Shrewsbury Historic District
The Shrewsbury Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. 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 Shrewsbury Historic District boundaries basically cover two major thoroughfares in the town, Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue. These two streets intersect as what the townspeople call "Historic Four Corners." In this vicinity are the three church edifices as well as the Allen House, scene of a Revolutionary War massacre. This house is listed on the National Register.
The houses in the Shrewsbury Historic District range from the late 18th century to the early 20th century. Buildings from the mid-19th century are the most prevalent however.
Shrewsbury is an old crossroads village of eastern Monmouth County. The boundaries were chosen to cordon the district off from its surroundings. To north and east is an area of 1950's suburban tract house development. The change from the historic zone to the other is marked by houses which are more closely packed and placed with much greater regularity. It is also marked by changes in massing and fenestration, the tract houses being more or less similar and lacking the variety of the old.
To the west of the Shrewsbury Historic District is a commercial strip.
To the south is an area of open low-lying land with a tributary of Parker's Creek. On the whole, Shrewsbury is distinct from its surroundings and forms something of an oasis in morass of post-war development sprawl.
The Shrewsbury Historic District itself, which has considerable vegetation massing, is largely composed of 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 story frame dwellings with a central focus at the intersection of Broad Street and Sycamore Avenue. This area contains the village's three churches along with their cemeteries and grounds, which extend to a spread of several acres. The area is punctuated by trees with a greater concentration along Broad Street. There is also a green island in the center of Sycamore Avenue. The open park-like character is important because period illustrations indicate that this was the appearance the area had a century ago.
The old village extends in three directions from the town center. The houses vary in their distance from the street and in their distances apart. This helps to convey the feeling that the village grew over a long period of time. Another indication of this is the variety of architectural styles in the village. Many of the houses are mid-19th century vernacular with simple bay articulation, plain moldings and returns, but there are also several Queen Anne structures, the most elaborate of which is the Barlow House on Broad Street. Several gables collide at right angles in this scallop-shingled mass with Eastlake veranda.
There are number of square-fronted houses whose styles can be loosely described as Greek Revival, with moderately heavy entablatures under the eaves. A number of 18th-century houses survive, the most notable of which is the Judah Allen House, whose Dutch influence can be seen in the scallop-shingle sides and curved gambrel roof.
All of the newer houses are in character with the Shrewsbury Historic District, being mainly pre-World War II Colonial Revival style. There are no intrusions.
Shrewsbury remains today as a good example of an early settlement that emerged as a major town center due to the presence of key roads running through the community. The location of roadways played an important part in the growth of towns in New Jersey. So it was in Shrewsbury.
This area shares with Middletown the distinction of being the oldest towns in Monmouth County (formed 1682). The name "Shrewsbury" appears on the 1682 Map of the Settled Portions of East Jersey — a Lithograph of G. & W. Endicott, New York. Even before this date, records indicate settlement in the area.
On April 8, 1665, Governor Richard Nicolls, Esq. signed the Monmouth (or Navesink) Patent that granted a triangular piece of land to twelve men, patentees from Gravesend, Long Island. Although it is very probable that people were already living here, settlement of Shrewsbury officially began, after the signing of the Patent, with families emigrating from Long Island (New York), Rhode Island and Massachusetts. These original families were largely Presbyterians. They were closely followed by Anglicans (Episcopalians) and Quakers.
From 1667, town meetings and courts were held in the two rooms of the Navesink, Middletown and Shrewsbury. The first General Assembly was held in Portland Poynt (the Highlands) on June 4, 1667. The General Assembly met in Shrewsbury on December 14, 1667.
As there was no uniform spelling in those days, Shrewsbury, named for Shrewsbury, a city in northwestern England on the border of England and Wales, was spelled Shrousbury and Schrousbury in the New Jersey Archives, First Series, Volume 1.
One of the reasons the Village developed in a rural location was because of the thoroughfares that met at its center. The earliest settlement of the town or village of Shrewsbury was at the intersection of the east-west Burlington Path (now Sycamore Avenue) used by the Indians on their way to the ocean and the north-south road (now Broad Street) to the Navesink River. Today this area is called "The Historic Four Corners." Here, at, or very near the four corners, were the Council Pine where the Indians met with the settlers; the three buildings erected for religious worship; the West Great-House where the court met; the Allen House, the scene of a Revolutionary massacre; and the toll house for taxing persons traveling in an east-west direction.
Kings Highway, now Broad Street, was laid out in 1685. At the time of its development, there was already 400 people living in the area. According to the 1643 definition, all of Monmouth County lying south of the Navesink River and all of Ocean County was called Shrewsbury. The name, however, was customarily applied to this area around the intersection.
The area surrounding the main section of the village was basically a rural, agricultural district. This remained so until the 20th century, with the core of the village along these two thoroughfares. Except for an ironworks in the earlier years of the settlement, there was never any major industrial growth in the town. A review of atlases from the years 1860, 1878 and 1889, indicates the town remained as it had originally developed massed around the intersection. The area included in the Shrewsbury Historic District represents this same basic pattern of the original settlement. Many of the homes are basically of late 18th to mid 19th century construction and they can be traced to the owners indicated on the various atlases referenced above. Many of the newer buildings are commercial sites, replacing older commercial interests. As such, it reflects the development during the 19th century. Sycamore Avenue remaining a tree-lined residential area and Broad Street becoming a mixture of business interests and dwelling places.
The Shrewsbury Historic District remains as a reminder of New Jersey's development from the 17th-20th centuries.
As in most communities in the early history of New Jersey, religion played a major role in the development of an area. According to Barber and Howe this certainly holds true for Shrewsbury. They state that the town's major events as well as growth were related to the three religious groups in the town. The History of Monmouth County by the Lewis Publishing Co. puts it more strongly. They claim there is no real definitive history to the town except that of the churches. The denominations represented were typical of those found in towns in Monmouth County; the Anglicans (Episcopalians), the Quakers, who were a major group in the area, and the Presbyterians. Although it was Presbyterians who founded the town, it was the Quakers who were the first to record organized meetings for prayer. Meetings were being held by the Society of Friends before the Quaker, George Fox, visited Shrewsbury in 1672, when he noted in his journal that a meeting house was being constructed. The present building, the fourth, was built in 1816 on the northeast corner.
Christ Church (Episcopal) was organized in 1702 by the Anglican, George Keith, formerly a Quaker. In 1706 the land on which the church now stands was deeded by Nicholas Brown to the Anglicans. When the present church was built c.1769, a gilded ball surmounted by a crown, the Symbol of England, was put on its rooftop. Legend has it that during the Revolution, local patriots tried to shoot down this symbol of the sovereignty. It still tops the church now on a spire added in 1874.
The Presbyterians were organized in 1705 when John Boyd was licensed to preach in Shrewsbury. He was the first minister to be ordained by the first presbytery in this country. He became the itinerant preacher in Shrewsbury, Freehold and Middletown areas. The present building, dedicated in 1822, is east of Christ Church.
In 1727, Nicholas Brown who has deeded land to the Anglicans, conveyed a tract of land for the Presbyterian Church. A church was erected soon after. Ministers serving there included Samuel Blair and Elihu Spencer. During the Revolutionary War, Reverend Charles McKnight, a staunch patriot, arranged to lend some of the church's money to the Government. The amount lent was $600. There is no record of this money being repaid. After 1800 the church building itself fell into a state of disrepair. The congregation met at Christ Church until 1821-22 when the present church was completed.
These three buildings stand today, as they did from their establishment, at the center of the town.
Shrewsbury is an excellent surviving crossroads town of the 18th and 19th centuries. Its spaces, the massing fenestration and detailing of its buildings, are in a strong contrast to the surrounding development, and they show a village that grew up over a long period of time. In addition, Shrewsbury contains a progression of building styles from the 18th century Dutch vernacular to 1-1/2 story knee wall Greek Revival, to 19th century Queen Anne. Most of these are good local examples, and most are well preserved.
Shrewsbury is one of the two oldest communities in Monmouth County. Settlement dates back well into the 17th century, and the village is associated with the early development of the area as an early focus. This is evident in the fact that at one time the name, Shrewsbury, embraced an area which stretched into two large counties.
Barber and Howe, Collections of New Jersey.
Frank Holmes (ed.), History of Monmouth County, (N.Y.) Lewis Publ. Co, 1922 p. 339.
Ellis, Franklin, History of Monmouth County, R.T. Peck, 1885.
Kraybill, Richard, The Story of Shrewsbury, Commercial Press, Red Bank, N.J., 1974.
† Jonathan Fricker, Architectural Historian, N. J. Office of Historic Preservation and Louis Jost, Shrewsbury Historical Society, Shrewsbury Historic District, Monmouth County, NJ, 1976, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.