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Windsor Historic District

Robbinsville Twp, Mercer County, NJ

Circa 1840 Greek-Revival style home at 41 Church Street.

The WIndsor Historic District [†] was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Note: the nomination text was written more than 30 years ago (1987) and contains many references to Washington Township. The town's name was changed to Robbinsville in 2007.

Windsor is a rural, nineteenth century, crossroads village of approximately 75 houses, many with numerous outbuildings, and an inn and a church which have been the center of social activity for more than 150 years. Despite the rapid population increase around it, this small hamlet still rests undisturbed beside the old turnpike and the railroad which spawned it, and among the farm fields which nourished its growth. The past century has changed it little; about seventy-five per cent of the houses seen today could have been seen by an observer one hundredyearsago. Due to the loss of a few nineteenth century structures, the more recent buildings have only served to maintain the community's size.

Main Street, the old Bordentown‑Amboy turnpike, and the railroad tracks which run along it, crosses Church Street to form the center of Windsor. The only other street in town, School Drive, is L-shaped, meeting both major streets at a right angle. Near its merger with Church Street, School Drive passes the two story, 1909 red brick school house. Church Street in both directions, and Main Street in a northerly direction, continue beyond the village into the surrounding countryside. To the south, Main now dead ends before the ruins of the former turnpike bridge over the Assunpink Creek, once the site of Hutchinson's mills (ca. 1817).

Approached from any of the three possible directions, Windsor is visible while one is still among fields. Its historic compactness, on a truly pedestrian scale, is intact. Traveling east from the direction of Edinburg on the Edinburg-Windsor Road (Church Street), one can see ahead the church steeple and the trees of the village marking its location on the horizon. Open farmland continues to border the road until the first houses of the village are reached.

In addition to its compactness, the village is unified spatially by a consistency of vernacular architectural style and modest scale. Many of the houses are white, and almost all are 2 or 2-1/2 stories, of wood frame construction, with pitched roofs. Most commonly, houses are set close to the road on narrow, deep lots and have large, open porches—recalling the pre-automobile era when closeness to roadways was seen in a favorable light. Two particularly good groupings of such houses, built in the 1840s and 1850s, are found between numbers 5 and 19 on the east side of Main Street, and on Church Street between numbers 48 and 58. The former grouping contains seven houses; the latter has five. Several houses built in the last quarter of the nineteenth century are placed farther back from the road on larger lots.

Few houses in the village are surrounded by nursery-bred, exotic landscaping. Grass and common local shade trees provide the major landscape elements. Although picket fencing used to prevail along the frontage of many houses (fencing not replaced as it deteriorated earlier in this century), property lines are of ten unmarked by fencing or plantings. Contiguous backyards frequently form expanses of open grass dotted with outbuildings, which include barns, chicken coops, work and storage sheds, privies, and detached garages. On the western segment of Church Street, these backyards in turn merge with open fields, giving panoramas of woodlots up to a mile beyond. At the eastern end, Church crosses State Highway 130, which provides a man-made village boundary, and then continues into the open countryside.

Today, as in the past, the focal point of Windsor is the intersection of Main and Church Streets and the adjacent railroad track. Nearby were once the general store and the passenger station and freight shed (demolished ca. mid-20th century). Still extant are the imposing Whittington-Hutchinson House (ca.1845) and the Baldwin House (ca. 1845), both vernacular Georgian - Greek Revival structures set facing the tracks, and the Windsor Hotel (ca. 1832), now the Sherwood Crossing Inn, on the site which has supported an inn since 1818. Although the fabric of the building has been altered (1985), the inn is still a center of local activity.

Another center of community life is the Windsor Methodist Church (ca. 1839), situated on the crest of Church Street a short distance west of the inn. Surrounded by the church burying ground, this simple Greek Revival church is often used for community meetings, as well as for Sunday services. Reminding visitors that this was a working man's village, the old, front-gabled shirt factory (ca. 1860) stands on Church Street to the southeast of the inn, and near the southern end of Main Street is the building that once served as John Hutchinson's store (ca. 1860; now utilized by the Township Road Department).

Architecture in Windsor

For the most part, Windsor is a village of nineteenth century vernacular architecture. Some of the earliest houses, built near the intersection of Main and Church Streets in the 1840s, exhibit some Greek Revival detail. A few later nineteenth century houses show the influence of the Italianate, Gothic Revival, and Queen Anne styles, but this influence is manifested only by a little bracketing or scroll work, a pointed attic window, a finial, a steeply pitched roofline, or a patterned, stained glass window.

There are no extant buildings associated with the Amos Hutchinson mill complex at this site. However, some features of the complex are still discernible. On the north bank of the creek and immediately west of Main Street there are still traces of features including masonry revetting walls, a culvert beneath the road, which may be the sawmill head race, and other less distinct masonry remains which may relate to the mill itself. The site of the mill complex is heavily overgrown along and near the creek while the remainder is grass covered. About 1950, the turnpike (Main Street) bridge approach was demolished and a new cul-de-sac was constructed, terminating the western end of Main Street.

Aside from the house and two greenhouses, the property is undeveloped with structures. Subsurface tests revealed traces of the mill pond; however, highway and bridge construction activity has significantly disturbed that portion. No subsurface tests were conducted at the sites of major buildings. Although the construction of the modern house has undoubtedly disturbed the grist mill site, there is still significant archeological potential because of the extent of the 8-building complex. In addition to the two mills, blacksmith and wheelwright shops, residences and other major structures, mill pond and millraces, old photographs show several small outbuildings not noted on maps. Therefore, the archeological potential of the site is probably, in spite of several disturbances,significant. The Hunter report does indicate that the site may be of interest to researchers in the future.

Windsor is significant as an example of a nineteenth century, rural village that illustrates the ordinary lives of the common people of an earlier era and the impact of changes in transportation in New Jersey. It was born in 1818 as a stagecoach stop to service a turnpike from Bordentown to South Amboy. Its major development was linked to the Camden and Amboy Railroad, following its construction in 1832 when a cluster of buildings, virtually a new town, were built. Finally, the fact that it remains today, almost no larger than it was at the turn of the century, is due in some measure to the fact that truck transportation supplanted rail, and that the new highway system (Route 130) bypassed the town in the 1930s. Windsor is a good example of a country crossroads village that still retains most of its original vernacular architecture and maintains a sense of identity due to its setting amid the pastoral landscape of rural New Jersey.

Early Settlement of the Area

By the early 1700s, most of the region east of Trenton had been sold and subdivided into farms of 500-1000 acres. The original owners were Quakers, and due to their advocacy of religious freedom, many religious sects were represented throughout the countryside, which was settled by immigrants from England, Scotland, Holland, and France. The exact date of settlement of the area of Washington Township is not known. John Chamberlain established a farm north of the Old York Road about 1750. He was joined in the vicinity by other settlers named Hamill, Conover, Schenck, Kowenhoven, Ely, Tindall, Hight, and Hutchinson, and by the time of the American Revolution, two small villages, New Sharon and Canton, had been established in what is now the eastern part of the Township. The outlying farms produced corn, rye, and apples, but due to their remote location, there was only a limited market for the produce.

Creation of Centerville (formerly Magrilla; now Windsor)

In 1816 the New Jersey Legislature authorized the construction of a turnpike to carry stagecoaches from Philadelphia to New York CityNew York, and when a highway was laid between Bordentown and South Amboy in 1818, there was a need for a stagecoach stop in the area that had been known as Magrilla, a heavily wooded vicinity northeast of Bordentown. A building was erected to serve as a stagecoach stop and inn, and until the 1830s it was, with the exception of grist and saw mills to the south, the only major building in what is now Windsor.

Then, in 1830 the Camden and Amboy Railroad and Transportation Company acquired a charter to establish a railroad link between the Delaware River and Raritan Bay. The construction of the line from Bordentown to Hightstown along the westerly side of the turnpike resulted in the growth of Centerville, which emerged as a cluster of houses around the already existing hotel, enlarged or rebuilt in 1832. It is thought that the name "Centerville" was chosen because the new village was centrally located among the already existing towns. This new village became one of the first in the state to have rail service. Area farmers had profitably supplied crushed rock used for the roadbed at a price of one dollar per perch (27 cubic feet). The first trains were pulled by horses, but the animals were soon replaced by the famous "John Bull" locomotive when regular commercial service was established in 1833. Due to the Camden and Amboy, Centerville grew so rapidly that in the 1840s it was a thriving village with three stores, a passenger station, a freight house, a blacksmith, a school, and several mills. Houses began to line the turnpike between the hotel and the mills to the south (Map of Mercer County, 1848). Most of the earliest of these, such as those lining the eastern side of Main, just south of the hotel, were vernacular houses built in the Georgian five bay plan but with Greek Revival detail, reflecting the national prominence of that style during the 1840s. This detail includes simple trabeated center entrances with transom lights and sidelights, six over six sash,and cornices with returns at the gable ends.

Although practically all of the new houses were gable across structures, one erected on Church Street imitated the Greek temple form more closely, with its pedimented front gable and colossal,tapered pillars. In addition to the aforementioned houses, a few others were constructed as simple three bay, gable across buildings. All but one of the buildings were set close to the roadways, usually on narrow lots. The exception,which is also one of the largest* in the village (#46 Church Street), was placed far back from the road overlooking the railroad and turnpike at the intersection of Church Street, the focal point of the town.

The Hutchinson Mills

Throughout most of the nineteenth century, Hutchinson's saw and grist mills were the chief industry of the area. They had preceded the village by several years, but became part of Centerville as the village spread southward from the hotel and as the mill operations expanded, becoming the dominant economic activity of the area.

The Hutchinson Mills originated as Joseph Wright's sawmill which was established on the site between 1802 and 1808. Road surveys of this period show that a road linking Wright's mill and Crosswicks Creek crossed the Assunpink Creek on the mill dam. In 1820, the Wright family sold the property to Amos Hutchinson of West Windsor Township. Hutchinson added a grist mill in the 1820s, arid his sons Jonathan and Isaac Hutchinson, operated the business until 1827 when both mills were purchased by a different Amos Hutchinson, a relative of the former Hutchinson of that name. The second Amos operated the mills until his death in the late 1880s,and the mills were sold.

The Everts and Stewart Map of Mercer County, 1875, shows the Hutchinson complex to consist of eight major structures clustered near the pond and the dam. The sawmill (demolished by 1903) was situated on the north bank of the Assunpink Creek near the turnpike bridge (last bridge at site demolished about 1920). A grist mill (demolished after 1936) was set slightly farther back from the pike (Main Street) north of the sawmill. Two other buildings stood northwest and northeast of the grist mill, one near the railroad and the other near the highway. South of the turnpike were the millpond (destroyed by flood in the early 20th century) and at least four major buildings, with outbuildings, including a blacksmith shop and a wheelwright shop.

The Hutchinson Mills occupied an extremely advantageous location relative to the turnpike and the railroad. The U. S. Industrial Censuses of New Jersey, 1850-1880, indicate the importance of the mills to Windsor and the surrounding country.side. At their peak at mid‑century, they were the most heavily capitalized business in the township with about $30,000 invested. Annually, the grist mill was handling about30,000 bushels of grain valued at $22,500. The sawmill provided large quantities of shipplank which were transported to New Brunswick. In a village that included fewer than 70 buildings in 1875, the mills were a sizable presence. In addition, seven houses, six of which lined the western side of Main Street (#38-50) were owned by Hutchinson and may have been rented to those who worked at the mills.

The present inn was constructed about 1832, possibly incorporating the earlier stagecoach stop. Historical accounts of the village attribute the present structure to William McKnight. After the hotel was enlarged and houses were built, locals began to gather at the "Lazy Bench" nearby to exchange gossip. In addition to the other buildings, a Methodist church had been built on a small rise on the road running west of the hotel (now Church Street), and it became another center of local activity.

The Methodist Church grew out of a "Camp Meeting" held in the woods near Centerville in 1838. Until then, Methodist "circuit riders" preached at meetings at several locations near Centerville, but converts at the Camp Meeting decided to organize their own church at the village. In the spring of 1840, they voted to erect a church building and, since they didn't have much money, built a plain brick building of one story. The church was paid for by subscriptions, with some members paying as much as $50. each. William McKnight of Bordentown gave the lot, and Samuel Brown and Jacob Rogers contributed the mason work. The building was completed without delay and was dedicated on June 17, 1840, with the Reverend Charles Pittman preaching the morning sermon and the Reverend John Lenhart preaching the evening sermon. The membership increased substantially in the next two decades, so that by 1863 the church was enlarged and remodeled, and a parson.age was built next door.

The reconstructed building reflects the continued popularity of the Greek Revival style in Windsor (Centerville). It was built gable end to street, with an imposing pediment accented by a projecting cornice and large dentil molding. By contrast, the parsonage, erected at about the time of the expansion, is a simple, five bay Georgian plan house. Although of the same size and shape as others in the village, it lacks the trabeated entrance with transom lights and sidelights,as well as other detail of similar houses.

Centerville Becomes Windsor

Until 1846 there was no post office closer than Hightstown, but the bustling commercial activity in Centerville warranted the establishment of one there. The request was granted, and Barclay Perrine became the first postmaster of "Windsor." The name was changed because there was already a post office called Centerville in Hunterdon County).

An Act of the New Jersey Assembly in 1859 created Washington Township, whose twenty square miles encompassed Windsor and three other villages, all formerly part of East Windsor Township. At that time, prominent Township landowners included David Gordon, John Pullen, David Silvers, M. Alien, Leonard Hubit, and George H. Alien. Descendants of many of these men reside in Windsor today. That Windsor was the most important of the Township's four communities was evident due to the fact that the first Township election was held at the "house kept byElizabeth Miller in the village of Windsor."

Windsor in the Late Nineteenth Century

The proximity of the railroad continued to foster the growth of Windsor,bringing several small manufacturing concerns to the village. Most notable of these was the shirt factory (#24 Church Street, ca. 1860) which employed several dozen workers, mostly women, who operated sewing machines on the building's two levels. Across the street was the Cider House (ca. 1845), and at the bend of School Drive was a basket factory. There were also a few harness shops and blacksmiths, as well as about three general stores (Map of Mercer County, 1875). The largest of the latter, which was the only brick building in town, was built by Barclay Perrine, the postmaster, and stood on the southeast corner of Church and Main (demolished). At one time this building housed a shirt factory on the second floor. Other stores were operated on Church and Main, including John Hutchinson's store.

In 1875, as it approached its prime, Windsor had about 150 residents, a number larger by half than the population of Robbinsville, the Township's next largest town. It continued as a small country town, however, growing slowly but steadily. The late nineteenth century saw the addition of several new houses, vernacular structures with late Victorian trim. Unlike earlier houses, some of these new dwellings were set farther back on their lots, so that they had expansive front lawns. White picket fences extended along the frontage of many of the earlier houses, and the church cemetery was also ringed by such fencing. Shade trees lined the streets, adding to the bucolic atmosphere of a little country town.

The debt for the enlargement of the Methodist Church was finally paid off in the 1880s, not without the help of the Ladies Aid. The group made a quilt, and for ten cents one could have his name sewn into the pattern. Mrs. G. R. Robbins got to keep the quilt because she raised $170.20, more than any of the other ladies, from people who wished to have their names recorded for posterity.

As Windsor approached the turn of the century, there were five trains running in each direction daily and four mail deliveries. The village was a community of earnest, hardworking people who enjoyed life's simpler pleasures,such as skating on the millpond in winter and boating in the summer. The pond was also the scene of baptisms conducted by the minister of the Windsor BaptistChurch (Church erected on Church Street in 1897; #14 Church Street). Spectators would line the banks at sunset to witness the immersion of new members. The Methodist Church was often the scene of festivals and other social activity. The Reverend Blackiston loved parades, and for the Fourth of July in 1899, he organized a big celebration which included floats representing Liberty,George Washington, and Dewey's gunboat.

At the end of the century, the shirt factory moved its operations to Bordentown, and the building became the Odd Fellows Hall. The Windsor Grange No. 40 was organized in 1902, and began to meet in the old factory as well. In later years they were to produce a number of plays, such as Uncle Tom's Cabin, a production which enjoyed great success.

Twentieth Century Windsor

By the 1930s, changes in transportation and the economy of the area resulted in the death of most commercial activity in Windsor. The mills had fallen vacant earlier in the century when farmers stopped growing grain and due to the lack of lumber in the area. They stood for a decade or two and then were demolished (ca. 1930s). The dam had broken in the mid-1920s, eliminating the pond, and the Windsor Grange was unsuccessful in raising the money to restore it. The construction of Route 130 in the mid-1950s fostered automobile and truck travel, so that passenger service on the rail line was eventually discontinued and commercial service was curtailed.

Although some fifteen buildings have been built in this century, due to the loss of about a dozen earlier structures, including the mills, the station, and the general store, Windsor is essentially no larger today than it was in the 1890s, both in population and number of buildings. However, Windsor's isolation from traffic and development have protected it from significant mutilation. Even though many buildings have been sheathed in synthetic siding, their shapes remain unchanged, and the simple, vernacular architecture is intact. Many of the original outbuildings, such as barns, sheds, and outhouses, are standing, and many are still in use. Therefore, when one comes upon Windsor, there is a sense of the discovery of a nineteenth century village. The twenty square miles of Washington Township is one of the last remaining rural areas in the densely populated and heavily traveled corridor between New York and Philadelphia, and Windsor is one of the few area villages which have been untouched by modern development. Others of its period have been ringed by intrusive, condominium and commercial development.

Windsor's importance lies not in its simple buildings nor in events. A mention of its name in historical texts is rare. Rather, its importance is found in the absence of fine buildings, momentous events, and important persons. It presents a picture of a nineteenth century working man's town, and its very ordinariness makes it special, for while monuments to the prominent abound,reminders of the lives of the majority—the common folk—are scarce indeed. Today, Windsor is important as testimony to the changes in nineteenth century transportation and their impact on life in rural New Jersey.

† Linda B, McTeague, Preservation Planning Consultant for Washington Township, Windsor Historic District. 1987, NationL Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Some other National Register Districts named “Windsor”

Nearby Neighborhoods

Street Names
Church Street • Main Street North • Main Street South • Route 130 • School Drive