Lambertville Historic District
The Lambertville Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. 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 Lambertville Historic District is almost entirely comprised of 19th century structures which reflect the growth of commerce and industry brought about by the erection of the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge in 1812, the introduction of the Delaware and Raritan Canal in 1833, and the completion of the Belvidere-Delaware branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1851.
The City of Lambertville, almost all of which is included in the Lambertville Historic District, was a prosperous small scale industrial town throughout the 19th century. Its commercial and industrial prosperity promoted the development of homes, shops, small factories, churches, and public buildings of an urban character that clearly display 19th century middle and working class well being. Lambertville's fortunes began to decline at about the beginning of this century and the city entered a long period of physical stability which contributed to the preservation of its 19th century form. The Lambertville Historic District includes good, largely vernacular examples of most of the popular 19th century American architectural styles including Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate, Gothic Revival, French Second Empire, and Queen Anne style buildings.
In 1703 agents for the Council of West New Jersey met with two chiefs of the Delaware Indians in order to negotiate the purchase of some land along the Delaware River north of Trenton. They subsequently agreed on the exchange of 150,000 acres for a price of seven hundred pounds, a deal that gave the Colonial government over two hundred acres of land per pound sterling. This land was subdivided into many parcels and sold over the years to enterprising farmers or developers. The portion now occupied by the City of Lambertville was sold almost immediately as two lots; one of 3,000 acres which ran from about the middle of Lambertville south along the Delaware River and was bought by Benjamin Fields, and the other of 350 acres between Fields' land and the Alexauken Creek which was bought by Richard Wilson of Pennsylvania.
The boundary between the two properties was called the "Bull line" and can still be traced on a property map of the city. Running eastward from the river, the bull line cuts diagonally between Delevan and Jefferson Streets and continues across Main Street to the Old York Road, now State Route 179.
In 1705 John Holcombe purchased the Wilson tract north of the bull line. In 1707 he erected the stone house on North Main Street which is now known as the Holcombe Farm or Washington's headquarters. Holcombe was not interested in developing the land except for farming purposes, however, and the farm he laid out served as the northern boundary of Lambertville as late as 1851.
Between 1735 and 1745 two brothers, John and Gerhom Lambert, purchased land north of John Holcombe and began farming. Their two stone farm houses are still present and can be seen from the road north of the historic district.
The Benjamin Fields property to the south of the bull line was subdivided and changed hands several times before Emanuel Coryell purchased the portion lying roughly between Church Street and Swan Creek in 1732. Included in his purchase were rights to the ferry which crossed the Delaware River just south of the present Lambertville-New Hope Bridge. Coryell consolidated his holdings so that by 1743 he owned all the land south of the Holcombe farm for almost a mile to the present day fireman's bridge across the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
Lambertville lay at the mid-point on the Old York Road, which served as a principal route for the two-day trip between Philadelphia and New York City. Quick to realize the potential of the site, Coryell erected a tavern and inn to accompany his ferry service for the travelers. As a result of his activity, the area became known as Coryell's Ferry, a name it was to retain for nearly 80 years.
The Old York Road proceeded from the river along present-day Ferry Street to South Main Street where it turned northward to York Street. Turning again, it followed the present York Street out of town toward Ringoes. A portion of the Old York Road was widened and is now known as State Route 179. The other major road out of town was the Lambertville-New Brunswick Road, known in 1816 as the Brunswick Pike, and now known as Brunswick Avenue. It intersects the Old York Road at Swan Creek and then proceeds eastward toward Hopewell.
Upon Emanuel Coryell's death in 1748 his estate of 1,016 acres was divided among his four sons. Abraham Coryell received the ferry business, which he and his brother John, who had purchased the Pennsylvania Ferry rights from the heirs of Wells, operated as a family monopoly. At the time of the American Revolution Coryell's Ferry served a vital function as an outpost and crossing point for Washington and the Colonial troops. In June of 1778 the American Army camped in what is now the business district of Lambertville before marching toward Monmouth and its important battle. Washington was quartered in the stone house of John Holcombe, which is how the house received the name "Washington's Headquarters house." Major General Green and Mad Anthony Wayne were quartered in George Coryell's house located on the Old York Road, presently the site of the Episcopal Church on the northwest corner of North Main and York Streets. This house burned around 1800.
Development of the town of Coryell's Ferry began in earnest at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1802 Judge John Coryell, son of George, opened Coryell Street and began to sell building lots. The year 1812, however, brought the most change when a wood bridge was constructed across the Delaware River. As a result, Bridge Street was laid out and a number of the earliest houses still standing are located along Bridge Street. The Philip Marshall House located at 56 Bridge Street, built c.1812, is one of these early houses. In 1812 Captain John Lambert built a stone tavern and inn, now greatly enlarged and known as the Lambertville House. Captain John's uncle, the Honorable John Lambert, was a U.S. Senator during the Jefferson Administration and the Senator persuaded the Post Office Department to set up a post office on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. Previous to this, mail was received in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Having procured a post office for Coryell's Ferry, the Senator succeeded in having his nephew, Captain John Lambert appointed as postmaster and the inn as the post office. Not stopping there the two Lamberts had the village renamed Lambert's Ville. This outraged the Coryells who considered the Lamberts newcomers and thought that the town should be named Georgetown, in honor of Captain George Coryell. In fact, they named the section of town north of Church Street Georgetown. The original name of the Presbyterian Church, which stands on the border of Georgetown and Lambert's Ville, was the "Union Presbyterian Church of Georgetown and Lambert's Ville. The post office address carried the day, however, and when the town was incorporated in 1849, the "s" was dropped and the town became Lambertville.
The opening of the bridge, construction of the new inn, and a post office added to the small town's development. By 1817 Union Street had connected Coryell and Bridge Streets. In 1826 York Street was built and in 1832 Delevan Street was constructed. The town of Lambertville had grown from four houses at the time of the Revolution to just over one hundred structures in 1832.
It was at this time that Lambertville received what probably would become its greatest boost. The Delaware and Raritan Canal Company was chartered by the state in 1830 to build and operate a canal which could connect the Raritan River with the Delaware River. Choosing a route beginning at Bordentown on the Delaware River, the canal followed the river to Trenton then cut across the state to New Brunswick where it emptied into the Raritan River. A feeder canal, designed to supply water for canal operations, was constructed to tap Delaware River water at Raven Rock, six miles above Lambertville. The feeder flowed southward to Trenton where it joined the main canal. Again Lambertville had the luck of location, as it was situated roughly mid point on the feeder. Ashbel Welsh, the engineer of the feeder and later a prominent engineer and citizen, located in Lambertville, as did some of the 4,000 men required to dig the feeder. Most of these men settled south of Bridge Street.
At first the canal provided little economic benefit for the town. Since it was principally a feeder it brought almost no commercial benefits and, despite its 10 foot drop at the lock on the south side of town, most of the area's mills were already drawing their power from the small streams coming off the hills to the east of town.
The 1840's saw several advances for Lambertville. In 1844 the population was listed as nearly 1,000 persons. In 1845, the telegraph reached Lambertville from New York City and the first newspaper was printed. Known as "The Telegraph," it was owned by John R. Swallows. He sold the paper to G.C. Large and W.B. Hughes. They shortly sold to Clark Pierson who changed the name of the paper to "The Delaware Valley Diarist." In 1853 Pierson sold and the paper again changed names, this time to "The Peoples' Beacon." Clark repurchased the paper in 1858 and shortened the name to "The Beacon." In 1869 Phineas T. Hazen purchased the paper and changed the name to "The Lambertville Beacon," the name it is still published under by Hazen's heirs at 14 Bridge Street.
Remote as it might seem, the 1848 discovery of gold in California had a special meaning for Lambertville. James Wilson Marshall, who first discovered the gold, was born in Lambertville in 1810. He left town in 1834 to travel across the country and participated in the "Bear Flag War" of 1844, which ensured the independence of California from Mexican rule. His boyhood home 56 Bridge Street was purchased by the State of New Jersey in 1964 and is operated as a museum by the Lambertville Historical Society.
The decade ended with Lambertville's incorporation in 1849. At the time of incorporation its population was set at 1,417. The first mayor of the newly created town was Dr. Samuel Lilly, a local doctor who had helped set up Lambertville's board of health in 1832. Dr. Lilly was a most prominent citizen. Besides his local responsibilities as a doctor and a mayor, he helped found the Masonic and Odd Fellow Lodges in town, was a founder and first president of Amwell National Bank, Lambertville Water Company, the gas company, and was a member of Congress from 1852-1854. In addition, in 1861 he was appointed by President Buchanan as Council General to India. The Samuel Lilly House, a local landmark built c.1820, is located on Lilly Street.
By the 1850's it became clear that the operators of the Delaware and Raritan Canal were in profitable position of owning the best means of transporting Pennsylvania's seemingly limitless supply of coal to New York City's unquenchable industrial furnaces. Much of this coal came from the Lehigh Valley, where it was brought all the way down Pennsylvania's Delaware Canal to enter the D & R at Bordentown. In 1852, therefore, the feeder was widened, deepened, and locks were built to receive Lehigh Valley coal to Lambertville. The barges were locked into the Delaware River at New Hope, crossed the river attached to a cable, and locked into the D & R just south of the Lambertville lock. From there they proceeded on to New Brunswick and New York.
This development, along with the construction of the Belvedere-Delaware Railroad, which in 1851 was built alongside the canal north of Trenton, began the industrialization of Lambertville which lasted until 1900. Development and growth of Lambertville, however, was hampered on the north end of town by the Holcombe Farm. In 1851, when John Holcombe died, the estate was divided between his son John and daughter Cynthia. The daughter, whose land lay east of North Main Street, kept her portion intact as it remains roughly to this day. The son, however, spotting a chance for investment, began to subdivide his portion into lots, but his plans were hampered by a large house which stood on Delevan Street directly in the way of any Union Street extension northward. The 1860 map of the vicinity of Philadelphia and Trenton, by Lake and Beers, shows only 12 houses in the area north of Delevan Street. On September 11, 1863, the house "mysteriously burned to the ground and the last obstacle to the growth northward was gone.
The Lambertville census of 1863 listed 516 structures for the town, with a total population of 2,851. By 1866 the Lambertville Beacon was calling the north part of town "the land of promise." And indeed it was. North Union Street became the place to live as the wealthy factory owners and merchants built large, commodious dwellings in the Italianate and French Second Empire styles. By 1873, as seen on the Everts and Stewart combination Atlas of Hunterdon County of that year, there were 166 residences, one church, and three factories north of Delevan Street.
But development of Lambertville was not confined to construction north of Delevan Street. The years from 1851 to the end of the century saw a greatly expanded industrialization south of Delevan Street along the canal and river banks. One of the oldest industries which had a wide influence was the railroad shops. Begun shortly after the completion of the Lambertville-Flemington branch in 1854, the shops built locomotives as well as freight and passenger cars. In 1871 when the Pennsylvania Railroad took over the old Belvedere-Delaware Railroad, the shops became maintenance yards and repair operations.
The Lambertville Spoke Factory, located at the north end of town at Elm and Union Streets, originally manufactured only spokes but by 1860 they were building the entire wheel. During the Civil War they made as many as 400 wheels a day, and most of the wheels used by the Union Army for their wagons and cannon came from the Lambertville Spoke Factory.
Another industry was rubber reclamation and manufacture. Lambertville had two such factories: the Lambertville Rubber Company, organized 1882, and the New Jersey Rubber Company, organized in 1890. The Lambertville Rubber Company, successors to the Lambertville Manufacturing Company, manufactured valves, ice bags, teething rings, balls, erasers and all sizes of rubber cord. They were best known, however, for their stout patent durable "snag proof" boots.
Other industries in town included several saw mills, flour and flax mills, machine shops, a brass foundry, a brewery, rope and twine factory, cotton and thread mill, and several paper mills.
In 1872 the population had increased to 4,637 persons, and a bill was introduced in the New Jersey legislature to issue a charter making Lambertville a city. It then became, and remains today, the only city in Hunterdon County. Progress continued for the new city and, in 1881, telephone lines were installed, although amid controversy as the mayor thought telephone poles down Bridge Street were ugly and vetoed the proposal. In 1893 Lambertville became electrified. The electricity came from coal-fired generators located north of Arnett's Sawmill and Lumber Yard on North Union Street.
The new century brought with it a sense of even greater prosperity, for in 1901 the Hairpin Factory was started. Founded by William Smith, a pioneer in the industry, the Lambertville factory turned out 15 tons of hair pins each week. The feeling of continued prosperity was severely shaken, however, by the flood of 1903. This is the most disastrous flood the city has ever suffered. The Delaware River reached a record of 24.88 feet above normal, caused havoc throughout the town, and even carried off the Lambertville-New Hope Bridge. The bridge was replaced by the present iron one in 1904.
The year 1909 saw mixed results. The Pennsylvania Railroad finally moved the maintenance yards from Lambertville to Trenton causing the loss of several hundred jobs and an industry which had been a part of Lambertville for over half a century. But on the bright side, the Lambertville Pottery Company began manufacturing toilets in 1909. Starting with two kilns on North Union Street, by 1922 there were 12 kilns with a production of three hundred bowls and tanks a day.
The town's economy began to worsen in the years immediately after World War I. The Hairpin Factory, a victim of changing hairstyles, closed in 1922. The Pottery Company, unable to provide sinks and bathtubs along with toilets, could no longer compete with other manufacturers and closed in 1925. The New Jersey Rubber Company and the Lambertville Rubber Company both faced a drastic fall in rubber prices because of the large rubber plantations of Henry Firestone, and ceased operations.
In 1937 the Pennsylvania Railroad officially abandoned the Delaware and Raritan Canal, which, since the peak years of the 1870's, had been steadily declining until in the 20th century the canal was operating at a loss.
New industries have taken the place of the old flatware, hosiery, lace, luggage, and ceramics.
The Peoples' Beacon and Independent Weekly Record Lambertville, New Jersey, 1851 to 1856.
Lambertville Beacon, 1863 to 1869.
Lambertville Record, 1872 to 1900.
Cornell, Samuel C., Map of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, 1851.
Lake, O.J. and Beers, S.N., Map of the Vicinity of Philadelphia and Trenton, 1860.
Everts and Stewart, Combination Atlas of Hunterdon County, 1873.
Sanborn Map Company, Map of Lambertville, New Jersey, 1912, and 1923-1929.
Bailey, O.K., View of Lambertville, O.H. Bailey Publishing Co., Boston, 1883.
Barber, John W., and Howe, Henry, Historical Collections of the State of New Jersey, Benjamin Olds, Publisher; Newark, 1844, 1857, 1868.
Carpenter, William Henry, and Arthur T.S., History of New Jersey, Lippencott, Grambo & Co., Philadelphia, 1853.
Gallagher, Sarah A., Early History of Lambertville, New Jersey, MacCrellish & Quigley, Printers, Trenton, New Jersey, 1903.
Petrie, Alfred G., Lambertville, New Jersey, Private printing in 1949, reprinted by the Lambertville Historical Society, 1970.
Snell, James P., History of Hunterdon and Somerset Counties, New Jersey.
Breeds Directory of Lambertville, Flemington, and Stations on the Line of the Penn Railroad, Belvedere Division, 1897, 1899, 1901, and 1905.
† David Gibson and Steven Bauer, Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission, revised by John Amos, Lambertville Historic District, Hunterdon County, NJ, nomination document, 1980, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.