Middletown Village

The Middletown Village Historic District, located in central Middletown Township, is the nucleus of the Township's first and foremost settlement. Most of the ninety-9 (99) properties within the village district are clustered along Kings Highway and Red Hill Road between Township Hall and Spruce Drive on the east, and Holland Road on the west. In addition, the district includes properties on Church Street, Liberty Street, Conover Avenue, The Trail, and Penelope Lane. District boundaries were delineated to incorporate the extent of Middletown village in the 18th and 19th centuries, its significant individual sites, and to reflect existing conditions.

Residential District
The vast majority of properties within Middletown Village Historic District (75 out of 99) are residential. The village district, however, is greatly enhanced by the variety of other non-residential structures that are associated with the early development of religion, education and commerce in Middletown Township. These include 3 19th century landmark church edifices (First Baptist Church, Christ Episcopal Church, and the Dutch Reformed Church); Franklin Academy (Site #28), arguably the finest early school remaining in Monmouth County; the Truax Blacksmith Shop (Site #84), likewise an important early survivor of its type; a former tavern (Site #90); the First Store (Site #95); a former leather and harness shop (Site #98); and 6 burying grounds.

Of the 99 properties in the district, 12 have origins in the 18th century or earlier. Five of these are burying grounds that contain the graves of some of Middletown's first settlers. The oldest documented structures still standing in the village include the Grover-Taylor house, also known as Marlpit Hall (Site #1); the Richard Hartshorne house (Site #25); the William Murray house (Site #23); the Edward Taylor house (site #62); the Wilson-Bowne house (Site #90); the First Store (Site #95, now demolished); and 1 Red Hill Road (Site #98).

Although the 18th century structures and sites are among the most significant in Middletown village, forty per cent of the district's properties date from the 19th century, and it is these properties that largely define the district's existing architectural character. A composite of 19th century architectural styles and building types is represented in the district, including noteworthy examples of the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate and Queen Anne Styles, as well as a range of vernacular structures (such as the blacksmith shop and railroad station) that contribute to the historic character of the village. In addition, 20th century buildings make up a significant percentage of the district; many of these infill structures represent the Colonial Revival, Four Square, and Bungalow Styles of the early 20th century.

Significance & History
Middletown Village is among the oldest permanent English settlements in New Jersey, along with Elizabeth, Shrewsbury, Newark, Woodbridge and Piscataway. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the district contains important examples of 18th and 19th century building in the state, and includes sites that have a tangible association with the early religious, educational, economic, social and military history of Middletown Township and New Jersey.

Land Purchase
The 1st land purchase was by a deed dated January 25, 1664 from Popomora, Indian chief, to James Hubbard, John Bowne, John Tilton, Richard Stout, William Goulding and Samuel Spicer. On August 27, 1664, Peter Stuyvesant surrendered New Amsterdam to the English, whereupon Colonel Richard Nicholls, Governor for the Duke of York, commanded all planters resident in the colonies to take out ducal land-patents. Captain Bowne, Richard Stout and friends immediately applied for such a charter, in order to cover the Indian purchases which they had made, and received the famous “Monmouth Patent.” One of the conditions of the 1665 patent was that “within the space of 3 years,” the patentees must “manure and plant the land and premises and settle there 1 hundred families at the least.”

Settlement commenced immediately, with the first settlers coming principally from Rhode Island, Long Island and Massachusetts Bay. The First Town Book of Middletown (1667 to 1699) shows that the original settlement of Middletown village consisted of thirty-6 “home lots” and thirty-6 “outlots” laid out in a linear fashion, along a pre-existing Indian path (that later became Kings Highway). The home lots seemed to vary greatly in size, ranging from 10 to thirty-2 acres or more. Some of the early lot configurations are still visible today upon examination of existing lot lines in relation to historic ownership.

The village was located at the junction of 3 great Indian paths and the nearby Indian village of Chaquasitt. These trails and the clearings provided early settlers with access to other sections of East and West Jersey, and the advantage of tillable land. Particularly favorable was the easy access to the sea by way of Indian trails.

The General Assembly of the colony of New Jersey directed that every town provide an ordinary (tavern or inn) for the convenience of its citizens as well as travelers. In the early years of settlement, the local ordinary became a virtual town hall as well as a full service inn. Such a place provided facilities for social discussion, political deliberation, militia rallies, legal transactions, serving of court summons and making of arrests. Middletown village had taverns at an early date, but the locations and innkeepers are not well documented. There was reportedly a tavern on Kings Highway by about 1729 (see Site #10), and William Wilson operated a tavern between 1808 and 1836 at the corner of Kings Highway and Red Hill Road (see Site #90).

Commercial & Trading
By 1834, Thomas Gordon's Gazetteer of the State of New Jersey described Middletown village as “situate in rolling and fertile country, based on marl; [it] contains an Episcopal, a Dutch Reformed and a Baptist church, 2 stores, 2 taverns and from twenty to twenty-5 dwellings, among which there are several very neat and commodious.” By 1850, Middletown village had become the principal commercial and trading center for those residing within a radius of 10 miles; at that time it consisted of about forty houses; 3 churches, a school, 4 stores, 2 carriage factories, 3 blacksmith shops, 2 leather shops, 1 harness shop, a tanyard and a hotel. It was during the prosperous mid-19th century period that many of the village's substantial houses were built.

The west end of the Middletown Village Historic District was at 1 time called “The Fourth Ward,” after the toughest section of New York City. Several stores and artisans shops were located in this section along Red Hill Road, including a general store, harness shop and shoe shop.

There are 3 historic churches on Kings Highway in the Middletown Village Historic District. The First Baptist Church of Middletown (Site #21) organized in 1688, is the oldest Baptist congregation in New Jersey. Christ Episcopal Church (Site #64), organized in 1702, is one of the oldest Episcopal parishes in New Jersey. The Dutch Reformed Church (Site #5) dates from 1836.

Two early schools remain in the district. The Sheep House (Site #63) was used as a school in the early 19th century, with Robert Austin as teacher. Franklin Academy (Site #28), erected in 1836, operated as a private academy until 1851, when it was turned over to the school district and used continuously as the village school until 1902.

Middletown Village figured in both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. In 1778, the day following the Battle of Monmouth, British troops retreated through the village, marching in parade down Kings Highway. Christ Church was a meeting place of Henry Clinton and Lord Cornwallis withdrawing from the Battle of Monmouth. Many of the wounded were left behind and for several months Christ Church and the Baptist Church were used as hospitals.

William Truex, a local resident and a captain in the Mexican War of 1846-48, used his blacksmith shop (see Site #84) as temporary headquarters for training American troops. Drilling took place along Kings Highway. The general forces drilled here became known as the Governor's Light Guards, serving in the Civil War.