Sergeants won the name and Thatchers won the position of postmaster. Whether this actually happened cannot be established, but it’s a good story.
Three brothers by the name of Sergeant—John, Joseph and Charles—are said to have kept a store on the corner now owned and occupied by Lewis L. Higgins. Their old store house was torn down sixty years ago [c.1870] to make room for the present structure, erected by George Henry Fisher and used by him for half a century, partly as a harness shop, while other parts were rented by others as store, barber shop and restaurant. The present owner has been there 40 years, having bought the property in 1926, after 36 years of renting.
This store was located on the southeast corner of the Sergeantsville intersection. The mother of Lewis Higgins was Mary Jane Gaddis, daughter of the George W. Gaddis who owned the old Sergeantsville Hotel in the 1850s and created many of the village lots by subdividing his property. (Bush comments on Mr. Gaddis below.) The top floor of this building was used by the Wickecheoke Tribe of Red Men for their meetings until they moved to Flemington.
Next Mr. Bush describes the lot where the Sergeantsville Inn is located. Bush made the same mistake I did, thinking that Henry Fisher owned the lot from 1830 to 1864. For the actual history of that period, see The Sergeantsville Inn, part 2.
The stone store house on the corner known as the John F. Shepherd place, was built in 1830, as a date stone plainly declares. But the builder is not told by the stone. Henry Fisher is said to have built it; but it appears likely that he had Jonas Thatcher as a partner; for Jonas sold his one-half interest to Fisher the next year. Fisher sold the place to William Lawshe in 1864. Henry conveyed it to John F. Shepherd—locally always “Farley” Shepherd—in 1868. Several years later it passed into the hands of Farley’s son, Edward, the other son, Israel P., clerking for his brother until he set up business for himself in the Williamson store on the northwest corner.
This seems to have been the last of the four corners to be used for business purposes. There was a stone dwelling on it in early days, but that was torn down three score or more years ago. We find that William Shepherd sold that corner lot to John S. Bush in 1868, that Bush sold it to Charles Wilson in 1874, and that Wilson sold it to Asher B. Williamson in 1877. Williamson erected thereon an imposing dwelling house with store rooms attached. These he used as a shoemaker shop and shoe store. His heirs sold the property to Carrie J. Williamson in 1898, and she to Israel P. Shepherd in 1916.2
In 1859 Daniel Butterfoss conveyed to David Jackson the property now owned by Gertrude Wilson. In the dwelling house, as it then was, he established a store—not a general store, but one for such indispensables as candy, tobacco and cigars. This was conducted in connection with the post office, which he kept there for several years, running well into the ‘70s. John H. Green kept a feed store on his adjoining property, in the building later occupied by his son, George, as a barber shop and restaurant.
The Jackson lot, formerly Gertrude Wilson’s, is now the home of Betty and Bob Fleming, located right next to the post office. The lot used by George Green as a barber shop and restaurant is the small building to the east of the post office. There are still folks around today who remember when it was a barber shop.
Early Tavern Keepers
We are told that George W. Gaddis built the west half of the big stone tavern building and that Nathaniel Gordon was the first keeper. Neither has been verified. It was evidently built soon after 1830. When the township of Delaware was organized in 1838, it was ordered that its first town meeting should be held at the inn of Harry Wagner in Sergeantsville. Gaddis owned the property for many years, and sold it in 1850 to John Smith; Smith sold to John Sergeant in 1851, and Sergeant to Samuel W. Stevenson in 1852; Stevenson sold to Charles Tyson in 1853, Tyson to Henry Everitt in 1855, Everitt to Robert Holcombe 1856, and Holcombe to James W. Hawk in 1865; Hawk sold it to Charles T. Baldwin in 1866, and Baldwin to Jeremiah Trout in 1867. Trout built the addition at the east end and made of it a large and commodious public house.3
Later it passed through many hands until it was sold by John L. Jones to George T. Arnwine in 1885; he sold it to Jacob K. Wilson in 1893, and Wilson sold it to the Sergeantsville M.E. Church, for a Community House in 1920. The building then was remodeled and enlarged, making a commodious hall on the second floor, and a smaller one below for public business.
In 1852 Henry Quick bought of George W. Gaddis the lot on which the wheelwright shop has stood for so many years. There he carried on an extensive business, making sleighs, carriages, wagons and doing the many things required of such mechanics. Both wheelwright and wheelwrighting are now of the past; but the old shop is still in use, the second floor as a hall by the P. O. S. of A. [Patriotic Sons of America, founded in 1847] and the first as a garage.4
In the old days there was a tanyard on the farm now occupied by Edward N. Danley, long owned by Henry Lawshe and after him by his son Jacob. In 1864 Jonathan M. Dilts rented the yard of the Lawshes and carried on business there until about 1882. Since that time no tanning has been done there.5
A Plow Maker
John D. Bowne, grandfather of Jeremiah E. Bowne of Sandy Ridge, owned the Edward T. Venable property next above the tanyard farm. Bowne had a shop there in which he did the woodwork for many Deats plows, besides making other plows on his own responsibility. The first plow I ever handled was a “Bowne,” and memory persists in saying that the name on it was “J. D. Bowne.” I am not trying slyly to advertise a particular make of plows by repeating what I have often said: “When in perfect order, that was the best-running plow I ever handled; when out of order, the worst.” How I should like to own that old plow today!6
John Sergeant is mentioned as a blacksmith here before 1825. Quite likely, and perhaps he was not the first; for the blacksmith was indispensable to an early community. About 1830 Peter Green built the stone shop that is now owned by his grandson, Theodore Green. Here Peter worked for many years, as did his son Jacob after him. Jacob was followed by his two sons, William, now deceased and Theodore, who still “helps out” the present blacksmith, James A. Harned, who has been here fourteen years.
Dr. Richard Mershon is given as the first physician to settle here, and Dr. John Stout as his successor, but no date is fixed. Dr. Isaac S. Cramer came here in 1857, and remained until he was elected Surrogate in 1889. In 1890 he sold out to Dr. William E. Cornog, who practiced here until 1903, when he sold out to Dr. John L. Chamberlain, the Sergeantsville physician since that time.7
A Religious Debate
In 1870 Sergeantsville got up what was known as a “religious debate” between Joshua Primmer,8 a local M.E. preacher, who sustained the orthodox side, and William C. Barrick, the well-known champion debater of Croton, who took the “liberal” side of it; but the writer was not present and does not know how “liberal” that side was. The debate stirred up quite a commotion. Neither side seemed to feel that anything had been settled. But how anything of that kind could be settled has never been explained. Anyhow, it was arranged to have another debate, this time between two men, each accepted as an authority on his side.
Rev. George Young, pastor of the Baptist Church at Sandy Ridge, was chosen to defend the faith, and Rev. Mr. Nye, a universalist from “way down East”—I think from Springfield, Massachusetts—to support the other side. People gathered from miles around. The M.E. Church was packed with sitting, standing and leaning humanity. It was afterward found that the floor had settled with tremendous weight—not weight of argument, though that was by no means light, but by weight of audience.
The speakers were probably all that their partisans could expect. Mr. Young, no doubt feeling his responsibility, was sound and argumentative, but unfortunately nervous and excitable. Mr. Nye was cool, smooth, polished and smiling; not a ripple of displeasure there, no matter what happened. Apparently all enjoyed the discussion and certainly everybody went away with about the same opinion as before. But that does not necessarily mean that the debate was useless. Such discussions, properly conducted, may be useful by showing what most of us need to have impressed upon us—that a man may hold opinions widely at variance with our own, and yet be a gentleman and good citizen.
Some Church History
The Sergeantsville M. E. Church, the scene of this debate, was built in 1838 on ground conveyed by Henry H. Fisher. In 1881 George L. Horn conveyed an additional strip 25 feet wide along the west side of the lot. The “First Brethren Church of New Jersey” was built in Sergeantsville in 1899 on lands conveyed partly by Caroline J. Williamson and partly by Joseph O. Moore.
April 2, 1860, Henry H. Fisher conveyed to John T. Sergeant, Isaac B. Cramer and Charles Everitt, “Trustees of Sergeantsville Military Hall,” a plot of ground upon which was soon erected a hall suitable for use by the Delaware Guards and other military organizations of that day. There are no such companies now; like almost everything else, military matters have slipped out of the hands of the people and been placed in charge of specialists. The old hall still stands, a monument to other days, the second floor being used as a dwelling and the third as the Hall of the American Mechanics.9
On the farm now owned by Lewis C. Bird is an old family burying ground about 45 feet square, inclosed by crumbling stone walls. Four graves are marked by marble slabs, all bearing the name of Thatcher. The oldest stone says: “In Memory of Jonas, son of . . . and . . . Thatcher, who departed this life . . . A.D. 1775, aged 12 years, 11 months and 17 days.” The first name of the parents and several other words are now illegible. Another stone is thus inscribed: “In Memory of Ann, wife of Jonas Thatcher, who departed this life February 9, 1835, aged 42 years, 11 months and 16 days.” Another has this: “In Memory of Juliet, wife of Charles Thatcher, who departed this life April 9, 1842, aged 30 years, 10 months and 9 days;” and still another: “In Memory of Juliet, daughter of Charles and J. Thatcher, who departed this life, July 27, 1842, aged 5 months and 27 days.”10
Who Charles Thatcher was we do not know, but he was evidently one of the family that anticipated a prolonged family residence here, and hoped to prepare a final resting place in a pleasant spot. But for several decades the family was not represented among those living here, and the burial place was sadly neglected. Now some great-grandchildren are back in the village of their ancestors; but to them the sleepers within those crumbling walls are only as strangers.
Jonas Thatcher, whose wife lies buried here, was an active business man in this village and about Sergeant’s Mills. He was a merchant here, was appointed first postmaster and kept the office in the store now occupied by Amos H. Wilson, where the present post office is kept by Newton V. Myers, more than a hundred years later. Jonas was one of the grantees mentioned in the conveyance of ground for the Sergeant’s school house, of which transaction the present year is the centennial.
The Wilson store was once owned by the controversial Sergeantsville postmaster Amos Hoagland, formerly partner with Henry H. Fisher, Esq.11 The Sergeant school house was later known as Green Sergeant School, and was located at the corner where Reading Road meets the Rosemont-Ringoes Road.
Jonas Thatcher had a son Amos, whose son Jacob was the father of Mrs. Lareine Hains and Asher Lambert Thatcher, now living in Sergeantsville.
I am having some trouble with this statement. Amos Thatcher, presumed son of Jonas the first postmaster, was born in 1779, according to his gravestone in the Sandy Ridge cemetery. But Jonas the postmaster was born in 1791, so it appears that this Amos Thatcher was actually a step-brother of Jonas the postmaster. I have no proof of this, but it seems that Amos was the son of Jonas Thatcher Sr. (c.1752-1808) and his first wife, if she was that, Margaret Trimmer. A challenging family to study.
Owing to the lack of water power within its limits, Sergeantsville has no old mills to venerate as inevitable casualties of changing conditions. But it has had its share of other important industries. It has long been noted as an unusually active business place for one of its size, and is not losing that reputation.
I found some interesting information about Sergeantsville in a book entitled The Industrial Directory of New Jersey, compiled and published by the Bureau of Industrial Statistics, Department of Labor, Trenton, N.J., 1918. It can be found on Google Books. Here’s what it has to say (on p.551):
Sergeantsville, Hunterdon County Delaware Township.
Nearest railroad station, Stockton on the Belvidere Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, distant three and one half miles. Population 250. Banking town Flemington, distant six miles. A money order post office, telegraph and telephone connections. Express service, Adams Company. Value of taxable property $97,338.
Sergeantsville is situated in a very healthful region and although some distance from the railroad is still a desirable location for homes and also for manufacturing industry. The elements of a water power of great capacity exist in the neighborhood and land for factory purposes would be sold at greatly reduced prices or given free of cost if the industry seeking a location should be a desirable one and subject to the same conditions, local financial assistance may also be obtained if desired. A manufactory of farm supplies would suit local conditions best. A working force of 15 men and 10 women can be secured.
The town has one public school and one Methodist Church, one Dunkard Church and a Meeting House for the Society of Friends. The water supply is obtained from wells; the soil of the surrounding farm land is sandy and very good. A large creamery situated in the village is doing a thriving business. Land although very good in this neighborhood is low priced; no foreign immigrants in or about the village. For further particulars address J. K. Wilson or J. G. Stryker, Sergeantsville NJ.
I assume the water power referred to would come from the Wickecheoke Creek, which is somewhat west of the town. How the reporter came up with the numbers of men and women seeking employment is an interesting question. Despite this description, the only industry in Sergeantsville was the blacksmith shop, the harness shop (both dependent on horse power, which by 1918 was mostly on its way out), and the poultry business run by Edward C. Brown. There was also Newcombe’s garage, Quick’s garage, and the old tannery. The public school referred to was the old Kendall School, across from the feed store. What really has me stumped is the Friends Meeting House! This was the first I heard of such a thing in Sergeantsville. Also surprising is the statement that there were “no foreign immigrants in or about the village.” Was that considered an advantage? Delaware Township certainly had its share of immigrants. The 1920 census shows Germans, Austrians, Bavarians, Italians, Danes, Swedes, Hungarians, Bohemians, Czecks, Russian Jews, Irish, English, even some Canadians living here. But maybe they weren’t living close to Sergeantsville.
I hope in the future to publish a wonderful article by Clint Wilson about Sergeantsville on a Saturday night. It confirms Mr. Bush’s observation of the town as being an unusually active place.
There are still many people around who remember what Sergeantsville was like in the old days before World War II. Most of the old-timers are not on the internet and will not see this article unless someone shares it with them. Please feel free to do so if you know such folks, since they can tell us so much about the place back in the days of one-room schoolhouses, back when owning a car was still a novelty. For instance, Roy Pauch tells me there was a time when there were five different gas pumps in the village, one at each of the four stores and one at Newcomb’s Garage. Now, of course, there are none.
If you learn any other great tidbits like this, please share them here in the comments section.
6/24/2016: For Footnote 4, I was wrong about the lot that Mr. Bush was referring to.
- For a short history of how Sergeantsville got its original name, see “What’s In A Name? Skunktown“ ↩
- Carrie J. Williamson was the widow of Asher B. Williamson, who died on April 7, 1898, age 48. ↩
- For a history of Delaware Township taverns in general, please visit The Taverns of Delaware Township. Back in 1995, I published an article about the history of the Sergeantsville Tavern/Inn/Hotel in the Hunterdon Historical Newsletter (vol. 31, no. 3, p. 722). I hope to republish that article here in the not too distant future. I should note that the first known innkeeper here was Agesilaus Gordon, not Nathaniel Gordon. I don’t think there was such a person as Nathaniel Gordon. ↩
- That building was still a garage as late as the 2000s, until it was torn down and replaced with the building that now houses Charles Tiles, Inc. Addendum: I was mistaken about this. In 1852, Henry QUIRK (not Quick) bought three acres from George & Lorania Gaddis for $900, located a short distance north of the Hotel. This lot is now the Sergeantsville Grain & Feed Store. I was confused by Mr. Bush referring to the lot as a wheelwright shop, and by his use of the name Quick. Harry Quick did own a garage where the Charles Tile store is today, but he lived in the 20th century, not the 19th. ↩
- This lot was somewhat south of the center of Sergeantsville on the west side of Route 523. The tannery was originally run by Peter Prall. (see The Tanner of Skunktown: Peter Prall.) ↩
- I believe this was later the Maresca farm, which was previously owned by the well-known mechanic George Green. ↩
- Dr. Chamberlain’s house is the lovely Victorian house located next to the parking lot for the Township Hall. Dr. Chamberlain’s daughter was Louana Burenga, an owner of the Black River & Western Railroad; she died in 2010. ↩
- See my article on Rev. Joshua Primer. ↩
- Today that building is a residence, across from the Sergeantsville feed store. ↩
- For more about this cemetery, see The Thatcher Burying Ground. ↩
- See The Sergeantsville Inn, part 3 for his story. ↩