Flemington Historic District
The Flemington Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2013, The Gombach Group.
The architecture of Flemington Historic District is the Borough's main asset. It gives the town a special significance not only for its wide variety and the large number of its buildings, but also for its superb quality.
The architectural significance of the structures of Flemington Borough extends beyond the boundaries of the municipality. There are few such extensive collections of buildings in a concentrated area in Hunterdon County where the architecture represents most of the major developments in 19th century American architecture. It is significant to the region because it is the county seat, one of the few urban communities in a predominantly rural area, and its buildings reflect the aspirations of the people who inhabit it. On a state level, Flemington Historic District's architecture ranks high among the state's architectural attractions. It is a good representation of how New Jersey architecture, while never developing its own stylistic variation such as Pennsylvania or New York, closely followed the architectural trends evolving in the nation's major cities. It is also significant to the nation because it was the home and the site for the designs of Mahlon Fisher, an important architect in America during the mid-19th century who designed in the Greek Revival style of architecture. Indeed, very few places in the country can boast of as outstanding a collection of Greek Revival architecture as Flemington.
The periods of architectural development in Flemington parallels the economic development of the region. During the town's beginnings, buildings were few and far between. The first white settlers in Flemington found the area an almost untouched wilderness when they came soon after 1730. Until that time, it was one of the most important areas of Indian habitation in Hunterdon County, for the area offered many things important to Indian existence. There are no known pre-historic sites within the Flemington Historic District, although such sites may exist.
The white settlers found the Indians peaceful, and there was probably some working relationship between them. According to family tradition, John Phillip Case, a German immigrant who came to the Flemington area around 1730, became particularly friendly with the local Indian Chief Tuccamirgan, who upon his death, was buried in the Case family plot. The grave, once marked by a pile of stones according to traditional Indian burial custom, is now marked with a marble monument.
Flemington's 18th century history was a time of settlement. Pioneer life was, of necessity, austere and often harsh, with settlers mainly preoccupied with nothing more than survival. In building, few settlers could afford to devote much time and attention to architectural refinements or embellishment. Tradition states that the earliest structures in the area were log structures. Unfortunately, no log houses remain in Flemington today to serve as evidence for this.
The oldest house in town, whose origin is documented, is known as Fleming Castle. It was built by Samuel Fleming in 1756 as a tavern and inn, and, although small by contemporary standards, its relative sophistication in comparison with the other structures at the time qualified it to be called a castle. Fleming Castle is a relatively low, two-story, rectangular, frame structure on a low, stone foundation. Typical of its period is its simple, straightforward design, the monotony of its facade being relieved by a gambrel roof and a symmetrical arrangement of small windows with small panes of glass (glass was an expensive imported item then). Plain, board shutters with moon-shaped cutouts provide the only ornamentation.
Another structure of early origin is 38 East Main Street, next to the Jewish Community Center. Further historical research and physical investigations may reveal the date of the house, but its simple exterior appearance and its asymmetrical facade with small windows punctuating the flat expanse of its stuccoed wall suggest that it belongs to a time about as early as Fleming Castle.
The constant flow of settlers moving westward through Flemington accelerated the town's development as an important travel stop, and, as Flemington grew, it developed a gridiron pattern of building, concentrating along Main Street, and within a tightly-compacted geographical area.
As the economy flourished, Flemington's architecture became more sophisticated. By the early 1800's, as the level of craftsmanship increased, much attention was given to exterior and interior details such as finely-molded cornices, lintels, and door and window enframements.
Flemington Historic District has few extant Federal structures. No. 3 Church Street is a fine, brick Federal building that has been extensively altered to accommodate its present commercial use, although the interior still retains much of its delicate wood trim. No. 181-183 Main Street, built in 1829, is a typical Federal structure that has retained much of its original form. It is a duplex frame house on a low, stone foundation, with a symmetrical facade, large windows, and entrance doors with transom lights above. Later, during the Victorian period, it received an addition to the rear, and decorative brackets were added under the roof eaves. In fact, a few of Flemington's Federal structures were given a new facade treatment during the Victorian period.
The "golden age" of Flemington architecture occurred in the Victorian period. Its strongest claim to architectural distinction is in its Greek Revival buildings. The Hunterdon County Courthouse, built in 1828, was Flemington's first Greek Revival style building, and its stark simplicity and monumental scale is an appropriate symbol for the most important public building in the Hunterdon County.
Flemington was fortunate to have had among its inhabitants Mahlon Fisher, an outstanding architect/builder who designed in the Greek Revival style. Among his works are the Dorf House (151-153 Main Street), a duplex house built in 1842; the Southard Law Office (59 Main Street), an earlier structure which he renovated in the 1840's; the Doric House (114 Main Street), offices of the Hunterdon County Historical Society; and the Large House (119 Main Street), where the Hunterdon County National Bank opened its first office. Fisher's buildings reflect his skills as a designer by his ability to create many different variations of the style: from the simple design of the Southard Law Office to the Doric columns of the Doric House, from which it derives its name, to the elaborate Ionic columns, an ornamentation of the Large House. The Large House is a transitional style of architecture because it possesses Italianate features which are original to the house, such as brackets under the roof and under window pediments.
Flemington also has many of the more simple, anonymous, but equally important, Greek Revival houses located throughout the entire Borough. One very common type is the rectangular form with the two-story pilasters attached to the corners of the house. The entrance is usually articulated with a composition of transom lights surrounding the door. Oftentimes, Italianate brackets were added under the roof eaves.
Although the style was not extremely popular, Flemington Historic District has a few Gothic Revival style buildings. Its best example is No. 187 Main Street, complete with gingerbread, pointed window, and a porch in the pointed-arch motif. It is landscaped in a manner most appropriate to its style. Across the street is No. 188 Main Street, an almost identical copy without the pointed arches and with less historically-faithful landscaping.
Since it is a style strongly associated with Christianity, it was natural that churches in Flemington be built in the Gothic Revival style. The Flemington Presbyterian Church at the intersection of East and North Main Streets, the Methodist Church on Main Street, and the Episcopal Church on Broad Street are fine examples of the style built in stone.
The coming of the railroads in the middle of the 19th century influenced Flemington's economy greatly and brought about a period of economic prosperity. It was about this time that many Italianate style structures were built in Flemington. Two general types of Italianate style of architecture are found in Flemington: the symmetrical and asymmetrical types.
The symmetrical Italianate villa, the style which is commonly found in Flemington, is usually a high cubic mass with an almost flat roof that has wide, overhanging eaves. Occasionally, a cupola sits on the roof as in the Beats Building (120-124 Main Street), the Shields Building (52 Main Street), and No. 149 Main Street. There are numerous examples of the symmetrical type without the cupola: the County Hall of Records on Main Street, No. 147 Broad Street, and Nos. 78, 138, 179, and 182 Main Street. A common feature of these Italianate buildings is a low, segmental-arch pediment on the roof centered on the facade and supported by large, decorative brackets grouped in pairs. No. 182 Main Street is especially noteworthy because it has a Greek Revival facade with an Italianate roof. No. 3 William Street, recently restored, is a striking Italianate brick structure despite its tiny scale.
An asymmetrical Italianate villa is typically an L-shaped structure with a tall, narrow tower rising at the intersection of the L. There is only one surviving example in Flemington of this type, complete with tower: the Britton House (172 Main Street). However, there are some fine examples of the type without the tower as in No. 28 Main Street and No. 59 Broad Street.
Rose Lawn (3 East Main Street) is a sprawling complex consisting of several Italianate houses brought together, with later additions, and unified by the same porch details. Originally three smaller houses, it was converted into one sprawling mass by William Emery, a native of Flemington.
With both types of the Italianate style, a porch usually wraps around one or two sides of the building. Italianate doors and windows are typically round-headed, but in Flemington it is more common to find rectangular-headed ones topped by small entablatures or caps.
The bulk of Flemington's structures are of the Cottage style. Popularized in America from the 1840's by Andrew Jackson Downing, a noted horticulturist, its great appeal persisted until the turn of the century. Perhaps this was due to its more equalitarian quality, being equally appropriate for a rich man's mansion or a humble worker's cottage, and in Flemington it is common to find both.
Stylistically, its features are influenced by the Gothic Revival and the Italianate. The most common type in Flemington has a rectangular mass, a steep, gable roof with a central cross-gable, is occasionally decorated with bargeboards, and is strongly influenced by the Gothic Revival style. However, the use of brackets, roundheaded instead of pointed windows and arches show its Italianate influence. Indeed, very often they are considered Italianate and No. 2 Main Street is a good example of this style built in wood frame. Behind it is an excellent cottage with cupola, probably a carriage house originally. The same type built is No. 9 Broad Street. Other variations exist, such as the L-shaped cottages on No. 28 Mine Street and No. 59 Broad Street. No. 21 East Main Street, a large, rectangular, frame house, has two front gables over a pair of two-story bay windows.
There are countless smaller houses in the Cottage style throughout Flemington. Some good examples are No. 26 Bloomfield Avenue and Nos. 58 and 60 Broad Street. Typically, they are long and narrow, with the narrow, three-bay side facing the street. They usually have a steep, cross-gable roof with elaborate scrollwork and have one or two small windows on the gable area to light the attic.
Porch designs are seldom repeated on the Cottage type dwelling in Flemington. Many different variations are found, ranging from very elaborate, turned members to flat cutouts on arches, railings, and porch supports. Previous to the late 1880's, porch ornamentation took more curvilinear forms, as on No. 2 Main Street and No. 9 Broad Street. Later ones tend to have thin, vertical spindles forming the railings and a screen-like band over the posts, as in No. 20 Spring Street (an earlier Greek Revival house with a later porch addition).
Flemington Historic District also has its share of Second Empire buildings, exhibiting different variations of mansard roof outlines. The Union Hotel (70 Main Street), built in 1876, is the most grandiose example using a straight outline of mansard roof. The roofs of Nos. 127 and 169 Main Street and No. 56 Broad Street are concave, while the Fluck Mansion (189 Main Street) and No. 152 Main Street have a convex main roof and a convex central emphasis.
Although not as popular as the other styles, Flemington Historic District has a few excellent examples of Queen Anne architecture. No. 147 Main Street, presently a funeral home, is a noteworthy example although it lacks a turret. Other Queen Anne houses in Flemington Borough have more simplified forms. No. 128 Main Street is a commercial version of the style, which, despite its simplicity, manages to accommodate some of the elements expected in Queen Anne houses. The manner in which this structure responds to its important location makes its role crucial in defining the character of the area.
The Hawke House (111 Main Street) is an excellent example of the Shingle Style in Flemington. It achieves a very picturesque effect by the unexpected projection and recession of different elements such as the bay window, the porch, or the cantilevered upper floor. The use of shingles creates a tight skin that unifies the entire ensemble.
Later Queen Anne and Shingle style houses tend to be more simplified, reverting to a rectangular form. Complexity is maintained only in the shape of the porches, usually with a meandering outline. Some are influenced by the Neo-Classical Revival and enjoy classical columns with capitals as porch supports. No. 1 Main Street and No. 10 Main Street are good examples of this.
Industrial and utilitarian buildings have played an important role in Flemington's history and, therefore, deserve special mention. There are many barns at scattered locations throughout the Borough, visual reminders of Flemington's agricultural past. A barn complex exists near the Flemington Cut Glass complex between Main and Broad Streets. Carriage houses and other auxiliary buildings also dot the backyards of Flemington's houses.
Two railroad stations remain in Flemington today: one on Main Street, which has been converted into a restaurant, and another on Park Avenue, which is being actively used for freight storage and delivery. Both buildings are simple but important landmarks in the Borough.
The Pfaltzgraff (formerly Stangl) Potter buildings, originally containing active pottery kilns, are now being used as a retail store for the company. Most industrial buildings are designed for utility and efficiency of operation, and, from their imaginative solutions to functional problems, the resultant aesthetics usually exhibit as much architectural merit as other building types. The otherwise uneventful exterior of the Pfaltzgraff Pottery buildings are given special interest by the gracefully-rounded brick chimneys, highly expressive of the pottery activity it houses. The interiors are remarkable for the exposed steel frame that supports the roof.
The early part of the 20th century, a period of languishing economy, is reflected in the type of buildings built in Flemington during that time. Most of these buildings were built in the Bungalow style and rows of this type line parts of Broad and Bonnell Streets. The exuberance and vitality of the preceding years were replaced by the more practical and sober attitudes as reflected in their smaller size and simpler design.
Bice, E.E. Flemington, New Jersey, 1898.
Clough, M. Marian. Greek Revival Architecture in Flemington, New Jersey; Mahlon Fisher, Builder-Architect, 1976.
Gowans, Alan. Architecture in New Jersey. Princeton: D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc., 1964.
Hamlin, Talbot. Greek Revival Architecture in America. New York: Dover Publishing, Inc., 1944.
Hunterdon County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The First 250 Years of Hunterdon County; 1714-1964, 1964.
Hunterdon County Historical Society. Files. Flemington.
The Jerseyman. Volume 2, No. 4, December 1893.
Lequear, John. The Traditions of Hunterdon: Early History and Legends of Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Flemington: Moreau Publishers, 1957.
Myers, Kenneth. Scenes of Yesterday; 100th Anniversary of Flemington National Bank and Trust Company, 1976.
Snell, James P. History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey. Philadelphia: Everts and Peck, 1881.
Cornell, Samuel C. Hunterdon County, New Jersey, 1851.
Flemington, New Jersey. Boston: O.H. Bailey & Company, 1883.
Fowler, T.M. Flemington, New Jersey. Morrisville: T.M. Fowler, 1903.