Photo: John Woolston House, ca. 1835, 51-53 Mill Street, Vincentown, NJ. Photographed by Nathaniel R. Ewan, 1938, Historic American Buildings Survey NJ [HABS NJ-494], memory.loc.gov, accessed October, 2013.
The Vincentown Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡] .
The Vincentown Historic District, located within Southampton Township, contains roughly 200 properties. Of the 188 buildings in the district, 160 are contributing. Most of these contributing structures are 19th century (80%) although a few are late 18th century and early 20th century. Less than 8% of the buildings were constructed after 1930. The center of the village, especially Main Street, is dominated by simple, gabled, two-story homes. During the second half of the 19th century, at the height of Vincentown's prosperity, the village center also supported shops, taverns, a tannery, and grist and sawmills, all of which were integral to the commercial life of Southampton Township. At the periphery of the Vincentown Historic District, along Mill Street, are situated a number of homes representing popular 19th century building tastes. Federal, Greek Revival, Gothic, Queen Anne, Italianate, Shingle, and Bungalow styles are all represented. Vincentown has not undergone any major additions since the 1920s, and thus it exists today with a large amount of its original integrity intact.
The town is composed mainly of simple traditional structures which are harmoniously arranged along seven streets. The streets, each with their own particular function and character, are compactly arranged on the nearby dry upland terrain.
The town streets can each be identified as fitting one of three or four types and from these we can identify various zones of land use which developed over the years. The main business district in town was confined along Main Street south to just below Grange Street. This street contained a blend of residential, commercial, commercial-residential, and institutional buildings. We find a wider variation in scale and style here than on any of the other town streets. Sizes range from the one-room shop at 47 Main Street to the Methodist Church. Buildings are also noticeably closer together and closer to the street than elsewhere in town, a function of increased land values in the prime commercial district. Geographically, the street is laid out on the uplands east of the creek and it follows the contour of the creek bank south and southeast.
The flood plain of the creek in the village district dictated another distinct zone of activity. For obvious reasons it was an area generally considered undesirable for most building purposes. The saw- and grist-mills, however, were constructed in this zone in order to make use of the stream's water power. The result is that a major green space has always existed near the center of the town focused on the stream and pond. The only major building activity in this area occurred along Mill Street, the major thoroughfare into town from the west. The section of Mill Street located within the flood plain had a special character of its own. It was an extension of the business district running from Main Street out to the gristmill, but unlike Main there were only small to medium size buildings which housed tradesmen's shops. The only exception to this is the Episcopal Church built on the bank of the creek in 1871.
At the gristmill site, Mill Street reaches the edge of the creek's flood plain. From here the street rises onto the upland west of the creek, which was from the earliest period of the town's development, considered the most desirable residential area in town. Ten houses are located along this part of Mill Street forming the western flank of and the principal entrance to the Vincentown Historic District. They range in date from late 18th to early 20th century and generally occupy large lots. The houses themselves are medium to large structures and all possess distinctive stylistic designs characteristic of their respective periods of origin: Federal, Italianate, Gothic, Queen Anne, Shingle and Bungalow designs are all represented. These houses, predictably, have been the residences of some of the towns most prosperous citizens.
A number of other streets in town represent yet another type of streetscape. Pleasant Street, Plum Street, Church Street, Red Lion Road (northern end) and the lower part of Main Street are all more typical residential streets generally containing small to medium sized houses. The predominant house type on these streets is some form of narrow and deep 2 to 2-1/2 story structure situated close to the street and occupying a narrow, deep lot. In two cases, narrow alleys run parallel to the streets behind the house lots offering access to tables and other outbuildings.
Nearly all of the buildings which comprise the town are represented by only a few major types and trends which fit neatly into the plan and character of the settlement. Two main types, which are identified here simply as Types 1 and 2, predominate and form the vernacular or "common language" basis of the town's architecture.
Type 1 is the oldest of the two types and was probably the most common building type in the town prior to the mid 19th century. The main characteristics of this type are its 2-story elevation and 1-room deep plan with a simple gable roof with ridge parallel to the street. This format produces a building with distinctly tall and narrow (12 to 16 feet) gable end side walls. The front walls would always be at least as wide as the building's depth but would more typically be two to three times as wide. The floor plans of these basic structures could vary considerably depending on period of construction and use. Early plans are especially difficult to identify as changes in use and plan have obscured the original character of early buildings. Early structures of this type probably contained simple kitchen and parlor plans or just plain kitchen plans. This is a house type which survives through the 19th century and was commonly formalized into a 5-bay center hall type. This later form, however, is not found in the town plan. Because of the variations in plan the window/door or bay arrangement on the facade varies a great deal in the Type 1. (Examples found at 74 Main Street, 148 Main Street, 35 Mill Street, and 36 Plum Street.)
The second major type, Type 2, represents in a general sense, a 90 degree rotation of the structure on the lot producing a building with a narrow street front and a standard 2-room depth. The roof line does not rotate, however, so that instead the gable span is lengthened to cover the long dimension. The obvious advantage of this plan is that in a town where space is at a premium, more buildings can be fitted along a street. A reasonable hypothesis regarding Vincentown's development is that Type 1 buildings, being the common traditional form, were freely used in the formative phase of development when there were few structures. Then, as the town grew and space became a more practical concern, the Type 2 "town house" was relied on more routinely. (Examples found at 67 Pleasant Street, 156 Main Street, 51 Plum Street, and 29 Church Street).
Another type of 2-room deep (also termed double pile) house which appears in the town in the early 19th century is the Type 2 double or duplex house. It is simply two Type 2 houses joined as one structure by a common party wall (55-57 Plum Street). This arrangement had the appeal of conserving construction materials as well as land and heating fuel.
Yet another double pile type is the classic full Georgian plan. This is a formal house influenced by Renaissance design and culture and intended for the wealthier citizens. It has a balanced 5-bay facade with center entrance and center hall with stair. The double rooms on one side usually served as a double parlor in the era that concerns us here. The other two rooms could serve as a library and a dining room or a dining room and a kitchen depending on the existence and use of additions to the structure. (67 Main Street and 45 Mill Street). This type was most popular in the second quarter of the 19th century and typically employed brick construction with Federal style detailing, most notably, the double end bridged chimneys in the one or both of the gable ends. At the same time a sort of 3/5ths Georgian plan also became popular. This consists in plan of the full hallway with rooms on only one side which generates a 3-bay facade and side entrance. With respect to its massing, it is a type closely related to the basic Type 2 already identified, with the important distinction of having a decidedly more formal character as displayed in the segregated hallway plan (allowing passage through the house without entering the rooms) and the orderly 3-bay facade. Due to the approach of this inventory, in which only a few house interiors were actually investigated, the 3/5th Georgian or side hall house is classified as a Type 2 but with the "full 3-bay" distinction added to the type designation. This distinction serves as an indicator of the use of the Georgian plan type but only interior investigation can establish the true difference. (59 Mill Street and 65 Mill Street).
One of the most individually significant works of architecture in the village is the John Woolston House at 53 & 57 Mill Street. This structure was recorded in a set of measured drawings prepared by the Historic American Building Survey in the 1930's. It is an elaborate double house of one full Georgian house (5 bays) and a 3/5ths Georgian house. The result is an impressive symmetrical 8-bay facade with doors located in the third bays from either end. The house is constructed in brick and has double end bridged chimneys of the Federal style combined with simple Greek Revival woodwork detailing, a blend characteristic for the building's 1832 construction period.
By the third quarter of the 19th century desire for increased space coupled with an ability to pay for it introduced further developments in building design. One example is the full 3-story elevation which was used as a modification in both the full Georgian and 3/5ths Georgian houses. Together with greatly diminished roof slope visibility (made possible by the introduction of metal roofs) this form was closely associated with the Italianate or Bracket Style of the period. Good examples of the local interpretation of this style are found at 64 Mill Street, an austere version with no superfluous woodwork decoration and at the head of Mill Street, 57 Main Street, which exhibits rich carpenter ornamentation. A Type 2, 3-bay side hall (3/5th Georgian) example is located at 93 Main Street and a double version at 42-44 Main Street.
Examples of various other late 19th century styles are also found in the town but on a very limited basis. The Second Empire is modestly represented by the Mansard roofed house at 177 Main Street. An excellent Carpenter Gothic house at 75 Mill Street marks the western entrance to the town. Its neighbor at 71 Mill Street is a good example of a Shingle Style residence. The turn-of-the-century classic revival period is represented by a neo-Palladian house at 171 Main Street. One of the later significant styles to appear was the Bungalow which produced 78 Mill Street. A most wonderful and totally idiosyncratic Victorian structure is the Francis Lee House at 52 Pleasant Street where it looks out over Jade Creek. This is composed of a small 2-1/2 story Gothic Cottage with numerous additions, porches, sun porches, balconies and sheds stretching out behind in a manner that defies description and analysis. All of these distinctive building designs contribute significantly to the character of the architecture of the town but represent a proportionately small group of buildings and were primarily the property of the wealthier citizens. Throughout the 19th century the basic Type 2 vernacular structure continued to be the most common building type.
In general it seems that most house types had at least some type of shed roof addition off the back. Some remain this way while others went through stages of enlargement. Others, especially many built in the mid-19th century or later, were apparently constructed in one stage complete with 2-1/2 story rear wings. The additions, whatever their history, conform, like the main houses, to a few basic forms. Most are either sheds or gable roofed wings. Their heights vary, limited only by the height and slope of the main roof. The main function of most additions is to house the kitchen. In this respect the additions to early basic structures, such as the Type 1 kitchen-parlor house already described, would have altered the house drastically allowing for the rearrangement and alteration of the early floor plans. In later houses, however, the significance of the addition is its contribution to the overall size of a particular building. That is, two buildings which are the same basic Type 2 structure may vary appreciatively in size depending on the type of addition.
Institutional buildings such as churches and schools represent another important category of architecture in the town. These are a diverse group of buildings. Each possess distinctive characteristics of style and form which are intended to express its function and group identity. The 1853 Methodist Church, for example, possess common mid-19th century Methodist Church characteristics: a large, plain Meetinghouse form with gable end to the street, the main hall level 1-story above ground level, simple classical detailing, a plain bell cupola; these are the trademarks of American Methodism of the period. In a very similar way the Carpenter Gothic design of the 1871 Episcopal Church expresses the interest in medieval Christianity and its art and architecture which was common in that era. The 1922 library, on the other hand, expresses the popular Georgian Revival style commonly used in civic buildings of the first quarter of the 20th century. Its cameo scale reflects the size of the community and fits neatly into Main Street. The most enigmatic of the town institutional buildings is the Old Town Hall/Masons Lodge built in 1884 (Plum Street). Its inconspicuous location on a back street and its plain exterior suggests a desire for anonymity that is not typical of either town halls or Masonic Lodges. It possesses strong integrity as a 19th century building and, together with the Methodist Cemetery behind it, makes a strong contribution to the historic character of the town.
‡ William C. Bolger, Thomas Scangarello & Associates, Vincentown Historic District, Burlington County, NJ, nomination document, 1987, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Browns Alley • Church Street • Main Street • Mill Street • Pleasant Street • Plum Street • Race Street • Red Lion Road