Although Mill Hill presently survives as a middle-class mid-nineteenth century residential district, its historical significance reaches back to the late seventeenth century. Indeed, its name refers to its importance as the area's first industrial site, a grist mill, erected in 1679. During the American Revolution, the ground adjacent to the mill was, on January 2, 1777, the site of the Second Battle of Trenton.
Mill Hill was among the holdings of the first settler in the vicinity of Trenton, Mahlon Stacy, who arrived at Burlington, New Jersey on the ship "The Shield" in 1678. By November 1679, when he was visited by the Dutch missionaries, Slayter and Danckers, Stacy had erected a wooden grist mill on the Assunpink (see Assunpink Creek Greenway), at the southeast corner of the present Broad Street crossing of the creek. In 1714 this property, along with much of the rest of Stacy's holdings and adjacent lands, was purchased by William Trent of Philadelphia. In the same year, the County of Hunterdon was formed, the Assunpink Creek serving as the boundary between the new county and Burlington to the south. The major eighteenth century development of the town named for Trent took place north of the creek at the head of navigation just below the Falls of the Delaware. Trent himself, however, built his own house south of the creek and replaced Stacy's wooden mill with a more substantial one of stone.
Mill Hill was thus still relatively open ground when Washington chose it as a defensive position. Following the successful American raid on Trenton on Christmas night 1776, Washington withdrew to Pennsylvania. During the following week British troops from New York were sent to Central New Jersey under the command of Lord Cornwallis. Washington, fearful of being trapped in Pennsylvania, crossed again tot he New Jersey side of the Delaware. On the night of January 1, he met with his generals at the Douglass House. Already on the National Register as an individual site, this building, after three moves, now stands within the district at the southwest corner of Montgomery and Front Streets. With the British approaching from the north, Washington decided to establish a stretching from the Delaware approximately a mile up the creek. The objective was to prevent the British from crossing the only bridge, at what is now Broad Street, or from fording the creek at other points. On January 2, the Americans repulsed a series of British assaults. When the British encamped for the night on high ground to the north, Washington ordered campfires built up and maintained throughout the night by a rear guard. Meanwhile, he, with the main body of the American Army, slipped away by a back road towards Princeton. In a confrontation there with the British rear guard on the morning of January 3, the Americans were victorious. Having managed to elude the British, Washington encamped his army in the mountains around Middlebrook, from which position he was able to control British movements across central New Jersey. The northern perimeter of Mill Hill was thus the site of one of the three major encounters of the ten-day Trenton-Princeton Campaign. A significant portion of this battlefield, between Front and Livingston Streets, and Broad and Montgomery Streets, has recently been developed by the City of Trenton as a public park.
The commemorative nature of this battle site was recognized by the citizens of Trenton at an early date. On April 21, 1789, when Washington passed through on the way to New York City for his inauguration, he was greeted at a triumphal arch, erected on the bridge over the Assunpink, by a bevy of little girls and young ladies bearing baskets of flowers. Portions of the arch are presently preserved in the Old Barracks and the Trenton Free Public Library.
During the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth, Mill Hill remained relatively undeveloped. At this time, it was not a part of the City of Trenton. Variously known as Littleworth, Kingsbury, and Kensington Hill, it was generally thought of as part of a section called Bloomsbury. In 1840, the entire area was incorporated as South Trenton. It was annexed to the City of Trenton in 1851.
The name Mill Hill was applied to the area at last as early as 1821, although as yet relatively little beyond the original mill appears to have been built between Broad Street and the Delaware and Raritan Canal. However, a few streets had been laid out, notably Market Street; Livingston Street; Jackson Street from Market to the Assunpink Creek; and what is now Davis Alley behind the properties on Broad Street.
In the late 1830s and 1840s, the opening of the Delaware and Raritan Canal and the Camden and Amboy and Philadelphia Railroads, providing transportation to both New York and Philadelphia, evidently served as the impetus for industrial development on the periphery of the district. By 1849 there were a rope walk, a lime kiln, and factories manufacturing fire brick and candles. By this time the original Stacy grist mill has been rebuilt as a paper mill, and an amusement park called Washington Retreat has been opened north of the mill along the Assunpink. Owned by Andrew Quintin or Quionton, it featured a bowling alley, rifle gallery, soda fountain and baths.
Within this ring of industrial and commercial development, residential construction commenced in the 1840s and 1850s. The Dripps map of 1849 shows several buildings along Broad Street and Market Street up to Jackson, as well as one on Livingston between Mercer and Jackson. By mid-century there were strong feelings about keeping the inner core of Mill Hill residential. On September 20, 1851, the State Gazette reported that a party of men had attacked the rope mill of Rickey and Whittaker on Mercer Street. The newspaper noted that "This street has never been opened except for a short distance south of Market." However, there were a few adjacent property owners who wanted the rope walk removed, maintaining that they had purchased property in 1850 with assurances that this would be done. The rope walk was, in fact, demolished shortly thereafter.
Mill Hill grew rapidly as a residential area through the second half of the nineteenth century, with some decline towards the end of the century. City directories for the period list the following number of households: 1854, 128; 1865, 167; 1875, 194; 1885, 259; 1895, 181. The directories also reveal a good deal about the social composition of Mill Hill. Quite clearly, it was a middle class neighborhood. The population was predominantly made up of small tradesmen and skilled industrial workers, with a smattering of professionals.
Along Broad Street between Livingston and Market, in an area now almost totally altered, lived Robert Aitken, a carpenter, who worked on the building of St. Paul's, the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company rolling mill, and the Fisher and Norris Anvil Works. Two contractors, William Johnson and James Hammell, the latter also an architect, also lived in Mill Hill. Aaron Carlisle, a Scottish emigrant, built two brick houses, for himself and his son, one of which is 231 Jackson Street. A mason, he worked on the Trenton Gas Works, Trenton Iron Works, the Arms and Ordinance Works (Trenton Iron Company), the first Roebling wire rope works, and the Delaware and Raritan Canal.
Also on Jackson Street, but north of Market, was the home of George Fitzgeorge, a newsdealer. A stone carriage block incised "Fitzgeorge" still stands in front of 122 Jackson Street. Another Jackson Street resident was Howell Guigley, printer and publisher.
Most of the buildings on Mercer Street, with the exception of the Friends Meeting House, were erected in the last three decades of the nineteenth century. Judge George W. McPherson recalled, "My father moved with his family from Front Street to Mercer Street in the winter of 1864... Mercer Street at that time was not fully built up. The only house from the Creek to Market Street on the east side was a row of four or five houses in one of which lived Joseph B. Yard..." These were probably the buildings at 128-144 Mercer Street. Later the potters James Taylor, Henry Speeler, and William Bloor all lived on Mercer Street.
Market and Broad Streets were then, as now, combined commercial and residential blocks. A market house was erected in Market Street in 1854 and removed in 1874. On Broad Street, the small brick house at 314, where the historian John O. Raum was born in 1800, became a store later in the nineteenth century. The undertaking establishment at 334 Broad Street was erected for that purpose by John Taylor.
The growth of Mill Hill required an improved road system. New bridges were erected over the Assunpink. A stone bridge, built between 1836 and 1849, connected Montgomery and Mercer Streets. This was surmounted by ornamental cast-iron railings in 1873. The Jackson Street crossing was spanned by a Pratt truss bridge, constructed by the New Jersey Steel and Iron Company in 1888. In the 1850s sidewalks were required on Jackson, Mercer and Livingston Streets, and a vitrified brick pavement was laid on Jackson Street in the 1890s.
The industrial growth on the periphery of the area also continued. East of Clay Street between the creek and Lewis Street, Bottom and Tiffany had erected an iron works in the 1850s. Later this became Thropp's Machine Works. The buildings of the Trenton Pottery Works, also opened in the 1850s, ran along Taylor Street from Jackson to Clay.
The last of these plants vanished when the Trenton Freeway was constructed after World War II. What remains, with a few notable exceptions, is a tight-knit group of homogeneous residential structures. Largely built between 1850 and 1895 they are representative of a vernacular interpretation of the popular styles of the second half of the nineteenth century. The prevailing form is the two or three-story, three-bay wide brick row house. To these are applied, depending on the time of construction, simplified late Greek Revival, Italianate, Second Empire, or Eastlake decoration. Their significance is this high degree of cohesiveness, rather than any individual distinction. However, there are buildings and structures within the Mill Hill district that are themselves worthy of note.
Among them is the Pratt truss bridge over the Assunpink at Jackson Street. This example of a typical late nineteenth century form was manufactured at one of Trenton's most important industrial sites, the rolling mill built by Cooper and Hewitt in 1845. Subsequent to its sale to the United States Steel Company, it continued, as the American Bridge Division, to manufacture and assemble bridge components until 1976.
Another local landmark is the house at 112 Jackson Street. Although the rear portion of this building was probably constructed in the middle of the century, it is now distinguished by the mansard-roofed addition to the front. Of brick, with an imbricated slate roof, and Second Empire brownstone detailing, it appears to have come straight out of a builder's design book of the late 1870s. However, its character is unique, since it was built at approximately three-quarter scale.
Broad Street • Clay Street • Jackson Street • Lewis Street • Livingston Street • Market Street • Mercer Street • Taylor Street