Chapel Hill

The Chapel Hill District is a small village district located on the flat summit of a 200 foot ridge in central Middletown Township. The district comprises approximately 17 buildings (plus additional outbuildings), clustered along King's Highway East between the junctions of Chapel Hill Road and Stillwell Road. Most of the buildings are set close to the road on irregular lots and the specific boundaries are delineated on the district property map. The vegetation in the district includes lawns, shrubs, and mature trees. The hills which descent from the district are a combination of woodland and pasture. The district itself is relatively free from intrusions. The lands around the district have recently been subdivided and are being developed residentially.

Historic Buildings
Most of the buildings in the district are, 1, 1 1/2 and 2-story frame residences with rectangular and square with ell plans, dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The buildings are stylistically simple; the earliest have the 1 and 2 room plans typical of early Middletown houses. The others, built in the early 19th century, have Dutch Colonial Revival alterations dating from the 1930's. Mount's Tavern exemplifies the 2/3 Georgian plan with earlier ell found on many residences in Middletown and Monmouth County. This district also includes examples of Victorian Vernacular styling.

In addition to the District's residential structures, Chapel Hill also includes 2 former taverns: Tracy Tavern and Mount's Tavern, both converted to residential use in the 19th century. There is a former store, now a residence, and the former Chapel Hill School, also a residence. Other businesses, such as the blacksmith and wheelwright shops, are no longer extant. The 1809 Baptist Chapel, after which the village was named, was demolished in the 1970's.

Significance & History
The Chapel Hill District is significant as one of Middletown's early villages of the 18th century, and an important survivor of the small rural hamlets that developed around inns and taverns along major thoroughfares. Originally known as High Point, it is located along King's Highway, a 17th century township road that linked Middletown Village with the Highlands and Sandy Hook. Architecturally, the district also is significant for structures dating from the early and mid-18th century to the late 19th century, most of which are in a good state of preservation (see descriptions of individual properties attached).

Early Settlers
Chapel Hill began to be settled around 1700, when it was known as High Point. The settlers included Taylors and Conovers, families already well established in Middletown. From their vantage point on the ridge these enterprisers were well situated to profit by trade. Imports as well as exports were carried by sea. Then, as now, New York was a monied market, and Sandy Hook Harbor was a thriving port for coasting craft. Not blind to natural resources, the community viewed the water power at the base of the ridge. About 1 mile south of the village, along McClees Creek, the Lufburrows build a grist mill which burned in 1890 and was never rebuilt. Also in the vicinity, Andrew Winter built a fulling mill in which homespun woolen cloth was finished for suits and other articles of clothing.

Chapel Hill's vantage point above Sandy Hook Harbor took on strategic importance in the Revolutionary War. After the defeat of the British in the Battle of Monmouth, the retreating troops bivouacked all along the Chapel Hill ridge from June 29th to July 5th 1778, waiting for embarkation as soon as the necessary British ships should arrive in Sandy Hook Harbor below. Meantime, patriot John Stillwell reported to General Washington on the movement of British ships along the Jersey Coat (John Stillwell's diary).

Early in the 18th Century a “publick house” or hotel was opened in what is now known as Tracey House on King's Highway East (then known as Mountain Hill Road) and a few doors away Mount's Tavern offered competition, especially among patrons of the bar. Both were supplied by a local still run by Samuel Cooper, in addition to whatever imports were brought in through Sandy Hook Harbor, plainly visible below the ridge.

Religious Beginnings
Samuel Cooper's brother, John was a talented preacher. By 1809, his congregation built a Baptist chapel between Tracy House and the Taylor House. In honor of the new church, the village of High Point was renamed Chapel Hill. The name stuck even when, after 2 decades of being a Baptist, John Cooper changed his affiliation to Wesleyan and persuaded his flock to build another (and larger) church in Riceville, now Navesink (Leonard, p. 145-146).

In 1842, the High Point Total Abstinence Society was formed and the chapel became a local center for the temperance movement. Fervent meetings were held in the Chapel and in a few years both taverns were forced to close their doors. During one of the temperance meetings, patrons of the tavern obtained the key to the chapel and locked the members in the building leaving them no alternative but an undignified egress through a window. The culprits were charged with “disturbing the peace” at the next weekly court session. Ironically, court sessions were help alternately in one of the public houses. The Chapel was destroyed in the 1970's but the graveyard still exists (Block 672, lot 42).

The proposed Chapel Hill Historic District possesses “integrity of location,… setting, … and association “ (Section 16 - 2.3). It is “of particular historic significance to the Middletown Township by reflecting the broad cultural (architectural styles of the 18th and 19th centuries, see descriptions of individual properties appended), political (setting for significant events of the Revolutionary War), economic (nurturing the early roots of our American incentive system in farming, commerce and industry and especially profiting from a geographical location which gave it an overview of coast shipping and an excellent harbor at a time when all commerce was by sea) and social (as site of a strong temperance movement) history of the nation, the State, (and) the community.”

Tracy House and Cornelius Mount's Tavern, Hook's Farm, a Taylor and a Conover farm house, the store, and public school house are all occupied by current residents of Chapel Hill. They constitute “a significant concentration” of historic sites. This is a community rich with history of nearly 3 centuries. The Middletown Township Landmarks Commission strongly recommends to the Township Committee the protection of the Chapel Hill Historic District as indicated on the accompanying map and as provided for by Middletown Township Ordinance #2017 in order to “enhance and perpetuate the heritage of the Middletown Township (as) one of the earliest settlements in New Jersey.”