19th Century Villages in Delaware Township

This is another long post; it is the rest of a talk I gave in 1997 on Delaware Township villages (part one can be read here). Part two focuses on the villages in the 19th and early 20th centuries. There is far more to say about them, which I will attempt to do in future posts. Currently I have been researching the history of Raven Rock, which you can read about here and here.

Barber’s Station/Oak Dale/Oakdale/Bowne or Bowne Station

Was this a village or wasn’t it? Does a train station make a village? Does a post office? Not in this case. Bowne Station must be categorized as a neighborhood, not a village.

In 1854, the Flemington Railroad Company succeeded in opening a line connecting Flemington to Lambertville. It appears that a station was set up here at that time or soon afterwards, named Barber’s Station, after William Barber, a prominent resident who lived close by. Why put a station here? Bowne Station Road (it was not called that at the time) crosses the Alexauken Creek at this point, and that may be the only reason. The area was sparsely populated. Dr. John Bowne and William Barber owned large farms here, but there was no cluster of houses or shops. Dr. Bowne was a very influential person, who practiced medicine from 1795 until his death in 1857 at the age of 90. His son, Joseph Gardner Bowne (1804-1888) was elected to the State Senate in 1868.

A post office was set up here in 1856, and the postal service took the liberty of naming it “Oak Dale,” a pretty Victorian name that had no connection with the place. Some might have called it Oak Dale Post Office at Barber’s Station. It seems apparent from the Hunterdon Co. Gazette that the names Barber’s Station, Bowne Station, Bowne and Oak Dale were used interchangeably during the period following the Civil War. On January 1, 1883, the railroad company changed the station name from Barber’s Station to Bowne Station. Perhaps the intention was to have the station reflect the name that was commonly used by the residents of the area.

In 1895, the post office was moved to Dilts Corner, and the name Oakdale went with it. No real village services were located here other than the station and post office, and when they both closed, the village, if it was a village, lost its identity entirely, and is now no more than a neighborhood on the township map.


View of Brookville, early 20th century, looking north

This is a fascinating little place. It’s hard to believe, but in the 19th century, it was a hub of activity, thanks to Hiram Deats. Originally it was known as Horne’s Creek, in honor of Thomas Horne who ran a sawmill near the mouth of the Brookville Creek. When the mill was taken over by Daniel Butterfoss, it became Butterfoss’s Creek. In 1851 Hiram Deats bought land from Daniel Butterfoss and others and set up a foundry and milling business. He’s probably the one who named the area Brookville. Deats was well-known for his plow, and produced many of them here, along with wood stoves that were very popular. He built himself a handsome house near the foundry, which much later on became the location of Albion Press. Many of the small houses built along Route 29 were homes of the employees of Hiram Deats. There was a store here, although the typical village services were all available just up the road in Centre Bridge (later Stockton). The Deats Manufactory came to a close in the 1880’s, after a huge freshet turned the modest Brookville Creek into a raging torrent that destroyed most of the buildings that Deats had constructed. All that is left are the houses, but Brookville still has an identity.


Croton, looking west on Old Croton Road

Croton, which is divided between Delaware and Raritan Townships, was called Allerton before the Civil War. There was a sawmill there, located on the Wickecheoke Creek, started in 1811 by Albertus King. It was taken over by John Aller and his mother Amy in 1829. The village was named for them, until 1845 when a post office was located there. The postal service had no more respect for Allerton than it did for Barber’s Station and arbitrarily named the village Croton, after the Croton Reservoir in New York.

It’s hard to believe it today, but in 1931, Croton was described as “a busy hamlet.” If there is little left of Croton today, it’s because much of it has burned down. Probably no other place in the township suffered so much from fire as did Croton. In its early days, it was home to a very wealthy family headed by Elisha Warford who lived from 1785 to 1872. He owned so much real estate, it was said he could walk from Croton to Locktown without leaving his own property. I get the impression that he was a hard dealer in his transactions, and prospered from it. The best that could be said of him was that he never cheated an honest tenant, and he must have had a lot of tenants.

His daughter Mary Ann Ellicott took over the real estate after Warford’s death. Warford’s nephew Holcombe ran a wheelwright shop in Allerton and was the postmaster when the post office was set up in 1845. That was also the year that Dennis Carkhuff established a blacksmith shop. Two years later, Asher Trimmer came into town, bought Carkhuff’s blacksmith shop and set up a tavern. Later, Carkhuff moved to another corner of the village and set up another blacksmith shop.

The first store was established in 1840 by David Rockafellow. There was also a chair factory in the town. In 1861, the Croton Baptist Church (later the Cavanagh Corp., now the Kollmer Equipment Co.) was built out of brick made in a kiln just north of the village. Maybe they started making bricks because so many buildings burned here. The kiln was established by 1832 or earlier. The bricks were also used for the 6th Presbyterian Church of Amwell, which was taken down about 1865.

The sawmill was one of the structures that burned, along with the store and tavern, and the Warford-Ellicott barn, which was full of antiques. Some of the houses were also lost, which explains why empty lots that are filled with trees today seem as if they should have had houses on them.

There were many storekeepers in the village during the 19th century. Keep in mind that Highway 12 did not exist, and the main road from Flemington to Frenchtown went through the old village. Once again, we have a location with an important intersection (with Route 579) and a creek usable for milling and a tavern and a store, followed by a post office and a church, and a schoolhouse. In 1914, Croton had a population of 100, a Baptist church, a public school, telephone, telegraph and express office. The post office closed in 1935.

Croton was definitely a successful village, despite its many fires. And it still has a lot of activity today, with two restaurants, an autobody shop, a small manufacturer and a gas station.

Dilts Corner

Here’s a mysterious location. If you drive to Dilts Corner, you will find an intersection (Lambertville-Headquarters Road and Sandy Ridge-Mt. Airy Road) with houses on the corners. No commercial enterprises of any kind, no church or school. How did it come to exist? The area was named for Robert Dilts who arrived in 1824, but the name was changed to Oakdale when the post office was moved there from Barber’s Station in 1895. It was Oakdale in 1905 when the post office was discontinued and Rural Free Delivery was established. Then the old name reasserted itself.

Robert Dilts was a shoemaker, who turned shoemaking into a serious business, with three employees and several buildings devoted to the work. He sold his business and farm of 50 acres in 1868 and retired to Prallsville. Another settler at Dilts Corner in 1824 was Jacob Godown, who set up a wheelwright and blacksmith business. His son Charles W. Godown took over when his father retired, became a man of consequence and was elected to the state Assembly in 1879. The name Dilts Corner was in use in 1858 when a new road was laid out nearby. The name does not appear on the Atlas of 1873, but a busy place is indicated, with a blacksmith shop, wheelwright shop and six dwellings. But the blacksmith shop went out of business, the wheelwright shop went out of business, and so the village went out of business.


Much has already been said about Headquarters in the 18th century. But what became of it after that? The mill continued to be an active and important industrial/commercial site. It was run by the Conover brothers (John and Elias) for several years until they went bankrupt, and then it was taken over by John and Joseph Carrell, who were very important and successful property owners in that neighborhood. Joseph Carrell ran the mills until he was very old. He and his wife were still living there in 1929, and Charles Jurgensen remembered that his father brought corn to that mill in 1913 to be ground for his cows. But by that time, the creek that powered the mill was so unreliable that Jurgensen took his business to Prallsville.

The store that was located at the mill was discontinued by John Carrell. Another one was started up in a small house facing Route 604. Bert German was the storekeeper there from 1912 on. Nearby, Manuel Green ran a blacksmith and wagon shop where he also built sleighs. Robert Wilson ran a tailor shop also nearby.

The Store at Headquarters, Mr. and Mrs. Bert German

The tavern that had been a meeting place during the Revolution was allowed to deteriorate and eventually was torn down. It had been located on the southwest corner of the intersection. It would make a very interesting archeological site. Perhaps someday we’ll get a grant.

Headquarters didn’t get a post office until 1887, and when it did, it was given the name of Grover (for New Jersey native, President Grover Cleveland). Of course, hardly anyone who lived there called it that. And as soon as Rural Free Delivery was established in 1905 and the post office closed, the place went back to being Headquarters.

The well-being of the village of Headquarters depended almost entirely on the success of the mill. By the 1930’s the mill was no longer in operation, and once the store closed, the village became strictly residential.  (Here is a list of some articles previously published about Headquarters.)


Locktown in the 1920s; the small boy is Milt Smith

Can’t see the small boy? Click on the photo.

Locktown is definitely a 19th century village. Although there was a Baptist Church here as early as 1750, there wasn’t much of anything else, even though there were settlers in the area as early as the 1740’s. The first evidence of village activity comes from Daniel Rittenhouse, grandson of the William Rittenhouse who settled in Rosemont. Daniel Rittenhouse was a cooper; he built barrels of all sizes. His farm was located just west of Locktown in Kingwood Township, a property which some may recall as the Shady Lane Inn. Rittenhouse’s property extended all the way to the center of Locktown. In 1805, he leased a small lot for a schoolhouse near the bridge over the Wickecheoke.

Daniel Rittenhouse was also a distiller as well as a cooper, which made sense. The liquid he distilled went into the barrels he built, which he then sold to stores like the one in Prallsville. But, being an enterprising man, he decided to open a tavern to sell more of what he distilled. That tavern was located on the corner of the Kingwood-Locktown Road and the Locktown-Sergeantsville Road (once again we have an intersection of roads that go from here to there). It was known for many years as the Locktown Hotel.

In 1819, Rittenhouse conveyed another lot just north of the tavern to the trustees of the Kingwood Baptist Church, who proceeded to build the building that is still standing today. By 1839, controversy within the congregation led to a division so serious, that one faction locked the other out of the church. The other faction responded with its own lock, and the tavern keeper, one Benjamin Hyde, seeing a great advertising opportunity, had a sign built with three locks. And that is the origin of the name Locktown.

There was discontent in the Locktown congregation before 1839. In 1828, a charismatic preacher arrived named Rev. Abigail Roberts, born in 1791, who preached from 1816 to 1828, the last few years in Hunterdon County and northwestern New Jersey. She was affiliated with the Christian Connection Church. Her message was that “the followers of Christ were Christians and should be known by that name.”1  She preached against the disunity that plagued so many Protestant religions, and yet her message inspired people to separate and create their own Christian churches, like the one at Locktown, established in 1828. The church is still there, although today it is Presbyterian. Like the Old School Baptist Church, the Christian (Presbyterian) church has a cemetery worth visiting, with many of the old Locktown residents interred there.

By 1856 when a post office was established, the place had the name of Locktown, a name that even the postal service could not ignore. The post office was located in the general store which was first run by a nephew of Daniel Rittenhouse. Later on it was for many years run by Joseph Smith, the father of Milt Smith who lives there now. There was also a wheelwright and blacksmith shop in the village and even a military hall. They both burned down in the early 1900’s. The post office closed in 1906, thanks again to rural free delivery.

Toward the end of the 19th century, two developments in agriculture affected the village of Locktown, one was the Grange movement and the other was the development of local creameries. The Locktown Grange under the name “No. 88, Patrons of Husbandry,” was founded in 1875. The first meetings were held in a room at the Locktown Hotel. In 1878 a new Grange Hall was dedicated. Unlike many aspects of 19th century village life, the Locktown Grange has survived to the end of the 20th century by shifting its emphasis from farming concerns to family concerns. It is probably best known for its annual chicken barbecue, but it has many community programs and has been one of the township’s most enduring institutions.

The Creamery was built in 1883, two years after the first one in the whole county was built in Sergeantsville. This resulted from the invention of the cream separator in 1880. The Creamery would convert the milk supplied by local farmers into butter and cheese which was then shipped to Trenton and Philadelphia. The skim milk and whey were sold back to the farmers for hog feed. In 1909 there were about 30 creameries in Hunterdon County. They operated six days a week, from sunrise to late at night. But eventually large processing plants put them out of business. Most of them were closed by 1920. The Rosemont Creamery closed in 1918, the Sergeantsville Creamery a few years later. The Locktown Creamery held out until the 1930’s.

The Locktown store is closed, as is the post office, the hotel, the creamery and the school. The blacksmith and wheelwright are gone. Like other villages, Locktown is primarily residential, except for its churches and the Grange.

Raven Rock and Bull’s Island

I have been writing a series of posts about Raven Rock which give far more detailed history of the place and its residents, beginning with “Raven Rock and the Saxtonville Tavern” and these subsequent articles.

Early road work at Raven Rock

There are some lovely paintings of Raven Rock by artists like Kenneth Nunamaker, which I probably cannot reproduce here. 

The village of Raven Rock was one of those places first used by the Lenape. The legislation that created Amwell Township in 1708 began the boundary at the northern part of Bull’s Island, which the Lenape called Mauanissing, but the term Raven Rock was used as early as 1732 (in the will of John Ladd, who owned part of it). The island was called Bool’s Island for most of the 19th century. Bool was Richard Bull, an early 18th century surveyor who owned part of Bull’s Island for many years, although he never lived there.

There might have been a store here across from the island in 1801 run by Moses Quinby. In 1809, Nathaniel Saxton bought the property, which became known as the Saxtonville Tavern, and the village became Saxtonville, even though the name Raven Rock had been in use for nearly 100 years. On the 1851 map the village appears as “Sextons Ville.” Saxton, in partnership with George Holcombe, also bought 30 acres on Bulls’ Island and adjacent 10 acres with an existing grist and saw mill. They had been run by Mahlon Cooper and Robert Curry since the mid 1790s, but the partners went bankrupt. Until a bridge was built across the Delaware from Raven Rock to Lumberville in 1835, people got across by way of Painter’s Ferry, also known as Rose’s Ferry, MacLean’s Ferry and Johnson’s Ferry. It was in operation at the foot of Federal Twist Road well before the Revolution.

One of the major activities here in Raven Rock was the quarry, which was located just south of the settlement on a farm owned by Anton and Bertha Schuck. It produced sandstone for urban brownstones as well as other projects, and remained in operation well into the 1950s. Small houses were built here by the quarry workers, but I don’t know if any of them have survived.

In 1834, the Delaware & Raritan Canal feeder was constructed, using Bull’s Creek along the eastern side of Bull’s Island as the beginning of the canal feeder. The activity that resulted from the construction work did a lot to establish the village. The canal workers, most of whom were Irish immigrants, could get very thirsty, and the tavern was happy to oblige.

Once the canal was built, the constant use of the canal continued to keep Bull’s Island lively. And then in 1851 the Belvidere and Delaware Railroad went through, repeating in a sense, the chaos that had been experienced with the building of the canal. Many of those who built and ran the railroad lived in the village. When the railroad was finished, a train stop was established at “Bool’s Island,” as well as a post office, and people often took the trip there along the river just for the excursion. There was also a store that was still in business in 1914.

There was a blacksmith shop here, but the blacksmith spent much of his time mending broken rail ties, rather than broken horse shoes. The first post office here was the Saxtonville Post Office which opened in 1832 and closed in 1837. Once the railroad opened, a new post office at “Raven Rock” opened in 1853 and wasn’t discontinued until 1935, although the name was changed back and forth between “Raven Rock” and “Ravenrock.” In 1914, the population here was 175 and it had one rural delivery route and a postmaster, storekeeper George W. Robinson.

Despite all its activity, this village lacked many of the amenities one associates with villages. There was never a school or a church there. It seems likely that residents made use of their easy connection with Lumberville across the river to satisfy their needs for education and religion. I should make an exception to that sweeping statement and take notice of the Christian Science Church on Strimples Mill Road, but that was a 20th century church until about 1951, when it became a residence.

Once the canal and railroad stopped operating, village activity slowed to a crawl. This stately pace was not disturbed by the influx of artists during the early 20th century who found the setting irresistible. But things got a little too lively in the 1950s and 1960s when the “Missing Link,” the stretch of road that is now Highway 29, got paved, and when rumor spread that there was uranium to be found on the old quarry. The road got paved, the rumors proved false, and life returned to normal, more or less. Since Bull’s Island, across from the village, is a state park, there is always plenty of activity there, and Highway 29 is a fast and busy road, not so congenial for a village. Despite all that, the village has lost little of its charm.


Rosemont, looking north from the Lots O’ Time shop

Real village activity did not get going here until the 1840’s. The first merchant was Henry Winters who opened a store in 1845. I believe the store location was across from the Rittenhouse tavern, where the Rosemont Café was located. One of the subsequent storekeepers, Samuel Hartpence, was also an undertaker. He’s the only undertaker I know of in Delaware Township in the 19th century. The reason he lived in Rosemont is probably because the Rosemont Cemetery had become a very popular burying place. In 1914, there was still an undertaker here–his name was C. Walter Green.

Rosemont also had a doctor as early as 1841, Dr. John Barcroft. I hope that the success of the cemetery was not a reflection on the good doctor’s abilities. He was followed by several others, and this is a little unusual. Sergeantsville is the only other village that had a doctor living there for most of the 19th century. The most famous of these Rosemont doctors was George N. Best, who was also a national authority on botany. He died in 1926.

Back to the Rosemont store:  a later storekeeper, Willis Carver (as in Carver’s Auto Parts), is said to have had one of the first radios in the area. It was a very exciting technology and people crowded into his store whenever there was a big sporting event, like a boxing championship. Rosemont never got a post office during the pre-Civil War post office frenzy. It came later, in 1884, and was located in the village store, until the store closed in 1944. It was then moved across the street to the sitting room of the postmaster’s house. Aside from Sergeantsville, Rosemont is the only Delaware Township village to still have its post office, but it has been moved out of the sitting room and into the Cane Farm complex.

Rosemont had a shoemaker and two churches, but the school was a few miles west out of the village. A blacksmith shop was opened by J. R. Silverthorne in the building that now contains the Lots O’ Time shop. A wagon maker was also here, along with a harness shop, and a carriage and sleigh factory. There was a hatchery behind the wagon shop, and also a creamery just north of the old Rittenhouse tavern. By 1914 Rosemont had a population of 90. You can see from this how much villages were defined by horses, and how the change from horses to automobiles permanently changed the villages.

As for the name, Clint Wilson wrote an article describing how it happened. On June 4, 1845, Fanny Barcroft, the daughter of Ambrose Barcroft and Anna Woolverton, married Peter Ten Broeck Runk. According to the Barcroft Genealogy, the wedding guests, who must have been enchanted with the location, and perhaps with an abundance of roses, decided the place should thereafter be called Rosemount or Rosemont.

As to the large hatcheries that became the Cane Farm complex, they did not come into existence until the end of the 19th century when, thanks to the railroads, hatcheries became a profitable business. Quite a few people were employed at the hatchery in the early to mid 20th century, right through World War II. It was one of the Township’s biggest employers at the time.

Sand Brook

Sand Brook, looking west towards Rte 523

In a previous article about Sand Brook on the Delaware Township Post, I have written that the village got its 18th century start with Kitchen’s Mill.  The mill was still in operation in 1880 when it was run by Hiram Moore. There was a schoolhouse there as early as 1790. But the big event in this place was the construction of a new church in 1848, by a group of dissatisfied members of the German Baptist Church down the road. They were known as “Moorites,” because they were followers of John A. Moore, who was also the storekeeper in Sand Brook. When a post office was opened ten years later, Moore was named the postmaster. John A. Moore was definitely the man to see in Sand Brook.

Sand Brook had all the proper accouterments of a 19th century village. Besides the mill and the store and the school and the church, there was a blacksmith, a wagonmaker, a wheelwright who specialized in ax handles, and a second store. The original store has since burned down. The post office didn’t close until 1959.

Like other villages, Sand Brook had a good number of houses built close together on small lots. On farms, the houses are frequently located well back from the road. But in villages, even if the lot was large, the house would be built right up front, close to the road. People who owned large acreage in a village area would sell off very small lots with road frontage. Small lots were an essential part of village life. They suited the professionals and retired farmers who lived there. There were also artisans or mechanics, people who earned their livelihood through activities other than farming. A large lot was not much use to them, and their occupations required them to be near a congregation of people. Taverns in the 18th century were usually on large lots so that drovers could leave their animals overnight. But in the 19th century, when taverns were known as hotels and the drovers had faded away, the lots became much smaller.

Sandy Ridge

Sandy Ridge was originally called “Bool’s Corner,” in honor of that very same Richard Bull, whom we have already discussed at Raven Rock. He had done some surveying in the area back in 1711. Sandy Ridge was never a village in the traditional sense. It never had a mill or a tavern or a store or a post office. All it had was a church and a cemetery. And yet it seems as if it has always been considered a place with an identity. Egbert T. Bush called it a community of farmers. Many of the earliest settlers here were Dutch and German, like the Van Dolahs, Butterfosses, Van Voorsts, and Hagamans, people who tended to stick together because, originally, they did not speak English. Also, back in the days when most of the trees had been cleared, you could get an extraordinary view from Sandy Ridge all the way to the Sourland Mountains. This made it a very attractive place. It has an identity, but cannot really be called a village.


So finally we come to Sergeantsville. I could go on at great length about the development of this village, but I think that Clint Wilson best described what the place was like when he wrote about Sergeantsville on a Saturday night, That was when it was at its best, in the 1920’s. His family’s store, the Wilson Store, directly across from the Township Hall, was kept open until midnight on Saturdays because many of the country people came into the village to do their shopping then. They would stop at the store to leave a list, and then head over to the Grange Hall, or to Green’s Barber Shop. This was located next to the post office and there was also a restaurant there. Saturdays were so busy (standing room only) that George Green had to hire an extra barber. And not everyone there had come for a haircut. Some preferred to play pool or dominoes. Others came for the oyster stew that William Cole, who ran the restaurant, was famous for. Still others came for the entertainment; it seems that George Green the barber had a friend named Malloy from Lambertville who would bring some of his talented friends and put on a show of country and western tunes. Sadly, George Green’s Barber Shop and Restaurant burned down some years later.

Sergeantsville, on Rte 604 looking west

I encourage you to click on this photo to get a more detailed look. I did not crop it because that would cut out the person on the left, and the township hall on the right. 

Sergeantsville was such a lively place that it could support two barber shops with related facilities (pool table, restaurant, candy shop, etc.), and the second one was started up by Lewis Higgins. There was a little friendly competition between Higgins and Green. The Higgins shop was located in the building that used to house George Fisher’s Harness Shop, on the southeast corner where John and Joseph Sergeant once had their store. Higgins rented the basement out to William Dobbins, and it was Dobbins who gave children the best reason for coming to Sergeantsville on a Saturday night: Ice Cream.

Several years ago, I took some of the township 3d graders on a walk into Sergeantsville to tell them something of its history. We had a great time, even though it was 95 degrees, and as I was talking about how things developed I realized that ice cream and liquor play an significant role in the history of Sergeantsville. We’ll start with the liquor and the tavern of Agesilaus Gordon. Over the years, many people ran that tavern; the turnover was quite remarkable until Jacob K. Wilson came along. Wilson took on the job of innkeeper in 1872. After awhile, he was given the job of Township Clerk, so he could take the minutes and also serve the beverages. He ran the hotel longer than anyone else. But when Prohibition came along, Wilson went out of business. It took an active campaign to raise the money needed to help the Methodist Church purchase the building from the Wilsons in 1920 and turn it into a Community Center.

And then Prohibition was repealed. Now, the Methodists were not about to apply for a new tavern license. But an enterprising storekeeper named John Blanar saw his opportunity. At that time, he was running an ice cream parlor in today’s Sergeantsville Inn, which he started after William Dobbins went out of business. Blanar figured he could do a lot better selling drinks than he could selling ice cream, so he changed his business. This left the children of Sergeantsville (and more than a few adults) bereft of ice cream. So, Israel Poulson Shepherd came to the rescue and opened an ice cream shop in his store on the northeast corner. Sergeantsville is the only Delaware Township village to offer both ice cream and alcohol ever since the middle of the 19th century.

The Decline of the Villages

(Note: As I revised this conclusion to the subject of Delaware Township villages, I realized how much I was influenced by the years I spent on the Township Planning Board, gaining an understanding of how people found places to live, how land got divided, even how business activity waxed and waned. It’s a process that never ends.)

One might argue that in the 18th century, the necessary requirements for a village were an important intersection of roads, or a ferry for riverside locations, along with a mill, a church, a tavern or a store. In the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the makings of a village would be a hotel, a store and post office, blacksmith shop and wheelwright, plus a barber shop, ice cream shop, restaurant, grange, creamery and military or mechanics hall where pool was played and groups like the Vigilante Society would hold their meetings and enact their rituals.

After World War II, when new suburbs were opened up and new highways built, villages lost their usefulness. Clint Wilson prefaced that article about Sergeantsville on a Saturday night by saying that in his own time, Sergeantsville was dead by 8 o’clock in the evening. One Saturday night he found only two cars parked on the main street, not a person in sight. Today, the village is more active. There is more traffic, more stores, the post office is always busy, and there always seems to be a meeting at the township hall or an event at the firehouse. But today’s activity cannot compare with Sergeantsville in its heyday.

The biggest change to the riverside villages before the automobile came along was  construction of the bridges, between 1814 and 1835. The loss of the ferries had an impact, but the canal and the railroad brought new business to compensate.

Mills located in villages, like Sand Brook, Prallsville, and Headquarters did not shut down until the late 19th or early 20th century. They became unreliable as water flow decreased and became more seasonal. Farmers changed from growing subsistence crops to commercial crops, which did not require local mills. Farm families could buy their flour in a store, so why take grain to a mill? Mills had other uses, like grinding field corn for livestock, making plaster, hulling clover seed, etc. But technology gradually outpaced the mills. Stores, post offices and hotels became the principle village attractions.

There were two other forces that helped to close down the villages by the mid 20th century: one was Prohibition and the other was Rural Free Delivery. Prohibition closed down all the taverns, and rural free delivery eliminated many of the local post offices. Then the small stores began to close as larger ones opened in more central locations. In the 1930s, the canal was shut down, and eventually the railroad did too. The creameries closed, the Granges became less active, the pool halls and restaurants went out of business. There was no longer much reason for people to go to the villages. They only served their own residents, and those were not numerous enough to justify active businesses, especially during the tough days of the Depression.

I’ve said that horses helped to create villages and cars helped to destroy them. It’s interesting to note that gasoline stations have had little to do with village history here in Delaware Township. In the years before World War II, many of the general stores had gas pumps in front. Those gradually disappeared as larger gas stations were built on the highways. There was an auto repair place in Sergeantsville not all that long ago, called Quick’s Garage (now the tile store), and there is a gas station on Route 12, but for the most part, people drive away from Delaware to get their gasoline and their cars repaired, whereas in the 19th century, they came to the villages to get what they needed for their horses and wagons.

Originally, villages served the needs of people who lived outside them more than they did the immediate residents, just as 18th century taverns began by serving travelers more than local people. Once the country folk began going to Flemington and Lambertville for their needs, rather than to the villages, the only reason for villages to continue was to serve the people still living there and that is more or less the case today. But Sergeantsville, Croton, Locktown (for its churches) and Rosemont have many attractions that continue to bring visitors. It’s a delicate balance between local needs and visitors’ needs that can make all the difference for a village.

The remaining villages of Delaware Township are echoes of what they once were. But if you stop to listen to those echoes, you can come closer to the way things used to be, and that helps to understand how they are now.

Final Note: If any residents of these villages take umbrage with my characterization of their neighborhoods, I hope they will express their feelings here. These villages have changed a lot, but they have not disappeared. I have described their decline in the 20th century, but not what they are like today. They are still active places; they matter to the people who live there now as much as to those whose families lived there long ago.


4/29/2012: A descendant of Elisha Warford informed me that Holcombe Warford was not a son of Elisha’s, as I had first written, but rather his nephew, the son of Elijah Warford and his wife Amy Holcombe.

  1. “Abigail Roberts—Pioneering Spirit” by Shirley Wydner published in the Hunterdon Historical Newsletter, vol. 34, no. 3, pg 805. see also this portrait.