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Trenton Ferry Historic District


223 and 221 Second Street, ca. mid-19th century, Trenton Ferry Historic District, Trenton, NJ, National Register

Photo: 223 and 221 Second Street, ca. mid-19th century, Trenton Ferry Historic District, Trenton, NJ. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Photographed by Alison Haley, 2012, for Trenton Ferry Historic District, nomination document NR# 13000355, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, accessed November, 2014.

The Trenton Ferry Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2014, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Trenton Ferry Historic District, in the City of Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey, is an urban mixed-use neighborhood composed primarily of modest working class row homes and duplexes, commercial buildings, school buildings and churches. Although significant ties to the district's 18th-century past survive, the vast majority of its historic resources date to the 19th and early 20th centuries and relate to the period of the City of Trenton's greatest urban and industrial expansion. Consistency in scale, massing, form and materials has led to a multi-faceted yet cohesive collection of buildings that together form rich streetscapes and give the district a unified architectural character. With only a handful of modern intrusions, the Trenton Ferry Historic District readily conveys its historic significance and represents an important aspect of the City of Trenton's urban fabric.

The architectural character of the district reflects the diverse and complex nature of the neighborhood's history. The majority of the building stock falls within the National Register of Historic Places architectural classification categories of "Mid-19th Century" and "Late Victorian." Less numerous are buildings best classified as belonging within the "Colonial," "Early Republic" and "Late 19th and 20th Century Revivals" categories. Although design elements that relate to the Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival and even the Spanish Mission Revival can all be found within the historic district, Mid-Atlantic vernacular urban building tradition played a larger role in defining the character of the district's streetscapes than architectural trends of the moment. The relatively modest nature of so much of the housing stock further emphasizes the significance of the vernacular. Constructed to house Trenton's working class, most of the residences are relatively restrained in terms of their architectural ornamentation.

The District is situated on the eastern bank of the Delaware River and its physical relationship to the river is important to a fuller understanding of its early history. N.J. Route 29 runs through the extreme western end of the district. The construction of the street/highway known at various times as Commercial Avenue, John Fitch Way and now N.J. Route 29 occurred in stages from north to south over the course of the 20th century and, within the district, required the removal of approximately 20 buildings along Warren and Fair Streets dating from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

During the early 20th century, most of the Trenton Ferry Historic District waterfront was occupied by the Trenton Municipal Wharf, a complex that included a large warehouse/terminal building, turning basin, bulkhead and wharf. The terminal building was removed in the first half of the 20th century but portions of the concrete wharf and bulkhead remain. Although N.J. Route 29 represents a substantial barrier between the waterfront and the rest of the Trenton Ferry Historic District, the relationship between the western terminus of Ferry Street and the riverbank still remains visually clear and is important contextually to the historic integrity of the district. The alignment of Ferry Street between the Delaware River and South Broad Street is probably the single most important tangible link to the pre-urban history of the Trenton Ferry Historic District. The alignment of Ferry Street is one of the earliest roads in the City of Trenton and has remained a constant for over three centuries. The earliest known map representing Ferry Street dates to 1714 and shows the roadway following its present course. Although later 18th century maps would seem to indicate a no longer extant "dog leg" in the western section of the road, careful examination of the maps indicates that the "Ferry Wharf' was always at the location of the modern day foot of Ferry Street indicating that the course of the early transportation route was actually the same as the present Ferry Street alignment.

Significance

The Trenton Ferry Historic District is a well-preserved and cohesive urban neighborhood that is locally significant for its varied and distinguished collection of 19th- and early 20th-century row homes, commercial and industrial buildings and educational institutions and religious edifices. The architectural stock of the historic district is diverse and covers the full spectrum from simple, vernacular, mill workers' housing to high-style ecclesiastical buildings. Located in the southern part of the city close to the Delaware River waterfront, the district reflects a typical lower to middle class neighborhood from Trenton's heyday as a major East Coast industrial center.

The District played a role in the 18th and 19th centuries as a primary waypoint on the primary historic overland transportation route linking New York City and Philadelphia. In part because of its importance to the historic Delaware Valley transportation network, the Trenton Ferry Historic District served as a catalyst for early urban growth in the colonial and early federal periods. The subsequent emergence of Trenton as an industrial center during the 19th century led to the increased urbanization of the Historic District which developed into a residential and commercial neighborhood serving the needs of the people who worked in the nearby factories and mills. The district contributed to the expansion of the initial nucleated settlement into a market town and state capital in the 18th century and into a full-blown industrial metropolis in the mid- to late 19th century.

The Trenton Ferry Historic District's period of significance is defined as beginning in 1704 and closing in 1938. The first date corresponds to that of the construction of the earliest house known to have stood within the district and the likely date of the commencement of ferry activities. The archaeological remains of this house, termed the "Ferry Plantation Site," have been identified by archaeological investigation and determined both to be historically significant and to possess integrity. The end of the period of significance for the district is defined as 1938, the date of the construction of the Parker Public School, the last significant piece of historic infrastructure to be erected within the district. By the late 1930s, Trenton's significance as a major industrial center was on the wane and with it the era of the Trenton Ferry Historic District's greatest vibrancy also drew to a close.

The recorded history of the Trenton Ferry Historic District began in 1679 with the arrival of Mahlon Stacy "of Handsworth in the County of York, Tanner." Mahlon Stacy was one of a group of Quaker settlers from Yorkshire who traveled aboard the Shield to West Jersey in 1678. Stacy overwintered in the newly established settlement at Burlington but, with the coming of spring, headed north and selected a large and prominent property straddling both sides of the Assunpink Creek on the eastern bank of the Delaware River adjacent to the falls. Not long afterwards, Stacy was joined at the falls of the Delaware by four of his Yorkshire Quaker compatriots, William Emley, Thomas Lambert, John Lambert (Thomas's brother) and Joshua Wright. In 1683, the five men were formally surveyed a tract of 2,000 acres. Although initially the 2,000-acre property was legally owned jointly, the five men seem to have recognized the boundaries of individual tracts. None of the five initial stakeholders in the 2,000-acre purchase is believed to have established his residence within the historic district but, in 1704, a 100-acre tract of land comprising the northern half of the Trenton Ferry Historic District was passed by means of the will of William Emley to Emley's daughter, Mary Heywood. In 1707, when John and Mary Heywood, in turn, sold the same tract to William Beakes of Bucks County, the property description included "the messuage or tenement and plantation lately erected."

The house occupied by William Beakes is the first colonial dwelling known to have been built within the Trenton Ferry Historic District. With its construction the period of significance for the Trenton Ferry Historic District opens, for it is at this time that ferry activities at this location are believed to have commenced. After William Beakes died in 1710/11, his house and plantation passed by will to his son, Edmund. An inventory taken at the time of William Beakes's death included a servant boy, two boats, farm tools and corn in the ground. The enumeration of two boats in the inventory is the earliest documentary evidence that would suggest the operation of a ferry at this location.

After his father's death, Edmund initially leased the entire plantation to his stepmother, Ruth Beakes, the daughter of Mahlon Stacy, but, in 1713, he sold her the property outright. By the end of the next year, Ruth had also purchased from Thomas Lambert II 100 acres adjoining the first 100-acre tract to the south, thereby uniting the two parcels under single ownership. These combined properties would afterwards be known as the "Ferry Plantation" and included the lands east of the Delaware River between the modern alignment of U.S. Route 1 on the north and Federal Street to the south. Although the Ferry Plantation extended some distance to the east of modern South Broad Street (known historically as the Trenton-Whitehorse Road), the bounds of the Trenton Ferry Historic District generally correspond with that portion of the Ferry Tract situated to the west of this important early roadway.

In 1714, Mahlon Stacy, Jr. sold the 800-acre core of his father's Trenton property tract to William Trent, a prominent and very wealthy Philadelphia merchant. It was Trent who took the first steps toward turning the small cluster of homes in the neighborhood of Stacy's gristmill into a thriving, well-organized town and it was, at least in part, traffic along the lane to the ferry and the overland route to New York which provided the impetus for its development. A survey map prepared in connection with the sale shows "R. Beakes House" on the north side of the "Ferry Road." Two secondary buildings are shown on the southern side of Ferry Road opposite the Beakes House. Importantly, this early map shows that the alignment of modern Ferry Street more or less corresponds to the 18th century course of Ferry Road.

In 1718, Ruth Stacy Beakes and her new husband, Samuel Atkinson, sold the Ferry Plantation to William Trent. In 1725, after William Trent's death, James Trent, William's son and primary heir, petitioned for a license from the Governor to operate a ferry at Trenton Falls. Consent was received and a patent was bestowed giving James exclusive use of the eastern shore of the Delaware, extending for two miles above and two miles below the falls. James Trent operated the ferry until 1729, when he conveyed his father's entire estate, including the Ferry Plantation and the ferry patent, to William Morris "of the Island of Barbados." Four years later, Morris conveyed the same properties to George Thomas, Gentleman, of the Island of Antigua and future Lieutenant Governor of the Colony of Pennsylvania. The deed for the ferry patent included "wharfs, boats, hooks, chains, oars and other things." A survey of the property dating from Thomas's period of occupancy shows a storehouse and the ferry wharf located near what would later become the foot of Ferry Street.

During the mid- and late 18th century, the day-to-day operation of the ferry was rarely undertaken by the owner of the ferry patent. For most of the period in which it was in existence, the right to operate the Trenton Ferry was leased. This was clearly the case by the time of George Thomas's tenure of the Trent properties. For example, Thomas Hooton, a former Trenton merchant, was keeper of the ferry in 1750. In 1753, George Thomas conveyed both the original Trent property and the Beakes plantation to Robert Lettis Hooper II. Hooper leased the ferry to Andrew Ramsey, "Inn keeper of New York." Prior to his acquisition of the ferry lease, Ramsey had held the rights to both the Long Island Ferry and the principal ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn. His involvement with the Trenton Ferry indicates that it was on a par in terms of importance with these other ventures and is suggestive of its role in the local economy and transportation network.

Ramsey was the first to incorporate the ferry into a larger enterprise that included a regularly operating stage line running between the ferry and New Brunswick as well as a boat service between Philadelphia and Trenton. After 1756, John Butler of Philadelphia, working in tandem with others, instituted a coordinated stage/ferry/boat service that carried passengers between Philadelphia and New York via Trenton and Perth Amboy. By utilizing Butler's service, travelers could make the arduous hundred-mile trip between the two cities in less than two days. Exactly when the first tavern or "ferry house" was erected at Trenton Ferry remains unknown but, in 1754, George Burns advertised that he had opened a house of entertainment at the ferry "where Gentlemen, Travelers and others, who will please to favor him with their company, may depend upon meeting with as Good Entertainment, both for themselves and Horses as at any Publick House between Philadelphia and New-York." Soon after, it was operated by a George Marshall. After the erection of the tavern, the term "Trenton Ferry" came to mean more than simply the ferry service itself, and began to be used to identify the place. The innkeeper and others often gave their addresses in the Philadelphia newspapers as being at or from "Trenton Ferry."

In 1770, Robert Lettis Hooper advertised for sale "The noted patent ferry called Trenton Ferry, in the County of Burlington, and province of New Jersey, with the boats, flats, etc., thereto belonging, together with 442 acres of land adjoining." The buyer was Daniel Coxe, fifth in a long line of Daniel Coxes extending back to the earliest days of the colony of West New Jersey. Coxe, a licensed attorney and West Jersey Provincial Counselor, resided in Trenton, and within three years of his purchase of the ferry tract, leased it to Rensselaer Williams, a Trenton tavern keeper who relocated from the Royal Oak Inn to premises at Trenton Ferry. By May 1776, Thomas Janney had taken over the lease for the ferry and its associated 200-acre farm property.

Daniel Coxe V, a steadfast Tory, owned the Ferry Plantation through the first tumultuous years of the American Revolution. Coxe's property not only commanded the ferry crossing, but also overlooked the highest point at which the Delaware was navigable. Just as any army crossing the river would have to pass over Coxe's property, or go some distance out of its way to avoid detection, anyone coming up the river would also have to disembark inconveniently downstream or pass beneath the gaze or guns of those occupying it. Unsurprisingly, it did not take long for the American Revolution to arrive at the doorstep of Daniel Coxe's ferry house. After a series of defeats in New York and northern New Jersey in the late summer of 1776, the American forces retreated steadily southward over the course of the fall. News of the imminent arrival of the Continental Army and their British pursuers reached Trenton early in December of 1776. Continental forces began scouring the river to collect and confiscate all of the available boats. These vessels would be used to transport Washington's army across the river to safer positions in Pennsylvania. They would then be destroyed or placed under guard to prevent them from falling into British hands (which would thereby permit British General Cornwallis's army to cross the river in pursuit). By December 6, large numbers of refugees were crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania amidst scenes of confusion, making use of boats stationed at Beatty's Ferry, situated just north of Trenton, near the site occupied today by the Calhoun Street bridge) and Coxe's Trenton Ferry. On December 8, the British forces entered the town just as the final contingents of the Continental Army were escaping down Ferry Street and across the Delaware in boats. British troops moving down Ferry Street in pursuit came under cannon fire from Continental batteries entrenched on the Pennsylvania bank.

During the final years of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century, Trenton's population changed from one dominated by residents of German, British and Irish extraction to one composed chiefly of newly immigrant southern and eastern Europeans. In 1890, roughly 11% of Trenton's immigrant population traced its origins to southern and eastern Europe. By 1910, this source area accounted for 56% of the city's immigrants; by 1920, the proportion was more than 70%. Newcomers entered via the ports of New York and Philadelphia; from 1892, most immigrants were processed through Ellis Island. The majority of Trenton's immigrants during this period sought work in the city's metalworking plants, potteries and rubber factories. The Italians were the largest late 19th/early 20th-century immigrant group. They are most famous for settling in the city's Chambersburg district, located in South Trenton to the east of the Delaware and Raritan Canal, but many also came to the Trenton Ferry District. In 1920, other Trenton immigrant groups exceeding 1,000 individuals were the Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Slovakian and Austrian communities, while smaller numbers of Romanians, Croatians, Slovenians, Serbs, Dalmatians, Greeks and Armenians were also present. The ethnic face of the Trenton Ferry Historic District changed as a result.

The early 20th century also witnessed a dramatic alteration to the landscape. In 1903, the Pennsylvania Railroad constructed a massive stone bridge over the Delaware River. Prior to this date the railroad tracks had run down Bridge Street. The bridge construction project also involved elevating and straightening the railroad alignment through Bloomsbury. The new, elevated railroad tracks were constructed atop an embankment that tore through existing blocks, creating an immense physical barrier between Bloomsbury and the Trenton Ferry Historic District. The Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, a National Register-listed resource, still serves today as a key piece of engineering infrastructure on Amtrak's Northeast Corridor rail line. About this same time, the southern leg of the Trenton Water Power, including the reservoir above Federal Street and the entire portion of the trough within the Trenton Ferry Historic District, was filled in. This opened up a considerable amount of real estate to development that heretofore had been unavailable. Two new streets were laid out. Daymond Street actually came into existence slightly before the canal was filled, but Power Street was constructed directly atop its former alignment. It took only a couple of years before both streets were lined with blocks of new brick-built factory worker housing.

In 1915, construction began on the Trenton Municipal Wharf and Basin just south of the foot of Ferry Street. By the turn of the century, typical Delaware River steamboats had grown too large to navigate the shallow waters at the foot of Ferry Street and for a period of time all of Trenton's waterborne traffic was relocated to a new temporary wharf constructed at the foot of Lalor Street. This was somewhat inconvenient since Lalor Street was approximately a mile further away from downtown Trenton. Undertaken in connection with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Delaware River channel dredging project, the new municipal wharf and basin were constructed to once again provide for the delivery of passengers and freight by water to the foot of Ferry Street. The complex included bulkheading, wharves, a large basin and several buildings, as well as a rail link to the Camden and Amboy line of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Creation of the basin involved the excavation of a large rectangular dock measuring 200 feet by 250 feet, extending perpendicular to the shoreline, immediately south of the main terminal and warehouse. The principal buildings at the facility comprised a terminal shed and warehouse, which were erected on piles and stood directly atop the wharf structure on the riverbank. The revival of river traffic at the foot of Ferry Street lasted only into the early 1930s. At this point, the newly opened Trenton Marine Terminal, located at the northern end of Duck Island below Riverview Cemetery, began to receive most of the freight moving through Trenton by river. Passenger steamboat service and recreational use of the municipal wharf and basin continued for a few more years, but with minimal economic return.

Around the same time that the early 20th-century immigration reached its peak, the profits at many of Trenton's largest manufacturing concerns began to slip. In 1900, the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company plant at the foot of Cass Street came under the control of the American Bridge Company. The plant continued in operation, fabricating and assembling bridge parts, but it was no longer the hive of industry that it had once been. By the late 1920s, the rolling mill had been demolished and the manufacturing activity was much reduced. For many local businesses the Delaware and Raritan Canal gradually slipped out of existence. Since the 1870s, the canal had seen its profitability spiral ever downward. After 1900, the waterway never again made a profit, although it did see a brief increase in business during the First World War. In 1933, all commercial traffic on the canal ceased and, in the following year, its ownership was formally transferred from United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company to the State of New Jersey. In 1936, the section of the canal within the limits of the City of Trenton was deeded to the City, which then commenced a Works Progress Administration project that entailed the filling in of the main trunk lying south of the junction of the Feeder Canal at Old Rose Street.

From the 1930s onward, Trenton became home to increasing numbers of African-Americans relocating from the southern states for better employment opportunities. African-American immigration into South Trenton was initially small, as the community maintained a relatively tightly knit and insular character. However, with increasing numbers of African-Americans making their home in the city overall, South Trenton soon also witnessed a diversification in the ethnic make-up of its population that included an African-American component. The 1950s and 1960s were generally a period of gradual decline as many long-term residents of South Trenton left the area for homes in the suburbs. During this same period most of Bloomsbury to the north of the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge was demolished to make way for new government office complexes and parking lots, leaving the Trenton Ferry Historic District and Lamberton to its south as the only surviving neighborhoods along South Trenton's riverfront.

By 1971, John Fitch Way, the forerunner of N.J. Route 29, had been extended south of the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, cutting off Ferry Street from the waterfront. The ethnic make-up of the South Trenton residential community saw further change in the last quarter of the 20th century due to a growing influx of individuals of Hispanic background. Immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico and other Central American countries in recent years have come to form a sizeable part of the population in this section of the city.

South Trenton today is somewhat remarkable in its diverse ethnic composition, as descendants of mid-19th-century mill workers live side-by-side with African-Americans, whose grandparents arrived in the 1930s and 1940s, and with Hispanics who came in the final quarter of the 20th century. The Trenton Ferry Historic District survives as a window into Trenton's past. It provides both a tangible link to the early historical forces which helped foster the stock market crash of 1929, a deathblow from which they never fully recovered. During the early 1930s the Delaware and Raritan Canal gradually slipped out of existence. Since the 1870s, the canal had seen its profitability spiral ever downward. After 1900, the waterway never again made a profit, although it did see a brief increase in business during the First World War. In 1933, all commercial traffic on the canal ceased and, in the following year, its ownership was formally transferred from United New Jersey Railroad and Canal Company to the State of New Jersey. In 1936, the section of the canal within the limits of the City of Trenton was deeded to the City, which then commenced a Works Progress Administration project that entailed the filling in of the main trunk lying south of the junction of the Feeder Canal at Old Rose Street.

From the 1930s onward, Trenton became home to increasing numbers of African-Americans relocating from the southern states for better employment opportunities. African-American immigration into South Trenton was initially small, as the community maintained a relatively tightly knit and insular character. However, with increasing numbers of African-Americans making their home in the city overall, South Trenton soon also witnessed a diversification in the ethnic make-up of its population that included an African-American component. The 1950s and 1960s were generally a period of gradual decline as many long-term residents of South Trenton left the area for homes in the suburbs. During this same period most of Bloomsbury to the north of the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge was demolished to make way for new government office complexes and parking lots, leaving the Trenton Ferry Historic District and Lamberton to its south as the only surviving neighborhoods along South Trenton's riverfront.

By 1971, John Fitch Way, the forerunner of N.J. Route 29, had been extended south of the Pennsylvania Railroad bridge, cutting off Ferry Street from the waterfront. The ethnic make-up of the South Trenton residential community saw further change in the last quarter of the 20th century due to a growing influx of individuals of Hispanic background. Immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico and other Central American countries in recent years have come to form a sizeable part of the population in this section of the city.

South Trenton today is somewhat remarkable in its diverse ethnic composition, as descendants of mid-19th-century mill workers live side-by-side with African-Americans, whose grandparents arrived in the 1930s and 1940s, and with Hispanics who came in the final quarter of the 20th century. The Trenton Ferry Historic District survives as a window into Trenton's past. It provides both a tangible link to the early historical forces which helped foster the city's initial urbanization and also, as one of the city's best preserved 19th-century working class neighborhoods, gives a unique insight into Trenton's industrial past and into the daily lives of the people who toiled in its factories.

† Damon Tvaryanas, Douglas Scott, and Richard Hunter, Trenton Ferry Historic District, Mercer County, NJ, nomination document, 2012, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Trenton Ferry Historic District Map

Street Names
2nd Street • Asbury Street • Bridge Street • Broad Street South • Centre Street • Daymond Street • Federal Street • Ferry Street • Furman Street • Hills Alley • Lamberton Street • Power Street • Route 206 • Steamboat Street • Turpin Street • Union Street • Warren Street South

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
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