Property Was Formerly Owned by Judge Adam O. Robbins
Stood at Important Crossroads

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J.
published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, August 7, 1930

This article needs many more footnote annotations than most of the Bush articles I have published so far. In fact, despite the 24 footnotes in this article, there is so much to say about it, that I find it necessary to write a separate post. It is called “The Two Taverns at Robins Hill.

Less than a mile on your way from Sand Brook to Flemington, you find yourself suddenly facing an imposing old building. It is on your right as you come to it, but for the time it seems to be facing you squarely. With the long high porch and engaging smile of hospitality, it is all the while saying “Tavern” in the good old and understanding language of past ages. And a tavern it is—or was. But for more than sixty years it has been as dry as a smokehouse or a senatorial debate on Ratification.1 But “Buchanan’s Tavern” it was and is and will be, at least for those of us who cannot learn to drop old names as old things pass away.2

The old Buchanan/Trout Tavern, currently owned by the Micek family.

You may reach the same point by another road if you prefer, but you are not likely to prefer. That other way is the old Trenton road, coming down through Croton past “Upper Boarshead and “Boarshead Tavern,” both names for things that are no more, past “Harmony School,” around the corner of the Robinson Hyde farm eastward for a third of a mile, then south again for a like distance, and southeast till you come to the top of the big hill. From there you may run, roll or tumble down until you feel yourself likely to bump into the end of the old hostelry just across the other highway.3

Archibald the Founder4

On our records, Archibald appears to have been the first Buchanan to own the Tavern. But he was not the first in the vicinity—probably not first by many years and many Buchanans. By deed dated May 1, 1813, George Holcombe conveyed to Archibald Buchanan 16 acres and 30 perches of land, “Beginning at a stone set up for a corner in the great road leading from John Buchanan’s to Trenton and in line of George Trout’s land.” Thence it runs along that road to a corner in the Flemington road, follows this road around the turn eastward to a stone therein and then takes a run southward to the place of beginning.5

These lines certainly surround the Tavern property. But the deed says nothing about the Tavern, nor does it tell us how Holcombe came into possession of it. We find that Nathan Price, Sheriff, seized it as the property of Elisha Rittenhouse and conveyed it to George Holcombe, May 7, 1808. Again the description says: “Beginning at a stone in the road leading from John Buchanan’s to Trenton,” and the deed further says that it “was exposed for sale at the house of Elisha Rittenhouse.” Again implying a tavern but not saying so.6

An Interesting Prelude

A deed from William Smith and wife dated Nov. 30, 1804 conveys the property to Elisha Rittenhouse and gives this interesting prelude, which the writer has partly punctuated for the sake of clarity, meaning to leave it otherwise unchanged: “Whereas John Robins, late of the township of Amwell aforesaid in his lifetime and at the time of his death, was Lawfully and Rightfully seized in Fee of Certain Lands Situate in the Township of Amwell aforesaid; and Whereas the said John Robins Departed this Life Interest leaving Children and Heirs at Law (Viz.) John Robins, Elizabeth Dunham, wife of Barzillah Dunham, Joseph Robins, Amos Robins, Job Robins, Jonathan Robins, Ann, wife of Samuel Vanormen, Jane, wife of Amos Sutton, Mary, wife of William Smith, and Elizabeth, wife of Nathan Sutton, some of whom were under the age of twenty-one years and praying for division of the farm whereon the said John Robins Lived and Died & Whereas by decree of the Orphan’s Court” . . . “Did set off until the said William Smith and Mary his wife (one of the daughters of the said John Robins) and party to this Agreement” &c. Somebody erred; the name “Elizabeth” occurs twice in the record of daughters.7

Here was a family of ten children whose names and the names of their husbands are familiar. Their descendants are no doubt numerous in the county if not in the immediate vicinity and naturally much interested in the old Tavern and its surroundings.8

Called John Buchanan’s Tavern

In some deeds the old hostelry is called John Buchanan’s Tavern, but the proof that a John Buchanan ever owned it is lacking. Possibly and even probably one by that name did own the place and did give name to it. If so, he or his transaction was too far back among past years and past Buchanans for our records. Anyhow, as has been shown, it had passed out of the family name before 1804.9

We find that letters of administration upon the goods and chattels of John Buchanan, deceased, were granted December 29, 1818 to Samuel Buchanan and Archibald Buchanan, also that receipts to these administrators were given by Philip Buchanan, George Buchanan and Asher R. Buchanan, who are therein named as “three of the children of John Buchanan,” the only other children evidently being the administrators.

In 1815 Jacob Rake and Edward Rake, executors of the will of John Rake, deceased, conveyed to Archibald Buchanan 6.85 acres of land, “Beginning at a stone to a lot sold to Asher Williamson in John Hoppock’s line.” This later designated as the wood lot.10

In 1836 William Bishop, Henry Trimmer and Adam C. Davis, commissioners to divide the real estate of Archibald Buchanan, deceased, conveyed “the Tavern lot” and the 6.85-acre lot to Delilah Buchanan, widow of Archibald.11 In 1838 she conveyed the smaller lot to Asher Moore for $300, reserving “the right to remove all timber therefrom within three years.” But she is bound by provisions of the deed “to prevent doing as little damage as she possibly can to the same.” Most of us would object to that kind of security against damage. But she probably did as little damage as possible, regardless of her signed agreement to the contrary.12

Delilah Buchanan

Though Delilah Buchanan owned the property for only ten years, I distinctly remember to have heard it called “Dilly Buchanan’s Tavern,” well on toward 1860.13 Then it gradually fell back to “Buchanan’s,” though not lying in the family name. In 1846, Delilah Buchanan conveyed these and other lands to Asher Trout.14In 1866 Trout conveyed the Tavern property and much more land to Asa Robbins, father of Judge Adam O. Robbins.15In 1871, Asa Robbins conveyed a part of his holdings, being 28.16 acres on the opposite corner, to George A. Alvater, whose son Edward still owns it and whose sons—Joseph, former Freeholder, Charles, former Surrogate, and others—are well known over the county. The Tavern property passed from Asa Robbins to Judge Robbins, who sold it a few years ago.

Adjoining the Tavern property is a 6-acre lot on the Flemington road, which was conveyed to Augustus Gilbaugh in 1866, by John P. Rittenhouse. Along in the ‘90’s, Gilbaugh, then quite old, carried the mail by star route from Stockton to Flemington. Starting out in the morning he drove to Stockton, took on his mail and went by way of Rosemont, Sergeantsville and Sand Brook to Flemington. Then he drove back over the same route to Stockton, discharged what mail he had gathered, and returned to his home. By his will, probated April 26, 1900, he left the property to his two daughters, Mary Louise and Emily Gilbaugh.

The farm down the Trenton road, at a corner in line of which farm the early descriptions of the Tavern property all begin, was owned by John Trout and George Trout very early in the last century. John was killed by lightning. George married the widow and raised these children: Sarah Ann, who married Jacob Thatcher; Lucretia, married Ephraim Robins; Margaret, married Robert Thatcher, Sheriff in 1862; John; and Jeremiah—father of Asher, who later became owner of the Tavern.16

This Jacob Thatcher—grandson of Jonas Thatcher, the Sergeantsville merchant of a century ago—bought the Trout homestead, and had children as follows: Harriet, who married Jacob Lawshe; George T., who married Hannah E. Hoffman; Loraine, who married Isaac Haines; Asher L., who married first Sarah Barber, then Kate Murry; Kate, Melissa and Elizabeth G., three who remained unmarried.17

The Hoffman Farm

Above the Atvater property, on the road to Flemington, lies the farm which was conveyed by Paul K. Hoffman to George T. Thatcher in 1886 for $11,000.18 This property was noted for its well-kept condition and abundance of farm buildings. Recitals show it to consist of many tracts, several of which have been in the Hoffman family for a long time and were conveyed by Enoch Hoffman to Isaac Hoffman, April 1, 1839. After the death of George T. Hoffman {a misprint; should be George T. Thatcher}, June 23, 1890, Paul K. Hoffman and Hannah E. Thatcher, administrators, conveyed the farm to Andrew T. Connet, May 15, 1891 for $8,000.19 On the same day, Connet conveyed it to Paul K. Hoffman for the same consideration. It was later sold to John Rupel and then to John McPherson.

Up the Hill

But what of the big hill that one may roll down from the westward? Much of interest, no doubt but both persons and places there seem hard to trace. However, John Pegg, whose wife Mary was a daughter of Daniel Pierson of the Croton vicinity, appears there quite early. In 1834 Samuel Myers conveyed to John Pegg two lots aggregating about nineteen and a half acres, “Beginning at a corner to the road leading from Quakertown to Trenton, being a corner to lands of Asher Trout.” To this as a nucleus, he kept adding small tracts that made up a nice little farm, with the house standing on the northerly side of the road down the hill. There it still stands and there it had stood for many years, some say all through the Revolution.20

April 15, 1863, John L. Jones, executor of the will of John Pegg, conveyed the farm of 35.43 acres to Isaac Keyser for $2,497.50. Keyser conveyed it to Emanuel Dilts in 1869 for $3,000. Dilts conveyed it to William S. Buchanan in 1907. Buchanan did much by way of repairing the house and putting things into good condition, but preferred to live in Flemington. After his death, his heirs conveyed the property to Minnie Zielstorf in 1918.21

On the other side of the road is the “John Crips lot.”22 We find that in 1851, John Crips conveyed to Ann Crips a three-acre lot “on the road from Boarshead to Flemington,” touching lands of Thomas Spencer. Spencer, a stone mason, lived for a long time in “Bonetown,” a tumble-down hamlet of four or five small houses a mile or so from Buchanan’s Tavern. He is remembered by his long white whiskers and patriarchal air, and for the use of rather fine language on occasions and perhaps no less because he was reputed to be, on special occasions, something of a character among his associates.

In 1852, John Crips bought of Amos Thatcher 22.50 acres of land which has since borne his name. The recital says “It being part of the land conveyed by deed of William Sergeant, administrator of the estate of Henry Trimmer, Senior, deceased, to Amos Thatcher, April 1, 1852.” Since the death of Crips many years ago, this property has had several owners; among them being John Dilts, father of Mrs. Lina Bearder, of Sand Brook; and David Bond whose tragic death there shocked the community a generation ago.

This fine old community has not escaped its share of such tragedies. The death of John Thatcher by lightning has been mentioned.23 The suicide of Bond by hanging, and of George T. Thatcher by the same means are painful reminders that despondents, however grounded or groundless the cause of despondency, too often seek to square accounts by casting their lives into the balance.24

At the Crossroads

Here at the old Tavern is where two roads cross, both much traveled in old days and by old ways. The old Trenton road, the main highway between Easton and Trenton, was probably traveled much more than the other leading from Centre Bridge to Flemington. Now these conditions are reversed. The less has become the greater, so far as travel is concerned—perhaps almost as ten to one.25

Who in those old days could have foreseen these changes? Like many other astonishing things of today, they were not only out of sight but beyond the bounds of conjecture. But not one could have failed to see here a most desirable spot for the indispensable tavern of the days long ago. That taverns should spring up at such crossings was just as natural as that mushrooms and other fungus growths should spring up in rich, moist places, and it was just as natural that Buchanan’s Tavern, though never in any way notorious, should become a place of note. Long may that ancient building stand a monument to other days, and a reminder that time and circumstances and that final arbiter—public opinion—were working out great public problems three score years ago.

Correction, Dec. 8, 2012:  Because of research done after I first published this article, I have had to alter many items in the footnotes, due to my incorrect notion that the tavern of John Buchanan was located in the old stone house at the top of Buchanan’s hill. The original 18th-century Buchanan’s tavern was probably where Mr. Bush said it was, at the Micek house. My follow-up articles on The Two Taverns at Robins Hill attempt to give a more accurate history of this neighborhood.

  1. Bush is referring to ratification of the 21st amendment to the Constitution, to repeal the 18th Amendment and the whole system of Prohibition. The 18th Amendment was not repealed until Dec. 5, 1933.
  2. For a time, it was also known as Trout’s Tavern, but that name seems to have been dropped.
  3. Bush wrote about the Harmony School on August 21, 1930. He also wrote about the Boarshead Tavern, which was as much a landmark as Buchanan’s was. That article was published on November 13, 1929. I plan to publish both articles as soon as I canThe road that you ‘tumble down’ is Route 579, before it was slightly rerouted.
  4. Archibald Buchanan was not the founder of Buchanan’s Tavern. It is likely that an earlier tavernkeeper here was Elisha Rittenhouse, from 1804 to 1808. Archibald Buchanan was a son of the first tavernkeeper, John Buchanan, and Azuba Lake. He married Delilah Sutton, daughter of Amos Sutton and Jane Robins.
  5. Deed Book 21, p. 147
  6. Those of you who have read my articles on Raven Rock will have some acquaintance with George Holcombe. He was the merchant and land investor who ran the mill at Headquarters for several years and loaned money to the millers at Raven Rock. It seems that Holcombe could never resist a good sheriff’s sale, and I suspect he bought the tavern lot on a whim, not with any intention of running it himself. He bought it in 1808, and sold it only 5 years later to Archibald Buchanan.
  7. Deed Book 10 p. 359
  8. John Robins descended from the first known property owner, Daniel Robins. See my article, The Two Taverns at Robins Hill, part two, for more information on the Robbins family and on Elisha Rittenhouse.
  9.  John Buchanan’s Tavern was in operation as early as 1775, and continued in use up until his death in 1818.
  10. This woodlot was located south of Sand Brook; it was entirely separate from the tavern lot.
  11. Why did they wait 15 years after the death of Archibald Buchanan to settle his estate? I will answer that question in a future post.
  12. That is a very strange provision, one I’ve never seen before. I suppose it meant that she was to be careful about the removal of timber, and yet she was entitled to take all of the timber on the lot.
  13. Archibald Buchanan died in 1819, at which time Delilah came into possession of the tavern lot. She may have owned it outright for only ten years, but she ran the place for 36 years.
  14. Asher Trout was her son-in-law, husband of her daughter Harriet. The name Trout’s Tavern pertained to him.
  15. Asa and Adam Robbins descended from the original Robins/Robbins family.
  16. It appears to me that Jeremiah Trout was the brother of Asher Trout, not the father. The two were sons of that John Trout, born 14 June 1779, who died on 9 March 1808, apparently struck down by lightning. His widow, Annie Besson, then married John’s brother George, as Bush describes.
  17. Just to be clear, Jacob Thatcher bought the Trout homestead further south along Route 579, not the Trout/Buchanan tavern property.
  18. I assume Bush means along Rte 523 closer to Flemington. Reference to the Atvater property suggests the west side of the road.
  19. George T. Thatcher (1842-1890) was the son of Jacob N. Thatcher and Sarah Ann Trout. He married Hannah E. Hoffman, daughter of Paul K. Hoffman and Rhoda Poulson. Enoch Hoffman was a brother of Paul K. Hoffman, and both were sons of John Hoffman and Rebecca Rounsavel. An obituary published in the Hunterdon Gazette on April 26, 1837, read: “DIED, In Amwell, Near Buchannansville, on the 16th inst. Mr. John Hoffman, aged 85 years.”
  20.  John Pegg was a neighbor of John Buchanan’s. Pegg was born 10 Jan 1805, died 17 July 1862. He was the son of Daniel G. Pegg and Margaret Buchanan. Margaret was the daughter of Samuel Buchanan and Margaret Arnwine, and the granddaughter of the original John Buchanan and his wife Sarah Opdycke.
  21. This William S. Buchanan was probably the son of John R. and Catherine E. Buchanan, and grandson of Archibald Buchanan and Delilah Sutton.
  22. This is located at the intersection of Dogwood Drive with Rte 579 Delaware Township. I believe the house is no longer standing.
  23. Bush had previously written it was John Trout who was struck by lightning.
  24. Because David Bond is today a very well-known member of the Delaware Township community, I should mention that I have not identified a relationship with the David Bond who Bush is writing about.
  25. Things have reversed again, or at least evened out, as far as travel on Routes 579 and 523 are concerned.